The Argosy, 1866 (4)

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Oh, wad some power the giftie gie us!—Burns.

IF you consult the authentic map of Fairyland (recently published by Messrs. Moon, Shine, and Co.) you will notice that the emerald-green line which indicates its territorial limit, is washed towards the south by a bold expanse of sea, undotted by either rocks or islands.  To the north-west it touches the work-a-day world, yet is effectually barricaded against intruders by an impassable chain of mountains: which, enriched throughout with mines of gem, and metals, presents on Man-side a leaden sameness of hue, but on Elf-side glitters with diamonds and opals as with ten thousand fire-flies.  The greater portion of the west frontier is, however, bounded, not by these mountains, but by an arm of the sea, which forms a natural barrier between the two countries: its eastern shore peopled by good folks and canny neighbours, gay sprites, graceful fairies, and sportive elves; its western by a bold tribe of semi-barbarous fishermen.

    Nor was it without reason that the first settlers selected this fishing field, and continued to occupy it, though generation after generation they lived and died almost isolated.  Their swift, white-sailed boats ever bore the most delicate freights of fish to the markets of Outerworld:and not of fish only; many a waif and stray from Fairyland washed ashore amongst them.  Now a fiery carbuncle blazed upon the sand; now a curiously-wrought ball of gold or ivory was found imbedded amongst the pebbles.  Sometimes a sunny wave threw up a rose-coloured winged shell or jewelled starfish; sometimes a branch of unfading seaweed exquisitely perfumed.  But though these treasures when once secured could be offered for sale and purchased by all alike, they were never in the first instance discovered except by children or innocent young maidens: indeed this fact was of such invariable occurrence, and children were so fortunate in treasure-finding, that a bluff mariner would often, on returning home empty-handed from his day's toil, despatch his little son or daughter to a certain sheltered stretch of shingle which went by the name of "the children's harvest-field;" hoping by such means to repair his failure.

    Amongst this race of fishermen was none more courageous, hospitable, and free-spoken than Peter Grump the widower: amongst their daughters was none more graceful and pure than his only child Hero, beautiful, lively, tender-hearted, and fifteen; the pet of her father, the pride of her neighbours and the true love of Forss, as sturdy a young fellow as ever cast a net in deep water or rowed against wind and tide for dear life.

    One afternoon Hero, rosy through the splashing spray and sea-wind, ran home full-handed from the harvest-field.

    "See here, father," she cried, eagerly depositing a string of sparkling red beads upon the table: "see, are they not beautiful?"

    Peter Grump examined them carefully, holding each bead up to the light and weighing them in his hand.

    "Beautiful indeed," echoed Forss, who unnoticed, at least by the elder, had followed Hero into the cottage.  "Ah, if I had a sister to find me fairy treasure", I would take the three months' long journey to the best market of Outerworld and make my fortune there."

    "Then you would rather go the three months' journey into Outerworld than come every evening to my father's cottage?" said Hero, shyly.

    "Truly I would go to Outerworld first, and come to you afterwards," her lover answered, with a smile: for he thought how speedily on his return he would have a tight house of his own, and a fair young wife too.

    "Father," said Hero, presently: "if instead of gifts coming now and then to us, I could go to Giftland and grow rich there, would you fret after me?"

    "Truly," answered honest Peter, "if you can go and be Queen of Fairyland, I will not keep you back from such eminence:"—for he thought, "My darling jests; no one ever traversed those mountains or that inland sea; and how should her little feet cross over?"

    But Hero, who could not read their hearts, said within herself: "They do not love me as I love them.  Father should not leave me to be fifty kings; and I would not leave Forss to go to Fairyland, much less Outerworld."

    Yet from that day forward Hero was changed: their love no longer seemed sufficient for her; she sought after other love and other admiration.  Once a lily was ample head-dress, now she would heighten her complexion with a wreath of gorgeous blossoms: once it was enough that Peter and Forss should be pleased with her, now she grudged any man's notice to her fellow-maidens.  Stung by supposed indifference, she suffered disappointment to make her selfish.  Her face, always beautiful, lost its expression of gay sweetness; her temper became capricious, and instead of cheerful airs she would sing snatches of plaintive or bitter songs.  Her father looked anxious, her lover sad: both endeavoured by the most patient tenderness to win her back to her former self; but a weight lay on their hearts when they noticed that she no longer brought home fairy treasures, and remembered that such could be found only by the innocent.

    One evening Hero, sick alike of herself and of others, slipped unnoticed from the cottage and wandered seawards.  Though the moon had not yet risen she could see her way distinctly, for all Fairycoast flashed one blaze of splendour.  A soft wind bore to Hero the hum of distant instruments and songs mingled with ringing laughter: and she thought, full of curiosity, that some festival must be going on amongst the little people; perhaps a wedding.

    Suddenly the music ceased, the lights danced up and down, ran to and fro, clambered here and there, scurried round and round with irregular precipitous haste, while the laughter was succeeded by fitful sounds of lamentation and fear.  Hero fancied some precious thing must have been lost, and that a minute search was going on.  For hours the commotion continued; then gradually spark by spark the blaze died out, and all seemed once more quiet: yet still the low wail of sorrow was audible.

    Weary at length of watching, Hero arose, and was just about to turn homewards when a noisy, vigorous wave leaped ashore and deposited something shining at her feet.

    She stooped: what could it be?

    It was a broad, luminous shell, fitted up with pillows and an awning.  On the pillows and under the scented canopy lay fast asleep a little creature butterfly-winged and coloured like a rose-leaf.  The fish who should have piloted her had apparently perished at his post, some portion of his pulp still cleaving to the shell's fluted lip; while unconscious of her faithful adherent's fate, rocked by wind and waves, the Princess Royal of Fairyland had floated fast asleep to Man-side.  Her disappearance it was which had occasioned such painful commotion amongst her family and affectionate lieges; but all their lamentations failed to rouse her: and not till the motion of the water ceased did she awake to find herself, vessel and all, cradled in the hands of Hero.

    During some moments the two stared at each other in silent amazement; then a suspicion of the truth flashing across her mind, Princess Fay sat upright on her couch and spoke:

    "What gift shall I give you that so I may return to my home in peace?"

    For an instant Hero would have answered: "Give me the love of Forss;" but pride checked the words and she said: "Grant me, wherever I am, to become the supreme object of admiration."

    Princess Fay smiled: "As you will," said she "but to effect this you must come with me to my country."

    Then whilst Hero looked round for some road which mortal feet might traverse, Fay uttered a low, bird-like call.  A slight frothing ensued at the water's edge close to the shingle, whilst one by one mild scaly faces peered above the surface, and vigorous tails propelled their owners.  Next three strong fishes combining themselves into a raft, Hero seated herself on the centre back, and holding fast her little captive, launched out upon the water.

    Soon they passed beyond where mortal sailor had ever navigated, and explored the unknown sea.  Strange forms of seals and porpoises, marine snails and unicorns contemplated them with surprise, followed reverentially in their wake, and watched them safe ashore.

    But on Hero their curious ways were lost, so absorbed was she by ambitious longings.  Even after landing, to her it seemed nothing that her feet trod on sapphires and that both birds and fairies made their nests in the adjacent trees.  Blinded, deafened, stultified by self, she passed unmoved through crystal streets, between fountains of rainbow, along corridors carpeted with butterflies' wings, up a staircase formed from a single tusk, into the opal presence-chamber, even to the foot of the carnelian dormouse on which sat enthroned Queen Fairy.

    Till the queen said: "What gift shall I give you, that so my child may be free from you and we at peace?"

    Then again Hero answered: "Grant me, wherever I am, to become the supreme object of admiration."

    Thereat a hum and buzz of conflicting voices ran through the apartment.  The immutable statutes of Fairycourt enacted that no captured fairy could be set free except at the price named by the captor; from this necessity not even the blood-royal was exempt, so that the case was very urgent: on the other hand the beauty of Hero, her extreme youth, and a certain indignant sorrow which spoke in her every look and tone, had enlisted such sympathy on her side as made the pigmy nation loth to endow her with the perilous pre-eminence she demanded.

    "Clear the court," shrilled the usher of the golden rod, an alert elf, green like a grasshopper.  Amid the crowd of non-voters Hero, bearing her august prisoner, retired from the throne-room.

    When recalled to the assembly an imposing silence reigned, which was almost instantly broken by the Queen.  "Maiden," she said, "it cannot be but that the dear ransom of my daughter's liberty must be paid.  I grant you, wherever you may appear, to become the supreme object of admiration.  In you every man shall find his taste satisfied.  In you one shall recognize his ideal of loveliness, another shall bow before the impersonation of dignity.  One shall be thrilled by your voice, another fascinated by your wit and inimitable grace.  He who prefers colour shall dwell upon your complexion, hair, eyes; he who worships intellect shall find in you his superior; he who is ambitious shall feel you to be a prize more august than an empire.  I cannot ennoble the taste of those who look upon you: I can but cause that in you all desire shall be gratified.  If sometimes you chafe under a trivial homage, if sometimes you are admired rather for what you have than for what you are, accuse your votaries, accuse, if you will, yourself, but accuse not me.  In consideration, however, of your utter inexperience, I and my trusty counsellors have agreed for one year to retain your body here, whilst in spirit you at will become one with the reigning object of admiration.  If at the end of the year you return to claim this pre-eminence as your own proper attribute, it shall then be unconditionally granted: if, on the contrary, you then or even sooner desire to be released from a gift whose sweetness is alloyed by you know not how much of bitter shortcoming and disappointment, return; and you shall at once be relieved of a burden you cannot yet estimate."

    So Hero quitted the presence, led by spirits to a pleasance screened off into a perpetual twilight.  Here, on a rippling lake, blossomed lilies.  She lay down among their broad leaves and cups, cradled by their interlaced stems, rocked by warm winds on the rocking water; she lay till the splash of fountains, and the chirp of nestlings, and the whisper of spiced breezes, and the chanted monotone of an innumerable choir, lulled to sleep her soul, lulled to rest her tumultuous heart, charmed her conscious spirit into a heavy blazing diamond, a glory by day, a lamp by night, and a world's wonder at all times.

    Let us leave the fair body at rest and crowned with lilies, to follow the restless spirit, shrived in a jewel, and cast ashore on Man-side.

    No sooner was this incomparable diamond picked up and carried home than Hero's darling wish was gratified.  She outshone every beauty, she eclipsed the most brilliant eyes of the colony.  For a moment the choicest friend was superseded, the dearest mistress overlooked.  For a moment—and this outstripped her desire—Peter Grump forgot his lost daughter and Forss his lost love.  Soon greedy admiration developed into greedy strife: her spark kindled a conflagration.  This gem, in itself an unprecedented fortune, should this gem remain the property of a defenceless orphan to whom mere chance had assigned it?  From her it was torn in a moment: then the stronger wrested it from the strong, blows revenged blows, until, as the last contender bit the dust in convulsive death, the victor, feared throughout the settlement for his brute strength and brutal habits, bore off the prize toward the best market of Outerworld.

    It irked Hero to nestle in that polluted bosom and count the beatings of that sordid heart; but when, at the end of the three months' long journey, she found herself in a guarded booth, enthroned on a cushion of black velvet, by day blazing even in the full sunshine, by night needing no lamp save her own lustre; when she heard the sums running up from thousands into millions which whole guilds of jewellers, whole caravans of merchant princes, whole royal families clubbed their resources to offer for her purchase, it outweighed all she had undergone of disgust and tedium.  Finally, two empires, between which a marriage was about to be contracted and a peace ratified, outbid all rivals and secured the prize.

    Princess Lily, the august bride-elect, was celebrated far and near for courteous manners and delicate beauty.  Her refusal was more gracious, her reserve more winning, than the acquiescence or frankness of another.  She might have been more admired, or even envied, had she been less loved.  If she sang, her hearers loved her; if she danced, the lookers-on loved her; thus love forestalled admiration, and happy in the one she never missed the other.

