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- Robert Herrick . . . . . . . .
- Lindenborg Pool
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- The Work of Young Men in the Present Age . .
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To all true lovers of old English poetry the name of Robert Herrick sounds pleasant and refreshing. There is an indefinable
charm in the very title of
his work, the Hesperides, suggestive of exuberant fancy and vivid play of imagination, which transports the reader from the dull realities of passing
life to the regions of fairy land. Not that
the domain of Herrick’s genius lay exclusively in the realms of fable, for he was eminently a poet of nature, who drank deeply
and eagerly at her purest streams; but
in his hands the beauties of creation are surrounded with an atmosphere of romance, which, without detracting from the truthfulness
of his poetry, gives a tinge of the unreal
to its subjects. An associate with, and humble follower, of that giant race, whose names are our nation’s boast, he ranks
as a lyric poet among the first of his age.
Some of his happiest effusions are perfectly Horatian in their joyous glee and graceful abandonment to the humour of the moment;
many are direct imitations of the Latin poet,
who has seldom had
a more congenial admirer. The metre of the Hesperides is as varied as the range of subjects; sometimes, though not often, degenerating into a fanciful distortion of verse, whose
chief merit, if merit it can be called, is
Into this garden then, guarded by no watchful dragon, but graced with forms and images of beauty, let us stray for a while,
culling here and there a flower from the
clusters which the poet has scattered with no grudging hand, and catching at intervals a passing glance at that ideal world,
with which the fancy of our forefathers surrounded
the objects of nature. Let not the uninitiated hope to find here the smooth-shaven lawn and trim parterre, intersected by
walks of formal curve. It is rather a very wilderness
of sweets, in which all forms of vegetation are rankly luxuriant, and in which the eye is offended by the noisome weed springing
up side by side with the fragrant blossoms of
But before entering, let us make acquaintance with the hierophant of these mysteries. For the materials of
his life we are indebted to the parish registers, a few of his letters, scattered allusions in his poems, and some traditions
have survived the lapse of two centuries among the people of Devonshire. From these scanty materials it may be readily conceived
that few details of his personal history can be
gleaned; in fact, scarcely more than sufficient to supply the most meagre outline. Descended from an old Leicestershire family,
who wrote their names indifferently Eyrick,
Heryck, Heyrick, Hearick, and Herrick, the poet’s father followed the calling of a goldsmith in Cheapside, and in 1582 married
Julia Stone of Seghenoe. Four sons
were the issue of this marriage, and of these Robert, the third, was born in 1591, and baptized in the church of St. Nicholas
Vedast, on the anniversary of the massacre of St.
Bartholomew. On Lord Mayor’s day in the following year his father fell from a window of his house, and died in consequence
of the injuries he sustained. Whether this
melancholy event was the result of accident or premeditation is not certain. His will by a singular, if not suspicious, coincidence,
had been made but two days previously.
Thus deprived of his natural protector, young Herrick was left with his brothers to the guardianship of an uncle. Of his youth
we find no traces, except that it appears to
have been passed in London. He is supposed to have been educated at Westminster, on no stronger ground than a passing allusion
to his “beloved
Westminster” in his “Tears to Thamesis,” in which he laments his absence from the place of his birth. If this supposition were correct he would probably have been
a schoolfellow of George Herbert,
who was only a few months his senior, and to whose poetry his own sacred pieces bear considerable resemblance. From the fact
of his having entered his twenty-fifth year before
his name appears as a fellow commoner upon the
books of St. John’s College, Cambridge, it has perhaps also been inferred with equal reason that his education
was neglected. From St. John’s he migrated to Trinity Hall, for the purpose of studying law, but ultimately took his degree
in arts. In a letter written to his uncle
at this period he says, “Forasmuch as my continuance will not long consist in the sphere where I now move, I make known my thoughts, and modestly crave
counsel, whether it were better for me to direct my study towards the law or not; which if I should (as it will not be impertinent)
I can with facility labour myself into
another college appointed for the like end and study, where I assure myself the charge will not be so great as where I now
exist.” In another dated from
Trinity Hall after making the contemplated change, he writes, “I hope I have (as I presume you know) changed my college for one where the quantity of expense
will be shortened, by reason of the privacy of the house, where I propose to live recluse till time contract me to some other
calling, striving now with myself (retaining
upright thoughts) both sparingly to live, thereby to shun the current of expense.” In most of his letters which are extant the burden of his song is, as
in similar productions to this day, a remittance. On one occasion he apologizes for his repeated applications of this nature,
wishing that “charges had leaden
wings and tortoise feet to come upon him. That which makes my letter to be abortive and born before maturity, is and hath
been my commencement, which I have now overgrown,
though I confess with many a throe and pinches of the purse; but it was necessary, and the prize was worthy the hazard; which
makes me less sensible of the expense, by
reason of a titular prerogative—
et bonum est prodire in bono
” The signature to this is
“Hopeful R. Hearick, Cambr. April 1617.”
For the next twelve years we again lose sight of the poet, and it is only from occasional glimpses in his writings that we
can form a conjecture as to his mode of life. It
was probably during this period that he formed an acquaintance with Ben Jonson, Fletcher, and other choice spirits, whose
convivialities he commemorates in an ode to the memory
of the former.
- “Ah! Ben
- Say how, or when
- Shall we thy guests
- Meet at those lyric feasts,
- Made at the Sun,
- The Dog, the triple Tun?
- Where we such clusters had
- As made us nobly wild, not mad;
- And yet each verse of thine
10 Outdid the meat, outdid the frolic wine.”
Perhaps he was a member of the famous Mermaid Club, founded by Raleigh, to which both Shakespeare and Ben Jonson belonged.
It is not impossible that he may have been
an eager spectator of some of the wit-combats between these two illustrious worthies, to which old Fuller alludes with his
usual quaintness in a well-known passage.
“Many were the wit-combats betwixt him (Shakespeare) and Ben Jonson; which two I beheld like a Spanish great galleon and an
English man-of-war. Master
Jonson, like the former, built far higher in learning, solid, but slow in performance; Shakespeare, with the English man-of-war,
lesser in bulk, but higher in sailing,
could turn with all tides, tack about, and take advantage of all winds, by the quickness of his wit and invention.” But it is difficult to believe that,
had such been the case, we should not have had some record left in Herrick’s writings of these memorable evenings; and, great
as was his admiration for Ben, he could
not fail to have been fascinated by his more illustrious rival. Shakespeare died while Herrick was at Cambridge,
and the intimacy of the latter with the members of the
Mermaid club seems to have dated from a subsequent period.
To scenes such as these does Beaumont refer, in his letter to Ben Jonson, when he exclaims,
- “What things have we seen
- Done at the Mermaid! heard words that have been
- So nimble, and so full of subtile flame,
- As if that every one from whence they came
- Had meant to put his whole wit in a jest,
- And had resolved to live a fool the rest
- Of his dull life.”
It was in this gay company, whose reckless dissipation was in keeping with the fashion of the times, that Herrick acquired
habits which rendered the seclusion of his after
life irksome, and unfitted him for the proper exercise of his sacred calling. Many a longing look did he cast in after years,
from his little parsonage at Dean Prior, upon
noctes cœnæque deorum
, the evenings with the players in Bankside. Glorious nights they must have been, and never again will such a company of Bacchanals
assemble. There sat big, burly,
blustering Ben, lording it with a sway as despotic as was ever held by his great namesake at the Literary club. What flashes
of humour, what torrents of overpowering dogmatic
eloquence, thundered forth with an emphasis that none ventured to dispute. And how, when hard pressed, he would drown all
argument with some pompous quotation. And then what
huge cups of Canary he would quaff, like a very Silenus, till his less strongheaded companions dropped off one by one, and
Ben was left alone, and rolled off to his house in
Bankside, waking the echoes with snatches of some drinking song. Massinger was there, battling hard with poverty, gentle and
uncomplaining, more refined, though less jovial,
than his more fortunate contemporaries, but living and struggling on, modest and retiring, and dying as
he lived, “a stranger.” There too was Ford, “with folded arms and melancholy
hat,” somewhat morose in his exterior, but genial and kindly withal. Beaumont died in the same year as Shakespeare, 1616. Herrick
bestows a passing notice
upon him, in conjunction with his colleague Fletcher, in a poem entitled, “The apparition of his mistress calling him to Elysium.” After enumerating the heroes and worthies of antiquity whom he will there meet; Homer,
- “About whose throne the crowd of poets throng;
- To hear the incantation of his tongue,
- Then stately Virgil, witty Ovid,”
and others, she continues,
- “Thou shalt there
- Behold them in a spacious theatre.
- Among which glories, crown’d with sacred bays,
- And flattering ivy, two recite their plays,
- Beaumont and Fletcher, swans, to whom all ears
- Listen, while they, like syrens in their spheres,
- Sing their Evadne.”
But Ben Jonson was the hero of his worship, whose glory in his eyes eclipsed the lustre of all meaner constellations. Proceeding
with the quotation,
- “And still more for thee
- There still remains to know, than thou canst see
- By glimmering of a fancy: do but come,
- And there I’ll shew thee that capacious room,
- In which thy father Jonson now is placed,
- As in a globe of radiant fire, and graced
- To be in that orb crown’d, that doth include
- Those prophets of the former magnitude,
- And be one chief.”
His death, in Herrick’s esteem, was fatal to the theatrical profession. Witness his lament.
- “After the rare Arch-poet Jonson died,
- The sock grew loathsome, and the buskin’s pride,
- Together with the stage’s glory, stood
- Each like a poor and pitied widowhood.
- The cirque profaned was, and all postures rack’d,
- For men did strut, and stride, and stare, not act.
- Then temper flew from words, and men did squeak,
- Look red, and blow, and bluster, but not speak.
- No holy rage, or frantic fires did stir
10Or flash about the spacious theatre.
- No clap of hands, or shout, or praise’s proof
- Did crack the playhouse sides, or cleave her roof.
- Artless the scene was, and that monstrous sin
- Of deep and arrant ignorance came in;
- Such ignorance as theirs was, who once hiss’d
- At thy unequall’d play, the Alchymist.”
But the time is come when he must quit these haunts of revelry and wit, and prepare himself for that profession which seems
to have been his only resource. Like other
literary men of his day, Herrick won golden favours from the noble patrons of literature. Philip, Earl of Pembroke and Montgomery,
the favourite of James the First, and a scion
of a house not undistinguished in literary history, appears to have extended his munificence to the poet; for which his memory
is graced by a place in the bede-roll of
illustrious names, as one who turned the poet’s lines to gold. The Earl of Dorset is addressed as one “whose smile can make a
poet.” In the absence of any direct evidence on the subject, some allusions in the Hesperides would seem to indicate that, at some period of his life, Herrick had been a hanger-on at court. We know that in 1629 he was
presented by the King to the vicarage of
Dean Prior in Devonshire, on the elevation of Dr. Potter to the bishopric of Carlisle. This may have been the reward of frequent
appeals. Certainly no professed courtier would
have been ashamed of the following verses, “To the King, to cure the evil,” written in the hyperbolical language of the day.
- “ To find that Tree of Life, whose fruits did feed,
- And leaves did heal, all sick of human seed;
- To find Bethesda, and an angel there,
- Stirring the waters, I am come,”
and so on in the same strain. The little matrimonial differences between Charles the First and his Queen, which were chiefly
owing to her refusal to share his
coronation, furnished Herrick with a theme for his pen. He addresses them in the language of prophecy.
- “Like streams you are divorced, but ’twill come, when
- These eyes of mine shall see you mix again.
- Thus speaks the oak here; C. and M. shall meet,
- Treading on amber with their silver feet;
- Nor will’t be long ere this accomplish’d be;
- The words found true, C. M. remember me.”
This was evidently written before 1628, the year in which Buckingham, whose object it was to widen the breach between the
royal pair, was assassinated by Felton.
The supposition that Herrick was a courtier, may perhaps explain the allusion to his “beloved Westminster” mentioned above,
more especially as in
some lines to the “Lady Mary Villiers, Governess to the Princess Henrietta,” which were written probably in 1644, he entreats her:
- “For my sake, who ever did prefer
- You above all those sweets of Westminster,
- Permit my book to have a free access
- To kiss your hand, most dainty governess.”
There is something that smacks of the royal drawing-room in the following: “Upon a Black Twist rounding the Arm of the Countess of Carlisle,” first lady of the bedchamber to Queen Henrietta Maria:
- “I saw about her spotless wrist,
- Of blackest jet, a curious twist;
- Which circumvolving gently, there
- Enthrall’d her arm as prisoner.
- Dark was the jail, but as if light
- Had met t’engender with the night;
- Or so, as darkness made a stay,
- To show at once both night and day.
- I fancy more, but if there be
10Such freedom in captivity,
- I beg of love that ever I
- May in like chains of darkness lie.”
The Countess always dressed in deep black to contrast with the whiteness of her complexion, and in a miniature, which was
sold at Strawberry Hill, she is represented in
an enormous round black hat. Waller describes her as
- “A Venus rising from a sea of jet.”
“The honoured M. Endymion Porter, Groom of the Bedchamber to his Majesty,” was one of Herrick’s most familiar friends, and a great patron of letters. He accompanied “baby Charles” and
“Steenie” on their journey to Spain in 1623, and it was for him that Herrick composed the pastoral dialogue with himself,
under the name of Lycidas.
Endymion complains of the silence of his muse:
- “Ah! Lycidas, come tell why
- Thy whilome merry oat
- By thee doth so neglected lie,
- And never purls a note?”
Lycidas, in return, implores him to leave the court and its uncongenial employments. Endymion consents:
- “Dear Lycidas, ere long,
- I vow by Pan, to come away
- And pipe unto thy song.
- Then Jessamine, with Florabell,
- And dainty Amarillis,
- With handsome-handed Drosomell,
- Shall prank thy brook with lilies.”
Whether the attractions of his friend’s society induced him to haunt the purlieus of the court, or whether his attendance
was for more interested motives, must
be left, as it is, matter of mere conjecture. Julia, Sappho, Anthea, Electra, and the rest, the inspiring heroines of his
song, may have been celebrated court beauties, whose
charms in turn fascinated him, or they may have been purely imaginary mistresses, mere names to hang a verse upon; for a poet,
like a young knight in the ages of chivalry, was
obliged to have some real or pretended object of adoration, some Dulcinea whose pre-eminent beauty he vindicated, and whose
favour it was his aim to achieve. Perhaps the
following lines were written at the conclusion of a London season:
- “I have lost, and lately, these
- Many dainty mistresses:
- Stately Julia, prime of all,
- Sappho neat, a principal;
- Smooth Anthea, for a skin
- White, and heaven-like crystalline;
- Sweet Electra, and the choice
- Myrrha, for the lute and voice;
- Next, Corinna, for her wit,
10And the graceful use of it,
- With Perilla, all are gone;
- Only Herrick’s left alone,
- For to number sorrow by
- Their departures hence, and die.”
But while indulging in speculations as to what might have been Herrick’s mode of life in London, the few real facts of his
history must not be forgotten. His
presentation to the living of Dean Prior, though in all probability the result of his own application, does not appear to
have afforded him much pleasure. Like Sidney Smith in
the middle of Salisbury Plain, or in his secluded parsonage at Foston le Clay, he was banished from the society of his most
congenial friends, to spend his days among a people
as rough and uncultivated as the country they inhabited. His first impressions of them were not flattering, and after an experience
of nearly twenty years, he takes leave of
“Dean Bourn, a rude river in Devon, by which sometimes he lived,” in this uncomplimentary strain:
- “Rocky thou art, and rocky we discover
- Thy men, and rocky are thy ways all over.
- O men! O manners! now and ever known
- To be a rocky generation.
- A people currish, churlish as the seas,
- And rude, almost, as rudest salvages:
- With whom I did, and may resojourn, when
- Rocks turn to rivers, rivers turn to men.”
The last sentiments he repeats in an ode to his household gods:
- “Let us make our best abode,
- Where human foot, as yet, ne’er trod:
- Search worlds of ice, and rather there
- Dwell, than in loathed Devonshire.”
But unpromising as were his prospects of happiness in this dreary locality, he did not quit it till he was ejected by the
parliament in 1648. To this period of nineteen
years may be referred most of his pieces which have merely a
local interest, and are addressed to various individuals in the county with whom he lived on terms of
intimacy. It was also during this interval of retirement that a great part of his “Noble Numbers” were written, as may be inferred from his “Discontents in Devon.”
- “More discontents I never had
- Since I was born, than here;
- Where I have been, and still am sad,
- In this dull Devonshire:
- Yet justly too I must confess
- I ne’er invented such
- Ennobled numbers for the press,
- Than where I loathed so much.”
His household was not large. A pet lamb, a spaniel, Tracy, a cat, and a sparrow who rejoiced in the name of Phil, shared
his meals; and the former were probably the
companions of his walks. But the presiding genius of all was his faithful old servant, Prudence Baldwin, whose unalterable
attachment and domestic virtues he celebrates in more
than one verse:
- “These summer birds did wish thy master stay
- The times of warmth, but then they flew away;
- Leaving their poet, being now grown old,
- Exposed to all the coming winter’s cold:
- But thou, kind Prew, didst with my fates abide
- As well the winter’s as the summer’s tide;
- For which thy love, live with thy master here,
- Not two, but all the seasons of the year.”
In grateful remembrance of her faithful services he wrote her epitaph:
- “In this little urn is laid
- Prudence Baldwin (once my maid),
- From whose happy spark here let
- Spring the purple violet.”
Tradition adds, says Southey, “that he kept a pet pig, which he taught to drink out of a tankard.” His retired mode of life probably
gave him a character for eccentricity among his neighbours, and the gossip of the country folk exaggerated any little singularities
of behaviour. A man of kindly warmth of
feeling, as Herrick must have been, would find more sympathy in the society of his dumb favourites than among the boors of
his parish, and their
memory has been honoured with a place in his “Poetic Liturgy.” The death of Phil, the sparrow, is made the subject of a dirge, in which he is compared with the bird made illustrious by
the tears of Lesbia. It concludes
with the invocation,
- “ But endless peace sit here, and keep
- My Phil the time he has to sleep,
- And thousand virgins come and weep,
- To make these flowery carpets show
- Fresh as their blood, and ever grow
- Till passengers shall spend their doom,
- Not Virgil’s gnat had such a tomb.”
Tracy, too, came in for his share of immortality.
Of his parsonage we have an interior, limned by himself:
- “Like as my parlour, so my hall
- And kitchen’s small;
- A little buttery, and therein
- A little bin,
- Which keeps my little loaf of bread
- Unchipt, unflead:
- Some little sticks of thorn or briar
- Make me a fire,
- Close by whose living coal I sit
10And glow like it.”
If it were allowable to speculate a little as to his daily habits, gleaning the few hints he has left in his poems, we should
imagine him as not a very early riser,
temperate in eating and drinking more from necessity than choice, and, above all, genial and hearty in the enjoyment of social
intercourse. In person he was probably about the
middle size, with a waist of comfortable proportions, and a tendency to scrofula, which was perhaps the cause of “his farewell
to sack” as much as the
weakness of head of which he complains. By his own testimony he was weak-sighted, or as he calls it himself, “mop-eyed,” and
had by some accident lost a
finger. One would almost suppose him a vegetarian when he speaks of
- “The worts, the purslain, and the mess of watercress.”
which, with his “beloved beet,” were the staple of his meals. But his frugality was a necessary consequence of limited means.
At a dinner-table
he was in his element. He left behind
him among the people of Devon the reputation of being a witty and sprightly talker, and his society was courted for the pleasure
his conversation. Wood tells us, that he “became much beloved among the gentry in those parts for his florid and witty discourses.” But the
times of greatest enjoyment for him were the evenings when some pleasant friend would join him over a cup of canary, to read
with him one of his favourite authors, and prolong
the conviviality far into the night. These were days of rare occurrence, and deserved to be marked with white stones. A picture
of one of them is contained in “An Ode to Sir Clipsby Crew,” inviting him to visit his cell.
- “Here we securely live, and eat
- The cream of meat;
- And keep eternal fires,
- By which we sit, and do divine
- As wine
- And rage inspires.
- If full, we charm; then call upon
- To grace the frantic thyrse;
10 And having drunk, we raise a shout
- To praise his verse.
- Then cause we Horace to be read,
- Which sung or said,
- A goblet to the brim,
- Of lyric wine, both swell’d and crown’d,
- A round
- We quaff to him.
- Thus, thus, we live, and spend the hours
20In wine and flowers;
- And make the frolic year,
- The month, the week, the instant day
- To stay
- The longer here.”
His ordinary way of life was, as he describes it himself, simple and plain. His mornings would be occupied partly with his
farm, and partly with his parish duties; for
there is no reason to imagine that in the discharge of his sacred functions he comported himself with other than the strictest
decorum, although tradition does accuse him of
swearing in his pulpit, and flinging his sermon at the congregation. This must have been an enemy’s tale, for throughout those
of his poems, which are professedly
of a religious character, there breathes a spirit of fervent and unaffected piety and sober seriousness. Like Sidney Smith,
allowed his wit to meddle with solemn subjects. The needy were never sent empty from his house:
- “Low is my porch, as is my fate,
- But void of state;
- And yet the threshold of my door
- So worn by th’ poor
- Who thither come, and freely get
- Good words or meat.”
A few acres of glebe afforded him a pleasant source of amusement, and in his rambles round his fields, and by the banks of
Dean Bourn, he acquired that intimate
acquaintance with the beauties of nature which his taste led him to cultivate, and his genius to enshrine in verse. So strong
was his love for nature that he constituted
himself the hierophant of her mysteries, and his enjoyment of rural scenery, though tinged at times with a feeling of sadness,
may have compensated in some measure for the loss
of that gay company which at first he regretted so much. The introduction to his poems commences:
- “I sing of brooks, of blossoms, birds, and bowers;
- Of April, May, of June, and July flowers.
- I write of groves and twilights,” &c.
Nature and all her phenomena were endeared to him by a thousand pleasant associations. The flowers were his companions, and
he addresses them with playful familiarity.
Read his lines “To Primroses filled with Morning Dew:”
- “Why do ye weep, sweet babes? can tears
- Speak grief in you,
- Who were but born
- Just as the modest morn
- Teem’d her refreshing dew?
- Alas, you have not known that shower
- That mars a flower;
- Nor felt the unkind
- Breath of a blasting wind;
10Nor are ye worn with years,
- Nor warpt as we,
- Who think it strange to see
- Such pretty flowers, like to orphans young,
- To speak by tears, before ye have a tongue.
And those “To Violets,” beginning:
- “Welcome, maids of honour,
- You do bring
- In the spring,
- And wait upon her.”
It was undoubtedly from his own pleasurable experience that he wrote to his brother Thomas on the delights of a country life:
- “The damaskt meadows, and the pebbly streams
- Sweeten, and make soft your dreams;
- The purling springs, groves, birds, and well-weaved bowers,
- With fields enamelled with flowers,
- Present their shapes.”
