As represented by Jane Austen.
By EDWARD GARRETT.
(From: Atalanta: The
Victorian Magazine, 1893.)
AUSTEN has never been a widely "popular" author. In her own day, her
work made neither fame nor profit, though it was speedily
appreciated by such judges as Walter
Scott, Southey, Coleridge, Archbishop Whately, and Lord Macaulay.
The latter, be it noted, set her down as second in rank only to
Shakespeare. Her fame has this true test of genuineness, that it has
been slow of growth, and that it is still growing. It may be
interesting to study the secret of her strength and excellence.
We must first consider what she was in herself. She was a young
woman of the upper class, in circumstances of easy affluence. She
never married, but there is no streak of real tragedy or romance
visible in the scanty materials of her biography. Her strongest
personal attachment seems to have been to her elder sister
Cassandra, and one traces this sisterly affection in the attachment
between her "Elizabeth" and "Jane Bennett," her "Elinor and Marianne
Dashwood," even in the bond which so readily forms between "Fanny
Price" and her sister. Nearly all Jane Austen's known correspondence
is what passed between herself and this beloved Cassandra during
their brief separations. These letters reveal the life in which she
lived--a life of happy household affection, petty neighbourly
interests, and the "genteel" diversions of the day, balls, routs,
country-house visiting. It is often hard to believe that her letters
are not chapters from novels! One can scarcely tell whether she is
writing about the movement of her living acquaintances or of her
Letters and novels alike display fine insight into character, and a
humorous perception of its intricacies. We may note that in her
letters, Jane Austen occasionally allows herself a more cynical tone
than she would put directly into the mouths of her own favourite
heroines. This flavour of cynicism, though it certainly appears in
the novels, is created there rather by the skilful way in which the
characters are played off one upon another, or by the wonderful
little sentences, so few and far between, wherein the authoress
herself plays the part of the Greek chorus, and also occasionally by
the utterances of characters not on the heroine-level. Thus in
"Mansfield Park " it is not Fanny Price, but Mary Crawford, who
says, "We seemed very glad to see each other, and I do really think
we were a little!"—a sentence which might have come out of one of
Miss Austen's own letters, abounding as they do in such remarks as,
"We have been very gay since I wrote last; dining at Nackington,
returning by moonlight, and everything quite in moonlight,
everything style, not to mention Mr. Claringbould's funeral, which
we saw go by on Sunday;" or, again, "I rather wish the Lefroys may
have the curacy. It would be an amusement to Mary to superintend
their household management, and abuse them for expense, especially
as Mrs. L―― means to advise them to
put their washing out;" or, once more, "Fanny Austen's match is
quite news, and I am sorry she has behaved so ill. There is
some comfort to us in her misconduct, that we have not a
congratulatory letter to write."
The first thing that strikes us about Jane Austen is that she
(in this particular like the otherwise widely dissimilar Tolstoi of
our own time) wrote only of what she really knew. Her scenes
are laid in the country towns and watering places and London visits,
which made the surroundings of her own life. Her characters
are chosen from the country gentry, and the clerical, naval, and
military circles in which she was familiar. On the margin are
one or two "city people," or yeoman farmers like poor Robert Martin
in "Emma." Her little section of the world is sharply focussed
in her pages (as in her letters). The rest remains in the
outer darkness, as if it did not exist. There may he 'poor'
without individuality who are 'visited,' and who receive doles of
tea, sugar, and flannel, or who bully young ladies in country lanes,
as when Churchill overtakes Harriet on the Richmond Road. The
'church' is regarded as a conveniently profitable and genteel
calling for younger sons of the steadier sort. Henry Tilney,
Edmund Bertram, and Edward Ferraris, are all clergymen. They
dance, hunt, and flirt as if these made the whole of life.