    Only on her wedding-day, for the first time, she excited envy; for in her coronet appeared the inestimable jewel encircling her sweet face with a halo of splendour.  Hero eclipsed the bride, dazzled the bridegroom, distracted the queen-mother, and thrilled the whole assembly.  Through all the public solemnities of the day Hero reigned supreme: and when, the state parade being at length over, Lily unclasped her gems and laid aside her cumbrous coronet, Hero was handled with more reverential tenderness than her mistress.

    The bride leaned over her casket of treasures and gazed at the inestimable diamond.  "Is it not magnificent?" whispered she.

    "What?" said the bridegroom: "I was looking at you."

    So Lily flushed up with delight and Hero experienced a shock.  Next the diamond shot up one ray of dazzling momentary lustre; then lost its supernatural brilliancy, as Hero quitted the gem for the heart of Lily.

    Etiquette required that the young couple should for some days remain in strict retirement.  Hero now found herself in a secluded palace screened by the growth of many centuries.  She was waited on by twenty bridesmaids only less noble than their princess; she was worshipped by her bridegroom and reflected by a hundred mirrors.  In Lily's pure heart she almost found rest: and when the young prince, at dawn, or lazy noon, or mysterious twilight—for indeed the process went on every day and all day—praised his love's eyes or hair or voice or movements, Hero thought with proud eagerness of the moment when, in her own proper person, she might claim undisputed pre-eminence.

    The prescribed seclusion, however, drew to a close, and the royal pair must make their entrance on public life.  Their entrance coincided with another exit.

    Melice Rapta had for three successive seasons thrilled the world by her voice and subdued it by her loveliness.  She possessed the demeanour of an empress and the winning simplicity of a child, genius and modesty, tenderness and indomitable will.  Her early years had passed in obscurity, subject to neglect if not unkindness; it was only when approaching womanhood developed and matured her gifts that she met with wealthy protectors and assumed their name: for Melice was a foundling.

    No sooner, however, did her world-wide fame place large resources at her command, than she anxiously sought to trace her unknown parentage: and at length discovered that her high-born father and plebeian mother—herself sole fruit of their concealed marriage—were dead.  Once made known to her kindred, she was eagerly acknowledged by them; but rejecting more brilliant offers, she chose to withdraw into a private sphere and fix her residence with a maternal uncle who, long past the meridian of life, devoted his energies to botanical research and culture.

    So on the same evening Lily and her husband entered on their public duties, and Melice took leave for ever of a nation of admirers.

    When the prince and princess appeared in the theatre, the whole house stood up, answering their smiles and blushes by acclamations of welcome.  They took their places on chairs of state under an emblazoned canopy, and the performance commenced.

    A moonless night: three transparent ghosts flit across the scene, bearing in their bosoms unborn souls.  They leave behind tracks of light from which are generated arums.  Day breaks: Melice enters: she washes her hands in a fountain, singing to the splash of the water; she plucks arums, and begins weaving them into a garland, still singing.

    Lily bent forward to whisper something to her husband; but he raised his hand, enforcing "Hush," as through eyes and ears his soul drank deep of beauty.  The young wife leaned back with good-humoured acquiescence:but Hero?

    In another moment Hero was singing in the unrivalled songstress, charming and subduing every heart.  The play proceeded: its incidents, its characters developed.  Felice outshone, outsang herself; warbling like a bird, thrilling with entreaty, pouring forth her soul in passion.  Her voice commanded an enthusiastic silence, her silence drew down thunders of enthusiastic applause.  She acknowledged the honour with majestic courtesy; then for the first time trembled, changed colour: would have swept from the presence like a queen, but merely wept like a woman.

    It was her hour of supreme triumph.

    Next day she set out for her uncle's residence, her own selected home.

    Many a long day's journey separated her from her mother's village, and her transit thither assumed the aspect of a ceremonial progress.  At every town on her route orations and emblems awaited her; whilst from the capital she was quitting came pursuing her messages of farewell, congratulation, entreaty.  Often an unknown cavalier rode beside her carriage some stage of the journey; often a high-born lady met her on the road, and taking a last view of her countenance, obtained a few more last words from the most musical mouth in the world.

    At length the goal was reached.  The small cottage, surrounded by its disproportionately extensive garden, was there; the complex forcing-houses, pits, refrigerators, were there; Uncle Treeh was there, standing at the open door to receive his newly-found relative.

    Uncle Treeh was rather old, rather short, not handsome; with an acute eye, a sensitive mouth, and spectacles.  With his complexion of sere brown and his scattered threads of white hair, he strikingly resembled certain plants of the cactus tribe, which in their turn resemble withered old men.

    All his kind face brightened with welcome as he kissed his fair niece, and led her into his sitting-room.  On the table were spread for her refreshment the choicest products of his gardens: ponderous pine-apples, hundred-berried vine clusters, currants large as grapes and sweet as honey.  For a moment his eyes dwelt on a human countenance with more admiration than on vegetable; for a moment, on comparing Melice's complexion with an oleander, he gave the balm to the former.

    But a week afterwards, when Melice, leaning over his shoulder, threatened, to read what he was writing, Treeh looked good-naturedly conscious, and abandoning the letter to her mercy, made his escape into a neighbouring conservatory.

    She read as follows:

    "MY FRIEND,You will doubtless have learned how my solitude has been invaded by my sister's long-lost daughter, a peach-coloured damsel, with commeline eyes, and hair darker than chestnuts.  For one whole evening I suspended my beloved toils and devoted myself to her: alas, next day on returning to Lime-alley, house B, pot 37, I found that during my absence a surreptitious slug had devoured three shoots of a tea-rose.  Thus nipped in the bud, my cherished nursling seemed to upbraid me with neglect: and so great was my vexation that on returning to company I could scarcely conceal it.  From that hour I resolved that no mistaken notions of hospitality should ever again seduce me from the true aim of my existence.  Nerved by this resolution, I once more take courage; and now write to inform you that I am in hourly expectation of beholding pierce the soil (loam, drenched with liquid manure) the first sprout from that unnamed alien seed which was brought to our market three months ago by a seafaring man of semi-barbarous aspect.  I break off to visit my hoped-for seedling."

    At this moment the door hastily flung open startled Melice, who, looking up, beheld Treeh, radiant and rejoicing, a flowerpot in his hand.  He hurried up to her, and setting his load on the table, sank upon his knees: "Look!" he cried.

    "Why, uncle," rejoined Melice, when intense examination revealed to her eyes a minute living point of green, "this marvel quite eclipses me!"

    A pang of humiliation shot through Hero, an instantaneous sharp pang next moment she was burrowing beneath the soil in the thirsty sucking roots of a plant not one eighth of an inch high.

    Day by day she grew, watched by an eye unwearied as that of a lover.  The green sheath expanded fold after fold, till from it emerged a crumpled leaf, downy and notched.  How was this first-born of an unknown race tended; how did fumigations rout its infinitesimal foes, whilst circles of quicklime barricaded it against the invasion of snails.  It throve vigorously, adding leaf to leaf and shoot to shoot: at length a minute furry bud appeared.

    Uncle Treeh, the most devoted of foster-fathers, revelled in ecstasy; yet it seemed to Hero that his step was becoming feebler, and his hand more tremulous.  One morning he waited on her as usual, but appeared out of breath and unsteady: gradually he bent more and more forward, till, without removing his eyes from the cherished plant, he sank huddled on the conservatory floor.

    Three hours afterwards hurried steps and anxious faces sought the old man.  There, on the accustomed spot, he lay, shrunk together, cold, dead; his glazed eyes still riveted on his favourite nursling.

    They carried away the corpse—could Treeh have spoken he would have begged to lie where a delicate vine might suck nourishment from his remains —and buried it a mile away from the familiar garden; but no one had the heart to crush him beneath a stone.  The earth lay lightly upon him; and though his bed was unvisited by one who would have tended it—for Melice, now a wife, had crossed the sea to a distant home—generations of unbidden flowers, planted by winds and birds, blossomed there.

    During one whole week Hero and her peers dwelt in solitude, uncared for save by a mournful gardener, who loved and cherished the vegetable family for their old master's sake.  But on the eighth day came a change: all things were furbished up, and assumed their most festive aspect; for the new owners were hourly expected.

    The door opened.  A magnificently-attired lady, followed by two children and a secondary husband, sailed into the narrow passage, casting down with her robe several flower-pots.  She glanced around with a superior air, and was about to quit the scene without a word, when the gardener ventured a remark: "Several very rare plants, madam."

    "Yes, yes," she cried, "we knew his eccentric tastes, poor dear old man;" and stepped doorwards.

    One more effort: "This, madam," indicating Hero, "is a specimen quite unique."

    "Really," said she; and observed to her husband as she left the house: "These useless buildings must be cleared away.  This will be the exact spot for a ruin: I adore a ruin!"

    A ruin?—Hero's spirit died in the slighted plant.  Was it to such taste as this she must condescend?  Such admiration as this she must court?  Merely to receive it would be humiliation.  A passionate longing for the old lost life, the old beloved love, seized her; she grew tremulous, numbed "Ah," she thought, "this is death!"

    A hum, a buzz, voices singing and speaking, the splash of fountains, airy laughter, rustling wings, the noise of a thousand leaves and flower-cups in commeline.  Sparks dancing in the twilight, dancing feet, joy and triumph; unseen hands loosing succous, interlacing stalks from their roots beneath the water; towing a lily-raft across the lake, down a tortuous inland creek, through Fairy-harbour, out into the open sea.

    On the lily-raft lay Hero, crowned with lilies, at rest.  A swift tide was running from Fairy-coast to Man-side: every wave heaving her to its silver crest bore her homewards; every wind whistling from the shore urged her homewards.  Seals and unicorns dived on either hand, unnoticed.  All the tumbling porpoises in the ocean could not have caught her eye.

    At length, the moon-track crossed, she entered the navigable sea.  There all was cold, tedious, dark; not a vessel in sight, not a living sound audible.  She floated farther: something black loomed through the obscurity; could it be a boat? yes, it was certainly a distant boat; then she perceived a net lowered into the water; then saw two fishermen kindle a fire, and prepare themselves to wait, it might be for hours.  Their forms thrown out against the glare, struck Hero as familiar: that old man, stooping more than his former wont; that other strong and active figure, not so broad as in days of yore;Hero's heart beat painfully: did they remember yet? did they love yet? was it yet time?

    Nearer and nearer she floated, nearer and nearer.  The men were wakeful, restless; they stirred the embers into a blaze, and sat waiting.  Then softly and sadly arose the sound of a boat song:


If underneath the water
    You comb your golden hair
With a golden comb, my daughter,
    Oh, would that I were there.
If underneath the wave
You fill a slimy grave,
Would that I, who could not save,
              Might share.



If my love Hero queens it
    In summer Fairyland,
What would I be
    But the ring on her hand?
Her cheek when she leans it
    Would lean on me:
Or sweet, bitter-sweet,
    The flower that she wore
When we parted, to meet
    On the hither shore
    Anymore? nevermore.

    Something caught Forss's eye; he tried the nets, and finding them heavily burdened began to haul them in, saying, "It is a shoal of white fish; no, a drift of white seaweed;"—but suddenly he cried out: "Help, old father! it is a corpse, as white as snow!"

    Peter ran to the nets, and with the younger man's aid, rapidly drew them in.  Hero lay quite still, while very gently they lifted the body over the boat-side, whispering one to another: "It is a woman—she is dead!"  They laid her down where the fire-light shone full upon her faceher familiar face

    Not a corpse, O Peter Grump: not a corpse, O true Forss, staggering as from a death-blow.  The eyes opened, the face dimpled into a happy smile with tears and clinging arms and clinging kisses, Hero begged forgiveness of her father and her lover.