And “To the Honoured M. Endymion Porter:”
- “This done, then to the enamell’d meads
- Thou go’st, and as thy foot there treads,
- Thou see’st a present god-like power
- Imprinted in each herb and flower,
- And smell’st the breath of great-eyed kine,
- Sweet as the blossoms of the vine.”
The flowery tribes supplied him with numberless subjects for his fancy to luxuriate upon, and run into the most extravagant
wildness. Is Sappho unwell?
- “ Lilies will languish, violets look ill,
- Sickly the primrose, pale the daffodil.
- Pansies will weep.”
Does Julia recover? the flowers are invited to participate in his joy.
- “Droop, droop no more, or hang the head,
- Ye roses almost withered.
- New strength and newer purple get,
- Each here declining violet.”
Electra is conjured to love him:
- “By all those sweets that be
- I’ the flowery nunnery.”
The flowers were his friends, and with them he shared his joys and sorrows.
Of all the seasons, spring and early summer appear to have been his favourites, as they were with all the old poets. The old-fashioned
ceremonies which ushered in the
reviving year were rich in poetical associations, and speak volumes for the vivid imaginations of our forefathers. There is
no doubt that much of poetry has vanished
in England with the decay of these simple, yet picturesque, rites. Merry England is a thing of the past, an antiquarian curiosity,
which poets affect to believe in, and which historians annihilate with statistics. We may be wiser than our forefathers in
some respects; but, without at all joining in the cry
that the former times were better than these, we may without inconsistency experience a feeling of regret that so many of
their pleasant institutions have fallen into decay,
leaving their place still unfilled. But
revenons à nos moutons
, we were on the subject of spring, and “the succession of the four sweet months,” each fraught with beauties to the poet’s
- “First April, she with mellow showers
- Opens the way for early flowers;
- Then after her comes smiling May,
- In a more rich and sweet array;
- Next enters June, and brings us more
- Gems than those two that went before;
- Then, lastly, July comes, and she
- More wealth brings in than all those three.”
With what a burst of vaulting enthusiasm must the following welcome to spring have been penned:
- “Now is the time for mirth,
- Nor cheek nor tongue be dumb;
- For with the flowery earth,
- The golden pomp is come,” &c.
And now May-day has dawned, and the rites have commenced, but Corinna has not yet risen. She is roused from her slumbers by
the accompanying serenade:
- “Get up, get up, for shame, the blooming morn
- Upon her wings presents the god unshorn.
- See how Aurora throws her fair
- Fresh quilted colours through the air;
- Get up, sweet slug-a-bed, and see
- The dew bespangling herb and tree.”
Most of the customs by which May-day was formerly distinguished were purely English in their origin, but the gathering May-dew
was a practice known in Spain, as we learn
from Howell, who, in his “Familiar Letters” tells the following anecdote of Charles I., as Prince of Wales,
while on his
visit to Spain. “Not long since, the Prince, understanding that the Infanta was used to go some mornings to the Casa de Campo, a
summer-house the king hath t’other side the river,
to gather May-dew
, he did rise betimes, and went thither, taking your brother with him. They
were let into the house and into the garden, but the Infanta was in the orchard, and there being a high partition wall between
them, and the door doubly bolted, the Prince
got on the top of the wall, and sprang down a great height, and so made towards her; but she, spying him first of all the
rest, gave a shriek and ran back. The old marquis
that was then her guardian, came towards the Prince, and fell on his knees, conjuring his Highness to retire, in regard he
hazarded his head if he admitted any to her
company; so the door was opened, and he came out under that wall over which he had gone in.” It is to this inaugurating ceremony that Herrick alludes
when urging Corinna to rise, he sings,
- “The childhood of the day has kept,
- Against you come, some orient pearls unwept:
- Come, and receive them while the light
- Hangs on the dew-locks of the night.”
The dew thus gathered before sunrise on May morning was used as a cosmetic, as Pepys tells us in his diary, under the date
1667, April 28th, “My wife away with Jane and Mr. Hewer, to Woolwich, in order to a little air, and to lie there to-night, and so
to-morrow morning, which Mrs. Turner has taught her is the only thing in the world to wash her face with, and I am contented
The installation of the May-Queen in her temporary dignity has formed the theme of verse for more than one poet. One of these
fair sovereigns of the springtime, Mistress
Bridget Lowman, is addressed by her laureate, Herrick, in a “Meadow Verse, or Anniversary,”
recited at her coronation, and commencing
- “Come with the spring-time forth, fair maid, and be
- This year again the meadows’ deity.”
And now listen to the chant which accompanies the erection of the Maypole, decked bravely with ribbons and chaplets of flowers:
- “The Maypole is up,
- Now give me the cup,
- I’ll drink to the garlands around it;
- But first unto those
- Whose hands did compose
- The glory of flowers that crown’d it.”
But while May and spring-time are especially the seasons which the poet delights to honour, he has not forgotten the thoroughly
English institutions of Yule-tide and its
appropriate festivities. Many of the customs which he commemorates have either vanished entirely, or exist only in a mutilated
form, in remote parts of the country, shorn of
their poetical associations. In consequence of this, many of the allusions to these ceremonies are almost unintelligible,
and an illustrated edition of the Hesperides would require the labours of a well-read antiquary. Washington Irving, than whom no writer enters more entirely into the
spirit of these relics of a past age, has
pointed out the writings of Herrick as a rich storehouse of antiquated customs, and testified his admiration of them by repeated
The ceremony of lighting the Yule-log with the remains of the last year’s block is joyously celebrated by the madrigal commencing
- “Come bring with a noise,
- My merry, merry boys,
- The Christmas log to the firing:
- While my good dame, she
- Bids you all be free,
- And drink to your heart’s desiring.”
Another practice which was customary on Christmas Eve, and is not yet quite extinct, though it exists in a somewhat different
form, has inspired the poet’s
- “Wassail the trees, that they may bear
- You many a plum, and many a pear;
- For more or less fruits they will bring,
- As you do give them wassailing.”
The antiquary’s art would be well exercised upon the New Year’s Gift which Herrick wrote from London to his friend Sir Simeon
Steward, in the
- “A jolly
- Verse crowned with ivy and with holly,
- That tells of winter’s tales and mirth,
- That milkmaids make about the hearth,
- Of Christmas sports,” &c.
But Christmas and its jollities, like all other pleasant things, have an end, and at their termination on Candlemas Eve, he
- “Down with the rosemary and bays,
- Down with the mistletoe;
- Instead of holly now upraise
- The greener box for show.”
And so one might go on quoting for ever verses appropriate to each season, the fruits of the poet’s happier moods. But he
was not always thus happily inclined.
His heart was not in the country, and its retirement at times weighed heavily upon his spirits, and checked his mirth. In
such moments of despondency, he would ejaculate:
- “O earth, earth, earth, hear thou my voice, and be
- Loving and gentle for to cover me:
- Banish’d from thee I live, ne’er to return,
- Unless thou giv’st my small remains an urn.”
Or he would vent his spleen in useless regrets.
- “Before I went
- To banishment,
- Into the loathed West;
- I could rehearse
- A lyric verse,
- And speak it with the best.”
As a staunch royalist, and one too who was under personal obligations to the king, Herrick took a deep interest in the stirring
events which were agitating the country,
and the rumours of which penetrated even the seclusion of Dean Prior. His sympathy found expression in verse, and the incidents
of the protracted struggle between Charles the
First and his parliament are its subjects. The titles of a few of
these effusions must suffice: “To the King, upon the taking of Leicester;” “To the King, upon his coming with his army into the West;” “To Prince Charles, upon his coming to Exeter:” “To Sir John Berkley, governor of Exeter;” “To the Lord Hopton, on his fight in Cornwall.” If we are to interpret literally his “Vow to Mars,” it would seem to indicate that he joined the king’s army, but in the absence of any other evidence it would be unsafe to
draw such a conclusion.
To go back a little in point of time, Herrick had not been long settled in his living, when on May 29, 1629, Prince Charles,
afterwards Charles II., was born at St.
James’s Palace. The same day the king went to St. Paul’s to return thanks for the birth of his heir. As the procession was
slowly winding along the
Strand, the crowds of admiring spectators were astonished by the appearance of a bright star at noonday. The omen was hailed
as auspicious, and many were the bad verses which
it provoked. Herrick contributes his quota, not by any means the worst, in “a pastoral upon the birth of Prince Charles,” which was set to music and dedicated to the king.
- “At noon of day was seen a silver star,
- Bright as the wise men’s torch, which guided them
- To God’s sweet babe, when born at Bethlethem.
- While golden angels, some have told to me,
- Sung out his birth with heavenly minstrelsy.”
Wotton alludes to the same circumstance, and it has been commemorated upon some of the coinage of the reign of Charles II.
Then, as another offering of gratitude to the king, we have “The poet’s good wishes for the most hopeful and handsome Prince, the Duke of York,” which the subject of them unhappily did not realize.
- “May the thrice three sisters sing
- Him the sovereign of their spring;
- And entitle none to be
- Prince of Helicon but he.
- May his soft foot where it treads,
- Gardens thence produce and meads;
- And those meadows full be set
- With the rose aud violet.”
It is perhaps scarcely necessary to remark, after the examples which have been quoted, that Herrick’s versification is far
more easy and perfect than that of
many of his contemporaries. That he was an ardent lover of music may be gathered from frequent allusions in his poems, and
that his ear was very correct is evident from the
rhythmical flow of his verse. His heroics are sonorous without roughness and harmonious without monotony, but the metre in
which he seems most to delight is a kind of trochaic,
in which his well known advice “to the Virgins, to make much of time,” is written.
- “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
- Old Time is still a flying;
- And this same flower that smiles to-day,
- To-morrow will be dying.
Somewhat different is “The night-piece, to Julia.”
- “Her eyes the glow-worm lend thee,
- The shooting stars attend thee,
- And the elves also,
- Whose little eyes glow
- Like the sparks of fire, befriend thee.
- No Will-o’-the-wisp mislight thee,
- Nor snake nor slow-worm bite thee;
- But on, on thy way,
- Not making a stay,
10Since ghost there’s none to affright thee.
- Let not the dark thee cumber,
- What though the moon does slumber?
- The stars of the night
- Will lend thee their light
- Like tapers clear without number.”
How musically the verses trip along!
From the fact that some of the Noble Numbers are still, or were till very recently remembered by the people of Devon, we may
infer that most of them were composed during
Herrick’s residence among them. Southey, or the writer of the article on Herrick in the
for Aug. 1810, while on a pilgrimage to Dean Prior, met with an old woman in the 99th
year of her age, named Dorothy King. Her mother had lived in the family of Herrick’s successor, and from her she had
learned five of the Noble Numbers which she was in the habit of repeating. Among them was the beautiful “Litany to the Holy Spirit,” and
which will need no apology for being quoted, at least in part.
- “In the hour of my distress,
- When temptations me oppress,
- And when I my sins confess,
- Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
- When I lie within my bed
- Sick in heart, and sick in head.
- And with doubts discomforted,
- Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
- When the house doth sigh and weep,
10And the world is drown’d in sleep,
- Yet mine eyes the watch do keep,
- Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
- When, God knows, I’m toss’d about,
- Either with despair or doubt,
- Yet before the glass be out,
- Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
- When the Tempter me pursu’th,
- With the sins of all my youth,
- And half damns me with untruth,
20Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
- When the flames and hellish cries
- Fright mine ears, and fright mine eyes,
- And all terrors me surprise,
- Sweet Spirit, comfort me!
- When the Judgment is reveal’d,
- And that open’d which was seal’d,
- When to Thee I have appeal’d,
- Sweet Spirit, comfort me!”
We have said that, in some respects, Herrick’s sacred poetry bears resemblance to the delightful strains of the sweet singer
of the Temple. But, with some
points of likeness, the two poets have scarcely more in common than might be inferred from their physical characteristics.
Herbert, all intellect, delicate and sensitive as a
woman, his attenuated frame almost worn out by his ever active mind, was in every way a contrast to the rough and somewhat
coarse, though amiable and kind hearted, Herrick, in
whose character the animal, though it did not perhaps predominate over the intellectual, was still a prominent feature.
Nor were their habits of life less diverse than
their persons. Herbert, abstemious as an anchorite, weakened his already shattered constitution by his frequent fastings,
while Herrick, though compelled from prudential
motives to restrain his bacchanalian propensities, was still an ardent worshipper of the goddess Sack, whom he thus apostrophizes:
- “Thou mak’st me nimble as the winged hours,
- To dance and caper on the heads of flowers,
- And ride the sunbeams.”
Herbert abounds in the conceits which were essential to popular poetry in his time, and his subtle and refined intellect revels
in the fanciful analogies and nice
distinctions which characterize the school of Donne and his imitators. Herrick, with a mind less acute, but vigorous and comprehensive,
has so far fallen in with the prevailing
fashion as to disfigure his muse with these meretricious ornaments, but he is evidently ill at ease in them, and his effusions
under this restraint are far less happy than
those written under the inspiring influence of natural scenes. Herbert had more fancy, Herrick the more vivid imagination.
But on the hallowed ground of devotion they had in
common an ardent spirit of piety, a firm faith in God, and souls overflowing with love to his creatures. Herrick’s poetry
bears more marks of mental conflict, and
the Slough of Despond was a scene not unfamiliar to him. It was perhaps as his mind was recovering its tranquillity after
one of these struggles that he wrote “The White Island, or Place of the Blest!”
- “ In this world, the Isle of Dreams,
- While we sit by sorrows’ streams,
- Tears and terrors are our themes
- But when once from hence we fly,
- More and more approaching nigh
- Unto young Eternity,
- In that whiter Island, where
10Things are evermore sincere,
- Candour here and lustre there
- There no monstrous fancies shall
- Out of hell an horror call,
- To create, or cause at all,
- There in calm and cooling sleep
- We our eyes shall never steep,
- But eternal watch shall keep,
- Pleasures, such as shall pursue
- Me immortalized and you,
- And fresh joys, as never too
- Have ending.”
One peep at Fairy land and we have done. It is a high feast day, and his elvish majesty is seated with his guests in the hall
of his palace, attended by
- “The merry cricket, puling fly,
- The piping gnat for minstrelsy.
- And now, we must imagine first,
- The elves present to quench his thirst,
- A pure seed pearl of infant dew,
- Brought and besweeten’d in a blue
- And fragrant violet.”
Pâte de foiegras
was a delicacy unknown in the fairy court, but instead we have
- “The broke heart of a nightingale
- O’ercome in music.”
After the feast we are introduced to the bower of Queen Mab:
- “A grove
- Sometimes devoted unto love,
- Tinsell’d with twilight.”
It is illuminated by
- “The glow-worm’s eyes, the shining scales
- Of silvery fish,
- Upon six plump dandelions high
- Rear’d, lies her elvish majesty.
- And overhead
- A spinner’s circle is bespread
- With cobweb curtains; from the roof
- So neatly sunk, as that no proof
- Or any tackling can declare
10What gives it hanging in the air.”
The few remaining facts of Herrick’s life may be summed up in a very brief space. In 1648 he was ejected from his living by
the parliamentarians, and this
summary proceeding was hailed by him as the means of deliverance from his solitude. He returned to London with delight.
- “Ravisht in spirit I come, nay more, I fly
- To thee, blest place of my nativity,”
was his exclamation. Here again his mode of life becomes matter of conjecture. He resided for a time in Westminster, and
supported himself by his writings. Whether he
followed the fortunes of the Royal Family to the Continent, we have no means of ascertaining. In some of his poems we have
hints of a sea voyage, for instance:
- “Mighty Neptune, may it please
- Thee, the Rector of the seas,
- That my barque may safely run
- Through thy watery region.”
But this may be merely a fanciful imitation of a classical passage.
At the restoration he returned to his vicarage, where he continued till his death, which took place about the year 1676.
It is to be regretted that many of his pieces, most distinguished by richness of fancy and lighthearted gaiety, have too great
warmth of colouring to admit of being
quoted in their integrity. In common with his contemporaries he allowed himself to pander to the corrupt taste of the age.
The moral turpitude of a depraved court explains,
while it does not palliate, the disgusting obscenities with which the writings of this period are polluted. That the example
thus shamelessly held up to imitation should find a
numerous crowd of followers is nothing more than might be expected from the naturally downward tendency of our nature. But
that the writers personally, while assisting in the
spread of this universal pollution, should have remained comparatively uncontaminated, is a phenomenon which, while in itself
inexplicable, serves only to exaggerate their
culpability. That they allowed themselves thus to be borne along by the tide of popular tendencies, without raising their
voice in the cause of virtue and decorum, is a fact as
lamentable as it is undoubted. It could not be expected that, like the stern prophets of the Old Testament history, they should
have stood up in the midst of the people as the
champions of religion
and morality, and denounced the judgments of heaven upon the depravity of the age; but, while occupying a more neutral position,
was not too much to expect that they should have painted virtue and vice in their true colours, instead of surrounding the
latter with a halo of attractiveness, glittering as
the phosphoric exhalations of putrescence, and associating the former with everything that is imbecile and absurd.
Like these men, Herrick sinned;
sinned not only against virtue and decency, but against his own better heart. So long as he speaks from the fulness of his
nature, and intense sympathy with all that is beautiful in the material creation, his poetry is exquisitely musical and refined;
but no sooner does he assume the character of a
gay cavalier than the fire of genius seems quenched by the torrent of coarseness and sensuality which disfigures so much of
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial I is ornamental
I read once in lazy humour Thorpe’s “Northern Mythology,” on a cold May
night when the north wind was blowing; in lazy humour, but when I came to the tale that is here amplified there was something
in it that fixed my attention and made me think of
it; and whether I would or no, my thoughts ran in this way, as here follows.
So I felt obliged to write, and wrote accordingly, and by the time I had done the grey light filled all my room; so I put
out my candles, and went to bed, not without fear
and trembling, for the morning twilight is so strange and lonely. This is what I wrote.
Yes, on that dark night, with that wild unsteady north wind howling, though it was Maytime, it was doubtless dismal enough
in the forest, where the boughs clashed eerily,
and where, as the wanderer in that place hurried along, strange forms half showed themselves to him, the more fearful because
half seen in that way: dismal enough doubtless on
wide moors where the great wind had it all its own way: dismal on the rivers creeping on and
on between the marsh-lands, creeping through the willows, the water trickling
through the locks, sounding faintly in the gusts of the wind.
Yet surely nowhere so dismal as by the side of that still pool.
I threw myself down on the ground there, utterly exhausted with my struggle against the wind, and with bearing the fathoms
and fathoms of the heavily-leaded plumb-line
that lay beside me.
Fierce as the wind was, it could not raise the leaden waters of that fearful pool, defended as they were by the steep banks
of dripping yellow clay, striped horribly here
and there with ghastly uncertain green and blue.
They said no man could fathom it; and yet all round the edges of it grew a rank crop of dreary reeds and segs, some round,
some flat, but none ever flowering as other
things flowered, never dying and being renewed, but always the same stiff array of unbroken reeds and segs, some round, some
flat. Hard by me were two trees leafless and ugly,
made, it seemed, only for the wind to go through with a wild sough on such nights as these; and for a mile from that place
were no other trees.
True, I could not see all this at that
Transcribed Footnote (page 530):
* See Thorpe’s “Northern Mythology,” vol. ii. p.
time, then, in the dark night, but I knew well that it was all there; for much had I studied this pool in the day-time, trying
learn the secret of it; many hours I had spent there, happy with a kind of happiness, because forgetful of the past. And even
now, could I not hear the wind going through those
trees, as it never went through any trees before or since? could I not see gleams of the dismal moor? could I not hear those
reeds just taken by the wind, knocking against each
other, the flat ones scraping all along the round ones? Could I not hear, moreover, the slow trickling of the land-springs
through the clay banks?
The cold, chill horror of the place was too much for me; I had never been there by night before, nobody had for quite a long
time, and now to come on such a night! If
there had been any moon, the place would have looked more as it did by day; besides, the moon shining on water is always so
beautiful, on any water even: if it had been
starlight, one could have looked at the stars and thought of the time when those fields were fertile and beautiful (for such
a time was, I am sure), when the cowslips grew
among the grass, and when there was promise of yellow-waving corn stained with poppies; that time which the stars had seen,
but which we had never seen, which even they would
never see again—past time!
Ah! what was that which touched my shoulder?—Yes, I see, only a dead leaf.—Yes, to be here on this eighth of May too of all
nights in the year, the
night of that awful day when ten years ago I slew him, not undeservedly, God knows, yet how dreadful it was!—Another leaf!
and another!—Strange, those
trees have been dead this hundred years, I should think. How sharp the wind is too, just as if I were moving along and meeting
moving! what then, I am not there after all; where am I then?
there are the trees; no, they are freshly-planted oak saplings, the very ones that those withered
last-year’s leaves were blown on me from.
I have been dreaming then, and am on my road to the lake: but what a young wood! I must have lost my way; I never saw all
this before, Well—I will walk on
May the Lord help my senses! I am
riding!—on a mule; a bell tinkles somewhere on him; the wind blows something about with a flapping sound:
something? in Heaven’s name, what?
My long black robes.—Why—when I left my house I was clad in serviceable broadcloth of the
I shall go mad—I am mad—I am gone to the Devil—I have lost my identity; who knows in what place, in what age of the world
I am living
now? Yet I will be calm; I have seen all these things before, in pictures surely, or something like them. I am resigned, since
it is no worse than that. I am a priest then, in
the dim, far-off thirteenth century, riding, about midnight I should say, to carry the blessed sacrament to some dying man.
Soon I found that I was not alone; a man was riding close to me on a horse; he was fantastically dressed, more so than usual
for that time, being striped all over in
vertical stripes of yellow and green, with quaint birds like exaggerated storks in different attitudes counterchanged on the
stripes; all this I saw by the lantern he carried,
in the light of which his debauched black eyes quite flashed. On he went, unsteadily rolling, very drunk, though it was the
thirteenth century, but being plainly used to that,
he sat his horse fairly well.
I watched him in my proper nineteenth-century character, with insatiable curiosity and intense amusement; but as a quiet priest
of a long-past age, with contempt and
disgust enough, not unmixed with fear and anxiety.
He roared out snatches of doggrel
verse as he went along, drinking songs, hunting songs, robbing songs, lust-songs, in a voice that sounded far and far above
roaring of the wind, though that was high, and rolled along the dark road that his lantern cast spikes of light along ever
so far, making the devils grin: and meanwhile I, the
priest, glanced from him wrathfully every now and then to That which I carried very reverently in my hand, and my blood curdled
with shame and indignation; but being a shrewd
priest, I knew well enough that a sermon would be utterly thrown away on a man who was drunk every day in the year, and, more
especially, very drunk then. So I held my peace,
saying only under my breath:
“Dixit insipiens in corde suo, Non est Deus. Corrupti sunt et abominabiles facti sunt in studiis suis; non est qui faciat bonum,
usque ad unum: sepulchrum patens est guttur eorum; linguis suis dolose agebant, venenum aspidum sub labiis eorum. Dominum
non invocaverunt; illic trepidaverunt
timore, ubi non erat timor. Quis dabit ex Sion salutare Israel?”
and so I went on, thinking too at times about the man who was dying and whom I was soon to see: he had been a bold bad plundering
baron, but was said lately to have
altered his way of life, having seen a miracle or some such thing; he had departed to keep a tournament near his castle lately,
but had been brought back sore wounded, so this
drunken servant, with some difficulty and much unseasonable merriment, had made me understand, and now lay at the point of
death, brought about by unskilful tending and such
like. Then I thought of his face—a bad face, very bad, retreating forehead, small twinkling eyes, projecting lower jaw; and
such a voice, too, he had! like the grunt
of a boar mostly.