Edmund is in love, in a way, with Mary Crawford and Fanny Price,
both at once. Edward Ferraris is in love with Elinor Dashwood
while he is engaged to Lucy Steele. When he gets a living, the
items concerning it which are summed up as worthy of interest, are
the state of the house, garden and glebe, extent of the parish,
condition of the land and rate of the tithes! Oft Austen, in
her own person, had no view of ministerial duty which could prevent
her from describing its discharge by the coined verb, "to clergy!"
She lived and wrote in stirring times. The Napoleonic wars
were going on, Nelson conquered and died, the slave trade was
abolished, the war of American Independence separated the United
States from Great Britain, the battle of Waterloo was fought.
But no trace of any influence from these events is to be found in
her books (save that some of the families are a little disturbed in
their West Indian properties, or some of the naval or military
youths obtain promotion), nor yet in Jane's own letters, except by
such slight references as to Southey's "Life of Nelson." "I am
tired of Lives of Nelson, being that I never read any. I will
read this, however, if Frank is mentioned in it." ("Frank"
being her brother.) There are some pretty but very slight
vignettes of English scenery in the stories. No animals cross
their pages, save horses for riding or driving. Nor do we find
any "pets" mentioned in her letters.
All of Jane Austens's stories end "happily." That is to
say, all "entanglements" are cleared away, financial arrangements
drop into right condition, and the heroine gets married to the
hero—and all this in a fashion quite inconsistent with the sternly
truthful tone of the preceding story. We know that no such
endings are true to real life, where the right people will often go
on and marry the wrongs ones, and where character persists in spite
of matrimony! All this was but Jane Austen's concession to
convention, and was, perhaps, made the more easily because no iron
ever seems to have entered into her soul, to impress her with life's
deeper problems and perplexities!
What we have hitherto said only serves to show that Jane
Austen put on her canvas but a small section of the world's life,
and to most eyes a common-place and uninteresting section. She
was entirely and frankly limited by the social customs, conventions,
and ways of life and thought around her, so that her pictures of
these are already of almost antiquarian interest. Yet her fame
is growing! In what, then, does her greatness consist?
It consists in her insight into human character. Her
range of human life might be small, but her knowledge of human
nature was boundless. She likened her own work to miniature
painting "with so fine a brush as produces little effect after so
much labour." But then each miniature is a matchless portrait,
and as we know, it takes greater skill to bring out individuality in
such a delicate and tiny scale, especially when, to coarser visions,
there might seem a general resemblance in the faces of the subjects,
even as in their garb! It is comparatively easy to draw
angels, because, as nobody has seen one, the likeness cannot be
questioned, or monsters, because if one has not seen the like, he
still cannot absolutely deny that they may exist. Take for
instance, Dickens' "Quilp." I remember once, many years ago,
venturing to suggest that he was an exaggeration, when a lady in the
company silenced me by the remark that she knew such a man—he had
been her own husband! But even that singular testimonial to
reality cannot give "Quilp" more than a purely pathological value.
He is in the scheme of human life only as are "the Siamese twins,"
or "the living skeleton." There are no "Quilps" among Jane
Austen's characters. We have all known every one of them—which
simply means that we have all known some of the faces which go to
make up the wonderful "composite" with which she presents us.
We are not to confound this marvellous faculty of true
presentation, with mere observation, or with what is called "drawing
from the life." These are part of it, but it is more than
these. Observation is worth very little unless we know what to
observe, and how to co-relate our observations. And when all
that can be said of any character-drawing is that it is "a study
from the life" it has probably seized only the accidental and not
the essential, and is apt to be as valueless as those awful amateur
photographs which "must be like, you know," but which simply cannot
be identified by the uninitiated!
Observation is of slight value, unless it accompanies such a
grasp of character as will enable the portrayer not merely to depict
words and actions which have been heard and seen, but also to
predicate words which would be spoken and the line of conduct which
would be pursued by the subject of the portraiture on any given
occasion or under any imaginable pressure. As it was said that
if a bone was given to Sir Richard Owen, he could construct the
animal to which it belonged, so a phrase or an action becomes to the
seeing eye, the revelation of a whole character—the prophecy of a
It is almost impossible to point out special instances of
Jane Austen's faculty in this wise, because her books are simply
compact with them. If, in explanation of what we have said, we
indicate a few scenes for our readers' special consideration, it is
not that they excel thousands of others, but simply that they
suffice to serve our purpose.