    I will not tell you of the questions asked and answered, the return home, the wonder and joy which spread like wildfire through the colony.  Nor how in the moonlight Forss wooed and won his fair love; nor even how at the wedding danced a band of strangers, gay and agile, recognized by none save the bride.  I will merely tell you how in after years, sitting by her husband's fireside, or watching on the shingle for his return, Hero would speak to her children of her own early days.  And when their eyes kindled while she told of the marvellous splendour of Fairyland, she would assure them, with a convincing smile, that only home is happy: and when, with flushed cheeks and quickened breath, they followed the story of her brief pre-eminence, she would add, that though admiration seems sweet at first, only love is sweet first, and last, and always.





THAT there are certain mysterious realms occasionally visited by mortal sailors (and marines), but engraved on no chart published by Mr. Wild, is well known to all poets and readers of poetry.  It was the dim tradition of Atlantis that tempted Columbus to brave the unknown sea; somewhere within a ring of charmed waters lie buried the fragments of Prospero's broken staff.  The Galway peasant, looking at sunset over the waste of waters, sees upon the horizon the cloud ramparts of the Happy Isles.  Peter Wilkins wedded a winged wife in one of the colonial departments of the Realm of Wonders; Rasselas dwelt from infancy to manhood in its happiest valley.  Odin built the halls of Valhalla upon a mountain peak, and the city where the inhabitants were magically transformed into coloured fish is situated upon one of its silver lakes.  Indeed space utterly fails me for even enumerating the provinces of this fair kingdom of imagination, nor can I so much as mention by name more than a poor half-dozen of its distinguished inhabitants.  But it may not be irrelevant to mention that the Argosy was a most distinguished vessel in its navy, and its commander, Jason, an admiral of the first rank.  The Flying Dutchman was perhaps the lightest craft in its merchant service, and the bark in which the Ancient Mariner laid low "with his cruel bow" the harmless Albatross, was a famous wreck among the annals of its marine disasters.

But why drives on that ship so fast,
    Without or wave or wind?

asks a vox et preterect nihil.  I regard the answer,

The air is cut away before,
    And closes from behind,

as in the highest degree unlikely and unsatisfactory.  It presupposes that the supernatural abhors a vacuum, about which we know nothing; whereas we know that many ships went ashore on the Loadstone Islands, and that Robinson Crusoe was wrecked merely by reason of a high wind.  Let us stick to facts.

    This being an age in which every contribution to our geographical knowledge is eagerly welcomed, I am encouraged to devote a few pages to a single province or minor kingdom, with which I have an intimate acquaintance, having frequently been compelled to visit it, much against my will.  My readers must not therefore conclude that it is a place of detention, for I can assured them that the most harmless people are oftentimes seized and carried by main force across the border; and that they are lucky indeed if they escape without being nearly torn to pieces.

    THE LAND OF GOSSIP lies within a too convenient distance of our "ain contree" (indeed its denizens are sometimes described with a wink as "somebody not a hundred miles off"), and its times and seasons are contemporaneous with our own.  Its inhabitants are distorted representations of ourselves, and their words are compounded from a Celtic, Latin, and Saxon stock.  Its streets are filled by a moving population, who buy and sell, feast and bury; and one of their main occupations, which they ever pursue with whimsical earnestness, is marrying and giving in marriage—particularly the latter.

    Innumerable exciting events are always turning up in the province; but though each is worth a passing word, it does not really please the people unless it overtop that fine line which divides our earthly commonplace from the mysterious and the horrible.  But of such there is no lack.  Murders, ghosts, deadly quarrels, are the occurrence of every hour, and the mercantile houses are always on the brink of failure or making a million of money a day.  Clerks abscond, partners cut their throats, balance sheets won't add up, accounts are cooked.  Villas at Clapham are supported out of capital, "Kites" are always flying in the wind, and "Stags" tossing their antlers in the city streets.  So much for commerce; as for credit it is nearly unknown, except in the way of creditors.  The domestic column of the newsvendors is still more melancholy; since the finer feelings of the heart are or ought to be involved.  Nobody but the authentically informed could believe the quarrels, the alienations, the heart-burnings.  Husbands and wives, I am sorry to say, rarely get on, and

Mister B. and Missis B.,
A sitting by the fire,

are but the first examples which occur to me as being well known to be everything they shouldn't be.  (Indeed, all the world knows what a life she leads him.)

    Even the physical phenomena of this strange region are alarming.  The very air is full of whispers, low and loud, soft and thrilling; they are wafted about on the tree tops, and may be seen floating in a thin vapour round the heads of the inhabitants, sometimes hiding them from each other, sometimes blinding their eyes and causing their steps to go astray.  They may not be called Children of the Mist; and this brings me to the most and even awful phenomenon of all connected with this Land of Gossip.  It is that each of these inhabitants is a duplicate of one of our own human race.  You, O my dear reader, are copied there, and so is your husband, and so am I; rather they are not duplicates which move and act in that realm of wonders, but such distorted representations as we behold in one of those concave or convex mirrors which were at once the terror and the delight of our childhood.  Such a one I remember hanging on a nail in a quiet room in the country.  A room lined with old books: the scent of sweet peas flowing in with the summer sunshine, and scarlet leaves of the Virginian creeper making the desolate autumn bright.  This mirror was so constructed that when you looked in the glass on one side you saw your face widened from ear to ear, like the pictorial representations of little Jack Horner eating his Christmas pie; and when you looked in the glass on the reverse side, it was elongated from forehead to chin, like a tragic nurse in a pantomime.  "The mother who bore you" would hardly have known that face for her own child's, so queer, so quaint, so lamentable, so pathetic, and so awfully unlike yourself was it, with yet an unmistakable vestige of individual identity, which made it a travestie of you, and of nobody else.  Such, my dear friend, is your Double in the Land of Gossip.

    I have read in fantastic German romances of travelling knights who, when riding through the dark green alleys of a forest, would suddenly see another figure pacing slowly to meet them, who on a nearer view proved to be indeed another self,—a demon wearing the same aspect,—who haunted them in battles, and crossed them in love, and ever came in just in the nick of the moment when it could do a mischief.  I have also heard of that poet who was one day summoned by his servant, saying a stranger waited to speak with him; and the poet rose and left the study, and began slowly descending the stairs of his house towards an unknown man at the bottom, who kept his face shrouded in his cloak.  When the poet came close to him, the strange man dropped his cloak, and the face which the poet beheld was his own: and he turned and fled.

    More terrible than the lonely figure in the woodland glade, more ghastly than the shrouded visitant bearing a message from death, more absurd than your countenance as depicted inside or outside of a silver soup ladle, is, O my dear unconscious friend, your Double in the Land of Gossip! and I call you unconscious because perhaps the worst part of this too vital phantasmagoria is that we are seldom visited by our own Doubles.  Occasionally, it is true, we may meet such a one face to face, and are terrified by the awful apparition; but it far more frequently happens that it goes about behind your back, doing and saying the most atrocious things, covering you with shame and ridicule among your neighbours, who persist in believing it is you.  What absurdities does it not utter!  What eccentricities does it not commit!  Sometimes it soars into crime, of which the dark blame is laid on your shoulders; at others it stoops to follies for which you must needs pay the penalty of a bitter blush.  Our Ugly Doubles!  Would to heaven that they did face us boldly, and let us know what they are at, instead of skulking about behind our backs in the Land of Gossip.

    But there are other great peculiarities to be noticed apropos of this subject.  While we see and know comparatively little of our own Ugly Doubles, except by the reports one's friends kindly bring us (and which usually begin you ought to know―――;" or else, "I cannot imagine you to be aware of what―――"), it is quite wonderful how much we know of those supernatural images of our neighbours.  We cannot go to a social party without meeting at least a score of Ugly Doubles of the—absent.  They float and buzz in all corners of the room, bringing down the last news from and almost persuading one that they are of flesh and blood. So that we know, as it were, two people in each of our acquaintances; the real individual whom we see with our sober eyes, and the mystical reflection of his or her identity projected from the Land of Gossip.  And though you might think that the clear, vivid outlines of the human being would throw the vague form of the Ugly Double into confusion, yet it is not so; we know the one, yet we suffer ourselves to believe in the base vulgarity of the other;—and not only among those to whom we are personal strangers are we injured by the spectre of ourselves.  And what is truly wonderful is, that not people only, but also places are subjected to this terrible law of another realm.  There is a foggier London and a sunnier Paris in that mystic land; and the sublimity of the one and the brightness of the other are equally defaced and distorted.  Our Ugly Doubles go about doing evil and foolish deeds in a Regent Street and a Rue de Rivoli of their own; and whenever you hear that any one of them has been committing anything particularly mischievous, be sure that the locality also is defined, and that a particular house in a particular street at a particular hour, are registered as belonging to that particular deed.

    I have perhaps said enough to draw the attention of intelligent observers to an unexplored region which would well repay further investigation.  It is true that many of our contemporaries of the press are known to retain special correspondents at high fees, who report direct information from the Land of Gossip.  But their communications are not made in a philosophic or scientific spirit.  They are imposed upon by every freak of the Ugly Doubles themselves, which they retail at considerably over a penny a line; and they attempt neither description nor analysis, regarding them simply as phenomena, after the manner of Auguste Comte.  It appears, on the contrary, to me that these creatures act after the ruling of an interior law, and that at least the sequence of their actions is extremely invariable.  For instance, you never hear of an Ugly Double conducting itself with grace, nobility, courage, fortitude, or talents.  It is usually maladroit, ignominious, cowardly, impatient, and stupid.  Sometimes, indeed, it exhibits a certain sentimental benevolence, but even that is a travestie of the judicious energy with which eminent public characters in England prefer to be credited.  When, for instance, the Double of the gracious and beloved Philomela goes about bestowing improbable consolation in the dead of the night on impossible wounded warriors, would not that lady much prefer that the Phantom should put out its hand-lamp and retire to reasonable rest?

    Contemporaneous history furnishes us with many other examples of the freaks of Double-dom; such, for instance, as that Highland girl at Lucknow.  Do you believe that Jessie in the plaid shawl ever heard the airy notes of 'The Campbells are coming?'  If you do, I don't!

    Looking into the past, the Ugly Doubles have played us endless tricks.  One actually went (it had a hooked nose and passed by the name of the Iron Duke) to meet Blucher after—or before, I forget which—the Battle of Waterloo.  This meeting has been commemorated in a great historic picture; it's a pity it never took place in the flesh.  The same Double it was who, in the thick of the fray, promiscuously ejaculated, "Up, Guards, and at 'em!"

    But of all the prowling shadows that ever distorted history, perhaps that of Richard the Third was the most malicious.  Though the king himself was a comely young fellow, his Double counterfeited deformity, and did so many cruel and wicked things that his very name became odious.  No succeeding monarch ever dared to run the risk of his son becoming a Richard the Fourth!  Then there was a king of the same unlucky title starved to death in Pomfret Castle;—was he a Double or a genuine creature?  I'm sure I don't know.  Did William Tell shoot the apple off his little boy's head?  Was Joan of Arc burnt at Rouen, or did she settle down comfortably as the wife of a Sieur de Dash?  Is it true that Henry the Second "never smiled again?" or that Eleanor sucked the poison, or Blondel sang to a lute?  And, chief of all mysteries, which was the real Mary Stuart?  Which of the two? for two there were!  Was it the lovely lady who charmed all beholders, the gay damoiselle of France, maturing by trial into the resigned woman who lived with pious dignity and died with mingled charity and fortitude?  Or was it the astute female fiend to whom midnight murder was a pastime; who spared no enemy and truly cherished no friend?  Which was the substance; which the shadow?  Who knows or ever will know?  All I can say is that if the latter image projected on history's mirror be the true one, it is almost the first instance on record of a Double making magnanimous efforts to whitewash the deeds and the reputation of its prototype.

    Such an exception really proves the rule that our Ugly Doubles always manage to throw discredit upon us.  So much I consider myself to have established.  Accurate observation in the Land of Gossip may end by establishing other inductions.  But the reader who reflects on what I have advanced concerning the nature and habits of these creatures, will surely agree with me when I say that if anybody could find some sure way of poisoning them by causing them to consume their own bad atmosphere, I for one should consider that such killing was no murder.