Now don’t you think it strange that this face should be the same, actually the same as the face of my enemy, slain that very
day ten years ago? I
hate him, either that man or the baron, but I wanted to see as little of him as possible, and I hoped that the ceremony would
soon be over, and that I should be at liberty
And so with these thoughts and many others, but all thought strangely double, we went along, the varlet being too drunk to
take much notice of me, only once, as he was
singing some doggrel, like this, I think, making allowances for change of language and so forth:
- “The Duke went to Treves
- On the first of November;
- His wife stay’d at Bonn—
- Let me see, I remember;
- “When the Duke came back
- To look for his wife,
- We came from Cologne,
- And took the Duke’s life;
- “We hung him mid high
10Between spire and pavement,
- From their mouths dropp’d the cabbage
- Of the carles in amazement.”
“Boo—hoo! Church-rat! Church mouse! Hilloa, Priest! have you brought the pyx, eh?”
From some cause or other he seemed to think this an excellent joke, for he almost shrieked with laughter as we went along;
but by this time we had reached the castle.
Challenge, and counter-challenge, and we passed the outermost gate and began to go through some of the courts, in which stood
lime trees here and there, growing green tenderly
with that Maytime, though the north wind bit so keenly.
How strange again! as I went farther, there seemed no doubt of it; here in the aftertime came that pool, how I knew not; but
in the few moments that we were riding from
the outer gate to the castle-porch I thought so intensely over the probable cause for the existence of that pool, that (how
strange!) I could almost have thought I was back
again listening to the oozing of the land-springs through the high clay banks there. I was wakened from that, before it grew
too strong, by the glare of many torches,
and, dismounting, found myself in the midst of some twenty attendants, with flushed faces and wildly sparkling eyes, which
vainly trying to soften to due solemnity; mock solemnity I had almost said, for they did not seem to think it necessary to
appear really solemn, and had difficulty enough
apparently in not prolonging indefinitely the shout of laughter with which they had at first greeted me. “Take the holy Father
to my Lord,” said one at
last, “and we will go with him.”
So they led me up the stairs into the gorgeously-furnished chamber; the light from the heavy waxen candles was pleasant to
my eyes after the glare and twisted red smoke
of the pine-torches; but all the essences scattered about the chamber were not enough to conquer the fiery breath of those
I put on the alb and stole they brought me, and, before I went up to the sick man, looked round on those that were in the
rooms; for the rooms opened one into the other
by many doors, across some of which hung gorgeous tapestry; all the rooms seemed to have many people, for some stood at these
doors, and some passed to and fro, swinging aside
the heavy hangings; once several people at once, seemingly quite by accident, drew aside almost all the veils from the doors,
and showed an endless perspective of gorgeousness.
And at these things my heart fainted for horror. “Had not the Jews of late,” thought I, the priest, “been very much in the
crucifying children in mockery of the Holiest, holding gorgeous feasts while they beheld the poor innocents die? these men
are Atheists, you are in a trap, yet quit yourself
like a man.”
“Ah, sharp one,” thought I, the author, “where are you at last? try to pray as a test.—Well, well, these things are strangely
like devils.—O man, you have talked about bravery often, now is your time to practice
it: once for all trust in God, or I fear you are lost.”
Moreover it increased my horror that there was no appearance of a woman in all these rooms; and yet was there not? there,
those things—I looked more intently;
yes, no doubt they were women, but all dressed like men;—what a ghastly place!
“O man! do your duty,” my angel said; then in spite of the bloodshot eyes of man and woman there, in spite of their bold looks,
they quailed before
I stepped up to the bedside, where under the velvet coverlid lay the dying man, his small sparkling eyes only (but dulled
now by coming death) showing above the
swathings. I was about to kneel down by the bedside to confess him, when one of those—things—called out (now they had just
been whispering and sniggering
together, but the priest in his righteous, brave scorn would not look at them; the humbled author, half fearful, half trustful,
dared not): so one called out:
“Sir Priest, for three days our master has spoken no articulate word; you must pass over all particulars; ask for a sign only.”
Such a strange ghastly suspicion flashed across me just then; but I choked it, and asked the dying man if he repented of his
sins, and if he believed all that was
necessary to salvation, and, if so, to make a sign, if he were able: the man moved a little and groaned; so I took it for
a sign, as he was clearly incapable either of speaking
or moving, and accordingly began the service for the administration of the sacraments; and as I began, those behind me and
through all the rooms (I know it was through all of
them) began to move about, in a bewildering dance-like motion, mazy and intricate; yes, and presently music struck up through
all those rooms, music and singing, lively and
gay; many of the tunes I had heard before (in the nineteenth century); I could have sworn to half a dozen of the polkas.
The rooms grew fuller and fuller of people; they passed thick and fast between the rooms, and the hangings were continually
rustling; one fat old man with a big belly
crept under the bed where I was, and wheezed and chuckled there, laughing and talking to one who stooped down and lifted up
the hangings to look at him.
Still more and more people talking and singing and laughing and twirling about, till my brain went round and round, and I
scarce knew what I did; yet, somehow, I could
not leave off; I dared not even look over my shoulder, fearing lest I should see something so horrible as to make me die.
So I got on with the service, and at last took the Pyx, and took thereout the sacred wafer, whereupon was a deep silence through
all those rooms, which troubled me, I
think, more than all which had gone before, for I knew well it did not mean reverence.
I held it up, that which I counted so holy, when lo! great laughter, echoing like thunder-claps through all the rooms, not
dulled by the veiling hangings, for they were
all raised up together, and, with a slow upheaval of the rich clothes among which he lay, with a sound that was half snarl,
half grunt, with helpless body swathed in
bedclothes, a huge
swine that I had been shriving tore from me the Holy Thing, deeply scoring my hand as he did so with tusk and tooth, so that the
ran quick on to the floor.
Therewithal he rolled down on to the floor, and lay there helplessly, only able to roll to and fro, because of the swathings.
Then right madly skirled the intolerable laughter, rising to shrieks that were fearfuller than any scream of agony I ever
heard; the hundreds of people through all those
grand rooms danced and wheeled about me, shrieking, hemming me in with interlaced arms, the women loosing their long hair
and thrusting forward their horribly
unsexed faces toward me till I felt their hot breath.
Oh! how I hated them all! almost hated all mankind for their sakes; how I longed to get right quit of all men; among whom,
as it seemed, all sacredest things even were
made a mock of. I looked about me fiercely, I sprang forward, and clutched a sword from the gilded belt of one of those who
stood near me; with savage blows that threw the
blood about the gilded walls and their hangings right over the heads of those—things—I cleared myself from them, and tore
down the great stairs madly, yet
could not, as in a dream, go fast enough, because of my passion.
I was out in the courtyard, among the lime trees soon, the north wind blowing freshly on my heated forehead in that dawn.
The outer gate was locked and bolted; I stooped
and raised a great stone and sent it at the lock with all my strength, and I was stronger than ten men then; iron and oak
gave way before it, and through the ragged splinters I
tore in reckless fury, like a wild horse through a hazel hedge.
And no one had pursued me. I knelt down on the dear green turf outside, and thanked God with streaming eyes for my deliverance,
praying Him forgiveness for my unwilling
share in that night’s mockery.
Then, I arose and turned to go, but even as I did so I heard a roar as if the world were coming in two, and looking toward
the castle, saw, not a castle, but a great
cloud of white lime-dust swaying this way and that in the gusts of the wind.
Then while the east grew bright there arose a hissing, gurgling noise, that swelled into the roar and wash of many waters,
and by then the sun had risen a deep black lake
lay before my feet.
And this is how I tried to fathom the Lindenborg Pool.
- “ And one an English home—gray twilight pour’d
- On dewy pastures, dewy trees,
- Softer than sleep—all things in order stored;
- A haunt of ancient Peace.”
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial S is ornamental
Some books are like cathedrals—grand and stately and awful—in which the great questions of life are argued, and prayers and
confessions and thanksgivings go up to heaven in solemn alternation. Others are like palaces—brilliant and splendid—full of
gay tales of kings and
courtiers, lords and ladies,—with glittering and sweet-sounding phrases laying the mind on purple cushions, and ministering
to it dainty viands and rich wines.
Others again are like castles that frown on the summit of a mountain—picturesque and terrible—with wild, stern histories of
warriors, whose life
was one conflict with mighty foes—never subdued, though often defeated—only at the last hearing a low but clear song of victory,
and beholding far up
in the sky the wreath of conquest.
And others there are that are mere dwelling-houses, with nothing in them grand and solemn—nothing splendid and gorgeous,
nothing fearful and
romantic—but wherein families assembled day after day at the household prayer and round the household hearth; which witnessed
from year to year human labour and
love, and joy and sorrow, and birth and death. And such is the story I now commend to you, dear reader,—simple and ordinary,
with little incident, with no
adventure, yet not devoid of thought and feeling, as the life of no man, though it seemed the most monotonous and commonplace,
has ever been. The spiritual worth of a life
is not always in proportion to the noise and bustle it has made in the ear and before the eye. Its most precious part may
have been the unacted feeling and the unspoken
- “Where once we held debate, a band
- Of youthful friends, on mind and art,
- And labour and the changing mart,
- And all the framework of the land.
- When one would aim an arrow fair,
- But send it slackly from the string;
- And one would pierce an outer ring,
- And one an inner, here and there.
- And last the master-bowman, he
10Would cleave the mark. A willing ear
- We lent him. Who but hung to hear
- The rapt oration flowing free.”
“But you will never persuade me, Cavalay, that it is right for a man like you to pass his time without some definite
“And so all my arguments for the
last half hour have been thrown away upon you. But you shall not entrap me into working by making me prove that I
have a right to be idle any longer.”
“But,” said a third, “you don’t seem to enjoy this kind of life. I am sure you are
not near so happy as you were in your first two or three terms, when you were one of the hardest readers in college.”
“That may be true; but it does not advance your argument much. I should like to catch you setting up happiness as the object
of a man’s life. But
come, who’s for a stroll in the High? The moon’s up, and the shadow of the Radcliffe will be grand.”
My readers will easily understand that the scene is a room in one of the colleges of Oxford. The speakers are three gownsmen,
of whom the first is named Marlowe, the
third Hartle; the other, being my hero, I must describe a little more particularly. He is about twenty-two years old, and
will take his degree this time next year, it being
now the Michaelmas term. His face is not what is usually understood as handsome, but is capable of great variety of expression;
his hair deep brown, and curling; his eyes
dark blue, and bright and quick. His make shows both activity and strength, both of which he every day displays, on the river,
on the cricket-ground, in the fields, or in
college rooms. He is considered the cleverest, but the idlest, of all his “set.” Most of the others are not, in the University
sense of the word,
reading men, though few read more poetry, more novels, or more books of general information. Marlowe, however, is an exception,
though he finds plenty of leisure to enjoy
the company of the rest, especially of Cavalay, whom he admires very much.
The three walked about the town, and called at other colleges, till ten o’clock, when they returned to Marlowe’s rooms. At
this hour the business
of the college is finished: chapel and hall have long been over, the gates are closed, and the servants are gone home, and
all is quiet in the quadrangle, unless a noisy
supper disturb it with songs and shouts. To many gownsmen
this is the most pleasant part of the day. The late reader finds himself least distracted at this time; the
early reader enjoys a cup of coffee and a pipe after his six or eight hours’ work; a supper party have just emptied their
first bowl of punch; while the rooms of
such men as Cavalay and Hartle, who were neither what are called reading men nor fast men, often afforded the motley entertainment
of smoking, drinking coffee or beer,
reading aloud, and talking about books and kindred matters. Such was the scene displayed to-night in Marlowe’s room. Beside
himself, Cavalay, and Hartle, three
or four other gownsmen were present. All stood, sat, or reclined as suited them; Hartle lying on a sofa, occasionally reading;
Cavalay sitting in an armchair, smoking a
long, well-coloured meerschaum. On the table was coffee, a huge tankard of spiced beer, a canister of tobacco, papers and
books on divers subjects. I would I could bring
the scene palpably before the reader; and especially, not describe the actors, but make them exhibit themselves, talking in
my pages as they talked in this room. But he
well knows what a thing of impulse a desultory conversation carried on by many parties is, and how difficult, if not impossible,
it is to record it adequately in deliberate
writing. The words, or rather the more important sentiments, can be easily given; but the manner in which each subject was
started, the interruptions, the
renewals,—the looks, the tones, the gestures,—the hesitation and awkwardness of one speaker, the fluency and felicity of another,—these
be given only in the merest outline, which reduces the actual conversation of living men, distinct with moral, intellectual,
and physical peculiarities, to a bare
collection of speeches made by characters, almost by abstractions. Yes, reader, I know well that when I tell you that Cavalay
was a brilliant talker, the demand naturally
rises at once to your lips, let me hear
him talk; and so you shall, according to my ability; but if I sometimes tell you how he talked, or what he talked about,
of what he said, consider indulgently what I have just pleaded, and call to mind the many evenings you have enjoyed in continuous,
amusing, instructive conversation, and
how vainly you have tried to preserve them in your diary, until you have ended, perhaps, by putting down no more than this:—“Passed
a pleasant evening
in conversation on various subjects.” And thus fain would I relate how the discourse to-night in Marlowe’s room flew from
subject,—how they talked now about poetry and art, now about University boating and the University schools; how presently
they were discussing the character of
this man, or criticising the merits of that book; how they told tales and anecdotes, and interspersed all with reading aloud,
now a poem, now a choice chapter from a novel.
But I must not attempt what I could not hope to succeed in.
They did not break up completely till three o’clock, when Cavalay and Hartle were left alone with Marlowe; the rest had dropt
off one by one, two or three
fresh comers having arrived from time to time. Every now and then a distant bell was heard, faintly telling the quarters;
and at longer intervals the mighty Tom of Christ
Church sent across the quiet streets, with musical thunder, first the many midnight strokes, and then the few strokes of the
morning hours. Light after light disappeared
from the windows of the rooms in the quadrangle, until the little party seemed the only wakers. Delicious hours! How far away
appeared the world, with its care and its
tumult and its commonplace
men, to these young, ardent, careless spirits! How they felt the influence divine of night in revealing the beauties and
the wonders of
poetry and art and nature! This was their real education, not the lectures in Livy and Aristotle, read unwillingly in the
day-time. And of all who so happy, so brilliant as
Cavalay? Half of the whole talking was done by him. Often the conversation was a sort of dialogue between him and the rest.
At times it was even a monologue, the others
being silent to listen to him. It was really wonderful how the idle, careless lounger, whom scarcely anybody ever found reading,
except, as now sometimes, aloud to others,
could talk not only of poems and novels, but of works of philosophy and history; how he could criticise music and architecture;
how the characters and manner of his
acquaintances seemed entirely known to him. Not trying to do anything, he appeared to have the power almost to do everything;
what was a labour and a serious work to
others, was a bye-play and an amusement to him. See him now, as he sits, with his calm, full blue eye shining steadily, while
he comments on a scene in
. What could be a more enviable lot? the unfeigned, open, enthusiastic admiration of young men, and that in youth, when admiration
is so dear. What wonder if they say
among themselves that Cavalay is the cleverest, the most amiable, the most entertaining man they know? What wonder if, as
he walks across the dark quadrangle, he whistles
softly and light-heartedly; and, when in bed, exchanges his waking thoughts for quiet dreams, in which, through a variety
of vague, broken incidents, the happy spirit of
the day is still preserved?
- “A spot of dull stagnation, without light
- Or power of movement, seem’d my soul,
- ’Mid onward-sloping motions infinite
- Making for one sure goal.
- “A still salt pool lock’d in with bars of sand;
- Left on the shore; that hears all night
- The plunging seas draw backward from the land
- Their moon-led waters white.
- “A star that with the choral starry dance
10Join’d not, but stood, and standing saw
- The hollow orb of moving Circumstance
- Roll’d round by one fixed law.”
When Cavalay awoke, the first thing of which he was conscious was the dismal sound of rain pattering against the panes. He lay
awake some time
before he could prevail upon himself to face the dreary morning. He found no letters on his table, for he kept up little correspondence.
He ate his solitary breakfast,
lounging listlessly on the sofa; and, when it was finished, had recourse to a solace which seldom failed him, his meerschaum.
But this morning perhaps it did: for, after a
few whiffs, he put it down, and took up a volume of “Zanoni;” and in the strange interest of that novel tried to shut himself
from the depressing
influence of the rainy morning. Usually he possessed great command over his mind; but now he scarcely lost himself for a moment.
Patter, patter, patter, unceasingly came
down the rain; and every now and then the wind moaned, or, with a stronger gust, made his casement rattle. He rose—he walked
to the window—he looked
out on the steady, slanting rain, on the sloppy street, on the dull-coloured, heavy clouds. He looked over his book-shelves;
but all his books seemed uninteresting, or
requiring too much exertion. He threw himself on the sofa before the fire, shut his eyes, and tried hard to lose the gloomy
present in some pleasant recollection of the
past, or bright vision of the future. But the spirits of memory and imagination are very fickle; and now, when most needed,
they would not come at his
call. Was this
that glowing fancy which had so often enthralled and charmed a listening circle?—this impotent, torpid mind that can scarcely
recall the face of a friend seen
last night. He soon found that memory and imagination were entirely beyond his control, and that nothing but the reality,
the stern, bitter gloomy reality, remained for
him. So he resolved to face it boldly; and first, as was natural in so young a man, he turned to the future. But the future,
the glimpses of which ordinarily seemed so
bright, now, when steadily looked into, appeared cheerless and threatening. What had he to expect? Friendship? He had never
sought it. Love? He had tasted it, and found it
bitter. Fame? He had hoped for it once: but his strong common sense told him that fame was reserved rather for the few who
are fortunate than lavished on the many who seem
deserving. Besides, was he deserving? What had he done, by way of performance, by way even of preparation? Alas, idle days
and purposeless years, a spirit growing daily
less brave and a mind less strong, was the self-condemning reply. He shrank sickening from the future, and turned to the past.
But there was little to allure him there. In
the distance a happy home, where were father, and mother, and two sisters, himself their pride and hope; a year or two, and
father and mother and sisters were dead, and he
was alone, except that a few were attracted by his
talents and accomplishments. The world became unreal to him. He found his friends, though lavish of admiration and attention,
how unlike his father and mother and sisters, how little capable of supplying their place! The stimulus to exertion had been
withdrawn, and thenceforth until the present,
he had been a splendid failure,—full of promise, almost void of performance. There was nothing in the past to detain him.
His father and mother, and sisters, had
been dead so long, and since their death he had thought so little about them, that he could scarcely even recall their memory,
and was utterly powerless to make them really
live again to him. There was no friendship—neither love; least of all could he find pleasure in the remembrance of that. There
was no performance of great or
good actions to bring the peace of mind which more than compensates for family and friends and lovers. So he was thrown back
upon the present. And what a present!
Surrounded by admiring acquaintances, he forgot that there was none who loved him; engaged in intellectual pastimes, he forgot
that he was applying his talents to no
serious work. His life was usually too much occupied with busy idleness to allow him to take a comprehensive view of it. Now
he had leisure, he examined it, and found it
nothing worth. Was this the brilliant, the clever, the amiable, the admired, Cavalay? Was it possible that he was really a
castaway, doing nothing, worth nothing? Who, in
all his circle, so elevated in imagination, so subtle in logic, so clear-headed in practice? Yet he knew conscience told him
truly. He knew, moreover, that however much he
was admired and courted, however good-humoured and sociable, and even kind he was, yet he neither loved nor was loved. And
at this thought he heaved a sigh that was almost
a groan. What would he not have given for a gentle girl to love him, and by her love for
him teach him to love her? He saw now, clearly, what he had often gained
glimpses of before, that he was cold and selfish; he called to mind how little the sufferings of others affected him, how
engrossed he was with his own happiness and his
own misery. Indeed he had suffered much. I have already said in passing that he had been disappointed in love. He had loved
with all the vehemence of his impetuous
character. Following the tendency of all intense natures, he had concentrated, and so narrowed his affection. With no self-control,
he had drunk to intoxication of the cup
of enchantment. He had never suspected that his love might not be returned, and so had lived in a perpetual day-dream, till
the rude reality of rejection awakened him to
misery, self-humiliation and misanthropy. I have said reality of rejection; and for a while the world did seem too real to
him; her words for weeks were always in his ears
as plainly as when they were spoken; but then they died away; his grief subsided into a fixed heaviness, and through this
haze of sorrow all things seemed unreal to him;
the world which he had made for himself was destroyed, and his sick soul refused to live in the world which was around him,
so cold, so hard, so unlike that of his own
creation. He tried to live by himself, no longer, as before, as an Epicurean, seeking pleasure, but as a Stoic, hardening
himself against pain. But woe to him who attempts
to live alone. “The abysmal deeps of Personality” shall yawn for him, and down gulf after gulf, shall he fall, ever coming
on some horrible thing,
till he shall think his soul a hell full of devils and torments. Down these gulfs had Cavalay fallen, and the shame which
such selfishness caused his originally generous
disposition had pained him more than even his self-invented tortures. O love! love! he groaned inwardly. Oh for some one to
love, some one to save him from himself! How
would the unreality of the world be turned to happy reality by the warm pressure of a girl’s hand, by the life
shining through her eyes into his. He ran rapidly through his female acquaintances; but who can single out this or that to
love? He soon gave over the search; there was not
one to whom he would have given a moment’s thought in a time less wretched. Patter, patter, patter, still the rain came down,
and still he lay on his couch,
and gazed wearily into the fire. In the afternoon several gownsmen dropt in; the dull daylight at length faded quite away,
candles were lighted, curtains drawn; and
surrounded by a group, of which he was, as usual, the orator, he forgot the reflections of the dismal morning, and put off
the new course of life, which he had almost
persuaded himself to begin, till some convenient season.
- “So light of foot, so light of spirit,—oh she
- To me myself, for some three careless moons,
- The summer pilot of an empty heart
- Unto the shores of nothing! Know you not
- Such touches are but embassies of love
- To tamper with the feelings, ere he found
- Empire for life?”
When the term was over, Cavalay went down with Hartle, to spend the vacation with him. Mr. Hartle lived near a country town in
the Midland Counties.
His family consisted of a wife, Clarence, and two daughters, the elder seventeen years of age, the younger scarcely twelve.