Take the wonderfully drawn characters of "Mr. and Mrs. John
Dashwood" in "Sense and Sensibility." It is little likely
indeed that Jane Austin had ever heard such a dialogue as she
reports in Chapter II. But she had observed the tendency of
human nature to minimize its "good intentions" when brought to the
point of fulfilment, and to yield to influences which sway it in the
direction of its own worst tendencies. And again, in Chapter
XVII., how pithily the few remarks between Elinor and Marianne
concerning "competence" and "wealth," set forth the perpetual trap
into which plain people fall if they do not carefully insist that
their gushing controverters shall explain their terms!
The Steele girls are life-like presentments of inbred
vulgarity. In "Northanger Abbey," how the
shallowness—entailing falseness—of Isabella Thorpe's character is
revealed by dainty touches in the conversation between her and
Catherine in Chapter Vl., and again where they meet at the theatre.
How inimitable is that young lady's championship of "Miss Andrews."
"The men think us incapable of real friendship, you know and I am
determined to show them the difference . . . You have so much
animation, which is exactly what Miss Andrews wants; for I must
confess there is something amazingly insipid about her." How
John Thorpe makes himself known to us, uttering contradictory
commonplaces with conceited dogmatism, and shining especially as a
literary critic! And how consonant with this introduction is
the part he plays in the story, whose very simple plot hinges on his
wild assertions and retractions!
"Pride and Prejudice" is one of the best of Jane Austen's
novels. Elizabeth Bennett, with her quiet good sense, is a
delightful heroine, with Jane for a pleasant second, and the other
Bennett girls for foils. The mother's "extraordinary
ordinariness" often rises to sublimity!—as, when eagerly pressing
forward the marriage of her runaway Lydia, she pauses in all her
agitation, to think of Lydia's clothes and to reflect that Lydia
does not know the best warehouses!
Mr. Collins, the young clergyman, is made to show himself
exactly as he is, unctuous, pragmatic, and underbred, and this
without any suspicion of caricature! His enjoyment of Lady
Catherine's offensive patronage, as set forth in Chapter XIV., is
delightfully realistic, as is his proposal to Elizabeth in Chapter
XIX., and his sententious and selfish moralities throughout.
Quiet, cool Mr. Bennett, who is aware he has married a fool, and
that against stupidity even the gods fight in vain, is very
skilfully depicted. The studied rudeness of a fine lady is
well brought out when Lady Catherine first appears in Chapter XXIX.,
and critics particularly admire Chapter LVI.,—calling the scene
between Lady Catherine and Elizabeth "delicious and inimitable."
There is much exquisite character-drawing in "Mansfield
Park." Every scene in which Mrs. Norris appears is worthy of
careful study. More vividly than any sermon could, does the
episode of the private theatricals show the force of frivolity and
persistence in wearing away better principles. The three
sisters, Lady Bertram, Mrs. Norris, and Mrs. Price, all equally
self-engrossed, though in such different fashion, are very well
brought out. Fanny Price herself, with all her sweetness and
docility, has plenty of sense and spirit, which evidently develop in
the suffering caused by Edmund's devotion to Miss Crawford, and
which we cannot help half hoping may some day prove the Nemesis of
"Emma" seems to us the least attractive of Miss Austen's
books. Emma herself is a charming study, but only because she
is so naively conceited, so frankly puffed up with her own wisdom!