SINCE we are so made that we can never do an injustice either to a person or a thing without harming ourselves in the act, it were to be wished that we could deal justly with, among other matters, our books.  Books may be called intermediate between persons and things.  When we have paid for them we may, if we please, do as we will with our own; but it is at our peril that we do them wrong.  The friend who has dined off our mutton and our wine probably costs us as much as our book did; but though we are at liberty, or, at all events, take the liberty, to criticise our friends after they are gone home, we do not feel entitled to be unjust or undiscriminating in what we say of them.  And we rarely approve each other in judging hastily.  "Perhaps we had better see him again, my dear; we might like him better next time,"—are not these household words?  Then, besides the rashness of short acquaintance, there are errors of inaptitude, of inexperience, of rude indocility, of misplaced reliance, and so forth; which could never be exhaustively classified or described.  A few hints may, however, be useful.

1.     I am not at all afraid of urging overmuch the propriety of frequent, very frequent, reading of the same book.  The book remains the same, but the reader changes, and the value of reading lies in the collision of minds.  It may be taken for granted that no conceivable amount of reading could ever put me into the position with respect to his book—I mean as to intelligence only—in which the author strove to place me.  I may read him a hundred times, and not catch the precise right point of view; and may read him a hundred and one times, and hit it the hundred and first.  The driest and hardest book that ever was contains an interest over and above what can be picked out of it, and laid, so to speak, on the table.  It is interesting as my friend is interesting; it is a problem which invites me to closer knowledge, and that usually means closer love.  He must be a poor friend that we only care to see once or twice, and then forget.

2.    It never seems to occur to some people, who deliver upon the books they read very unhesitating judgments, that they may be wanting, either by congenital defect, or defect of experience, or defect of reproductive memory, in the qualifications which are necessary for judging fairly of any particular book.  Yet the first question a practised and conscientious reader asks himself is, whether he has any natural or accidental disability for the task of criticism in any given case.  It may surprise many persons to hear of the possibility of such a thing; but perhaps it may be made clear by examples.

    As to congenital defect.  We all admit that some individuals are born with better "ears" for music, and better "eyes" for colour, and more "taste" for drawing than others, and we willingly defer, other things being equal, to the decisions upon the points in question of those who are by nature the best gifted.  It is quite a common thing to meet people who, in spite of culture, continue unmusical all their lives long, or unable to catch perspective, or draw a wheel round or a chimney straight, or discriminate fine shades of colour at all.  What is the value of the opinions of such persons upon questions of the fine arts?  Scarcely anything, of course.  Now a book is in nowise distinguished, for our present purpose, from a picture or a sonata.  It is sure, if it be a good book, to appeal, in some of its parts, to special aptitudes of sensibility on the part of its readers; but if the reader lacks the aptitudes, where is the poor author?  And cases in point are not so rare as might be supposed.  There are thousands of people who are wanting in sensibility to beauty in general; in the feeling of personal attachment; in the feelings of the hearth; the feelings of the forum; the feelings of the altar.  It is not at all uncommon to come across characters in which the ordinary natural susceptibility to devotional ideas, nay to fervid ideas in general, seems wholly left out.  It is as if they had come into the world with a sense short.  Again, you may meet people who have no idea of humour.  Allow any latitude you please for taste in this matter—and, of course, taste differs—it still remains true that a total absence of the sense of fun is occasionally seen in society.  Now, we must remember that in speaking of qualities we, after all, draw arbitrary boundary lines.  There are many deficiencies, as many as there are human beings, which cannot be labelled—compound deficiencies, so to speak, which affect the total appreciativeness of our minds to a degree which we ourselves cannot measure, though a healthy self-consciousness may keep us on our guard: and, of course, our estimates of literature, as of other forms of art, must be affected by such shortcomings in our natural make.  The staple of the In Memoriam is the tender regret of faithful friendship for the friend lost—this, I say, is the staple, much as the poem contains in addition.  Fortunately this is what most human beings can enter into with ease; but suppose it were not so, how would the excepted people relish the poem?  Obviously they would lack the very first requisite for the enjoyment of it.  Now, in proportion as a writer, poet or not, addresses himself to compound sensibilities, which may not have shaped themselves yet in average minds, he takes rank, no doubt, below the first order of his craft, but we need not be unjust to him.  He has his own burden to bear; and, since writers of this kind must arise in times of rapid and complicated intellectual transition, we should be on our guard in forming opinions of books.  For the reasons just pointed out, we may not fully understand or like such writers, but they are perhaps, fighting a battle for which our children will be the better.

    It is obvious to apply the same kind of remark to our own imperfections of experience, or our peculiarities of experience.  We are all very fond of telling the young who are about us that they will one day understand the wise saws in which they now see nothing; but among our peers, do we lay the same thing to heart?  What flashes of light do experiences of fresh emotion, such as meet us suddenly upon turning corners in our lives, often throw upon all our past store of facts!  It may very well be that the book we slight, or the particular page we slight, is written by some fellow-creature who has happened to receive from events a quickening touch which has not yet fallen to our own lot.  Poor indeed must our experience be as readers of books if we have never found a page, which once we thought empty, now full of life and light and meaning.  True, it is the business of the artist to make us feel with him and see with him; some faults may be his,—and yet not all the fault.  At least, he may claim that we should bring to him a tolerably patient and receptive mind, not a repelling, refusing mind; in a word, that we should treat him with decency, if we profess to attend to him at all.

    Akin to defect of experience is defect of reproductive memory.  It is very common for a man to take up a book which he once admired with passion, and to find scarcely anything in it.  What, then, is the natural thought, the one that he is most likely to make?  That his judgment is more mature, I suppose.  Well, it may be, and it ought to be; but certainly the author of the work may claim that his reader should ask himself another question, namely, Have I lost anything in general or specific sensibility since I first read this book?  I have myself had to ask this question, and to answer it against myself.  Lapse of time must alter us; and we are, perhaps, too apt to fancy ourselves wiser when we are only something more hard, and something more dull.  It has happened to me, indeed, to agree with a writer upon first reading; to disagree with him upon second reading, after an interval of a year or two; and then again, upon third reading, after another interval, to have to come back to my first opinion.

3.    We do not sufficiently discriminate, when we speak of the reception of books, in our use of the word public.  Which public?  There are a hundred.  A square book will no more suit a round public than a square thing will go into a round hole; but if a square man shuns to read a square book because a round public has rejected it, he is clearly a loser.  Again, there are small, peculiar publics, which are, notwithstanding their smallness, well worth considering.  The currents of feeling, opinion, and culture are enormous, with a thousand eddies in them; creeks and bays and little inlets where strange pleasant barks find shelter, which would be cracked or run down if they took the start in the main stream.  It is a peculiar and special public which welcomes, for example, the poetry of Mr. Matthew Arnold.  It would never have found a welcome from a wide, rough-and-ready magazine audience; but the books once afloat, they find their public, and their public grows.  Thus the experience of bookmakers is uniform upon one point—they can rarely get anybody to see anything in their best efforts till they are printed, probably by a fluke, or a half-fluke.  Then the square people fall into the square holes, and what the author knew to be good is found out to be good by a "public" which never saw anything in it before.  So much for the effect of a little sympathetic excitement: if one sheep goes over the hedge the rest follow.  But when an author has digested, as he may, the bitter reflections which occur to him at such a pass as this, he has probably to swallow something bitterer still: the round public—who are mere sheep, following the rest over a hedge, and who do not at all see the subtle adaptations and fitnesses which made the success of the square article with the square public—come upon the square author, and want him to do something like what he did before.  The utter, utter, fathom-deep blindness which prompts this kind of want is, in recompense, one of the most amusing things in the world.  If the square writer can afford to throw away an opportunity, he declines to kill his golden goose for the round people; if not, he submits to the temptation, and his poor little productive bird is gone for ever.  It has been over and over again pointed out, that to do the same kind of thing over again and over again is a purely commercial idea (and it never pays); the artist-idea is to do something fresh; never to do the same thing over again; to offer up not dead things, but things in which the life is young and glowing.  But what is the use of pointing things out?  When an author has made us admire some of his works, we immediately proceed to make him the victim of his own success: we sacrifice him to a habit of admiration which our own weakness has allowed to grow up in our minds: we make over again the very mistake we have just repented of—till another sheep happens to go over the hedge.

4.     The relation of the critic of a book, standing, as he so often does, between the author and the reader, is not always a well-considered one.  The critic is, by rights, a reader with a trained mind.  He is supposed to have disciplined himself to avoid the partialities of the careless or unconscious reading mind.  If he has really done this, he must be a man of strong and sensitive conscience, of just that breadth and variety of culture which give a large outlook upon things in general; and, if conditions like these are to be combined in one man, that man can scarcely be youthful.  Unless, however, our critic be a person who in some high degree answers to this description, he is only a man like the ordinary general reader, and his opinion of a book is a mere pack of partialities.  But, of necessity, the number of critics who do answer to this description must be comparatively small.  And, in fact, there must be a very large number of persons engaged in pronouncing opinions on books who have just no qualifications for the task.  At the present time literature, in its more transient forms, is very much what school-keeping used to be, a resource for hundreds of people who have no other at hand, and the net takes up fish of all kinds.  Thus we constantly see reviews and essays in which the writing is as purely imitative as any copy that ever was done by a schoolboy, and in which almost every bad quality that can exist in a man without hanging or transporting him, is visible upon the very surface—mercenariness, delight in superiority, the desire to cause suffering, utter incapacity to conceive the existence of any but the lowest motives.  The same description applies to large numbers of the books that are published—it must of necessity do so.  When all sorts of people have acquired the literary knack, we must expect all sorts of writing.  But then there is, we all know, a prestige hanging around literature.  There is something about a book which suggests superiority, and commands, to start with, a certain degree of respect.  In truth, to be able to write, as things go, no more makes a man worthy of regard or attention than a certain other species of benefit of clergy did in olden days.  But if most people forget this, as they unluckily do in the case of books, they forget it still more disastrously in submitting to be guided, without any independent effort of their own understandings, by casual reviewers.  The reviewer is not only a man who can write, he is a man whose office is judicial; he is supposed to be able to tell you what is good and what is bad.  Yet that a man is no more a critic because he writes reviews than a man is a soldier because he carries a sword, may every day be seen.  There is a large amount of real critical capacity and real good feeling extant among the people who write criticisms, and it is able, in a considerable degree, to make itself attended to; but it not only is, it must be the case, that the greater part of the criticism which passes under our eye should be incompetent and pernicious.  The persons who write it are of the ruck; and the qualities which go to make a Hallam, a Coleridge, a Schlegel, a Leasing, are not to be picked up like stones in the street.  Is every reviewer, then, to be a Hallam?  No; but every reviewer should possess, in degree, and in similar order of combination, the very highest qualities.