Mary, the elder, might fairly be called pretty;
she had soft blue eyes, dark hair, and a very sweet and gentle expression. May gave promise of great beauty, having blue eyes,
bright rather than soft, and a very lively
and happy countenance. You could scarcely help fancying that the sun, whose visits were marked by half-a-dozen freckles on
a very fair skin, had left some of his light and
energy with her. Hartle and Cavalay did not reach the house till late in the evening, when they found none of the family up,
except Mr. and Mrs. Hartle, who received
Cavalay very kindly, having heard much of him from Clarence. He seemed to make himself at home at once, and sat in the arm-chair
assigned him with such an air of comfort
that a stranger would have taken him for one
of the family. When he met the young ladies at breakfast he was at once attracted by the sunny face of May, though he was
scarcely less pleased with the simple and gentle look of her sister. He was by nature extremely susceptible of female influence;
although this tendency had been violently
rooted out by his unsuccessful love, and had been succeeded by aversion, which sometimes had almost the strength of hatred.
But to the health and growth of such a mind,
esteem and reverence for woman are as essential as light to a flower. Often, indeed, familiar with the Unas and Idas of poets,
it forms an ideal, which makes it regard
actual women, who necessarily fall below its standard, with distaste and contempt. But it is always ready to acknowledge any
resemblance to its ideal; and thus Cavalay, who
was accustomed to complain of his female acquaintances with contemptuous bitterness, readily and joyfully yielded to Mary
and May Hartle the homage which he at once felt
was their due. After breakfast their father proposed a visit to the ruins of a neighbouring
castle; but his proposal was received with so deprecatory a look by Cavalay, who, except on rare occasions, hated sight-seeing,
that he contented himself with recommending him to join Clarence and his sisters in a walk to view the surrounding scenery.
Although it was in the earlier part of December,
it was a fine sunny morning, and the slight frost of the preceding night had only given the air that bracing freshness which
so invigorates the pedestrian. Cavalay and the
young ladies were soon engaged in a continuous, though light, conversation; for Clarence did not talk much, and generally
kept a little in the rear. There was not much
poetry or sentimentality in Miss Hartle’s conversation, but there was what was to Cavalay at the present time much better,
kindness and freshness of feeling. She
talked of the people of the neighbouring town, asked curious questions about University life, especially with reference to
her brother—told him of the only visit
she had ever paid to London, of her habits of life, of her reading, her music, her walks—and all with a simplicity and frankness
which charmed him, even while he
smiled to himself at the openness of the country girl. There was much more poetry and romantic feeling in the exclamations
with which May kept ever and anon breaking upon
their talk. She seemed to have a much livelier sympathy with nature, and a far deeper insight into its meanings. Yet, though
he could no more help admiring her than he
could help admiring a sunbeam, it was the homely talk of her sister that gave him the unwonted sense of freshness and fulness
of existence. How full of life seemed
everything around! The boughs were leafless, the grass was scanty and pale, there were few birds on the bushes and the trees;
but the sunshine brightened the dull colour of
the grass, and lay softly on the bare branches; many a streamlet glittered clear and cold; every now and then
they heard the note of a winter bird still cheery,
though the warm days were gone. It was the season of decay and death; yet busy and unending life seemed overflowing all about.
Life! It was a strange sensation to Cavalay.
It was fortunate for him that he was too much occupied with enjoying it, too much engaged with Mary Hartle and the scenery
to notice the entrance of this unwonted feeling,
or he would have philosophized upon it, and observed how and whence it came, and asked why it came, until it had slipped away
unenjoyed. He was a curious mixture of the
poet and the philosopher, and the mixture lost him much happiness. A poet would have felt and enjoyed, and there remained
content; a philosopher would have searched, and
would have been well rewarded by learning, while he would not have missed the pleasure derived from mere perception. But Cavalay’s
mind seemed to be in a
perpetual conflict; one-half of it said, “See and enjoy;” the other half cried as commandingly, “Examine and know, though
you enjoyment.” Doubtless these two parts admit of union; it is a shallow judgment that poetry and philosophy are enemies;
but to most minds they seem such, and
in Cavalay’s they were still at strife. And thus he was far too much given to investigating his feelings, and many an emotion
that would have brought him
sympathy and happiness had been refined away. But one could not play the philosopher with Mary Hartle; with May one might;
but in Mary there was so little hidden that you
read it at a glance; you had but to look, and all was plain. Wholly unconscious of the good and happiness she was bringing
her companion, (she would have shrunk from the
idea that she could teach anything to one so clever as she had heard Cavalay was,) she was charmed by his ease and liveliness;
even in the light topics upon which they had
been talking, he seemed to see
so much farther than herself and those with whom she had associated; he put into language thoughts which had crossed her
mind, but which she would have had difficulty in expressing; he infused such grace and spirit into the most commonplace subjects,
that the present walk was probably the
most agreeable she had ever taken, and she felt an admiration for him who had made it such which her simplicity made no attempt
to conceal. Just before they reached home,
“We shall have some friends to visit us this evening, among whom will be a young lady whom I am sure you will very much admire.”
“Let me find her out for myself then,” he answered, laughing, “for if
you point her out to me, how can I possibly admire
“Well, I will trust to your discernment; but you cannot overlook her.”
When they reached the house, they found her father, who had been out shooting, with several rabbits, the produce of his morning’s
sport, lying on the ground
“Good morning, Cavalay,” he exclaimed; “I hope you found the girls entertaining. I shall not spare you to the ladies this
but shall want you to help Clarence and me to crack a bottle or two of port. The dinner bell will ring in half an hour. We
dine early in the country, you know; though not
too early for an appetite. I hope you have got as good a one as I have this morning.”
- “ ‘Let some one sing to us; lightlier move
- The minutes fledged with music.’ . . . . . .
- She ended with such passion that the tear
- She sang of shook and fell, an erring pearl
- Lost in her bosom.”
Mr. Hartle was as good as his word, and when the ladies left the room soon after dinner, he drew his chair up close to the fire, motioning
and Clarence to do the same; then poked the fire, which was already half up the chimney, and now threw a ruddy light into
every corner of the room,—rang the bell
and ordered the butler to bring in a bottle of port, which he gave him precise directions to find. In it came with that delicious
mould which tells of long lying in a
vault, down somewhere, you know not and care not where,—far under ground, where the imagination wanders luxuriously among
wines of every colour and every
country; some in casks, some in bins closely covered up in sawdust; some in odd corners which the daylight never reaches,
some in rank and file, like a band of fiery
warriors. Amber and gold, dull white and deep red; sherry and bordeaux, champagne and hock,
burgundy and madeira, and last and best of all the generous mellow port,
which is most loved by us strong-limbed, stout-hearted Englishmen. Every wine announcing its country by its name, calling
up vague pictures of rich plains of sunny France,
castled crags of the Rhine, slopes of the purple Apennine, sparkling sands of the gold-river Tagus; creating romantic images
of lively French grisettes, honest,
kind-hearted Germans, picturesque Italian banditti, dark-eyed, dark-haired Spanish damsels. In our easy chair, with the wine
sparkling and bubbling on the table, or lying
still, glorious with calm beauty and quiet strength, we travel over the best part of Europe. Eloquent wine! that has just
escaped from a black, mouldy, ugly bottle, to be
imprisoned in a decanter, prim and formal, and uglier still. And happy wines of the olden times, that shone in figured glass
Venice, and in goblets of silver and gold.
The decanter was soon emptied, and a second bottle, as mouldy as the first, was brought from the same dim region. Conversation
flagged; for the wine and the fire, and
the comfortable gloom which announced the ending of the short December day, made a state far too pleasant to be disturbed
by the labour of talking. Cavalay lay back in his
chair, looking now at his genial host, now at the still merry fire, now at the gloom, which was fast deepening into blackness
in the angles of the walls. Darker and darker
grew the room; more and more sober grew the fire; Cavalay was deeper than ever in his dream; Clarence was gazing intently
into the fire, and his father was fairly beginning
to nod, when suddenly the door opened, and a servant entered, and announced that tea was ready. Up they rose, and in another
minute found themselves in a flood of light,
through which they presently discerned a group of ladies, old and young, at the tea-table. The tea passed off as might have
been expected, the gentlemen talking little, the
ladies a great deal. When it was over a young lady played upon the piano, and was succeeded by several others, all displaying
about the usual musical proficiency of young
ladies. But at last one went to it, whose touch, as she carelessly fingered the keys before beginning a song, arrested Cavalay’s
attention. It was the touch of a
musician. He started up just in time to anticipate Hartle in turning over the leaves of the music. It was a new and fashionable
song, to which he listened almost with
tears. When it was finished, he handed her to a seat, and himself took one by her. Presently he asked her:
“Will you tell me the name of the song you have just sung? I have never heard a more beautiful one.”
With a look of surprise she answered, “Really I have forgotten: it is lying on the table. But you astonish me by admiring
it so much.”
He took it up, and read it over. It was one of the thousand inanities which form almost the entire stock of drawing-room vocalists.
When he had read it, he smiled, and
said, “Will you believe that, while you were singing, it seemed exquisite. I should not like to confess how much its seeming
pathos moved me.”
“But one never expects the words of a song to be beautiful: indeed one scarcely regards them at all; the music is everything.”
“That is true, and just too, in the case of the generality of the songs of the present day. But it ought not to be so, nor
is it always so. There are songs,
the poetry of which is so beautiful that one can no more expect them to be set to fit music than to find a great poem worthily
“I suppose you are thinking of Campbell’s or Moore’s songs. Yes, many of them, particularly some of the latter’s, are
exceedingly grand or pathetic, and though I cannot say that the words surpass the airs, I own they equal them.”
He smiled a little at this. “I was not thinking of Moore. But young ladies (pardon me) seldom get beyond him and Byron. The
poet I had in my mind was
Tennyson; and I was thinking especially of two songs in ‘The Princess,’ ‘The Splendour falls,’ and ‘Tears, idle Tears.’ Of course you remember them.”
Somewhat to his surprise, she answered that she had not read the poem.
“Then I must repeat you the second song. It needs no music but its own.”
He repeated it in a low sweet voice, audible to none but her, but every word distinct and clear. She listened with tears that
almost fell down her cheeks. She had
never read or heard so beautiful a song, she had never heard poetry so beautifully delivered.
She herself sang several other songs in the course of the evening, one of which greatly struck him, and fixed itself in his
memory. She sang it without
notes, and, to his ear at least, gave it peculiar pathos. The words were these:
- “No more, no more, O never more!
- Parted, without a parting:
- No farewell said, not even a tear
- To boding eyelids starting.
- ‘Good bye, sweet love, a short good bye!’
- So short, it scarce had sorrow;
- Almost a softly sad ‘Good night,’
- Before a blissful morrow.
- Our voices, low and trembling, love
10To his own tone did fashion;
- Which still were low,—but with despair,
- Still trembling—with vain passion.
- For never, never more we met;
- We meet no more for ever;
- That had—that have—such worlds of love;
- Whom nought—not death—could sever;
- Who never spoke but loving words,
- Whose every look was tender;
- Yet now void, yearning heart to heart
20Nor love nor woe can render.”
He kept by the side of Miss Carlwood all the evening, and when she departed, she took with her a copy of “The Princess,” which was one of the very few books that he had brought with him. Next morning at the breakfast table, Miss Hartle smilingly
asked him with which of the
ladies he had been most pleased; and then, without waiting for the obvious reply, informed him of at least three flirtations
that she knew of, desperately entered into by
as many young ladies, in the hope of diverting his attention. He laughed, and wondered how he could have been so unobservant.
- “As one that once declined
- On some unworthy heart with joy,
- When he was little more than boy,
- But lives to wed an equal mind.”
I have warned my readers to expect little incident in this tale, and I must now tell them that Cavalay’s visit was only such a one
they themselves might make at the house of an uncle in the country, where there were pretty female cousins to walk with, and
where dancing-parties, pic-nics, sight-seeing
excursions, were arranged for their amusement. Not a day passed without something of the kind. In the morning, perhaps Mr.
Hartle himself invited Cavalay to accompany him
on a ride, or to carry a gun with him, or proposed that he should escort the young ladies to town, or join them and Clarence
in a walk.
And here let me clear him once for all from any suspicion of harbouring a design of obtaining Cavalay as his son-in-law. Cavalay
was far from rich, was very idle, at
any rate was unoccupied, and seemed little likely to make way in the world. As for his cleverness, that would have weighed
against him than for him in the
estimation of a simple, not very well-educated gentleman farmer. He was merely practising the plain duty of hospitality, calling
upon all the members of his family to
contribute to the entertainment of one whom he had received into his house as a guest.
To return. Dinner was served rather early; after which an hour, or perhaps two, were devoted by Mr. Hartle, Clarence, and
Cavalay to the discussion of a bottle, or, if
the morning’s shooting or riding had been harder than usual, two bottles of port. They seldom had company at dinner, or dined
out, but the evening was never
spent out of society. Dancing, with intervals of pianoforte playing and singing, was the principal amusement. And so the days
and weeks glided by, very trivially, but very
pleasantly, and Cavalay enjoyed everything from coursing hares down to walking through a quadrille, and was equally a favourite
with the sporting country gentlemen and their musical, poetical, dancing daughters.
And meanwhile there was a change going on in him, with the production of which the riding in the morning and the dancing in
the evening may perhaps have had less to do
than I may seem to have implied. Bodily exercise profiteth little a mind that is fretting itself away for worthy employment,
and a heart that is hungering and thirsting
after affection. The novelty would soon have worn off, and he might have ridden and danced again, as he had done often before,
in a dream;—sometimes a pleasant
dream enough, but sometimes an uninteresting, tiresome dream. No, my readers will easily believe, that the walks with Mary
Hartle had more to do in working the change than
such things. She seemed exactly fitted to accomplish it, exactly fitted to draw him out of himself, and make him feel the
reality of the external world. It was impossible
to look at her, and fancy that she was only a shadow;—he could have looked at Miss Carlwood, and fancied her but one; she
was too much like the ideal women he
was familiar with in poems and novels; but he could not hold Mary Hartle’s hand without being sure that, soft and warm as
it was, it was real flesh and blood; he
could not hear her voice without feeling that there was more in it than sound.
Not that he was in love with her. How could he, so accomplished, so intellectual, be in love with a simple, half-educated
country girl? It is true now and then the
idea would cross his mind; but he laughed it away scornfully. Yet he did not like to look forward to the time when he should
leave her father’s. Certainly his
visit was a very happy one. Nay, say it out plainly, he did not like parting with her. Yes, he really liked her, he was ready
to acknowledge that: perhaps he felt some love
for her, but only such as an elder brother feels for a sister. But
why was he always thinking of her, and why did he dream of her night after night? These were
perplexing questions, and up to the night before his departure he had not answered them satisfactorily. He did not sleep much
that night, for he was too much occupied with
attempting to reply to them. Yet there seemed a plain way of settling them. How could he bear to leave her on the morrow?
Before he could reply to this direct question, he
fell asleep, and, when he awoke, it seemed to have answered itself: there was a new feeling in his heart, or at least a feeling
which before had been vague and imperfect,
had now taken shape and grown to perfection. He did not go to sleep again, but lay in a waking dream, a very happy dream,
from which he bore to rouse himself only because
he knew that he should sit by Mary Hartle at the breakfast-table. That breakfast he thought the happiest in all his life.
Probably enough he was right, for there was Mary
Hartle by his side, and though he was going to leave her that afternoon, who does not know that the last taste of sweets is
Now there is one question more which my female readers will wonder why Cavalay had never asked himself, Was Miss Hartle in
love with him? Why should he ask it? Did not
her face brighten and look sweeter than ever at his approach? Was she not always ready to walk and talk with him, to play
and sing for him? Had she not always smiles and
kind looks for him?—My readers will answer, But these are not the tokens of love. Certainly in most women they are not. But
perhaps Cavalay was not so well read
in woman as in man,—there are very many men who are not,—or perhaps he thought Mary Hartle an exception,—or perhaps his own
love made him
interpret too favourably or falsely.
But where was Miss Carlwood all this time? Had not he been fascinated
with her, if not she with him, the first evening they had met? She had gone home, but he had met her several times since
first night, and had talked a great deal about The Princess with her, and had often compared her to Ida. And did not she outshine simple Mary Hartle? Yes, very far; but for all that
he did not fall in love with her in
preference. Has the reader never known two girls, of whom the one had nothing but truth and goodness, while the other was
clever, well-read, accomplished? Has he not bowed
down before the one, as before a rightful queen, but shrunk from the thought of making her his wife, lest she might prove
a partner unsuitable, too delicate for this
commonplace, working world, or, it may be, from very fear that he might not dare to exercise over her the rule of a husband,—while
he has looked at the sweet
face of the other, and thought what comfort and delight it would be to have such a smile to welcome him home, or a voice as
gentle to sing to him, or to tell him he was
loved? Entire love is a compound of affection and admiration; but where both cannot be felt, the former is generally chosen.
Affection is the mere necessary food of the
heart; but veneration has something of the nature of a luxury,—in which we can rarely indulge in this unheroical world, and
without which the soul, however much
it may be stunted, will still live on and thrive. And thus Cavalay had bent reverently before the mind of Isabel Carlwood;
but, the gentle, kind heart of Mary Hartle had
drawn his own heart to it.
When breakfast was finished, he proposed a walk with Miss Hartle, to which she readily agreed. At first, and for some time,
they talked on ordinary subjects, till he
reminded her that he was going to London that afternoon. She was sorry, she said; they would miss him very much, and none
more than she herself. Was this encouragement or
not? He went on,
“I shall very much regret to leave you; for my visit has been a very happy one. It has been more than that; it has given me
better feeling, it has made me
kinder, more sympathizing, less self-absorbed, so that I have again felt like a man among men.”
Here he stopped; but she could not, or would not, understand yet; so he spoke plainly.
“And that which has wrought this change is a feeling which I had thought I had become quite dead to. I should have thought
I should never again know what
it is to love; but I have learned this last month, and she who has taught me you will, I hope, be neither surprised nor displeased
to find is yourself.”
She suddenly turned pale, trembled, and loosed his arm. After a short pause she answered,
“I was very glad to hear what you said till the last sentence, which, believe me, took me completely by surprise.”
Both were again silent for a few moments,—when he said,
“Miss Hartle, you do not know what you have doomed me to by those words. It is not only that you have disappointed my dearest
hope, but you have thrown me
back on the sense of unreality (perhaps you will scarcely understand what I mean by this), which I had lately begun to escape.
I was beginning to feel sympathy with others,
to feel that there were some perhaps who cared for me; but now I am again alone, alone in the whole world, with no relations,
no friends, no object in life.”
“You shock me,” she replied, “but I certainly do not know how to understand you. I thought you had many friends at Oxford.
often heard Clarence speak of you, how much you are admired and looked up to by them.”
He smiled, half pleased, half in bitterness.
“Yes, I know well how I stand at Oxford. Doubtless there are many, who, if I were to die or to leave the University, would
feel some regret,
inasmuch as they might find an evening dull which I might have enlivened.—Nay, do not look so grave, I will grant
that there is genuine kindness among them; but that is not friendship; and I would gladly give whatsoever admiration they
are flattering enough to bestow upon me, and all
the kindness they are good enough to show me for one single act of real friendship.”
“But do you mean to say that you have no friends at Oxford? Is not Clarence your friend?”
“You have put a home question, which I must answer carefully and at some length. Far be it from me to doubt that your brother
and others beside him feel
real regard for me, and would exert themselves and make sacrifices for my sake. And this is a most important part of friendship;
but it is not the whole. The sacrifices
that can be made for each other by young men situated as we are will very probably be few and rare, and meanwhile little else
is required than good temper and courtesy. The
small kindnesses which are so frequent in a family, which, though so slight in themselves, are yet so significant and so important
in their results, are likely to be
omitted by us; and thus one may feel solitary and friendless, though surrounded by those who are ready to perform the most
difficult duties of friendship.”
“I understand what you mean by that, though it appears strange to me. But the remedy is easy, and in your own hands. And if
you knew that there were some
who were interested in you, surely you would no longer feel as if you had no object in life, but would apply yourself seriously
to work, if it were only to gain their
admiration and esteem.”
“That is true. You have touched a powerful string. I once even dreamed of fame. But now whom should I care to please. Mere
admiration is easily gained,
and, when gained, is equally unsatisfying.”
“Then why make fame or admiration your object? Take a nobler aim, the good of your fellow men.”
He laughed again, and this time somewhat scornfully.
“Your argument is not improving, Miss Hartle. How am I to benefit those for whom I have no affection, scarcely even any regard
at all? It is an easy thing
for those who love and are loved to talk about devoting oneself to the good of others. But there is no such thing as unimpassioned
benevolence. It is the warmth of the
heart that rouses the hands into action. Before you send me on a mission of benevolence, find me some one to love.”
“But why do you look upon yourself as so devoid of friends?”
Here she hesitated for a moment; then went on,
“Will you think me forward or inconsistent if I confess that I take great interest in you? Though we have known each other
for so short a time, I have
heard a great deal of you from Clarence, and I think that in a little time I could regard you almost as a brother.”
What a strange thrill of pleasure shot through him at those words! A sister! How sweet, how pure, how beautiful the name sounded
to him! Once he had two sisters, and
loved them tenderly: and now, if one could be given to him, how would the reality of the blood relationship and the open interchange
of affection scatter the clouds which
so often made the earth a world of shadows to him! He made no answer to Miss Hartle, for he was too much occupied with thinking
of her last words, till she said,
“And now, Mr. Cavalay, I have one thing more to say. I should regret what has happened this morning much more if I thought
it likely to affect you
seriously. But I am confident that one who is so clever as you are could not long have remained content with one so little
clever and accomplished as I am. And I am
satisfied that you yourself will soon perceive this, and that we shall continue friends yet.”
He seemed struck by this speech, and replied with some warmth,
“Continue friends I am sure we shall. I shall never forget—”
She interrupted him, somewhat archly,
“And you were complaining a few minutes ago that you had not a single friend. But come, before we go into the house,” and
she offered him her
hand frankly, “let us shake hands to show that there is no ill-will between us.”
He took the hand as freely as it was offered; and this was the seal of a friendship, which, rapidly as it had
sprung up, had already ripened almost into the
affection of a brother and sister. No, Miss Hartle was right; he was not, he had not been, in love with her; he almost saw
it clearly already. She was the nearest, not the
fittest. She had wrought, or was working, a great work in him; but hers was not that mightiest power of the Magician. The
regard which he felt for her was love, real love;
but it was but a messenger of that which above all other regard is called Love, bearing enough resemblance to his lord to
make it no wonder that he had been mistaken for
To be continued.)