5.    Reviewers are generally a hard-worked and much-irritated class of men; their power is overrated; they cannot be said to have much share in forming our permanent opinions of books; and even the share which the Higher Criticism has in that work is not what might, at first glance, be supposed.  It is a fact that the general reception of books is like the general reception of a play; in other words, what is best falls flat, what is bad, or at all events far short of best, is received with applause.  Nobody will deny that it is invariably the worst and the most threadbare jokes which are taken up at a play.  It is the same with books; a man's best must be greatly alloyed or it is not accepted by the majority of readers.  This is so strictly true that persons who have to write for certain publics know perfectly well their cue, and act upon it, unless they can afford to disregard money profit.  And the cue is this: write for intelligent people, but always write what used to interest you several years ago.  Then, again, the highest qualities of all kinds of art, those which yield the most enduring delight, are those which depend upon unity of conception, upon the proportionate development of parts with strict reference to a certain general effect.  The best humour and the best pathos are precisely of this kind, and so of other qualities.  Now the characteristic of quite average minds is that they do not care for permanence of effect, and will not, cannot let us say, dwell patiently upon works of art till the deeper fountains of enjoyment wake up for them.  They feel the first attraction, they think that is all, and then they are off to something new.  That is their idea of reading.  Hence, it may truly be said not only that unity is thrown away upon them, but that it is a positive offence and stumbling-block.  Let the artist make a whole as carefully as he will, the public will break it up—as the Manager tells the poor Theatre-Poet in the Prelude to Faust, each will pick out his own, just like the little child that I once saw in raptures at one of Turner's pictures—"Oh, pa! there's a rabbit!"—as, indeed, there was, and is, in the very corner.  Now, to speak in parables, almost every good thing does contain a rabbit, and the children are welcome to admire it; but it is not cheering to reflect that, though a good writer is usually admired for what is really good in him, he is not always admired—never by the general reader—for his best "good."  He is liked for "points," which "take."  Now here it is that critics do us an important service.  It is they who, honestly studying books, and desiring above all things to grasp them as wholes, have the keenest and most enduring delight in them; and the delight is so keen that their utterance of it is sufficient to lift up the best books over the heads of the multitude to a true level of appreciation.  It is not enough to make the best things popular, but it is sufficient to overawe the stupid, and to penetrate the outskirts of popular feeling, with a blind sense of a great sacred sort of merit meddled with.  In this way a book is, perhaps, said to be "more praised than read," as the phrase is; the presumption in such a case is that it is both read and praised by good judges, and read without praise by a large class besides,—a class which, if it were so indiscreet as to praise, would be found to have raised the cry of "Stop thief!" against itself.*  Thus, then, critics have a most important function to exercise in maintaining those higher levels of appreciation which are, again, kept up from age to age by the traditions of literature.  For the least competent judges of all are ever ready to accept a tradition.

    There is not room, at this opportunity, to deal with that delightful subject, the Traditions of Book-criticism, nor with that of the importance, to a critical reading of books, of one peculiar, unusual form of Memory, and its equally unusual counterpart—the Anticipative Apprehensiveness.  But these topics can wait.

    There are some of my readers who could say much wiser and better things than any I have here said upon forming opinions of books; and there is, perhaps, not one of them who could not and will not correct and supplement me as he goes along.  By all means; there is only room in so many pages for so many things, and each must contribute his own threads of colour towards the white light.  Above all things, I rejoice to think that there are readers in whom simplicity and nobility of soul take the place of faculty and culture; who choose the good without knowing why, whose libraries are a profound lesson to the keenest and most patient of critics.  But these bright exceptional instances must not be used to prove too much, and it may be safely said that not one of us who really belongs to the exceptional category has any suspicion of the fact.


* Taking up, by accident, while reading this proof, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu's Letters, I find she says of Bolingbroke (19th Dec., 1754)—"I am much mistaken if he is not obliged to Mr. Bayle for the generality of his criticisms; for which reason he affects to despise him, that he may steal from him with the less suspicion."




I AM going, in the manner of easy-writers, to write about easy-writing.  I am a novice in this style of composition, but the models are so excellent, a beginner may hope with some confidence to tread securely the path of success.  It is so broad and easy.  The adage that there is no royal road to mathematics proves that there are royal roads.  And I say the road of easy-writing is the royalest of them all.

    I feel it firm underfoot now, and admire its hedges, with their singing birds, and the primroses about the roots.  The road side grows flowers of all the seasons, as pleases my fancy.  The trees overhead are stirred by gentle breezes, and my steps are over a fretwork of shadows.  In the vista, where the great trees on either side seem to converge, I discern on the gentle slope a far-off church on which the sun shines.  Between me and it a crowd jogs along easily, demonstrating that the way is all down-hill.  After you, gentlemen, though, longo intervallo!  I salute and follow.

    I am frank, even at the risk of seeming bumptious.  Frankness, says the copybook, is always charming, and the frankness of Easy-writer is the chief secret of his attractiveness.  I must follow him in this, as in some other respects, and have no concealments.  Nay, that is promising too much.  I must be franker than that.  I shall conceal some things.  Frankness, like the other virtues, is a virtue only at times and within limits.  The frankness of stupidity is appalling; men fear to be in the same room with it.  When the god shows his face men die.  To be intolerable, unbearable!  Be warned.  Like the others, I shall humbug a little, and be frank only so far as my purpose requires.  That (but don't let it go farther) is a ten-pound note!  For this I propose to treat of the varieties of Easy-writers: their general characteristics, and the secrets of their popularity.

    Easy-writer belongs to a species within which there are varieties as different as the colly and poodle, the Newfoundland and Skye terrier; connected with the species there are of course mules.  The hybrids sometimes pass for poets, philosophers, or men of science, according to the cross.  The sensible observer, however, rarely fails to perceive the true nature of the creature, however disguised.  There is, moreover, a sham species—the Occasional Easy-writerwho so artfully mimics Easy-writer as at times to pass for him.  This mimicry is not without a motive.  Were asses at a premium and horses at a discount, wouldn't the latter long for lengthened ears and the gift of crying hee-haw!  There are, then, the Easy-writers proper, the Mules, and the Occasional Easywriters.  I shall take them in these broad divisions; in minuter they may not well be taken.  The varieties of the species proper, for example, are very numerous, and there is rarely more than a specimen to a variety!  Such a case would be beyond Buffon.  I can't possibly handle all the Toms, Dicks, and Harrys of modern easy literature.

    Easy-writer proper is what he is constitutionally.  Nascitur non fit.  He is to the manner born; is and can be nothing but Easy-writer.  His natural grazing grounds—pardon the figure—are in the fields of pure literature, which, as every one knows, are on an elevated plateau, from the skirts of which may be had literary views of all things.  These are not uniformly distinct; are often broken by clouds and fogs; sometimes obliterated.  Such as they are, however, they impress those organs of Easy-writer—which in others are the organs of sight—and through these, agitate his brain, with which his fingers are in closest sympathy; and his fingers being set in motion, the result is the transmutation into copy of that, whatever it is, which originates the primal agitation of his sensorium.  Thus his compositions are a process of nature.  Some say they are a species of secretion, with special glands appropriated to them.  This, however, is far from clear.  Certain it is there are special instincts in the creature for the outward manifestation and use of his products.  He tends as naturally to convert the world, and all it contains, into copy, as the bee to build cells with wax and store them with honey.

    Easy-writer is of equal mind and active habits.  He is always working but never overworks.  His brain is never strained any more than his reader's.  He is impervious to passion and feeling; they fall off him as water off a greased garment.  The explanation is that there is nothing but presents itself to him under a literary aspect merely.  All that affects him becomes copy,—a paper currency, practically though not legally convertible.  He has often had a cheque out of Death, and could live on him were there nothing else.  Easy-writer goes to work at once on first impressions; but he nowise confines himself to these.  He gives you the second as well as the first, and the third as well as the second, and leaves you to make what you can of them.  Judgment is a tedious operation averse to his nature.  He never in his life mastered anything or tried to master it; never yet got to the heart of anything—pierced its secret.  Real knowledge would so change him he would be himself no more.  Either his system rejects it or he dies of the virus.  Against this dissolution there are safeguards in his natural endowments.  They keep him to the outsides of things.  He is not affected by substances, but by forms merely.  He combines the qualities of the envelope and goniometer, and comprehends only surfaces and angles; has grasp without lifting-power; breadth without bottom.  Hence the thoroughness of his knowledge of outsides, and one of the secrets of his popularity.  For there are many who believe outsides to be the only realities, and reject insides as having no standing in nature.  To these folk Easy-writer is always sensible, true, and life-like.  They understand and follow him wherever he ranges.  He has abolished for them de gustibus, and erected universal and eternal standards of art and literary criticism.  He has taken the mystery out of the stars.  No wonder they gaze on him reverentially, be he browsing in the fields of pure literature, or over the hedges thereof, Sphinx-like,

Smirking right on with calm unseeing eyes.

    I said the varieties of the species were too numerous to be described; one, however, embracing a single specimen, must be noticed.  Among Easy-writers he is what the colly is among dogs—the most sagacious.  Shrewdness appears in the very selection of his subjects; for he is discriminative, has an eye of a sort, and is unlike the common herd.  He knows his own measure, and rarely strains after sour grapes.  Content with what is within reach, he always enjoys abundance; and of so happy a frame is he, whatever he has he believes there is nothing better.  He has a grand manner.  When he entertains you there is nothing on the table but might serve for princes.  And this is genuine.  So might a donkey, if he gave a party, feel his bosom swell when the time came for saying, "Now, John, uncover the thistle tops."  The manner is imposing.  There is nothing in him really but the commonest insight into the commonest things of common life.  But he has the faculty of being struck with all he sees, and is constantly calling, "Look, look; behold!"  It is possible sometimes to make discovery of things under your nose.  But, on the whole, he succeeds with his readers chiefly through the complacency they feel for him as an alter ego, a distinguished person who treats them as equals.  He never makes them feel small by his greatness, dull by his brilliancy, or fools by his wit.  Nay, he treats them not only as equals, but as friends and confidants.  They appear to know all that ever he did.  The flattery of this is irresistible.  There is just one thing about which he is dark, which he sees and they don't, and it's there he has the pull on them—that they are blockheads.  No other faith could justify or support his voluminousness.

    Now for the Mules.  They combine the natures of the Easy-writer proper—the genuine all-the-world-into-copy converter—and of the metaphysician or the poet, man of science politician.  The Mule is something between the two in each case; he is neither Easy-writer proper, nor yet metaphysician, poet, man of science, politician.  He exhibits the instincts and talents of the two natures as modified by their combination.  The metaphysical hybrid, for example, grapples with the knottiest problems of metaphysics, and unriddles them with the grace and ease with which Easy-writer proper usually handles his own subjects.  He drags noumena to the light, and plants his victorious flag in the region of the unconditioned.  He can perform the metaphysical feat of comprehending himself—taking his head in his teeth.  Nothing, in short, baffles him.  Such men as Mill are not unfrequently confused—experience difficulties, fight hard, and sometimes knock under.  They are mere pretenders.  McBosh, the hybrid, for my money!  How he sweeps away difficulties and mysteries.  Divine Providence and His ways are set clear, like the sun at noon, in the fleckless blue sky of this author's serene intelligence.  The scientific hybrid has the same power of overcoming difficulties—of filling gaps in evidence and completing demonstrations.  It is he who reconciled science and Scripture for ever.  His scientific papers are models of lucidity.  I have often wondered why he has not been secured by one or other of the great Universities.  Surely there never was a more cruel calumny than the story of his being plucked at Cambridge.  I know, till I read him, I for one never understood Quaternions.  It was my impression that now the great inventor is dead only Professor Tait comprehended them.  A mistake.  The reader will find that difficult subject made as plain as x + y in our hybrid's admirable paper "Concerning Mirth."  Naturally you would not expect such a subject to be discussed under such a head.  But that is a peculiarity of hybrid.  The political hybrid, for example, has evolved his theories of law, morals, and government in a series of brilliant romances.

    The Occasional Easy-writer is what his name implies—anybody who tries his hand at easy-writing.  "Folk maun do something for their bread,"—as Death said to Dr. Hornbook.  Accordingly, many, like the present writer at this time, become easy-writers to turn an honest penny.  Why not?  This sort of thing is frequently done in every art and profession.  One of the greatest landscape-painters I know spends his evenings, when no friends drop in, on "pot-boilers."  Enough for high art—the beautiful and true—are or ought to be the eight or ten hours of sunlight.  By the gas the meretricious may be turned out—for sale.  Sometimes my friend chances in his evenings to be filled with the finest spirit, and instead of a passable pot-boiler, turns out a gem of art—a thing of beauty and a joy for ever.  Gem or not, for those who want and take pleasure in such furniture, why should it not be produced?  And why should the entire supply of an article so much in demand as easy-writing be left to Constitutional Easy-writer, whose soul never aspired beyond pot-boilers, or rather to whose defective vision a pot-boiler of his own making is the perfection of art and genius?  The intrusion into the lower field is not only legitimate, it is praiseworthy.  Even the fourth-rate work of a master has always some suggestion of the masterly about it, which is beneficial to those not yet trained to appreciate other than fourth-rate work.  I rejoice when men of genius like Alexander Smith, or George MacDonald, become Occasional Easy-writers, and do an "On," "About," or "Concerning."  Their pot-boilers may not always be "first chop," to use a vulgar expression; but be sure if they do three of them, one will be a work of merit—will be to the work of Constitutional Easy-writer as sunlight to moonlight—as wine to water.