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial I is ornamental
I have often wondered, when I have thought of the books already given to the world, not only in such quantity, but treating the
great questions of life
in every variety of manner, on all sides, and from so many points of view,—some of them, too, with a force and subtlety, which
we and our posterity cannot hope to
surpass. I have often wondered why men should still continue to write, discussing, as they only can do, these same questions
again and again. At first sight it would seem
matter of no little surprise that new books should still be printed every day in the language in which Chaucer and Spenser,
Bacon and Shakespeare remain unread, at any rate by
the multitude. It might have been expected that at least the thoughts, of the great men of old would have been fully mastered
before living writers would venture to give their
thoughts, almost necessarily not original, to their contemporaries. But it would appear as if every age, besides having its
peculiar difficulties and problems, had also its
peculiar modes of thinking, which render it necessary for every fresh
generation to meet those difficulties and solve those questions in a certain manner, in such a one,
namely, as is adapted to these distinctive modes of thought. Hence living writers, though not greater than their predecessors,—it
may be far from equal to the
greatest of them,—most powerfully influence mankind, though they may do no more than utter afresh what has been already spoken
more fully and more forcibly. Neither
is the age of the writer without effect in modifying his influence, directing it chiefly to those of the same age as himself,
so that the youth of a nation will be peculiarly
under the guidance of the young authors of their own time. These remarks will be found to apply to Alexander Smith, a young
poet, who has been acknowledged generally to give
the fairest promise, but whose actual performance, I conceive, must find appreciation principally with the young. It is now
somewhat more than three years since his poems were
published in a collected form. Great interest was excited by the announcement that a new poet had arisen in an age which had
so commonly been termed—I say not with
what truth—prosaic and utilitarian.
The claims of the aspirant were tried, with more or less discrimination, in the reviews, and very generally a favourable
pronounced. It seemed to be agreed that, if a great poet had not already risen, certain promise of his rising had been given.
For myself, I heartily joined in the judgment then
delivered; and six or eight months later, on testing the claim again, my former opinion was confirmed. And now, for the third
time, I have tried it, more strictly even than
before, and am much rejoiced to be able to pronounce a judgment, I know not how favourable—had it been adverse, this review
would not have been written.
His chief poem is one more attempt to solve a question almost as old as the world itself: in a word, the problem of life—the
evolution of order out of chaos,
the substitution of duty for pleasure, God’s will for self-will. Often and often, from the earliest times, has this question
been handled, most powerfully, I doubt
not, in the Book of Solomon the Preacher, who, while he sought his own pleasure, found all things vanity, and, in the end,
knew no remedy, except only the stern injunction,
“Fear God and keep his commandments.” This great subject is treated in the “Life-Drama” with fearless originality, which often indeed degenerates into wildness and absurdity, but which nevertheless makes the
poem a genuine voice from a human
soul, telling its own experience of joy and sorrow, speaking for the most part, very forcibly, and not unfrequently with grandeur
and authority. There is much in it to disturb
and distress the reader, as I doubt not it was written with weariness and pain by the poet. I know scarcely any stronger and
bitterer expression, in verse or in prose, of that
vague discontent with life, that dull perpetual joylessness, which perhaps is harder to be endured than any except the acutest
forms of positive wretchedness. It would seem
as if this burden must be borne by all great men at some period of their lives. The great writers of the present day repeat—not
indeed delivering it as their
final moral—but still they repeat, as the experience of one part of their lives, the lamentation of the wisest of men, “Vanity of vanities; all is
vanity:” Tennyson, in “The Palace of Art,” “The Two
Voices,” “The Vision of Sin,” “Maud;” Kingsley, in “Hypatia” in which one of the principal characters, Raphael Aben-Ezra, is at the
first a sort of personification of this life-weariness—it is uttered by Thackeray in the preacher’s own words, “Ah,
, which of us is happy in this world?” while Carlyle hears the dull “moan of ennui” rise from the whole present
generation. Yet by none of these is the lament more bitterly uttered than by Alexander Smith in his “Life-Drama;” again and again it breaks forth, reaching its most painful tone in that “sad thought” of Walter’s:
- “Though our beings point
- Upward, like prayers or quick spires of flame,
- We soon lose interest in this breathing world:
- Joy palls from taste to taste, until we yawn
- In Pleasure’s glowing face. . . . .
- Great weariness doth feed upon the soul;
- I sometimes think the highest-blest in heaven
- Will weary ’mong its flowers. As for myself,
- There’s nothing new between me and the grave
10But the cold feel of Death.”
Sad of a truth is this to be spoken by one so young as Walter is represented to be, to be written by one so young as the
poet is. Though, indeed, it seems to me that
it is upon the first entrance into manhood, when life appears to eyes that have not yet learned to see aright, at once so
grand and so mean, the world so alluring and so
terrible, before we can resist the enticements of its pleasures, or have strengthened our-selves to bear its pains, when all
glorious and happy things seem within
our reach; yet ever, when grasped at, glide away from it—it is then that this dull despair, this continual aching, most
easily and surely seizes upon the heart; which, in later life, either enjoys moderately and so permanently, or is sustained
by hope of better things, or is nerved by duty, or,
at the lowest, learns to endure more patiently and suffer uncomplainingly.
The discontent of Walter has several causes. At the first, the not altogether ignoble one of impotent desire to do great things
for which the time was not yet ripe, joined
to the more doubtful longing after fame; afterwards, to these were added the loss of love, and remorse for the sin which had
destroyed that love. His remedy lay in the
accomplishment of the great work which he had felt in himself the power to do, the recognition of duty and consequent indifference
to fame, and finally, the crown of all, the
renewal of his love.
Perhaps nothing has commended this “Life-Drama” to young readers more than this vehement complaint of the tedium of life.
Some have called our age an age of material comfort and contented ease; but, not to speak of the myriads who do not possess
and cannot obtain material comforts—those
, which it has been asserted are the first objects of our modern philosophy—it seems to me rather as if those who do possess
them, who might say,
“Soul, take thine ease, and be merry,” were nevertheless disturbed by a vague yearning after they scarcely know what, unsettled by
discontent with the things which lie around them—to use language as vague as their desire, longing after some more spiritual
life, which, however alien it may appear
to their ordinary habits, they yet feel, indistinctly enough it may be, to be in harmony with their true nature. We live in
an age of change, perpetual
change—transition we cannot pronounce, whatever we may hope, whether to better or worse; and our minds, the minds of the younger
of us in particular, are as
restless as our circumstances, so that we know not surely what to hope or fear, but know this at least, with bitter certainty,
that with present things we are not and cannot be
satisfied. And thus, day by day, from souls that are not willingly discontent, rises the cry of dull anguish, “all is vanity and vexation of
spirit;” and any writer who utters this cry with the eloquence, however rude, of a heart penetrated by its sorrow, cannot fail to
touch the many hearts sick
of the same gnawing pain.
The title, “Life-Drama,” was cavilled at by some critics with much show of justice. For, indeed, a want of dramatic power throughout a great part
of the poem is very palpable. All
the characters, from Walter down to Arthur, talk in the same metaphorical style, and the reader must frequently be quite unable
to feel them as real men and women. This so
pervades the poem that it is quite unnecessary to give instances of it. But, in the midst of this unskilfulness is continually
displayed a skill which promises I know not how
great a result, if it be duly cultivated. This I will endeavour to show by quotations, and those somewhat lengthy, as it is
a point I greatly desire to make good. The earliest
example is the tale of the Lady and the Indian Page, which, though most abruptly and unnaturally introduced, and itself containing much absurdity, yet is related, on the whole,
with great power and actuality, while some
of the speeches of the Lady, (however bold the assertion may seem,) are positively worthy of Shakespeare himself.
Here let me notice, what I wish to draw no inference from, what may really be of little moment, but what surely is at least
deserving of observation, that, throughout the
poem, here and there occur lines which not only are in the style of Shakespeare, but which, to my ear at least, sound as if
they had been written by him.
To return, I will quote the speeches of the Lady to which I referred.
- “Who’d leap into the chariot of my heart,
- And seize the reins, and wind it to his will,
- Must be of other stuff, my cub of Ind;
- White honour shall be like a plaything to him,
- Borne lightly, a pet falcon on his wrist;
- One who can feel the very pulse o’ the time,
- Instant to act, to plunge into the strife,
- And with a strong arm hold the rearing world.
- In costly chambers hush’d with carpets rich,
10Swept by proud beauties in their whistling silks,
- Mars’ plait shall smooth to sweetness on his brow;
- His mighty front whose steel flung back the sun,
- When horsed for battle, shall bend above a hand
- Laid like a lily in his tawny palm,
- With such a grace as takes the gazer’s eye.
- His voice that shiver’d the head trumpet’s blare,
- A new-raised standard to the reeling field,
- Shall know to tremble at a lady’s ear,
- To charm her blood with the fine touch of praise,
20And as she listens, steal away the heart.
- If the good gods do grant me such a man,
- More would I dote upon his trenched brows,
- His coal-black hair, proud eyes, and scornful lips,
- Than on a gallant, curl’d like Absalom,
- Cheek’d like Apollo, with his luted voice.”
The Page confesses his love for his mistress:
- “Thee I love.”
- “Thou!” and the Lady with a cruel laugh,
- (Each silver throb went through him like a sword)
- Flung herself back upon her fringed couch,
- From which she rose upon him like a queen,
- She rose and stabb’d him with her angry eyes.
- “’Tis well my father did not hear thee, boy,
- Or else my pretty plaything of an hour
- Might have gone sleep to-night without his head,
10And I might waste rich tears upon his fate.
- I would not have my sweetest plaything hurt.
- Dost think to scorch me with those blazing eyes,
- My fierce and lightning-blooded cub o’ the sun?
- Thy blood is up in riot on thy brow,
- I’ the face o’ its monarch. Peace! By my grey sire,
- Now could I slay thee with one look of hate,
- One single look. My Hero! my Heart-god!
- My dusk Hyperion, Bacchus of the Inds!
- My Hercules, with chin as smooth as my own!
20 I am so sorry maid, I cannot wear
- This great and proffer’d jewel of thy love.
- Thou art too bold, methinks! Did’st never fear
- That on my poor deserts thy love would sit
- Like a great diamond on a threadbare robe?
- I tremble for’t. I pr’ythee come to-morrow,
- And I will pasture you upon my lips
- Until thy beard be grown. Go now, sir, go.”
- The Lady sigh’d, “It was my father’s blood
- That bore me as a red and wrathful stream
30Bears a shed leaf. I would recall my words,
- And yet I would not.
- Into what angry beauty rush’d his face!
- What lips! what splendid eyes! ’twas pitiful
- To see such splendours ebb in utter woe.
- His eyes half won me. Tush! I am a fool;
- The blood that purples in these azure veins,
- Rich’d with its long course through a hundred earls,
- Were foul’d and mudded if I stoop’d to him.
- My father loves him for his free wild wit;
40I for his beauty and sun-lighted eyes.
- To bring him to my feet, to kiss my hand,
- Had I it in my gift, I’d give the world,
- Its panting fire-heart, diamonds, veins of gold;
- Its rich strands, oceans, belts of cedar’d hills,
- Whence summer smells are struck by all the winds.
- But whether I might lance him through the brain
- With a proud look,—or whether sternly kill
- Him with a single deadly word of scorn,—
- Or whether yield me up,
50 And sink all tears and weakness in his arms,
- And strike him blind with a strong shock of joy—
- Alas! I feel I could do each and all.
- I will be kind when next he brings me flowers,
- Pluck’d from the shining forehead of the morn,
- Ere they have oped their rich cores to the bee.
- His wild heart with a ringlet will I chain,
- And o’er him I will lean me like a heaven,
- And feed him with sweet looks and dew-soft words,
- And beauty that might make a monarch pale,
60And thrill him to the heart’s core with a touch;
- Smile him to Paradise at close of eve,
- To hang upon my lips in silver dreams.”
These speeches require, or rather admit of, no comment. The reader, having them before him, must judge for himself; for my
own part, conscious though I am that they are
blemishes, I could not express my admiration of them.
Hitherto the interviews between Walter and the character designated “Lady,” have been as unnatural as they could be; but we
now come upon passages
of great dramatic force and beauty. Walter declares his love for her in language that would have been powerful and affecting
but for its exaggeration, upon which she replies,
- “My God! ’tis hard!
- When I was all in leaf the frost-winds came,
- And now, when o’er me runs the summer’s breath,
- It waves but iron boughs. . . . . . . . . .
- O Sir! within a month my bridal bells
- Will make a village glad. The fainting Earth
- Is bleeding at her million golden veins,
- And by her blood I’m bought. The sun shall see
- A pale bride wedded to grey hair, and eyes
10Of cold and cruel blue; and in the spring
- A grave with daisies on it. . . . . . . . .
- We twain have met like ships upon the sea,
- Who hold an hour’s converse, so short, so sweet;
- One little hour! and then, away they speed
- On lonely paths, through mist, and cloud, and foam,
- To meet no more. We have been foolish, Walter!
- I would to God that I had never known
- This secret of thy heart, or else had met thee
- Years before this. I bear a heavy doom.”
When she departs, Walter, after a long silence, looks up, and exclaims,
- “God! what a light has pass’d away from earth
- Since my last look! How hideous this night!
- How beautiful the yesterday that stood
- Over me like a rainbow! I am alone.
- The past is past. I see the future stretch
- All dark and barren as a rainy sea.”
I am aware how partially dramatic power can be illustrated by quotations, especially if fragmentary; and I would at least
have quoted the part instanced entire, but that
Smith, seldom writing with sustained power, has few passages of any length, which would bear minute criticism; at the best,
the reader is offended with lines, which he can but
wish away, wondering, not without some indignation, how they came. In the next scene, between Walter and the peasant,
though it can scarcely be said that there is much
delineation of character, the human interest is clearly and strongly brought out. In the first interview between Walter and
Violet, there is a strange mixture of the absurd and
the natural, the latter often very pathetic. The next scene, between these two, is for the most part violent and exaggerated,
till towards the end, when their mutual avowal of
love calls forth some of the most impassioned poetry I know of; indeed, so impassioned and sensuous as to prepare us for that
which before long interrupts the enjoyment of
their love for years.
Walter. By thy tears
- I love thee as my own immortal soul.
- Weep, weep, my Beautiful! Upon thy face
- There is no cloud of sorrow or distress;
- It is as moonlight, pale, serene, and clear.
- Thy tears are spilt of joy, they fall like rain
- From heaven’s stainless blue.
- Bend over me, my Beautiful, my Own.
- Oh, I could lie with face upturn’d for ever,
10And on thy beauty feed as on a star!
- Thy face doth come between me and the heaven—
- Start not, my dearest! for I would not give
- Thee in thy tears for all yon sky lit up
- For a god’s feast to-night. And I am loved!
- Why did you love me, Violet?
Violet. The sun
- Smiles on the earth, and the exuberant earth
- Returns the smile in flowers,—’twas so with me,
- I love thee as a fountain leaps to light—
20I can do nothing else.
Walter. Say these words again;
- And yet again; never fell on my ear
- Such drops of music.
Violet. Alas! poor words are weak;
- So are the daily ills of common life,
- To draw the ingots and the hoarded pearls
- From out the treasure-caverns of my heart.
- Suff’ring, despair, and death alone can do it. . . . . . . .
Walter.. . . . . I am drunk with joy,
30 This is a royal hour—the top of life.
- Henceforth my path slopes downward to the grave—
- All’s dross but love. . . . . . . . .
- Why do you weep?
Violet. To think that we, so happy now, must die.
Walter. That thought hangs like a cold and slimy snail
- On the rich rose of love—shake it away—
- Give me another kiss, and I will take
- Death at a flying leap. The night is fair,
- But thou art fairer, Violet! Unloose
40The midnight of thy tresses, let them float
- Around us both. How the freed ringlets reel
- Down to the dewy grass. Here lean thy head:
- Now you will feel my heart leap ’gainst thy cheek;
- Imprison me with those white arms of thine.
- So, so. O sweet, upturned face! . . . .
- O, I could live
- Unwearied on thy beauty, till the sun
- Grows dim and wrinkled as an old man’s face.
- Our cheeks are close, our breaths mix like our souls.
50We have been starved hereto; Love’s banquet spread,
- Now let us feast our fills.”
But by far the most striking scene remains, that on the city bridge at midnight. Well is the place, so suggestive of dark
histories of crime and misery, selected for this
meeting between Walter, in the full bitterness of remorse for his unlawful love, and the Girl so quaintly and plainly entitled
an Outcast. It is a terrible scene; scarcely to
be read, I think, by any without pain. Considering the age at which it was written, it may be the earnest of tragic power,
to parallel which we must go to Shakespeare or
Walter. Wilt pray for me?
shuddering). ’Tis a dreadful thing to pray.
Walter. Why is it so?
- Hast thou, like me, a spot upon thy soul
- Which neither tears can cleanse, nor fires eterne?
Girl. But few request
Walter. I request them.
- For ne’er did a dishevell’d woman cling
- So earnest-pale to a stern conqu’ror’s knees,
10Pleading for a dear life, as did my prayer
- Cling to the knees of God. He shook it off,
- And went upon his way. Wilt pray for me?
Girl. Sin crusts me o’er as limpets crust the rocks:
- I would be thrust from every human door;
- I dare not knock at heaven’s.
Walter. Poor homeless one!
- There is a door stands wide for thee and me—
- The door of hell. Methink we are well met.
- I saw a little girl three years ago,
20With eyes of azure and with cheeks of red,
- A crowd of sunbeams hanging down her face;
- Sweet laughter round her; dancing like a breeze.
- I’d rather lair me with a fiend in fire
- Than look on such a face as hers to-night.
- But I can look on thee and such as thee;
- I’ll call thee “Sister;” do thou call me “Brother.”
- A thousand years hence, when we both are damn’d,
- We’ll sit like ghosts upon the wailing shore,
- And read our lives by the red light of hell.
30 Will we not, Sister?
Girl. O, thou strange wild man,
- Let me alone; what would you seek with me?
Walter. Your ear, my Sister. I have that within
- Which urges me to utterance. . . . . . .
- I have none
- To listen to me, save a sinful woman
- Upon a midnight bridge. She was so fair,
- God’s eye could rest with pleasure on her face.
- Oh, God, she was so happy! Her short life
40As full of music as the crowded June
- Of an unfallen orb. What is it now?
- She gave me her young heart, full, full of love:
- My return—was to break it. Worse, far worse;
- I crept into the chambers of her soul,
- Like a foul toad, polluting as I went.
Girl. I pity her, not you. Man trusts in God;
- He is eternal. Woman trusts in man,
- And he is shifting sand.
Walter. Poor child, poor child!
50We sat in dreadful silence with our sin;
- Looking each other wildly in the eyes:
- Methought I heard the gates of heaven close;
- She flung herself against me, burst in tears,
- As a wave bursts in spray. She cover’d me
- With her wild sorrow, as an April cloud,
- With dim dishevell’d tresses, hides the hill
- On which its heart is breaking. She clung to me
- With piteous arms, and shook me with her sobs,
- For she had lost her world, her heaven, her God,
60And now had nought but me and her great wrong.
- She did not kill me with a single word,
- But once she lifted her tear-dabbled face—
- Had hell gaped at my feet, I would have leapt
- Into its burning throat, from that pale look.
- Still it pursues me like a haunting fiend:
- It drives me out to the black moors at night,
- Where I am smitten by the hissing rain;
- And ruffian winds, dislodging from their troops,
- Hustle me shrieking, then, with a sudden turn,
70Go laughing to their fellows. Merciful God!
- It comes—that face again; that white, white face,
- Set in a night of hair; reproachful eyes,
- That make me mad. Oh! save me from those eyes!
- They will torment me even in the grave,
- And horn on me in Tophet.
Girl. Where are you going?
Walter. My heart’s on fire by hell, and on I drive
- To outer blackness, like a blazing ship.”
The last scene, between Walter and Violet, though not nearly so striking as this, is still more interesting, and is the most
pathetic and the most important in the whole
drama. The lovers have repented bitterly, for weary years, of the crime which put them asunder: Walter has made what atonement
he could for the years worse than wasted in the
pursuit of his own pleasure: he has made the great discovery of Duty, and, at last, the still greater of Love—of love, that
is, for its own sake, pure and
unselfish—a discovery made by Violet long before. The lovers now, after the desolate time of loneliness, are once more united,
with trembling happiness, subdued
almost into sadness, by the remembrance of the sinful days of pleasure and the woful years of separation; yet still happy,
very happy, happiest of all in the feeling that this
renewed love, so quiet, so chastened, so unlike the former tumultuous passion, can last, last for ever, through life, and
in the life beyond death. The pathos and actuality of
this scene alone would go far towards justifying the author in calling his poem a drama. One at length feels unmistakeably
Walter and Violet as real human creatures, with warm,
And this seems to me true dramatic power, far more than the development of a plot. Against the argument which allies itself
with the etymology of the word
“drama,” I quote the authority of the greatest dramatist the world has ever seen, whose conception of the
purpose of the drama was
“to hold, as true, the mirror up to nature, to show virtue her own feature, scorn her own image, and the very age and body
of the time his form and
This last scene is too entire to admit of quotations, for my present purpose, that is, of showing the dramatic capability
of its author: for this purpose it must be read
throughout. I think I have now sufficiently proved that the poet, in throwing this poem into a dramatic form, was not so far
wrong as some critics would have made him out to
be. In leaving this part of my subject I have but to express my hope that this perception of character, this tragic power,
will in future years be rigorously trained, whether
for the composition of stage plays, the best purpose, or of other “dramatic poems,” must be left to the discretion of the
poet himself. As for the
objections against Dramatic Poems in themselves, I hold them to be of that kind which are answered almost as soon as they
are questioned. Lyrical poems are very commonly
related in the person of the hero, and this being allowed, it is but an extension of the rule to make the rest of the characters
speak for themselves. To write a stage play
many and rare powers are required, such as are possessed by very few; but it may happen that a man, who does not possess all
these qualifications in the requisite degree, has
yet a keen perception of character, and there seems no valid reason (neglecting and despising mere arbitrary laws) why he
should not deliver his thoughts in the form which is
most easy and natural to him.
If I were to class Smith, I should without hesitation call him a moral or didactic poet. His “drama” is pointed with a moral,
and that a stern and
most important one, wrought out principally in the last scene, but, I need not say, pervading the whole poem. Very emphatically
is Duty laid down.
- “My life was a long dream; when I awoke
- Duty stood like an angel in my path,
- And seem’d so terrible, I could have turn’d
- Into my yesterdays, and wander’d back
- To distant childhood, and gone out to God
- By the gate of birth, not death . . . .
- I will go forth ’mong men, not mail’d in scorn,
- But in the armour of a pure intent.
- Great duties are before me, and great songs,
10And whether crown’d or crownless, when I fall
- It matters not, so as God’s work is done.
- I’ve learn’d to prize the quiet lightning-deed,
- Not the applauding thunder at its heels
- Which men call fame.”
But very clearly has the poet seen that the principle of mere Duty, the bare resolution, that is, to do right, is not enough;
that there is something beyond this,
something which may soften this, and not allow it to take, as it is very apt to do, the shape of a pursuit of some abstract
Right, which may leave the man hard and cold and
really selfish. Not that this is the genuine principle of Duty, which, like Truth, admits of no admixture of evil; but, if
Love be not within the heart, men are very liable to
take this for Duty—the true practical definition of which is, not the rigid rule of some abstraction, but the will of that
personal God, who, as his will is in
perfect accordance with right, so has towards us the tenderness of a father. Very beautifully is Duty thus exalted into Love
in the scene under consideration, until the
consummation is reached in Walter’s last speech, which stands in strange and sweet contrast to the not unselfish aspirations
so often uttered by him before.
- “This mournful wind
- Has surely been with winter, ’tis so cold.
- The dews are falling, Violet! Your cloak,
- Draw it around you. Let the still night shine!
- A star’s a cold thing to a human heart,
- And love is better than their radiance. Come!
- Let us go in together.”
With this speech, which is a dramatic statement of the moral, the poem ends, I will not say fitly or beautifully, but perfectly.
Into the body of the drama are introduced, usually with the most inartistic abruptness, many shorter poems. The three best
are the tale of “the Lady and the Indian Page,” Walter’s poem; “My head is grey, my blood is young,” &c, and his tale, “Within a city one was born to toil,” &c. I have already treated of the dramatic power displayed in the first. In the second there is much softness and pathos,
while the speech of the
dying girl is exquisitely simple and affecting.
- “The callow young were huddling in the nests;
- The marigold was burning in the marsh,
- Like a thing dipt in sunset, when He came.
- “My blood went up to meet Him on my face,
- Glad as a child that hears its father’s step,
- And runs to meet him at the open porch.
- “I gave Him all my being, like a flower
- That flings its perfume on a vagrant breeze,
- A breeze that wanders on and heeds it not.
10“His scorn is lying on my heart like snow,
- My eyes are weary, and I fain would sleep;
- The quietest sleep is underneath the ground.
- “Are ye around me, friends? I cannot see,
- I cannot hear the voices that I love,
- I lift my hands to you from out the night.
- “Methought I felt a tear upon my cheek;
- Weep not, my mother! It is time to rest,
- And I am very weary; so, good night!”
The third is the old story of one born to great things, but hindered by circumances, or—who shall say?—his own impatience.
It is told here with very
great power, at times even with terrible grandeur.
- “The city now was left long miles behind,
- A large black hill was looming ’gainst the stars,
- He reach’d its summit. Far above his head,
- Up there upon the still and mighty night,
- God’s name was writ in worlds. Awhile he stood,
- Silent and throbbing like a midnight star.
- He raised his hands, alas! ’twas not in prayer—
- He long had ceased to pray. ‘Father,’ he said,
- ‘I wish’d to loose some music o’er Thy world,
10To strike from its firm seat some hoary wrong,
- And then to die in autumn with the flowers,
- And leaves, and sunshine I have loved so well.
- Thou might’st have smooth’d my way to some great end—
- But wherefore speak? Thou art the mighty God,
- This gleaming wilderness of suns and worlds
- Is an eternal and triumphant hymn,
- Chanted by Thee unto Thine own great Self!
- Wrapt in Thy skies, what were my prayers to Thee?
- My pangs? my tears of blood? They could not move
20Thee from the depths of Thine immortal dream.
- Thou hast forgotten me, God! Here, therefore, here,
- To-night upon this cold and bleak hill-side,
- Like a forsaken watch-fire will I die,
- And as my pale corse fronts the glittering night,
- It shall reproach Thee before all Thy worlds.
- His death did not disturb that ancient Night,
- Scornfullest Night! Over the dead there hung
- Great gulfs of silence, blue, and strewn with stars,
- No sound—no motion—in the eternal depths.”
The faults of Smith lie on the surface, and cannot be missed by the most careless reader. The monotony that makes most of
uninteresting wearies us also in his metre. In his blank verse a pause occurs at the end of most lines, while the pauses
in the middle of lines are far too few. Yet it
possesses a strength and ease (the latter often becoming real melody, while the strength at times rises almost to majesty),
which do much towards atoning for the want of
variety. Blank verse, from its greater apparent facility because of the absence of rhyme, is not unnaturally, however unwisely,
a favourite with young poets. I need not say
that it is really one of the most difficult of metres, perhaps for the want of that very ornament of rhyme.—I will speak of
Smith’s management of other
metres when I come to “Lady Barbara.”
The paucity of his illustrations from history, &c. may be fairly set down to what I think I am justified in assuming, a very
limited range of reading. Even his
poetical reading would seem to have been confined (perhaps with the exception of Shakespeare) to Keats and Coleridge, the
former, at least if studied in “Endymion,” a somewhat dangerous model for him. No poet would be more valuable to him as a study (not, of course, for imitation, but
for self-correction) than Tennyson,
who is so characterised by that which is so wanting in the younger poet, finish. Far be it from me to set “glorious insufficiencies”
“narrower perfectness;” if I did so, I should rate Smith far less high than I do;—beyond a doubt it is that which is said,
not the manner in
which it is said, that is first and principal; but still there is that in completeness the loss of which the grandest imperfect
treatment cannot wholly cover; it gives worth to
what without it would be of little or no value, while to the greatest it adds the last, and not the least, excellence.
Despite, however, of this general carelessness and want of finish, there are no few passages, some of them of considerable
length, which seem to me incapable of
improvement; great thoughts, adequately expressed, in versification, which, though its want of variety would soon weary the
ear, yet flows with an ease which fully satisfies it
for the time.
In nothing is Smith’s monotony more painfully felt than in his descriptions, if such they may be called, of external nature.
Almost the only birds mentioned
are larks, peacocks, and plovers, while his metaphors and similes are drawn almost solely from the sea, the sun, moon, and
stars, till, even allowing them to be individually
beautiful, we are wearied with the repetition. Yet one passage concerning the stars is so magnificent, so touchingly does
it account for his love of them, that for
it we may well bear with much wildness and monotony.
- “I love the stars too much! The tameless sea
- Spreads itself out beneath them smooth as glass.
- You cannot love them, lady, till you dwell
- In mighty towns; immured in their black hearts,
- The stars are nearer to you than the fields.
- I’d grow an Atheist in these towns of trade,
- Were’t not for stars. The smoke puts heaven out;
- I meet sin-bloated faces in the streets,
- And shrink as from a blow. I hear wild oaths,
10And curses spilt from lips that once were sweet,
- And seal’d for Heaven by a mother’s kiss.
- I mix with men whose hearts of human flesh,
- Beneath the petrifying touch of gold,
- Have grown as stony as the trodden ways.
- I see no trace of God, till in the night,
- While the vast city lies in dreams of gain,
- He doth reveal Himself to me in heaven.
- My heart swells to Him as the sea to the moon;
- Therefore it is I love the midnight stars.”
As might be expected from this passage, the poet joins with his slight knowledge of nature the most intense love, which in
future years may produce knowledge and true
beauty of description.
His similes I hold to be the farthest removed from such description. When the “Life-Drama” was first published, nothing in it seemed to attract more attention than these, and certainly they are very striking, and
in a sense original. Yet they are
so strained and violent as fairly to lay him open to the charge, so indiscriminately and unjustly brought against the body
of living poets, of being
“spasmodic.” This, however, is a fault which time and a more extended acquaintance with good models cannot fail to amend in
so true a genius. I think,
too, that he himself knew the comparative worthlessness of these glittering conceits; for in the advice given to Walter by
the Lady, he makes her say,
- “Strive for the Poet’s crown; but ne’er forget
- How poor are fancy’s blooms to thoughtful fruits.”
With this advice I entirely agree. Great thoughts, which, however ideal, can be applied to the common business of life, strengthening
us for it while they exalt us
above it, I hold to be the real beauties of poetry; and, if we have these, we can dispense with the ornaments of fancy, whereas
these latter by themselves are but tinkling
cymbals.—In the future poems of Smith I heartily hope to find the opinion expressed in the quotation, which I cannot help
regarding as his own, acted upon, and the
great thoughts with which his mind abounds, set forth, if it may be, with the adornment of the fancy, but, if not that, then
uttered simply and without ornament at all trusting
only to their own worth.
Much fault might be found with his phraseology, disfigured as it is by much mannerism, no little coining of words, and occasional
bad grammar (I allude to the employment
of substantives and adjectives as verbs, &c.) These I would reprehend severely, but that I look upon them as the defects of
a young author which I hope to see amended
in his future writings. Let him make it his study to write plain and pure English, which will be found abundantly sufficient
to express fully, forcibly, and accurately all
poetical thought, alike the grandest and the most subtle.
The meagreness of the plot of the Life-Drama, the absurdity of much in the story, need not be more than thus mentioned in passing, as they are what no reader could possibly
fail to observe.
With these faults I have at times been so painfully struck that I have even wished the poem had never been published. Great
as has always been my admiration for much in
it, I have at such times thought it would have been better if the poet had waited till he could mature his rich but imperfect
conceptions, and embody them in fit and worthy
language. But now, knowing
the poem sufficiently well to be able to balance its excellencies and its defects, I deliberately unsay this, and both rejoice
thankful that this “first heir of his invention” has been given to the world. I think, too, he has been right in making so
few alterations, though the
volume has reached the fourth edition. As he wrote it, so let it stand; the time and labour which would have been required
to revise it may be better employed in writing fresh
poems. With all its imperfections, it is still no mere promise or earnest of greatness, however certain: it is itself a great
There is little left to say about the other poems: all have merit, but only one need claim our special notice. This is “Lady Barbara,” the most finished poem in the whole volume. There is much in it which reminds me of Keats and Coleridge, the story apparently
having been suggested by “The Ancient Mariner,” while the versification and phraseology are in the style of Keats. The versification is very melodious: indeed Smith seems
to possess more power over rhyme
than over blank verse. Not that he has succeeded in all his rhymed poems: that in the metre of “Locksley Hall,” (one of the most difficult of all metres,) is, with the exception of a few lines, a complete failure; but, in general, his
rhyme is superior to his blank
verse,—especially surpassing it in variety of
rhythm,—an essential of the higher kinds of melody, though the praise of melody is frequently given to
versification which is distinguished only for ease and smoothness,—an absurdity as great as it would be to call a waltz the
highest form of music.
I have little to add by way of summing up. The reader already divines my estimation of the poems reviewed. If the “Life-Drama” may be fairly taken as a performance, it may more justly, if more indulgently, be accepted as an earnest. Weighing its merits
against its defects, seeing
that the former are the excellencies of great genius, the latter faults such as experience and care may amend, my hopes of
the future greatness of its author are very high.
Already we have among us a somewhat numerous band of young poets, of whom none has excited so much interest, none has received
so much praise, as Alexander Smith. To say that
among these he may take a high, or even the highest, place may be thought by some a sufficiently bold prediction; but I say
not merely that; I unhesitatingly express my
confident belief that, if his future performance does not belie this his youthful, almost boyish, promise, he may look to
stand in the first rank of English poets, or, at the
least, below only the very greatest.
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial W is ornamental
When the snow-clad shores of the Crimea were thronged by our Armies, and our soldiers were keeping their cheerless Christmas amidst
the trenches and the
tents of War, it was no sentimental idealism, no false and highly
wrought enthusiasm, which preserved their bravery undiminished, their fortitude unimpaired, but it was
that strong and noble feeling, implanted deep in every English heart, a true and earnest sense of duty.
And now that War has ceased from among us, that same sense of duty will
not, surely, be allowed to die away. In Work, earnest, resolute, patient, constant Work, it will find its satisfaction. Inherent
the breast of each man, its business is to prompt him to his proper Work. It has been found sufficient to nerve for the sharp
battle, or for the wearier and more fearful
watching day by day and night by night, in cold, in hunger, and in nakedness before the beleaguered city, the beardless boy
and the untaught rustic; and now, while all England
rings with glorious deeds, whose true heroism and real worth and chiefest boast is, that they were deeds of duty; now will
not the hearts of our young men beat, and their
pulses leap with strong desire to learn how they may win that fairest guerdon, the inward sense of duty done?
They have a work to do. To do a certain work each man was born. It is the noble duty of each man, in youth, to learn his own
peculiar work; and steadily and earnestly to
pursue that work, whatever it may be; to pursue it amidst evil report and good report, for weal or woe, with a zeal enough
to satisfy his conscience and his God, this, surely,
is to do God’s own work upon earth; this, surely, is for man to become a fellow-worker with God, because it is to carry out
in its entireness the Perfect Will of the
But it is with a body rather than with individuals that we have now to do. It is on those who are yet young men that the future
of the World depends. Their task, their
duty, what is it? Their duty is to work. The Age of Idleness has passed away. The Infancy of this Old Earth has gone. And
with it all pretence for idleness. We may dream no
more of loiterings in the green forests, or hawkings, or revelry, or gorgeous feast; none may dream of these things now. The
day was when the setting sun saw youths and maidens
released betimes from toil, dancing eve away in the cool, calm streets of
London, and on cooler village greens. But what sees now the setting sun? Still is the counting
house thronged with clerks, whose pallid looks and aching brows tell of the long, fair summer’s day spent in unhealthy labour;
in the streets the busy multitude
still move to and fro as if the night brought no repose from toil. And in the country the day’s requiem ascends no more in
cheerful sounds of rural revelry, but
labour is prolonged while the last streaks of light shine in the Western sky.
At this time, then, of enforced and constant toil, we would not that our youth should alone be idle. They have a work; they
have a duty. And, in truth, they are too seldom
idle. We say too seldom idle, for better the gay, glad idleness of olden times, than selfish, hardening toil. It is almost
fearful to reflect on the lot of our young men now.
In the highest ranks a want of earnestness, a tone of levity prevails, which tells of no true Workers there. Where are they
whose heart is in their work? who, with an intense
self-devotion, give themselves up body and soul to that which, surely, is the appointed task of every man, the task of benefiting
others? And when we speak of benefiting
others, it is not always active and actual work for others of which we speak. Rather are we thinking of that calm and noble
stedfastness which so does everything as to make
each act of life unselfish; which, while teaching one to do with all one’s might whatsoever the hand finds to do, yet teaches
also so to work as not for oneself
only, but for all mankind, not for one’s kinsfolk only, but for that vast Family whose home is the wide world; not for one’s
country only, but for that
commonwealth of all men, whose boundaries are the same with the limits of the globe.
But even in the highest ranks there is a craving springing up for work. Long ago wise men saw that it was not
idleness that made the Gentleman; but that rather there was in honest labour that which made the Gentleman. And now men have
over boasting of ancestors, and royal blood, and ancient pedigrees; in very shame they have given over, lest from the grave
the forefathers they boast of should rise and warn
them that the glory they won by patient toil, was never meant to conceal the hideous nakedness of idleness. Truly the true
blood of nobility is a good thing, for there is good
in everything; it is good when it urges those in whose veins it runs to an imitation of the great works of their ancestors.
But when, instead of nourishing industry, it does
but cherish pride, then is it useless, and mean, and pitiful.
And, as we have already said, many of the higher ranks are beginning to feel this now. And many in the middle ranks are girding
themselves in youthful eagerness for the
Work of Life, panting with desire to claim their privilege of Work; and ready, strong in faith, glad in hope and passionate
in loving earnestness, to pave the way for the time
when the wild bells, shall, with unearthly sweetness,
- “Ring in the Christ that is to be.”
And yet for want of knowing how to work, despite their longing for true work, how many waste the noblest energies of youth
in dull routine. The merchant and the
farmer, the landlord and the tenant, the noble and the peasant, the warrior and the priest, alike crave their work; alike
fail to find it; alike miss to see that it lies at
their very thresholds.
For it seems to us, that in each man’s peculiar profession, or station, or business, there is noble work enough. Each man
has his own bent towards some especial
calling; and is not that bent an instinct, disregard of which must be unwise? To do, to dare to suffer in the gratification
of that instinct, or rather, let us say, in the
working as God has willed him to work, is what each one is called on to go forward
to. But may he not remember for his comfort, that whatever he is called on by his
natural bent of mind to do, he is called upon to do by the very voice of God? Politics, or teaching, or labours of love for
others, or whatever else he may choose, may be made
by him a holy and a noble work, nay, must be made so if he look for that satisfaction which only noble work can give.
And we do believe, that the best hope for our England lies in the appreciation of this truth by our young men. There is no
want of earnest minds among the youth of
England. Let those who doubt the earnestness of our young men, mark well the stamp which the inward mind impresses on the
face of those who, year by year, go forth to labour
from Oxford and from Cambridge; on those who, pale with too much work, and with lives led in close alleys and dark, damp cellars,
yet pore in our Mechanics’
Institutes over deep and weighty books; and on those who, gayer and healthier, are yet not less eager to go forward for ever,
our young country peasants; not less earnest, as
those can attest who know, that through snow and wet they will wade, in the stormiest winter night, over many a weary mile
of country lane and by path, not, as of old, to the
village ale-house, but to the village reading-room.
With such earnestness, with such true energy, why should we not hope for great things from our youth? Why should we not look
for a stronger and deeper sympathy between
all classes, and a truer love of work in all? Why should we not hope to crush the spirit of selfishness and of the love of
money? It can and may be done by the young men of the
present day, if they will but strive to add to their energy diligence; to their diligence, patience; to their patience, abnegation
I. The young men of the present day have need of diligence. They have need of an independent judgment and
a firm and determined will, but they cannot heal our social evils, they cannot work the work they have on hand without that
diligence, whose slow and painful blows can alone break the brazen gates of prejudice, and burst asunder the iron bars of
obstinate routine. For that a man may take part in the
work of social reform it is requisite that he should have a clear, calm judgment, a judgment formed by long and anxious thought.
And unless the young men of the present day are
willing to meditate on social wrongs, their causes, and the best way in which they, each in their several spheres, may help
to heal them, unless they will do this with
diligence, they may as well give up at once all thought of doing a good work, for zeal and energy and noble feelings will
avail little, if diligence be wanting.
And the diligence we crave is that which knows no pause, no weariness, which is ever ready for brave and resolute action.
The young Merchant, thus diligent, will ever be
fighting against the love of Mammon both in himself and in the Commercial World; will ever be bidding God-speed to his dependents
in their work of self-improvement; and will
show, by kindly word and sympathetic deed, that his clerks to him are more than mere machines. The young noble, thus diligent,
will devote unceasingly to others’
good, his wealth, his knowledge, the influence of his rank; will never by debasing pleasures bring himself to the level of
the peasant, but will labour to refine the peasant,
and raise him to himself. The young peasant, thus diligent, will work his handicraft full honestly and well, but will still
strive to train his mind to something higher; and
will learn that those above him work as he, and that all should work together in a harmony of diligence and love.
And this continual reference of all work to something higher than its apparent outward end, best secures diligence,
for it gives a high object for diligence. It
will prevent dishonest and fraudulent working. For how can a man, who feels that his minutest actions may incalculably affect
others, and who desires to show how in his trade
and profession he can act nobly and so bring others to imitate him, and thus make noble his business, and cure a social ill
by showing how in the most prosaic of work there is
something noble, how can such a man, with so much at heart, dare by dishonesty to mar his work? He might be tempted to act
dishonestly when his zeal and diligence seemed in
vain. But he would not yield, for he would add to his diligence patience.
II. There is much need of patience to our youth. With abuses to correct, and reforms to work of no small moment, hurry and
passion are too natural; but zeal must be
tempered with patience if anything is to be accomplished by the young men of England. Not that we ask for the patience which
will calmly endure ill, but for the patience which
will be content to cure evil by degrees when it cannot be cured at once.
The vast task which those who are yet young are bound to labour at can be affected by patience only. For but for a moment
consider what they, the future Husbands and
Fathers of our English homes, may have power to do. Consider what social and political evils there are for them to cure; evils
enough to make the most zealous grow sick at
heart with the sickness of despondency, and the most diligent grow lax in despair, but which the patient man will fathom,
and will work against continually, with a
determination to seize the present moment, and though disappointed still to work, making his motto the noble sentiment:
- “Act, act in the living present,
- Heart within and God o’erhead.”
For the heart of the patient man will be hopeful still. Is not hope the root of patience? At least of working, diligent
patience, though there is a patience without hope, the dull and helpless patience of despair. But the patience we are pleading
is of a bright and hopeful sort, the helpmate, not the hinderer, of work.
And our young men in the battle of life will have abundant opportunity for the exercise of patience; for their work is first
to learn to aspire after the universal good,
and to become Catholic in sympathy, generous in deed, and then to cure the wrongs immediately around, which is the work they
can do best, because they know these wrongs best;
though some indeed are summoned by that unerring instinct which no man can mistake to be the regenerators of a country, the
saviours of a world; and such must not shrink like
cowards from the call. But to most men it is given only to heal the ills of a family, a profession, or at most a native place.
So much, however, by precept and example all men
may help to do. Is it nothing to save a sister from the ill effects of that false system of education and conventionalism
which destroy half our women? Nay, this is a work, a
noble work for a brother and a man, and it is one which pre-eminently needs patience.
Again, a well regulated family is as a bright light in the place where is its dwelling. And is it nothing to reform a household?
and so, perchance, to bless a city? A
young man may do this by silent, patient work.
Again, the ills of our great cities, their ignorance and vice, their Mammonism and profligacy, the hypocrisy and formalism
of their higher classes, the brutalizing
degradation of their poor, what have not young men done to cure these things? What may not young men do? But it must be by
patience. If we work with patient zeal we need not
fear but that the poor will be oppressed no longer; no more will they be for six days kept at hard, unsatisfying labour, and
on the seventh refused all
recreation and driven to
the alehouse, ay, and viler places; no longer will countless human beings herd together, day and night, in one small room;
but the healthy spirit
of youthful zeal, of youthful patience, will effect the downfall of these things.
And so by patience may not young men hope to work those great reforms, which others, because they have set about them too
hastily, have failed to effect? For young men
can afford to be patient; they have many years before them, and this too they may well hope, that if they be diligent to frame
their lives, as if not living only for
themselves, there will rise up after them a like-minded race of young men, treading in their footsteps, and thus never will
young and noble workers be wanting in the work of
And a higher patience may sometimes be required. It may be that some there are who, while eager to do good, and feeling that
for the rights of fellow-men they could plead
with unabashed eloquence in courts or senates, are yet confined to a routine of daily petty tasks, most repugnant to their
tastes; and, as they are well nigh tempted to
exclaim, deadly to their noble passion. But, in truth, it is not so. There is no work on earth, however mean, however poor,
in which we may not do God and man good service.
Patience, indeed, and that of the most trying kind, is needed. But yet, though it is indeed a noble thing to urge a senate
to great deeds, or to plead at the Councils of a
nation the cause of Justice and Truth, yet it is as noble to teach the peasant boy to read, the orphan girl to sew; nay, it
is as noble to do well our work in any sphere. Even
this is doing good. We may be well assured that, from our silent example, or from a word of encouragement, dropt, perhaps,
by chance, some poor fainthearted ones will take
heart and will go on to do
their work in cheerfulness.
III. Diligence and patience, then, are the two great qualities for the Work
and for the Battle. But many an anxious hour must the Workman spend in the drudgery of learning ere he is fit to work among
the young warrior, ere he wins his spurs, must pass an apprenticeship of watchfulness and toil. Discipline is needed before
we commence the work; and Preparation before we
enter on the battle; and our preparation, our discipline must be that of the abnegation of self.