    Having now briefly disposed of these divisions, let me go at once into the next branch of my subject and consider the general characteristics of Easy-writers.  The first is that they never go at once into their subjects; and the explanation of this leads to the second,—that they rarely have any subject properly speaking, to go into.  Easy-writer, whatever his nominal theme, goes off on every suggestion, and runs it dead, unless, indeed, in the pursuit, some whim seizes him, when he instantly follows his whim.  And his whims, even more than other people's, are inexplicable—obey no obvious law of origination or association.  They come on him all at once, as an aërolite comes to the earth.  No one can say whence or whither they will drive him.  Of these apparent interruptions of natural law, the explanation is, I believe, always simple, could we discover it.  The most mysterious case of this species of whimsy I ever knew was due to a quantity of copy standing over from a former article which had been too long.  It was lugged in neck and crop into another, with which it had nothing to do.  And this leads to the third characteristic.  Easy-writer is a most rigid economist.  All he writes he retains; it is so much money.  If you object that it is impertinent to the matter in hand, he shuts you up as the orthodox man shuts up his reason: "It is written."  Nay, he has his money after he spends it, for such is his versatility, he can present the same thing to you over and over a score of times, and each time cheat you into thinking it something else, or prevent you thinking of it as anything at all.  His art has been called the art of putting things, but his greatest achievements are in the department of nothings.  His strength is in his jaw.  Ask any one how he likes Easy-writer's last article.  The answer is, "Very delightful.  Nothing in it, you know."  There never is anything, as I said, or what is the same thing, there is everything.  Extremes meet.  Of course, in saying this, I am imitating Easy-writer; and this is his next characteristic—he never exhibits any scrupulosity.  The charm of his style is mainly due to his inexactitude.  To be exact one must be slow, must often pause to state qualifications and point out exceptions.  Some fluent men are embarrassed on oath—not all.  Easy-writer is an unsworn witness, with the license of the barrister and none of the relevancy.  There is no reason why any of his papers should begin where it does, or end where it does, or be what it is.  The title is no index to the contents—excepting as indicating the authorship: e. g., "Concerning the Taking of Snuff."  There may be no snuff; there will be plenty of Easy-writer.  Thus any of his papers might be made into any of his books, and any of his books into any of his papers, without injury in either case to the sense or the argument.  There is no sense and no argument.  What he writes is a species of rhapsody-fiddle-di-deeing-performance of the order called fugue; and when he is admired it's for the fingering.  But it is a mistake he should be admired for that, so natural is it to him—the mere sentence and paragraph-making power—he is, as I formerly said, rather passive than active in composition.  He takes pen and paper, and the pen moves and the paper is covered with such stuff as comes through him in the circumstances.  And this explains his last peculiarity—why the circumstances of the moment enter so prominently into all his papers.  He is by the sea-shore, or in his study, or on his horse, or in his friend's drag.  The horse jogs, the drag runs, or the sea moans, all through the paper.  The varieties of his gossamer depend on the varieties of grass and stubble they are spread over.  The music of the Æolian harp is always the same, varied just by the window it happens to be put in, and the wind that happens to be blowing.

    I have been rather headlong, I fear, in thus rushing at my subject.  My models, however, suggest many expedients for diminishing the pace.  Sometimes when Easy-writer appears to be going fastest he is making no way whatever; is not on the main line at all, if there is one, but going all round it, or away from it, by cross lines or tramways.  If you look out you may find that instead of being at top speed, as you fancied, he is in a siding letting off steam and dropping hot cinders.  He never hurries you along with the speed and persistency of an express.  That would be to subject you to a strain; and his object is your amusement and relaxation.  He is always stopping for refreshments;—and, speaking of refreshments, I observe 'tis my supper-time.  Nice meal supper—most enjoyable.  What a pity it is the late dinner should be superseding it.  In this sanitorium we dine early.  My friend, Lord Paignton, favours me to-night—oysters and devilled larks for two.  I shall discuss easy-writing with him over our cigars and cognac.  Nice fellow, Paignton, with such a jolly box in Cumberland.  I spent the Christmas there.  A very pleasant party I assure you.  His lordship is in Devonshire just now, because—ah, this is too confidential.  Tell you again, perhaps; only his preference for my society has been noticed by many.  "Lord Paignton," says John, throwing the door open.  I must stop.

    "One moment, Paignton.――Well, I'm delighted to see you."

    The chief advantages of comparing opinions is, you clear your own ideas and get new ones in exchange for them.  After supper, when we had lighted our weeds and drawn our chairs to the fire, I told Paignton I had just begun a paper on easy-writing.

    "And what," said he, "are you going to call it?"

    J. "Concerning Easy-writing," is the sort of title to take, isn't it?

    P. That "concerning" has been done, Jones.  My idea is, there is just one "concerning" left, and that I claim the right to.  I may gift it to some poor devil some day.

    J. What is it?  I know one.

    P. "Concerning Blue-bottles."  I mean the flies of that name.

    J. My dear Paignton, I'm surprised you don't know that has been done, and in good style, too.  I've rarely seen a paper of this class which amused me more.

    P. Done; really done.  Then I don't believe there's another.  What did he make of it?

    J. Everything and nothing, of course.  The flight of the fly, or the wings of it as suggesting flight—I forget which—led him through aërial into interstellar spaces.  There was some meteorology and a great many nebula.  The fly's connection with maggots introduced an account of a Highland sheep-farm, visited four years before in Kintail.  This raised questions of population and public policy, and led back to the heroic exploits of the Highlanders in the Peninsular War.  Then followed a howl about Quebec and Prestonpans, the Indian Mutiny, and the bagpipes at Cawnpore.  A rapid history of pipe music concluded Part I.  An abridged Bridgewater Treatise on final causes and the existence of the Deity opened Part II.  This led to a particular inquiry into the final cause of Blue-bottle.  To ruin mountain mutton?  To fly-blow beef?  Surely not.  Not beneficial from human point of view, though admirable from Blue-bottle's.  Food for spider?  Good.  Final cause manifest from spider's point of view; but what of Blue-bottle's?  As between such creatures who cares?  But what of the beef, by the way?  Mightn't chief end of Blue-bottle have been fulfilled without the fly-blowing of that?  Imperfection of the human reason; difference between things above it and contrary to it.  Kant, Renan, Darwin.  Wind-up, a summer scene in Kent, where the writer said he then was: flies flying, flowers blowing, butterflies sailing, hops growing, with some genuine prose-poetry about "the tear-demanding beauty of the world."

    P. Good, and an excellent example of the method of these writers.  Everything leads to everything else.  Everything is glanced at; nothing exhausted.  I had believed a good "concerning" might be made of Bluebottle, but won't trouble you with my fancy.  You said there was another left.  What is it?

    J. Ah! if, as you say, "Concerning Easy-writing" has been done, which I don't believe, then this other is the only one left—a treasure.  Concernings are not like the freedom of the will or the first chapter of Genesis, that can be done over and over and not be overdone.  There can be but one "concerning" in this style, and the theme is lost to the world.

    P. (with mocks pathos).  Alas! my poor Blue-bottle.  I open the hand that was closing round you, and restore you, not without emotion, to your natural liberty!  Now for the one remaining.

    J. Guess it.  I fluked it.

    P. Fluked it! I disapprove of that word, Jones.  I don't like it.  It is the language neither of science nor of religion.  It supersedes, by a flounder, at once natural laws and divine providence.  I abjure it.

    J. Well, hang it!  I'll not say fluked.  I had the fortune to hit on it.

    P. Ah, Jones!  Paganism! pure paganism!  Avoiding flounder, you fall into the arms of a goddess.  Never mind.  I just wanted you to notice how little Christian we are in our common speech.

    J. Well, well.  But guess at my "concerning."

    P. Oh,—ah!  No use.  I give it up.

    J. Do you remember your Lindley Murray, Paignton ?

    P. Pretty well.  I was, as they say, well grounded.

    J. Can you repeat the list of prepositions?

    P. I think I can; let me see. [Here my friend took a pull at his brandy and soda, a great whiff at his weed, and proceeded slowly.]  About, above, according to, across, after, against, along, alongst, amid, amidst, among, amongst, around, at, athwart.  These are the A's, aren't they?  Now for the B's.  How do they begin?  Yes, I remember.  Bating, before, between, betwixt, beyond, by, Concerning down, during.  I see it!—a gem of purest ray serene, full many a fathom, &c.  But, Jones, no fellow could ever make anything of that.

    J. Couldn't he, though?  Untrained as I am in the mysteries of this art, I see the way to a volume out of the subject.  A gem!  I tell you it's a quarry of brilliants.  There's grammar and comparative philology, the growth of language and the origin of species, to set out with.  These lie in the circumjacentia.  Then see how full of hints is down—the first branch of the subject.  It is suggestive, primarily, of something down in which one is; e. g., a pit, or a ship's hold:—there are mining and navigation!  Or on which one is down, as one's luck.  Then, secondarily, it is suggestive of places which, relatively to other places, are down; as all the world is to London or the two Universities, and as one awful place is to another.  "Tom is gone aloft," as the pathetic ballad says, which our friend Edward sings so sweetly; and toothier fellow is not only "down among the dead men;" but "I stop for pity.  Alas!"  I conceive Easy-writer say, changing here to his second branch, "that there should be any one down there, especially during――!"  A volume!  Why there's a library in it, an encyclopædia of new "concernings" brought under one comprehensive title.  It's a discovery, I tell you, Paignton.

    His lordship laughed at my enthusiasm as he helped himself to a fresh weed.  "Well, Jones," said he, "I'll be curious to see your paper.  But let me just give you a hint.  Treat Easy-writer with some respect.  In the first place he can write, and that's a great deal.  In the next place he is popular, and that proves that he meets a common want of the community.  Myriads want to be excited or soothed, and his articles are at once gently stimulant and narcotic.  Thus they are as much in demand as starch, tea, or Harper Twelvetrees' soap.  If he is well known—'famous,'—it is because 'every genuine article has his name on the back.'  That is his publisher's act rather than his, I fancy.  My notion is you are wrong as to there being such a being as 'Constitutional Easy-writer.'  Many have full employment in making the pot boil.  Many don't succeed in that, work they ever so hard.  On the whole, the class is rather the creation of modern reading habits than of anything else.  By the way, have you seen De Borevil, lately ?"

    J. Reginald?  No.  He's still at Venice, isn't he, shooting teal in the lagoons?

    P. I fancied I saw his name in Cockrern's list, to-day.  That made me ask.  I hear he has turned very melancholy.

    J. I'm sorry for that; what is the matter with him?  Nothing serious I hope.

    P. Well, I suppose no one is melancholy without cause, physical or mental.  I've not heard what it is in De Borevil's case.  Some disappointment, I suppose, or some loss.  It's a bad business when a man becomes habitually sad.

    Here the hall-door bell rung.  We looked at our watches and at one another.  Eleven P.M.  Feet on the lobby; feet on the stair; the door is thrown open, and enters, after due announcement, with a cigar in his mouth, the Hon. Reginald de Borevil.

    De B. Ah, how do you do?  I saw a light in the window and couldn't pass.  And you here, Paignton? how delightful!  Early place this: every one to bed.  Saw you in Directory.  Thought I'd look up.  Lucky, eh?