For even although the natural instinct of a man may prompt him to a certain work and prompt him to do it well, yet there is
always lurking in the human breast, enough of
indolence, enough of selfishness; to make Work of any kind—even that which is best and most congenial, sometimes painful and
wearying. And it is in the hour when all
seems darkest, when long diligence has been unrewarded, and when further patience seems in vain; when men mock our labours,
and deny our industry because its fruits are hidden
from their eyes, then it is that we have need of all our strength and all our unselfishness to keep us from flinging our weapons
of toil aside. When the grey dawn is breaking,
we, who all night long have watched and laboured alone and wearily in some great work of love, when faint and weak we fling
ourselves down, after casting all the night our net
into the sea of human misery and human sin, if perchance we may save some from woe, or elevate some from brutishness, and
yet have done neither, then we feel tempted to work no
more, but to return to our life of ease; but it is not so that we are warned by the Voice Divine. When we are most overwhelmed
by the darkness then is the dayspring near, where
the sea is most calmly deep; may the net be most surely cast and it may be, that when we are most disposed to faint in utter
weariness, a little more unselfishness, a little
longer patience, our industry but a little more continued, would amply repay all we had adventured, so that for
the good effected by us, many would rise up and call us
And it is but by stern self-discipline and a constant daily learning from the spirit of unselfishness, that our young men
can attain that nerve and firmness that fits
them to put on the armour for the strife. By little things and daily acts, the character is formed: and the self-indulgent
youth who puts no limits on his desires, who wastes
at the University money, health, and time, with selfish thoughtlessness, can scarcely hope to start, on leaving it, into the
earnest, energetic, thoughtful man; while, on the
other hand, he whose young life is spent in a noble struggle against selfishness in every shape, in the cultivation of quick
and generous feelings, and of liberal and enlarged
ideas, and in the doing for duty’s sake, calmly and quietly, his true work, such a one will be worthy to take his stand in
the vanguard of the Army of Progress, and
to help forward with a strong arm and a ready brain every good and noble work.
And men like this, humble, yet self-reliant, independent in spirit, yet with more of gentleness and chivalry than the noblest
knight of old, men—young men like
this are the present need of England. Men such as this there are—there have been such in every age—such (great instruments
of good, but with aims directed
amiss,) were Alexander of Macedon and our own Black Prince. Such the demigods of Fable and the heroes of history; and such
still exist; oftenest where known least. But we have
need of more; and we may call, at this time, on all our young men to rise from the pursuit of pleasure, to repudiate the life
of listless or elegant ease, and to act and work
in earnest. Often with a stern unselfishness must they give up, that they may nobly work their work, life’s best and brightest.
For the present age is an age of
action. The scene of life is laid for each one on the highway or in the mart; perchance, even in the
bustle of the Battle; but never, for long, in the calm quiet of the cloister, or in the sweet contemplation of Nature’s
loveliness. Man must mix with his fellow men, and work and live for them. And those even who love the life of the recluse,
and would strive to conjure up images of the Middle
Ages, as they pore, in some quaint Gothic nook, over the stirring Chronicles of olden days; and those, too, who day by day
would hang over the mountain tarn, or wander through
lowland wood and pasture, weaving, from their own wayward fancy, visions too bright to be—such as these must learn to conquer
self, to go down to the busy city, to
mingle with the common herd; even they must be reapers in the harvest field of men, fishers offering their baits of civilization
amidst shoals of hungry men; they must sow,
although they should sow in tears, and to nature’s refined and delicate as their own how should they do otherwise, at the
spectacle of human misery and men? They
must still sow, albeit weeping; the time will come, when the sun of their day is setting, when they may retire to their cloistral
cell, and watch the fading light as it sheds a
rosy hue over carved cornice, and fretted vault, and ancient pillar, decked with grey and yellow lichens; or may gaze at the
last expiring ray gleaming in the mountain lake, or
changing into rich gold-green
the silent summits of the wood; but, in either case, their day’s work will be done, the sowing will be over, and they will
with them their sheaves—the sheaves of fellow-men who love them, as Disciples love their Master, and whom they have taught
to love, with reverent admiration all that
is beautiful in Nature, all that is fair in Art.
Men who will thus deny themselves for others are what our England needs. And, thank God, there are such men among those of
her sons yet young. They, if they learn their
true sphere of work, work in it humbly, diligently, patiently, will win for her more lasting honour than all the triumphs
of her armies, and all the riches of her
commerce-aiding fleets. For they will help to raise a race of men, hardy, noble, and vigorous; such as are the best and only
bulwarks of a state, which can never hope for
security in splendid cities and gorgeous courts, but only in
- “Men—high-minded men,
- With power as far above dull brutes endued
- In Forest, brake or den,
- As brutes exceed cold rock or bramble rude;
- Men who their duties know;
- But know their rights, and knowing dare maintain;
- Prevent the long aim’d blow,
- And crush the Tyrant while they rend the chain.”
- “We find in ancient story wonders many told,
- Of heroes in great glory, with spirit free and bold;
- Of joyances and high-tides, of weeping and of woe,
- Of noble recken striving, mote ye now wonders know.”
- NIEBELUNGEN LIED (See
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial D is ornamental
Do you know where it is—the Hollow Land?
I have been looking for it now so long, trying to find it again—the Hollow Land—for there I saw my love first.
I wish to tell you how I found it first of all; but I am old, my memory fails me: you must wait and let me think if I perchance
can tell you how it happened.
Yea, in my ears is a confused noise of trumpet-blasts singing over desolate moors, in my ears and eyes a clashing and clanging
of horse-hoofs, a ringing and glittering
of steel; drawn-back lips, set teeth, shouts, shrieks, and curses.
How was it that no one of us ever found it till that day? for it is near our country: but what time have we to look for it,
or any other good thing; with such biting
carking cares hemming us in on every side—cares about great things—mighty things: mighty things, O my brothers! or rather
little things enough, if we
only knew it.
Lives past in turmoil, in making one another unhappy; in bitterest misunderstanding of our brothers’ hearts, making those
sad whom God has not made
sad,—alas! alas! what chance for any of us to find the Hollow Land? what time even to look for it?
Yet who has not dreamed of it? Who, half miserable yet the while, for that he knows it is but a dream, has not felt the cool
waves round his feet, the roses crowning
him, and through the leaves of beech and lime the many whispering winds of the Hollow Land?
Now, my name was Florian, and my
house was the house of the Lilies; and of that house was my father Lord, and after him my eldest brother Arnald: and me they
called Florian de Liliis.
Moreover, when my father was dead, there arose a feud between the Lilies’ house and Red Harald; and this that follows is the
history of it.
Lady Swanhilda, Red Harald’s mother, was a widow, with one son, Red Harald; and when she had been in widowhood two years,
being of princely blood, and
besides comely and fierce, King Urraynes sent to demand her in marriage. And I remember seeing the procession leaving the
town, when I was quite a child; and many young
knights and squires attended the Lady Swanhilda as pages, and amongst them Arnald, my eldest brother.
And as I gazed out of the window, I saw him walking by the side of her horse, dressed in white and gold very delicately; but
as he went it chanced that he stumbled.
Now he was one of those that held a golden canopy over the lady’s head, so that it now sunk into wrinkles, and the lady had
to bow her head full low, and even
then the gold brocade caught in one of the long, slim gold flowers that were wrought round about the crown she wore. She flushed
up in her rage, and her smooth face went
suddenly into the carven wrinkles of a wooden water-spout, and she caught at the brocade with her left hand, and pulled it
away furiously, so that the warp and woof were
twisted out of their places, and many gold threads were left dangling about the crown; but Swanhilda stared about
when she rose, then smote my brother across the mouth with her gilded sceptre, and the red blood flowed all about his garments;
yet he only turned exceeding pale, and dared say no word, though he was heir to the house of the Lilies: but my small heart
swelled with rage, and I vowed revenge, and, as
it seems, he did too.
So when Swanhilda had been queen three years, she suborned many of King Urrayne’s knights and lords, and slew her husband
as he slept, and reigned in his
stead. And her son, Harald, grew up to manhood, and was counted a strong knight, and well spoken of, by then I first put on
Then, one night, as I lay dreaming, I felt a hand laid on my face, and starting up saw Arnald before me fully armed. He said,
“Florian, rise and
arm.” I did so, all but my helm, as he was.
He kissed me on the forehead; his lips felt hot and dry; and when they brought torches, and I could see his face plainly,
I saw he was very pale. He said:
“Do you remember, Florian, this day sixteen years ago? It is a long time, but I shall never forget it unless this night blots
out its memory.”
I knew what he meant, and because my heart was wicked, I rejoiced exceedingly at the thought of vengeance, so that I could
not speak, but only laid my palm across his
“Good; you have a good memory, Florian. See now, I waited long and long: I said at first, I forgive her; but when the news
came concerning the death of the
king, and how that she was shameless, I said I will take it as a sign, if God does not punish her within certain years, that
He means me to do so; and I have been watching
and watching now these two years for an opportunity, and behold it has come at last; and I think God has certainly given her
into our hands, for she rests this night, this
very Christmas Eve, at a small walled town on the frontier, not two hours’ gallop from this; they keep little ward there,
and the night is
the prior of a certain house of monks, just without the walls, is my fast friend in this matter, for she has done him some
great injury. In the courtyard below, a hundred
and fifty knights and squires, all faithful and true, are waiting for us: one moment and we shall be gone.”
Then we both knelt down, and prayed God to give her into our hands: we put on our helms, and went down into the courtyard.
It was the first time I expected to use a sharp sword in anger, and I was full of joy as the muffled thunder of our horse-hoofs
rolled through the bitter winter
In about an hour and a half we had crossed the frontier, and in half an hour more the greater part had halted in a wood near
the Abbey, while I and a few others went
up to the Abbey-gates, and knocked loudly four times with my sword-hilt, stamping on the ground meantime. A long, low whistle
answered me from within, which I in my turn
answered: then the wicket opened, and a monk came out, holding a lantern. He seemed yet in the prime of life, and was a tall,
powerful man. He held the lantern to my face,
then smiled, and said, “The banners hang low.” I gave the countersign, “The crest is lopped off.” “Good my
son,” said he; “the ladders are within here. I dare not trust any of the brethren to carry them for you, though they love
not the witch either, but
“No matter,” I said, “I have men here.” So they entered and began to shoulder the tall ladders: the prior was very busy.
“You will find them just the right length, my son, trust me for that.” He seemed quite a jolly pleasant man, I could not understand
furious revenge; but his face darkened strangely whenever he happened to mention her name.
As we were starting he came and stood outside the gate, and putting his lantern down that the light of it might not confuse
his sight, looked earnestly
into the night, then said: “The wind has fallen, the snow flakes get thinner and smaller every moment, in an hour it
will be freezing hard, and will be quite clear; everything depends upon the surprise being complete; stop a few minutes yet,
my son.” He went away chuckling, and
returned presently with two more sturdy monks carrying something: they threw their burdens down before my feet, they consisted
of all the white albs in the
abbey:—“There, trust an old man, who has seen more than one stricken fight in his carnal days; let the men who scale the walls
put these over their
arms, and they will not be seen in the least. God make your sword sharp, my son.”
So we departed, and when I met Arnald again, he said, that what the prior had done was well thought of; so we agreed that
I should take thirty men, an old squire of
our house, well skilled in war, along with them, scale the walls as quietly as possible, and open the gates to the rest.
I set off accordingly, after that with low laughing we had put the albs all over us, wrapping the ladders also in white. Then
we crept very warily and slowly up to
the wall; the moat was frozen over, and on the ice the snow lay quite thick; we all thought that the guards must be careless
enough, when they did not even take the trouble
to break the ice in the moat. So we listened—there was no sound at all, the Christmas midnight mass had long ago been over,
it was nearly three
o’clock, and the moon began to clear, there was scarce any snow falling now, only a flake or two from some low hurrying cloud
or other: the wind sighed gently
about the round towers there, but it was bitter cold, for it had begun to freeze again: we listened for some minutes, about
a quarter of an hour I think, then at a sign
from me, they raised the ladders carefully, muffled as they were at the top with swathings of wool. I mounted first, old Squire
Hugh followed last; noiselessly we ascended,
and soon stood all together on the walls; then we carefully lowered the ladders again with long ropes; we got our swords
and axes from out of the folds of our
priests’ raiments, and set forward, till we reached the first tower along the wall; the door was open, in the chamber at the
top there was a fire slowly
smouldering, nothing else; we passed through it, and began to go down the spiral staircase, I first, with my axe shortened
in my hand.—“What if we
were surprised there,” I thought, and I longed to be out in the air again;—“What if the door were fast at the bottom.”
As we passed the second chamber, we heard some one within snoring loudly: I looked in quietly, and saw a big man with long
black hair, that fell off his pillow and
swept the ground, lying snoring, with his nose turned up and his mouth open, but he seemed so sound asleep that we did not
stop to slay him.— Praise
be!—the door was open, without even a whispered word, without a pause, we went on along the streets, on the side that the
drift had been on, because our garments
were white, for the wind being very strong all that day, the houses on that side had caught in their cornices and carvings,
and on the rough stone and wood of them, so much
snow, that except here and there where the black walls grinned out, they were quite white; no man saw us as we stole along,
noiselessly because of the snow, till we stood
within 100 yards of the gates and their house of guard. And we stood because we heard the voice of some one singing:
- “Queen Mary’s crown was gold,
- King Joseph’s crown was red,
- But Jesus’ crown was diamond
- That lit up all the bed
So they had some guards after all; this was clearly the sentinel that sung to keep the ghosts off.—Now for a fight.—We drew
nearer, a few yards
nearer, then stopped to free ourselves from our monk’s clothes.
- “Ships sail through the Heaven
- With red banners dress’d,
- Carrying the planets seven
- To see the white breast
Thereat he must have seen the waving of some alb or other as it shivered down to the ground, for his spear fell with a thud,
and he seemed to be standing
open-mouthed, thinking something about ghosts; then, plucking up heart of grace, he roared out like ten bull-calves, and dashed
into the guardhouse.
We followed smartly, but without hurry, and came up to the door of it just as some dozen half-armed men came tumbling out
under our axes: thereupon, while our men
slew them, I blew a great blast upon my horn, and Hugh with some others drew bolt and bar and swung the gates wide open.
Then the men in the guard-house understood they were taken in a trap, and began to stir with great confusion; so lest they
should get quite waked and armed, I left
Hugh at the gates with ten men, and myself led the rest into that house. There while we slew all those that yielded not, came
Arnald with the others, bringing our horses
with them: then all the enemy threw their arms down. And we counted our prisoners and found them over fourscore; therefore,
not knowing what to do with them (for they were
too many to guard, and it seemed unknightly to slay them all), we sent up some bowmen to the walls, and turning our prisoners
out of gates, bid them run for their lives,
which they did fast enough, not knowing our numbers, and our men sent a few flights of arrows among them that they might not
Then the one or two prisoners that we had left, told us, when we had crossed our axes over their heads, that the people of
the good town would not willingly fight us,
in that they hated the Queen; that she was guarded at the palace by some fifty knights, and that beside, there were no others
oppose us in the town: so we set out
for the palace, spear in hand.
We had not gone far, before we heard some knights coming, and soon, in a turn of the long street, we saw them riding towards
us; when they caught sight of us they
seemed astonished, drew rein, and stood in some confusion.
We did not slacken our pace for an instant, but rode right at them with a yell, to which I lent myself with all my heart.
After all they did not run away, but waited for us with their spears held out; I missed the man I had marked, or hit him rather
just on the top of the helm; he bent
back, and the spear slipped over his head, but my horse still kept on, and I felt presently such a crash that I reeled in
my saddle, and felt mad. He had lashed out at me
with his sword as I came on, hitting me in the ribs (for my arm was raised), but only flatlings.
I was quite wild with rage, I turned, almost fell upon him, caught him by the neck with both hands, and threw him under the
horse-hoofs, sighing with fury: I heard
Arnald’s voice close to me, “Well fought, Florian:” and I saw his great stern face bare among the iron, for he had made a
remembrance of that blow always to fight un-helmed; I saw his great sword swinging, in wide gyves, and hissing as it started
up, just as if it were alive and liked it.
So joy filled all my soul, and I fought with my heart, till the big axe I swung felt like nothing but a little hammer in my
hand, except for its bitterness: and as
for the enemy, they went down like grass, so that we destroyed them utterly, for those knights would neither yield nor fly,
but died as they stood, so that some fifteen of
our men also died there.
Then at last we came to the palace, where some grooms and such like kept the gates armed, but some ran, and some we took prisoners,
one of whom died for sheer terror
in our hands, being
stricken by no wound: for he thought we would eat him.
These prisoners we questioned concerning the queen, and so entered the great hall.
There Arnald sat down in the throne on the dais, and laid his naked sword before him on the table: and on each side of him
sat such knights as there was room for, and
the others stood round about, while I took ten men, and went to look for Swanhilda.
I found her soon, sitting by herself in a gorgeous chamber. I almost pitied her when I saw her looking so utterly desolate
and despairing; her beauty too had faded,
deep lines cut through her face. But when I entered she knew who I was, and her look of intense hatred was so fiend-like,
that it changed my pity into horror of her.
“Knight,” she said, “who are you, and what do you want, thus discourteously entering my chamber?”
“I am Florian de Liliis, and I am to conduct you to judgment.”
She sprung up, “Curse you and your whole house,—you I hate worse than any,—girl’s face,—guards!
guards!” and she stamped on the ground, her veins on the forehead swelled, her eyes grew round and flamed out, as she kept
crying for her guards, stamping the
while, for she seemed quite mad.
Then at last she remembered that she was in the power of her enemies, she sat down, and lay with her face between her hands,
and wept passionately.
“Witch,”—I said, between my closed teeth, “will you come, or must we carry you down to the great hall?”
Neither would she come, but sat there, clutching at her dress and tearing her hair.
Then I said, “Bind her, and carry her down.” And they did so.
I watched Arnald as we came in, there was no triumph in his stern white face, but resolution enough, he had made up his mind.
They placed her on a seat in the
midst of the hall over against the dais. He said, “Unbind her, Florian.” They did so, she raised her
face, and glared defiance at us all, as though she would die queenly after all.
Then rose up Arnald and said, “Queen Swanhilda, we judge you guilty of death, and because you are a queen and of a noble house,
you shall be slain by my
knightly sword, and I will even take the reproach of slaying a woman, for no other hand than mine shall deal the blow.”
Then she said, “O false knight, shew your warrant from God, man, or devil.”
“This warrant from God, Swanhilda,” he said, holding up his sword, “listen!—fifteen years ago, when I was just winning my
spurs, you struck me, disgracing me before all the people; you cursed me, and meant that curse well enough. Men of the house
of the Lilies, what sentence for
“Death!” they said.
“Listen!—afterwards you slew my cousin, your husband, treacherously, in the most cursed way, stabbing him in the throat, as
the stars in the
canopy above him looked down on the shut eyes of him. Men of the house of the Lily, what sentence for that?”
“Death!” they said.
“Do you hear them, Queen? there is warrant from man; for the devil, I do not reverence him enough to take warrant from him,
but, as I look at that face of
yours, I think that even he has left you.”
And indeed just then all her pride seemed to leave her, she fell from the chair, and wallowed on the ground moaning, she wept
like a child, so that the tears lay on
the oak floor; she prayed for another month of life; she came to me and kneeled, and kissed my feet, and prayed piteously,
so that water ran out of her mouth.
But I shuddered, and drew away; it was like having an adder about one; I could have pitied her had she died bravely, but for
one like her to whine and
Then from the dais rang Arnald’s voice terrible, much changed. “Let there be an end of all this.” And he took his sword and
through the hall towards her; she rose from the ground and stood up, stooping a little, her head sunk between her shoulders,
her black eyes turned up and gleaming, like a
tigress about to spring. When he came within some six paces of her something in his eye daunted her, or perhaps the flashing
of his terrible sword in the torch-light; she
threw her arms up with a great shriek, and dashed screaming about the hall. Arnald’s lip never once curled with any scorn,
no line in his face changed: he said,
“Bring her here and bind her.”
But when one came up to her to lay hold on her she first of all ran at him, hitting him with her head in the belly. Then while
he stood doubled up for want of breath,
and staring with his head up, she caught his sword from the girdle, and cut him across the shoulders, and many others she
wounded sorely before they took her.
Then Arnald stood by the chair to which she was bound, and poised his sword, and there was a great silence.
Then he said, “Men of the House of the Lilies, do you justify me in this, shall she die?” Straightway rang a great shout through
the hall, but
before it died away the sword had swept round, and therewithal was there no such thing as Swanhilda left upon the earth, for
in no battle-field had Arnald struck truer
blow. Then he turned to the few servants of the palace and said, “Go now, bury this accursed woman, for she is a king’s daughter.”
us all, “Now knights, to horse and away, that we may reach the good town by about, dawn.” So we mounted and rode off.
What a strange Christmas-day that was, for there, about nine o’clock in the morning, rode Red Harald into the good town to
demand vengeance; he went at
once to the king, and the king
promised that before nightfall that very day the matter should be judged; albeit the king feared somewhat, because every
third man you
met in the streets had a blue cross on his shoulder, and some likeness of a lily, cut out or painted, stuck in his hat; and
this blue cross and lily were the bearings of
our house, called “de Liliis.” Now we had seen Red Harald pass through the streets, with a white banner borne before him,
to show that he came
peaceably as for this time; but I trow he was thinking of other things but peace.
And he was called Red Harald first at this time, because over all his arms he wore a great scarlet cloth, that fell in heavy
folds about his horse and all about him.
Then, as he passed our house, some one pointed it out to him, rising there with its carving and its barred marble, but stronger
than many a castle on the hill-tops, and its
great overhanging battlement cast a mighty shadow down the wall and across the street; and above all rose the great tower,
our banner floating proudly from the top, whereon
was emblazoned on a white ground a blue cross, and on a blue ground four white lilies. And now faces were gazing from all
the windows, and all the battlements were
thronged; so Harald turned, and rising in his stirrups, shook his clenched fist at our house; natheless, as he did so, the
east wind, coming down the street, caught up the
corner of that scarlet cloth and drove it over his face, and therewithal disordering his long black hair, well nigh choked
him, so that he bit both his hair and that
So from base to cope rose a mighty shout of triumph and defiance, and he passed on.
Then Arnald caused it to be cried, that all those who loved the good House of the Lilies should go to mass that morning in
St. Mary’s Church, hard by our
house. Now this church belonged to us, and the abbey that served it, and always we appointed the abbot of
it on condition that our trumpets should sound altogether when on high masses they sing the “Gloria in
Excelsis.” It was the largest and most beautiful of all the churches in the town, and had two exceeding high towers, which
you could see from far off, even when
you saw not the town or any of its other towers: and in one of these towers were twelve great bells, named after the twelve
Apostles, one name being written on each one of
them; as Peter, Matthew, and so on; and in the other tower was one great bell only, much larger than any of the others, and
which was called Mary. Now this bell was never
rung but when our house was in great danger, and it had this legend on it, “When Mary rings the earth shakes;” and indeed
from this we took our war
cry, which was, “Mary rings;” somewhat justifiably indeed, for the last time that Mary rung, on that day before nightfall
there were four thousand
bodies to be buried, which bodies wore neither cross nor lily.
So Arnald gave me in charge to tell the abbot to cause Mary to be tolled for an hour before mass that day.
The abbot leaned on my shoulder as I stood within the tower and looked at the twelve monks laying their hands to the ropes.
Far up in the dimness I saw the wheel
before it began to swing round about; then it moved a little; the twelve men bent down to the earth and a roar rose that shook
the tower from base to spire-vane: backwards
and forwards swept the wheel, as Mary now looked downwards towards earth, now looked up at the shadowy cone of the spire,
shot across by bars of light from the dormers.
And the thunder of Mary was caught up by the wind and carried through all the country; and when the good man heard it, he
said goodbye to wife and child, slung his
shield behind his back, and set forward with his spear sloped over his shoulder, and many a time, as he walked toward the
town, he tightened the belt that went
about his waist, that he might stride the faster, so long and furiously did Mary toll.
And before the great bell, Mary, had ceased ringing, all the ways were full of armed men.
But at each door of the church of St. Mary stood a row of men armed with axes, and when any came, meaning to go into the church,
the two first of these would hold
their axes (whose helves were about four feet long) over his head, and would ask him, “Who went over the moon last night?”
then if he answered nothing
or at random they would bid him turn back, which he for the more part would be ready enough to do; but some, striving to get
through that row of men, were slain outright;
but if he were one of those that were friends to the House of the Lilies he would answer to that question, “Mary and John.”
By the time the mass began the whole church was full, and in the nave and transept thereof were three thousand men, all of
our house and all armed. But Arnald and
myself, and Squire Hugh, and some others sat under a gold-fringed canopy near the choir; and the abbot said mass, having his
mitre on his head. Yet, as I watched him, it
seemed to me that he must have something on beneath his priest’s vestments, for he looked much fatter than usual, being really
a tall lithe man.
Now, as they sung the “Kyrie,” some one shouted from the other end of the church, “My lord Arnald, they are slaying our people
without;” for, indeed, all the square about the church was full of our people, who for the press had not been able to enter,
and were standing there in no small
dread of what might come to pass.
Then the abbot turned round from the altar, and began to fidget with the fastenings of his rich robes.
And they made a lane for us up to
the west door; then I put on my helm and we began to go up the nave, then suddenly the singing of the monks and all stopped.
heard a clinking and a buzz of voices in the choir; I turned, and saw that the bright noon sun was shining on the gold of
the priest’s vestments, as they lay on
the floor, and on the mail that the priests carried.
So we stopped, the choir gates swung open, and the abbot marched out at the head of
his men, all fully armed, and began to strike up the Psalm
When we got to the west door, there was indeed a tumult, but as yet no slaying; the square was all a-flicker with steel, and
we beheld a great body of knights, at the
head of them Red Harald and the king, standing over against us; but our people, pressed against the houses, and into the corners
of the square, were, some striving to enter
the doors, some beside themselves with rage, shouting out to the others to charge; withal, some were pale and some were red
with the blood that had gathered to the
wrathful faces of them.
Then said Arnald to those about him, “Lift me up.” So they laid a great shield on two lances, and these four men carried,
and thereon stood
Arnald, and gazed about him.
Now the king was unhelmed, and his white hair (for he was an old man) flowed down behind him on to his
saddle; but Arnald’s hair was cut short, and
And all the bells rang.
Then the king said, “O Arnald of the Lilies, will you settle this quarrel by the judgment of God?” And Arnald thrust up his
chin, and said
“Yea.” “How then,” said the king, “and where?” “Will it please you try now?” said
Then the king understood what he meant, and took in his hand from behind tresses of his long white hair, twisting them round
his hand in his wrath, but yet said no
word, till I suppose his hair put him in mind of something, and he raised it in both his hands above his head, and shouted
out aloud, “O knights, hearken to this
traitor.” Whereat, indeed, the lances began to move ominously. But Arnald spoke.
“O you king and lords, what have we to do with you? were we not free in the old time, up among the hills there? Wherefore
give way, and we will go to the
hills again; and if any man try to stop us, his blood be on his own head; wherefore now,” (and he turned) “all you House of
the Lily, both soldiers
and monks, let us go forth together fearing nothing, for I think there is not bone enough or muscle enough in these fellows
here that have a king that they should stop us
withal, but only skin and fat.”
And truly, no man dared to stop us, and we went.
Now at that time we drove cattle in Red Harald’s land.
And we took no hoof but from the Lords and rich men, but of these we had a mighty drove, both oxen and sheep, and horses,
and besides, even hawks and hounds, and a
huntsman or two to take care of them.
And, about noon, we drew away from the corn-lands that lay beyond the pastures, and mingled with them,
and reached a wide moor, which was called
‘Goliah’s Land.’ I scarce know why, except that it belonged neither to Red Harald or us, but was debateable.
And the cattle began to go slowly, and our horses were tired, and the sun struck down very hot upon us, for there was no shadow,
and the day was cloudless.
All about the edge of the moor, except
on the side from which we had come was a rim of hills, not very high, but very rocky and steep, otherwise the moor itself
flat; and through these hills was one pass, guarded by our men, which pass led to the Hill castle of the lilies.
It was not wonderful, that of this moor many wild stories were told, being such a strange lonely place, some of them one knew,
alas! to be over true. In the old time,
before we went to the good town, this moor had been the mustering place of our people, and our house had done deeds enough
of blood and horror to turn our white lilies red,
and our blue cross to a fiery one. But some of those wild tales I never believed; they had to do mostly with men losing their
way without any apparent cause, (for there
were plenty of land-marks,) finding some well-known spot, and then, just beyond it, a place they had never even dreamed of.
“Florian! Florian!” said Arnald, “For God’s sake stop! as every one else is stopping to look at the hills yonder; I always
thought there was a curse upon us. What does God mean by shutting us up here? Look at the cattle; O Christ, they have found
it out too! See, some of them are turning to run
back again towards Harald’s land. Oh! unhappy, unhappy, from that day forward!”
He leaned forward, rested his head on his horse’s neck, and wept like a child.
I felt so irritated with him, that I could almost have slain him then and there. Was he mad? had these wild doings of ours
turned his strong wise head?
“Are you my brother Arnald, that I used to think such a grand man when I was a boy?” I said, “or are you changed too, like
and everything else? What do
“Look! look!” he said, grinding his teeth in agony.
I raised my eyes: where was the
one pass between the rim of stern rocks? Nothing: the enemy behind us—that grim wall in front: what wonder that each
man looked in his fellow’s face for help, and found it not. Yet I refused to believe that there was any truth either in the
wild stories that I had heard when I
was a boy, or in this story told me so clearly by my eyes now.
I called out cheerily, “Hugh, come here!” He came. “What do you think of this? Some mere dodge on Harald’s part? Are we
“Think! Sir Florian? God forgive me for ever thinking at all; I have given up that long and long ago, because thirty years
ago I thought this, that the
House of Lilies would deserve anything in the way of bad fortune that God would send them: so I gave up thinking, and took
to fighting. But if you think that Harald had
anything to do with this, why—why—in God’s name, I wish
I could think so!”
I felt a dull weight on my heart. Had our house been the devil’s servants all along? I thought we were God’s servants.
The day was very still, but what little wind there was, was at our backs. I watched Hugh’s face, not being able to answer
him. He was the cleverest man at
war that I have known, either before or since that day: sharper than any hound in ear and scent, clearer sighted than any
eagle; he was listening now intently. I saw a
slight smile cross his face; heard him mutter, “Yes! I think so: verily that is better, a great deal better.” Then he stood
up in his stirrups, and
shouted, “Hurrah for the Lilies! Mary rings!” “Mary rings!” I shouted, though I did not know the reason for his exultation:
brother lifted his head, and smiled too, grimly. Then as I listened I heard clearly the sound of a trumpet, and enemy’s trumpet
“After all, it was only mist, or some such thing,” I said, for the pass between the hills was clear enough now.
“Hurrah! only mist,” said Arnald, quite elated; “Mary rings!” and we all began to think of fighting: for after all, what
joy is equal to that?
There were five hundred of us; two hundred spears, the rest archers; and both archers and men at arms were picked men.
“How many of them are we to expect?” said I.
“Not under a thousand, certainly, probably more, Sir Florian.” (My brother Arnald, by the way, had knighted me before we left
the good town, and
Hugh liked to give me the handle to my name. How was it, by the way, that no one had ever made
him a knight?)
“Let every one look to his arms and horse, and come away from these silly cows’ sons!” shouted Arnald.
Hugh said, “They will be here in an hour, fair Sir.”
So we got clear of the cattle, and dismounted, and both ourselves took food and drink, and our horses; afterwards we tightened
our saddle-girths, shook our great pots
of helmets on, except Arnald, whose rusty-red hair had been his only head-piece in battle for years and years, and stood with
our spears close by our horses, leaving room
for the archers to retreat between our ranks; and they got their arrows ready, and planted their stakes before a little peat
moss: and there we waited, and saw their
pennons at last floating high above the corn of the fertile land, then heard their many horse-hoofs ring upon the hard-parched
moor, and the archers began to shoot.
It had been a strange battle; we had never fought better, and yet withal it had ended in a retreat; indeed all along every
man but Arnald and myself, even Hugh, had
been trying at least to get the enemy between him and the way toward the pass; and now we were all drifting that way, the
enemy trying to cut us off, but never able to stop
us, because he could only
throw small bodies of men in our way, whom we scattered and put to flight in their turn.
I never cared less for my life than then; indeed, in spite of all my boasting and hardness of belief, I should have been happy
to have died, such a strange weight of
apprehension was on me; and yet I got no scratch even. I had soon put off my great helm, and was fighting in my mail-coif
only; and here I swear that three knights together
charged me, aiming at my bare face, yet never touched me; for, as for one, I put his lance aside with my sword, and the other
two in some most wonderful manner got their
spears locked in each other’s armour, and so had to submit to be knocked off their horses.
And we still neared the pass, and began to see distinctly the ferns that grew on the rocks, and the fair country between the
rift in them, spreading out there,
Whereupon came a great rush of men of both sides, striking side blows at each other, spitting, cursing, and shrieking, as
they tore away like a herd of wild hogs. So,
being careless of life, as I said, I drew rein, and turning my horse, waited quietly for them; and I knotted the reins, and
lay them on the horse’s neck, and
stroked him, that he whinnied; then got both my hands to my sword.
Then, as they came on, I noted hurriedly that the first man was one of Arnald’s men, and one of our men behind him leaned
forward to prod him with his
spear, but could not reach so far, till he himself was run through the eye with a spear, and throwing his arms up fell dead
with a shriek. Also I noted concerning this
first man that the laces of his helmet were loose, and when he saw me he lifted his
hand to his head, took off his helm and cast it at me, and still
tore on; the helmet flew over my head, and I sitting still there, swung out, hitting him on the neck; his head flew right
off, for the
mail no more held than a piece of silk.
“Mary rings,” and my horse whinnied again, and we both of us went at it, and fairly stopped that rout, so that there was a
knot of quite close
and desperate fighting, wherein we had the best of that fight and slew most of them, albeit my horse was slain and my mail-coif
cut through. Then I bade a squire fetch me
another horse, and began meanwhile to upbraid those knights for running in such a strange disorderly race, instead of standing
and fighting cleverly.
Moreover we had drifted even in this successful fight still nearer to the pass, so that the conies who dwelt there were beginning
to consider whether they should not
run into their holes.
But one of those knights said: “Be not angry with me, Sir Florian, but do you think you will go to Heaven?”
“The saints! I hope so,” I said, but one who stood near him whispered to him to hold his peace, so I cried out:
“O friend! I hold this world and all therein so cheap now, that I see not anything in it but shame which can any longer anger
me; wherefore speak
“Then, Sir Florian, men say that at your christening some fiend took on him the likeness of a priest and strove to baptize
you in the Devil’s
name, but God had mercy on you so that the fiend could not choose but baptize you in the name of the most holy Trinity: and
yet men say that you hardly believe any doctrine
such as other men do, and will at the end only go to Heaven round about as it were, not at all by the intercession of our
Lady; they say too that you can see no ghosts or
other wonders, whatever happens to other Christian men.”
I smiled—“Well, friend, I scarcely call this a disadvantage, moreover what has it to do with the matter in hand?”
How was this in Heaven’s name?
we had been quite still, resting, while this talk was going on, but we could hear the hawks chattering from the rocks,
we were so close now.
And my heart sunk within me, there was no reason why this should not be true; there was no reason why anything should not
“This, Sir Florian,” said the knight again, “how would you feel inclined to fight if you thought that everything about you
glamour; this earth here, the rocks, the sun, the sky? I do not know where I am for certain, I do not know that it is not
midnight instead of undern: I do not know if I
have been fighting men or only
simulacra—but I think, we all think, that we have been led into some devil’s trap or other,
and—and—may God forgive me my sins!—I wish I had never been born.”
There now! he was weeping—they all wept—how strange it was to see those rough, bearded men blubbering there, and snivelling
till the tears ran
over their armour and mingled with the blood, so that it dropped down to the earth in a dim, dull, red rain.
My eyes indeed were dry, but then so was my heart; I felt far worse than weeping came to, but nevertheless I spoke cheerily.
“Dear friends, where are your old men’s hearts gone to now? See now! this is a punishment for our sins, is it? well, for our
forefathers’ sins or our own? if the first, O brothers, be very sure that if we bear it manfully God will have something very
good in store for us hereafter; but
if for our sins, is it not certain that He cares for us yet, for note that He suffers the wicked to go their own ways pretty
much; moreover brave men, brothers, ought to be
the masters of
simulacra—come, is it so hard to die once for all?”
Still no answer came from them, they sighed heavily only. I heard the sound of more than one or two swords as they rattled
back to their scabbards: nay, one knight,
stripping himself of surcoat and hauberk, and drawing his
dagger, looked at me with a grim smile, and said, “Sir Florian, do so!” then he drew the dagger across his
throat and he fell back dead.
They shuddered, those brave men, and crossed themselves. And I had no heart to say a word more, but mounted the horse which
had been brought to me and rode away
slowly for a few yards; then I became aware that there was a great silence over the whole field.
So I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold no man struck at another.
Then from out of a band of horsemen came Harald, and he was covered all over with a great scarlet cloth as before, put on
over the head, and flowing all about his
horse, but rent with the fight. He put off his helm and drew back his mail-coif, then took a trumpet from the hand of a herald
and blew strongly.
And in the midst of his blast I heard a voice call out: “O Florian! come and speak to me for the last time!”
So when I turned I beheld Arnald standing by himself, but near him stood Hugh and ten others with drawn swords.
Then I wept, and so went to him, weeping; and he said, “Thou seest, brother, that we must die, and I think by some horrible
and unheard-of death, and the
House of the Lilies is just dying too; and now I repent me of Swanhilda’s death; now I know that it was a poor cowardly piece
of revenge, instead of a brave act
of justice; thus has God shown us the right.
“O Florian! curse me! So will it be straighter; truly thy mother when she bore thee did not think of this; rather saw thee
in the tourney at this time, in
her fond hopes, glittering with gold and doing knightly; or else mingling thy brown locks with the golden hair of some maiden
weeping for the love of thee. God forgive me!
God forgive me!”
“What harm,brother?’” I said, “this is only failing in the world; what if we
had not failed, in a little while it
would have made no difference; truly just now I felt very miserable, but now it has past away, and I am happy.”
“O brave heart!” he said, “yet we shall part just now, Florian, farewell.”
“The road is long,” I said, “farewell.”
Then we kissed each other, and Hugh and the others wept.
Now all this time the trumpets had been ringing, ringing, great doleful peals, then it ceased, and above all sounded Red Harald’s
(So I looked round towards that pass, and when I looked I no longer doubted any of those wild tales of glamour concerning
Goliah’s Land; for though the
rocks were the same, and though the conies still stood gazing at the doors of their dwellings, though the hawks still cried
out shrilly, though the fern still shook in the
wind, yet, beyond, oh such a land! not to be described by any because of its great beauty, lying, a great
hollow land, the rocks going down on this side
in precipices, then reaches and reaches of loveliest country, trees and flowers, and corn, then the hills, green and blue,
and purple, till their ledges reached the white
snowy mountains at last. Then with all manner of strange feelings, “my heart in the midst of my body was even like melting wax.”)
“O you House of the Lily! you are conquered—yet I will take vengeance only on a few, therefore let all those who wish to live
come and pile
their swords, and shields, and helms behind me in three great heaps, and swear fealty afterwards to me; yes, all but the false
Knights Arnald and Florian.”
We were holding each other’s hands and gazing, and we saw all our knights, yea, all but Squire Hugh and his ten heroes, pass
over the field singly, or in
groups of three or four, with their heads hanging down in shame, and they cast down their notched swords and dinted, lilied
shields, and brave-
crested helms into three great heaps, behind Red Harald, then stood behind, no man speaking to his fellow or touching him.
Then dolefully the great trumpets sang over the dying House of the Lily, and Red Harald led his men forward, but slowly: on
they came, spear and mail glittering in
the sunlight; and I turned and looked at that good land, and a shuddering delight seized my soul.
But I felt my brother’s hand leave mine, and saw him turn his horse’s head and ride swiftly toward the pass; that was a strange
And at the edge he stopped, turned round and called out aloud, “I pray thee, Harald, forgive me! now farewell all.”
Then the horse gave one bound forward, and we heard the poor creature’s scream when he felt that he must die, and we heard
afterwards (for we were near
enough for that even) a clang and a crash.
So I turned me about to Hugh, and he understood me though I could not speak.
We shouted all together, “Mary rings,” then laid our bridles on the necks of our horses, spurred forward, and—in five minutes
were all slain, and I was down among the horse-hoofs.
Not slain though, not wounded. Red Harald smiled grimly when he saw me rise and lash out again; he and some ten others dismounted,
and holding their long spears out,
I went back—back, back,—I saw what it meant, and sheathed my sword, and their laughter rolled all about, and I too smiled.
Presently they all stopped, and I felt the last foot of turf giving under my feet; I looked down and saw the crack there widening;
then in a moment I fell, and a
cloud of dust and earth rolled after me; then again their mirth rose into thunder-peals of laughter. But through it all I
heard Red Harald shout, “Silence! evil
For as I fell I stretched out my arms, and caught a tuft of yellow broom some three feet from the brow, and hung there by
the hands, my feet being loose in the air.
Then Red Harald came and stood on the precipice above me, his great axe over his shoulder; and he looked down on me not ferociously,
almost kindly, while the wind
from the Hollow Land blew about his red raiment, tattered and dusty now.
And I felt happy, though it pained me to hold straining by the broom, yet I said, “I will hold out to the last.”
It was not long, the plant itself gave way and I fell, and as I fell I fainted.
To be continued.)
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial A is ornamental
Note: Though the rest of the periodical is printed in two columns, poems are printed in a single column, centered.
- All day long and every day,
- From Christmas-Eve to Whit-Sunday,
- Within that Chapel-aisle I lay,
- And no man came a-near.
- Naked to the waist was I,
- And deep within my breast did lie,
- Though no man any blood could spy,
- The truncheon of a spear.
- No meat did ever pass my lips.
10Those days—(Alas! the sunlight slips
- From off the gilded parclose, dips,
- And night comes on apace.)
- My arms lay back behind my head;
- Over my raised-up knees was spread
- A samite cloth of white and red;
- A rose lay on my face.
- Many a time I tried to shout;
- But as in dream of battle-rout,
- My frozen speech would not well out;
20I could not even weep.
- With inward sigh I see the sun
- Fade off the pillars one by one,
- My heart faints when the day is done,
- Because I cannot sleep.
- Sometimes strange thoughts pass through my head;
- Not like a tomb is this my bed,
- Yet oft I think that I am dead;
- That round my tomb is writ,
- “Ozana of the hardy heart,
30Knight of the Table Round,
- Pray for his soul, Lords, of your part;
- A true knight he was found.”
- Ah! me, I cannot fathom it. (
Sir Galahad. All day long and every day,
- Till his madness pass’d away,
- I watch’d Ozana as he lay
- Within the gilded screen.
- All my singing moved him not;
- As I sung my heart grew hot
40With the thought of Lancelot
- Far away, I ween.
- So I went a little space
- From out the Chapel, bathed my face
- In the stream that runs apace
- By the Churchyard Wall.
- There I pluck’d a faint wild rose,
- Hard by where the linden grows,
- Sighing over silver rows
- Of the lilies tall.
50I laid the flower across his mouth;
- The sparkling drops seem’d good for drouth;
- He smiled, turn’d round toward the south,
- Held up a golden tress.
- The light smote on it from the west:
- He drew the covering from his breast,
- Against his heart that hair he prest;
- Death him soon will bless.
Sir Bors. I enter’d by the western door;
- I saw a knight’s helm lying there:
60I raised my eyes from off the floor,
- And caught the gleaming of his hair.
- I stept full softly up to him;
- I laid my chin upon his head;
- I felt him smile; my eyes did swim,
- I was so glad he was not dead.
- I heard Ozana murmur low,
- “There comes no sleep nor any love.”
- But Galahad stoop’d and kiss’d his brow:
- He shiver’d; I saw his pale lips move.
Sir Ozana. There comes no sleep nor any love;
- Ah me! I shiver with delight.
- I am so weak I cannot move;
- God move me to thee, dear, to-night!
- Christ help! I have but little wit:
- My life went wrong; I see it writ,
- “Ozana of the hardy heart,
- Knight of the Table Round,
- Pray for his soul, lords, on your part;
- A good knight he was found”
80Now I begin to fathom it.
Sir Bors. Galahad sits dreamily:
- What strange things may his eyes see,
- Great blue eyes fixed full on me?
- On his soul, Lord, have mercy.
Sir Galahad. Ozana, shall I pray for thee?
- Her cheek is laid to thine;
- Her hair against the jasper sea
- Wondrously doth shine.
Editorial Note (page ornament): Initial A is ornamental
Note: Though the rest of the periodical is printed in two columns, poems are printed in a single column, centered.
- A year ago!
- How mournfully,
- How tenderly,
- The words, as to some solemn music, flow!
- Long, long ago might sadder seem;
- But, Life for ever moving on,
- The Present soon is all as surely gone
- As that far Past we almost think a dream.
- The hand we grasp’d but yesterday
10Is now to us a shadow, far away;
- The voice that thrill’d but now upon our ear
- Has ceased, and we at best can keep
- Faint echoes, that must soon as deeply sleep.
- Thus all the Past is long ago, the near
- As truly as the distant, and we start
- To think how to our soon-forgetting heart
- “For ever” sounds scarce longer than “a year ago,”
- A year ago
- He stood beside me in his truth,
20In all the glory of his youth,
- The friend whose like can never comfort me:
- For now between us rolls the unloving sea;
- And what though hearts be join’d? hand, voice and eye
- No longer each to each make sweet reply,
- As in that happy time, a year ago.
- A year ago!
- Ah! why must all things thus for ever change?
- The unbeloved new and strange
- Supplants the old we love and know;
30Then, grief of griefs! grows dearer and more dear,
- Till Love counts worthiest that which is most near;
- And, Time fast speeding on, and faster yet
- Change and Oblivion, we forget,
- Or image dimly, part by part,
- What once stirr’d all the fountains of the heart,
- In the time that is now for ever flown,
- That seems long ages and ages gone,
- But is only a year ago.
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