    "Little of sadness here," thought I.  Greetings over, and De Borevil duly installed in a chair, we told him we had just been speaking of him.

    De B. Curious, very.  But everything is curious, isn't it?

    P. Very!

    J. Very!

    De B.  Got such thing as Scotch whisky, Jones?  I should like a tumbler.

    A tumbler was procured and duly mixed: after which followed inquiries as to De Borevil's health. I said I was sorry to hear he had not been very well.

    De B. Well! never was better.  Been writing a book, that's all.  Rather exhausting, Jones.  It's near done, though.

    J. What is it about?

    De B.  About? about "Melancholy."  Don't know how I got on it.  Grand subject, though.  No end.

    P. Been working your Burton, Reginald?  Isn't the whole thing there?

    De B.  To tell you the truth, I've been afraid to look.  The only chance of originality now is ignorance.  Somebody has been and done everything.  I've got to hate Burton.  I wish there had never been a Burton—except, of course, Burton-on-Trent!  [De Borevil smiled faintly through the smoke.]

    P. But how are you treating the subject.  Medically, metaphysically, or poetically?

    De B. Well, to be frank, I would say, "jawically;" that's the line for our times.  You see if I went at it like a text book, it would be over in an hour, and in twenty pages, if it took so many.  Treated "Medically," it runs to any length, and gives opportunities for employing all the styles.

    J. But what do you know of melancholy?  You who have always been cheery and on the sunny side.

    De B. Well asked.  I saw that disqualification, so went and got up a fit.  Had great difficulty though, and had to try many expedients.  It came at last out of sheer desperation, and a sense of incapacity and worthlessness.  It has taken me long to work it off, I can tell you.

    P. And how, now that you know it, do you define melancholy?

    De B. [taking the weed from his mouth and assuming a grave air]. Well, you see, it's not easy to define.  In its endurance it is a soft, settled habit of sorrowing; in its passing fit it is a sorrow all at once discovered nestling in the breast.  As an emotion it is vague, even when overwhelming, and depends on invisible, or at least not clearly discerned, causes.  It is thus distinguished from grief, which always leans to its source; and from woe, which is grief in paroxysm, and bending under its cause.

    "Beautiful!" cried Paignton and I at once.  "The book, by Jove!"

    De B. Well, yes.  There is something like that in the book.  But drop this.  What were you talking of?

    J. Easy-writing.  We had been discussing the nature of Easy-writer, his subjects and manner of treating them.  Have you thought on these points at all?

    De B. Well, I have considerably of late.  I conceive there's a good deal of easy-writing in my book, so I expect it will go down.  The secret of the thing lies in a wordSwing.

    P. Swing?

    De B. Yes, swing—largo—going at it—taking rope—call it what you like.  Let your thoughts flow; put them all down and don't be afraid.  The result will be interesting, will be natural, will be what to the mass is easy-reading.  Depend on it the whole thing is swing.  By Jove, how one's thoughts do come—with the impetuosity of mountain torrents sometimes.  There's no writing them, write ever so fast.  Of late I've kept a short-hand writer to meet such occasions.

    J. So you give the reader the whole drift of your mind?

    De B. Yes.

    P. And the drivel?

    De B. You are always sneering, Paignton.  It would be well if you remembered the adage, "Look down, see dirt; look up, see the stars."

    P. That's only the half of it; the rest is also memorable.  "Look down, see dirt; look up, walk into it."  There is occasionally advantage in keeping an eye on the unpleasant.  But it is time we were off, Jones.  We'll say good-night.

    De B. Wait a while, please.  I'd like another tumbler.

    P. You've had enough, Reginald; which way are you going?

    De B. To "The Queen's."

    P. Come along then; I put up there too.

    De Borevil drained his glass, we shook hands, and the friends sallied out into the night.  I drew up the blinds and looked after them as they walked into town, and beyond them on the quiet sea, over which spread the palpitating heaven with its innumerable stars.

    "Swing! it's all swing."  Well, I dare say a good deal of it is.  All unrestrained movement is graceful; and all natural movements are unrestrained—have sweep, curvature, continuity, and the other requisites of beauty.  What so pretty as the play of a kitten?  What motions more beautiful than those of romping boys and girls, flushed with health, and freely yielding to every rising impulse; the bounding of a colt in clover; the first rush of a dog in a summer morning?  Something depends, I dare say, on what it is that swings, and the propelling cause of the movement.  Perhaps to the grace and beauty it is essential that the movement should originate in surplus natural energy, not in such stimulants as beer or brandy; should be unconscious and not designed; not begin in a "go to."  After all, I fear De Borevil is mistaken, and that with Easy-writer there is little of true swing.  The passages in which he rises to the fervour and eloquence, the sublime of easy-writing, are rarely connected, have more in them of "rush" than of "swing."  He lets himself go—no doubt of that; and in going, like one possessed, he ignores all the difficulties of the journey.  They don't exist for him.  With a sentence in motion, like a man with faith, he moves mountains.  It will finish itself should the earth crack; finish itself somehow, in apparent consistency with its accidental commencement.  Yes, I'm sure now De Borevil is wrong.  Put rush for swing and explain the rest by the want of scrupulosity.

    Since coming to Devonshire, I've often wondered why Easy-writer gives himself up so entirely to pure literature, and to talking over the little social interests of men.  Surely it would suit him equally well to handle occasionally the aspects of external nature.  They are interesting, and just suited for his style of treatment.  They are infinitely varied; there is no convicting a writer of inaccuracy in respect to them.  The utmost you can say is that an aspect as presented is exceptional; that it never was worn, who would dare to say?  Surely, here is a field in which Easy-writer might profitably disport himself.  And I would fain win him over to it, both for his own sake and that of the public who reads all he writes.  "Have you seen the moon to-night? it's so beautiful," said I to a friend in London once.  "The moon!—bless me, no!  I've not seen it for ten years."  It would be well to lead people to look for pleasure occasionally in the heavens, and on the earth and the sea.  Nothing at Astley's or Her Majesty's to touch these, my friend.  Nothing at the picture-galleries either, if you come to that.  Millais is very well; so are Landseer and Hunt.  But what are they, with maul-stick and hog's hair, to the painter of the day, with his splendours outspread on the spacious palette of the heavens?  In form, in colour, nature beats them hollow; they don't deserve to be named beside her.  Just consider for a moment what a colourist she is; how delicate, how rich!  Omit the delicious feast in garden, and wild flowers, and weeds, and mosses, and lichens, and look only at the broad features of the banquet of colour spread out with the year.  Winter passes with its white and its amber hues, and rosy tints, and the greys and purples of the bare tree trunks.  A few days of sunshine and Spring enters, with lively greens, shaking out her blossoms of white and gold; red soon presumes to tip the flowers, and delicately blushes on the white of orchards in luxurious bloom.  In the fulness of Summer, nature changes her tones, and casts off her transparent hues; the yellow steals slowly into the green, and the red grows bold on the cheek of the cherry.  Thereafter red saddens on the ripened fruit, and passes into the sombre brown of autumn; while the yellow that grows in favour with the year is laid in golden lavishment on the fields and foliage.  And then as Autumn draws to a close, nature brings together all the colours of the year, as the actors are all crowded on the stage before the fall.  The yellow that she loved to paint on her stolen and garnered sheaves is transferred to the glorious, though sombre mantle of the decaying woods; the oak reddens; the gean-tree flushes a transparent pink; pale yellow is the ash; the birch is orange, while the beech displays its browns and purples, and the evergreens hold the dearest of nature's colours under a veil of black.  Yes, sir, I'd give a great deal would you keep off criticism, the metaphysics, and science, which don't suit you, and occasionally expose the Æolian broadside of you to the gentle influences of external nature.

    But it is time to close.  From the window by which I am writing now, I look out on Torbay.  The sea lies calm and peaceful within its girdling hills, as ever lay water in a pleasure-ground.  The sun shines as I look; "the long light shakes" across from Brixham to the hither shore.  A hundred or so yards out ends the lane of glory; nearer to hand is stillness and blackness.  Who would suspect that sea of recent murder—murder on the maniacal, diabolic scale?  Ah! truly treacherousbeguiling and treacherous.  The other night, in sudden delirious fury, this water wrecked a fleet!  Great ships went down beneath its rage, or it beat them to matchwood against the rocks.  To-day, who could credit it, but for the drifted spars, the sunken hulls, and the bodies on the beach?  Yet to one who has been here some time it is not altogether wonderful.  During my stay I have learned to believe it capable of this and more.  I have seen the sea in its varieties, as it can only be seen in a protected bay, with a neck through which at times the main ocean may pour its tempest force.  Rarely is it so calm and deceptive as at this moment.  More commonly long faint surface undulations, and the roar and plash of the under swell, tell of the nearness of the Channel.  With the south-east wind come the dangers of open ocean and a lee shore.  I confess it is an objection to being here, that sea with its terribleness; and yet it is one of the chief attractions, too.  To-day it is a luxury to the eye to look at; to trace in the haze the opposite coast.  I like it best, however, with more of life and motion; when the agitation is from off the land, the air currents striking the sea from the villa-crowned heights.  A slap, and away to seaward scuds an emerald line!  Another and another!  The wind, in gusts that chase each other, rules the whole broad bay with flying breadths of green, winged bands of blue and dark rich purple pressing on their flanks, that are white with living foam; and jet, falling from the driving clouds, mingles with the purple, green, and blue, till all the troubled bay seems full of molten malachite!  A rush!  Hoorooh! ――― Jonathan Jones.




IT would be amusing to trace the steps by which the words sentiment and sentimental, once words of praise, have come to mean something bad.  When Sterne wrote his Sentimental Journey through France and Italy, he intended, and was understood to intend, to describe the book by an adjective that would recommend it.  In one of the posthumous stories of Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, I remember a passage in which the heroine is delighted to find in a book some pencil notes by the hero, of "the most reflective and sentimental kind."  Who cannot find among his old books, "Poems, Didactic and Sentimental?" or "Sentimental Discourses for Youth?"  Did not Wordsworth classify some of his writings as poems "of sentiment and reflection?"*  Does not Isaac Disraeli, in the Curiosities of Literature (Second Series), devote a long paper to the task of commending to people's attention a new class of biography to be called Sentimental, which he thinks insufficiently cultivated?  Does he not wind up by saying that Gibbon (!) had "contemplated the very ideal of Sentimental Biography;" that "the subject would powerfully address itself to the feelings of every Englishman;" and that "we may regret that Gibbon had left only the project?"  How often, in turning over an old-fashioned book, and not so very old either, may we find a pencilled comment something like this—"A most admirable and sentimental author, my dear—read him and follow his counsels, so prays your affectionate mother!"  I have the very case now under my eyes, in a book that seems to have been well read in Calcutta at the beginning of the century.  Now when did the tide begin to turn in the use of this adjective?  I think the last, or almost the last speech uttered by Sir Peter Teazle in The School for Scandal is, "Oh, d—n your sentiment!"—but the break-down of Joseph Surface can never have done it all.  Indeed, if there ever were any considerable number of persons running about in society who habitually talked what our grandfathers called sentiment, they must have been bores of a degree and quality that would speedily wear out human patience and produce a reaction.

    What our forefathers meant by sentiments was what we now call maxims—moral deliverances such as we have seen in copy-book slips, as—"Reason should ever control passion,"—"Fidelity in friendship is beautiful,"—"Benevolence is a virtue,"—"Truth is ever victorious over error,"—and the like.  Or, again, they meant what some people still call "sentiments;" though others simply classify them as wishes, or aspirations.  As—"May the wing of friendship never moult a feather!"—"May we e'er want a friend, or a bottle to give him!"—"My charming girl, my friend, and pitcher!" and the like.  Sometimes, at a "serious" festival, you may have heard the chairman say,—"Mr. So-and-so will now speak to the following sentiment—'The cause of civil and religious liberty all over the world!'"  And then Mr. So-and-so rises, with a slip of paper in his band, supposed to contain a copy of this sentiment in MS., and he speaks to it.

    It is difficult to picture to one's self a race of creatures going about in drawing-rooms and dining-rooms, parlours and shops, streets and marketplaces, and discharging sentiments at the rest of mankind.  But evidently the conception was not so difficult to our grandfathers as it is to ourselves.  Take up an oldish copy of Thomson or Gray, or Elegant Extracts.  Here is a steel engraving, and a good one too.  On a mossy bank, by the side of a brawling rivulet, whose rapid passage over the pebbly shallows is supposed to be suggestive, is reclined a handsome young man—such a one as Fielding drew in Joseph Andrews, where you may read his portrait in pen and ink.  But he is attired in the costume of a later period—pumps, silk-stockings, cut-away coat, frilled shirt, long kerseymere vest, with angular tippety collar.  Over his shoulders broad are his hyacinthine locks, and he has no hat on.  His face is towards the spectator of the picture, and he is raising both hands, with the palms turned outwards.  He might be saying, "Dear me, now!" but a reference below the picture, to "p. 91," instructs you better.  You there find that he is presumed to be composing a poem, and uttering, at the moment of sight, the words:—

Health is at best a vain precarious thing,
And fair-faced Youth is ever on the wing

Now this is a sentiment.  The youth might walk straight off the page before the footlights, go on for Joseph Surface, and provoke, indirectly, Sir Peter Teazle's imprecation.  He belongs to the period at which were current coin, not flouted "token-pieces," those little classic bits which we now call delectus quotations; such as Nemo mortalium omnibus horis sapit,—Igenuas didicisse fideliter artes, &c.—Sic vos non vobis, &c.—and all the rest of them.  If Colonel Newsome had met him, he would have broken out directly, "Emollunt mores,"—and if Clive (who, by-the-by, was not born) or any one else had pulled his coat-tail, it would have been because of the bad syntax, and not because it was mauvais ton to be sentimental.  Now-a-days it would be mauvais ton.  If a young man, ever so well dressed, were to go about saying, as opportunity offered, "Virtue rewards her followers," or "Ingratitude to parents is base," he would not be thought a prize by affectionate mothers with marriageable daughters.  But in the days when Lindley Murray wrote his Grammar, it seems to have been a proper part of a polite education to instil into the minds of youth at every chance,—by way of "example" in grammar for instance—maxims in morals or theology.  As—"The sun that rolls over our heads, the food that we eat, and the rest that we enjoy, daily admonish us of a benevolent, superintending power!" (is that correctly quoted, young shaver?)  To such a length, indeed, was the taste for these little statements of opinion carried, that almost anything, however obvious, was made to fall into the mode of the Sentiment proper, and do duty for it.  As "Gold is corrupting; the sea is green; a lion is bold,"—which is also in Murray's Grammar.

    In modern times we have changed all that.  If a person were to contribute to a conversation the sentiment, "We should ever heed the voice of nature," he would be thought as much out of order as Mr. F.'s aunt—"There's milestones on the Dover road."  We lean now to epigram and banter rather than to sentiment and maxim.  In point of fact, we have no means of telling whether there ever really was any considerable number of people who went about in society saying fine things, but who never did them; or whether, on the other hand, there ever was a large class of listeners who were predisposed to believe in the goodness of the people who went about uttering the maxims.  But we must bear in mind that there was scarcely any popular literature in those days, and comparatively very little associated effort.  At present the public hires and fees a class—the literary class—to do the sentiment for it, as much as it wants done; and, besides, there are so many opportunities for "sentimental" activity, that the excuse for mere talk is less.  It is difficult not to believe, reading old-fashioned books, and looking at old-fashioned prints, that there was a real difference.  There is a particular print, now in my mind, which I once saw at a broker's shop in a back street.  It belongs to about the first days of the Regency, or a few years before; just about when Dr. Buchan was writing his Domestic Medicine, I should say.  It is dedicated to the President or something of the Royal Humane Society, and represents a young man who had been half drowned restored to his friends, alive.  Of course there is a "scene."  All the female figures have short-waisted frocks; all the males have knee-breeches, and long hair—except those who have wigs.  And they have all, I think, their hands upraised and their mouths open.  They are all uttering sentiments, I presume —which, now-a-days, a newspaper paragraph would probably have uttered for them.  Indeed, everybody must have noticed that in the caricatures of those days, and even so recently as those of H. B., sentiments were openly put into the mouths of the people represented in pictures.  You see a bladder-shaped scroll issuing from the mouth, and the speech is written inside the scroll.  When we make a caricature, we put the speeches at the bottom, if anywhere, like scraps of comedy dialogue.  But in the majority of cases there is so complete an under-current of intelligence on the spectator's part presupposed that no sentiment at all is expressed.  It is the same in social intercourse.  We no more want a man to tell us that Virtue rewards her followers than that Queen Anne is dead.  Three-fourths, perhaps, of every company do not believe Virtue does reward her followers; those who do believe it take a mutual understanding for granted.

    The established use of the word Sentimental as a term of reproach in our own days deserves a little serious attention.

    There are certain currents of sensation which have their origin in the strongest and deepest emotions of which we are capable.  The symmetrical play of these currents connects itself with the highest forms of beauty and sublimity.  The most momentous of moral truths—namely, that through suffering we may reach the highest pinnacles of Life—shines, reflected like a star, in all these currents.  When they flow forth to action, obedient to the voice of God, men and angels desire to look into these things.  But a certain ability in the nervous and glandular systems of some people permits the voluntary self-conscious awakening of these currents at points far distant from their deeper sources, and distant, too, from any possible ends of noble action.  To wake them up by artificial excitement becomes a sort of depraved pleasure to weak, thin natures, which shun the test of duty.  They may do it by talking, by reading, by reverie, by drinking, by music, by trivial, petty philanthropisings, by the abuse of "religious" services, and in other ways.  When this happens we are offended, and justly offended.  It is self-injury, sacrilege, and insult all at once.  It is, at best, a voluptuous indecency.  Could a poet translate the crime into images of thought?  Yes; but nobody could bear to hear him recite them.

    A person, then, who is "sentimental" in this way is a proper object of disapprobation; perhaps dislike.  He not only lowers himself; he does what he can to lessen the grounds of our reliance in the most desperate situations of humanity.  Relaxing his own character, he sets a bad example, too; and, worse still, makes liable to the ridicule of the sons of Belial whatever an oath can be sworn by in the heavens above or in the earth beneath.

    What, then, in the just and noble meaning, is Sentiment?  It is the backwater of mighty feeling.  It is what is left behind by the high tides of the great primitive emotions.  It is the memory of passion.  It is the ingrained colouring of thought.  To discharge thought of that colouring is impossible; but a good many people who abuse "Sentimentalism" seem as if they would like to do just that impossible thing.  Thus, they have a cold sneer ready for us if we speak of the sacredness of life, the majesty of human nature, the beauty of a mother's love, or the innocence of childhood.  Thus, Jeremy Bentham, mentioning that Constantine forbade the branding of criminals on the face because it was a violation of the law of nature to disfigure the majesty of the human countenance, exclaims, with disgust, "The majesty of the face of a scoundrel!"  But Bentham mistook; and so do other writers of his school.  If there was no "majesty" of which a scoundrel was capable, then there was nothing to make it worth our while to discipline him.  If there was, it was our duty to do nothing to create or to increase any degree of incapacity on his part, or anybody else's part.  You shall not, said the Hebrew code, give more than forty blows in punishment, "lest thy brother seem vile unto thee."  And here is a short passage, not uninstructive, from another tale by Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin : "After a violent debauch he would let his beard grow, and the sadness that reigned in the house I shall never forget: he was ashamed to meet even the eyes of his children.  This is so contrary to the nature of things that it gave me exquisite pain; I used at those times to show him extreme respect."  An amusing idea, is it not, to show "extreme respect" to a wrong-doer? to show all the more because of his wrongdoing, our grief that an Unseen Majesty should be wronged?  As amusing as the idea of a child, for example, who has never been addressed with an overbearing word, whose body has never been touched, or even approached, except with respectful tenderness!  But I must not allow a passing illustration to carry me out of the direct line of what I was saying.  There is no guidance to anything but death, decay, and rottenness, for either individuals or nations, in thought which pretends to have discharged itself of the colouring-matter of Sentiment.  If once we have really ceased to hear the murmur of the infinite, beautiful ocean in the shell, we soon fling the shell away, and it is trodden underfoot of men.  There is not an act of our lives—no, not one—into which it is not the interest of every human being to import as much as possible of that diffused sense of Terror, Mystery, Beauty, and Tenderness, which is the nature of true Sentiment.

    To suppose that this diffused sense of whatever makes our little lives worth while, implies any mean flinching from pain—our own, or that of others—is a great mistake.  The Aristotelian virtue of Tragedy—the παθηματων καθαρσιν—assuredly contemplated nothing so weak.  It is well known, as a matter of fact, that the highest tragedy, deeply as it moves one, does not move to tears; which are always a relief, sometimes a positive pleasure.  What Englishman, or Englishwoman, cries at Lear, at Macbeth, or at Hamlet?  When did the reading or the representation of them ever enfeeble for action or dispose to anything that was bad?  The rule by the observance of which Art, in all its kinds, must escape false Sentiment, will present itself in another Essay.  For this time, it will be enough to say that Sentiment is the diffused sense which makes it possible for Art to address us at all; and that Morality, or Civil Polity, without Art (implied, at least, as possible and desirable) must as inevitably tend to corruption as Art without Morality; or either, or all, without Religion.  In other words, we cannot banish Sentiment from the atmosphere of any region of human life.

    It is certain, again, from the nature of the case, that false Sentiment can never be banished from any community until Art has taken its true place in the circle of existence.  This may appear a barren proposition, because Art and Sentiment must react upon each other—but so do all things.  To beautify life is so great a problem, and there are so few likely to address themselves to it, that I have observed, for some years past, with unspeakable horror—with a ceaseless incubus of dread, so to speak—a growing tendency to make light of Sentiment.  This is, in other words, to brutalise existence.  Is this what we want, then?   Did you ever go into a music-hall, or a low place of worship, and look round upon the coarse, sodden faces there?  If so, does it seem to you that to preach down Sentiment is precisely what is required?  "No," you perhaps reply, "but let Sentiment keep its place—and Jurisprudence, for example, is not one of them.  That is all."  Pardon me, it is not all.  If we had, or could have, a perfect machinery of life, it might be; but, in the meanwhile, we must import our checks and compensations from where we can, and as we can—not violating principles, but acknowledging that compensations are what they are.  Again, we should all consider not only what we mean, but what we shall be taken to mean by the majority of those who are reached by our words.  Now dare we say that the majority of our fellow-creatures are disposed to be over sentimental?  "My British brethren and sisters, I find that you are in all things too artistic, too finely-fibred, too full of sentiment,"—there would be an exordium for a popular discourse; and who cannot see, in a reporter's parenthesis "(shouts of laughter)?"  No, no: this will never do.  We are entitled to put concerning anything and everything, the homely question, fetched from laundry experience of colours that are not "fast"—will it wash?  But whatever will wash, whatever stands the labour-test, we must respect in the first place; and then, if it be a source of delight, increase if we can; especially if the delight be of an ascending order.  The useful encourages itself: let us, as old Goethe said, encourage the Beautiful; and, so long as Pandora's box remains unshut, and the brood abroad, let us not give up our right to gather in compensations, as we may, from the suggestions of that sense of Mystery and Loveliness which, propagated in gradually lessening pulses from shocks of emotion in sight of great facts like Death, Love, Birth, and diffusing itself in endlessly recurring tides over human existence, takes the name of Sentiment.


* This heading covers, in my edition, the "Ode to Duty," the "Happy Warrior," "Dion," and "Lycoris."

This writer is appropriately quoted here, because, though she belongs to the time when the word "sentimental" was respectable, and uses it as a term of praise, she was, in fact, what many people would now call an anti-sentimentalist; and she hits hard too.

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