She can be so unkind to poor Miss Bates, so unjust to worthy Robert
Martin. Her father, so kindly a gentleman, in all his
valetudinarianism, is a delicate triumph of skill. Miss Bates
herself is a delightful compound of sweetness of nature, muddle-headness,
"Persuasion" has a great charm. It was Jane Austen's
last book. Her own youth had passed away, she was in the
trying days of early middle life, the very hand of death was upon
her, when she wrote it. Anne, gentle, refined Anne, is
described in two words "only Anne,"―that
is all she is to those for whom she had sacrificed her love and
surrendered her will. "She had been forced into prudence in
her youth, she learned romance as she grew older," and such a nature
and history is well set off between her two sisters, the hard and
haughty spinster and the selfish, narrow-minded young married woman,
living in perpetual friction with her mother-in-law. Chapter
X. is full of pathos, only deepened by the severe reserve of its
expression. It makes us feel as tired as Anne herself―the
tiredness of a sad heart. Very subtle is Anne's secret
reflection, in the following chapter, that the much-pitied Captain
Renwick "has not a more sorrowing heart than I have; I cannot
believe his prospects so blighted for ever. He is younger than
I am, younger in feeling; younger as a man." And what deep
reading of the human heart is in the little incident when Anne's
alienated lover, Captain Wentworth, notices a stranger's casual
admiration of her, and straightway turning to look at her, sees
"something like Anne Elliott again."
All this is observation, but it is imagination too, and that
deep insight born of the sympathy which can project itself not only
into others' circumstances, but into their very natures.
Jane Austen's knowledge of the human heart was positively
uncanny for a woman so young and so fortunately placed. She
was undoubtedly cynical. There are no signs of tenderness in
her letters, and but few in her books. Even in "Persuasion,"
she can actually raise a smile at a matron's "fat sighs" over her
worthless dead son! Yet, as Lord Brabourne says, her works
"make virtue lovely and vice the reverse . . . Without ever
preaching to us, they continually impress upon our minds lessons of
a purifying and elevating tendency. The different motives
which influence men and women in various circumstances of life—the
special faults which beset certain natures; the effects those faults
produce upon others . . . all these are drawn by the master hand of
a great artist."
It is worth noting that one of the last utterances Jane
Austell put into the mouth of her latest and meekest heroine is an
expression of belief "that a strong sense of duty is no bad part of
a woman's portion."
GARIBALDI IN LONDON.
ISABELLA FYVIE MAYO.
(From: Atalanta: The Victorian Magazine,
THERE are few historic periods
which are to us so misty and indistinct as those just beyond the
reach of our own memories. In general, we know far more about the
Norman Conquest, or the Plantagenet or Tudor dynasties, than we know
of the sequence and significance of events occurring within the twenty-five
years before own existence. One finds that, by the time one
approaches middle life, one can occasionally make oneself quire interesting to
younger people, by relating personal recollections of striking
incidents of famous personages, and telling their story to those who
find them so new and fresh, though they are so familiar to their
What meaning can most readers of ATLANTA attach
date, April 11th, 1864? Yet what a day that was in London, ay, and in all Great
Britain—a day when the heart of the whole land went forth to welcome a
man of the grand antique type—"one of Plutarch's men," as he has
been aptly called—Giuseppe Garibaldi the "Liberator" of Italy.
He had been a great conqueror, a man before whom a kingdom had
fallen like a house of cards. But it was not as a conqueror only that we
thought of him—indeed, by that time he was no conqueror, but a
defeated and wounded man. A touch of chivalric tenderness saved our
admiration from my suspicion of vulgarly. His past militancy
glories served but as the pedestal on which to raise him high enough for us to see the simple grace and dignity, the sterling
of the man himself.
The young people of to-day can scarcely realise the time when the
name of "Italy" conjured up thoughts of dungeons and exiles, and
cruel deaths by swift execution or slow tortured. Indeed, there was no "Italy" in those days. "Italy"—but the dream in which
patriots and poets foresaw the fusion of the little states and
kingdoms in which their beautiful country, "the Juliet of the
nations," lay divided, with foreign armies
occupying well nigh all her classic cities. We used to see the
Italian exile in our streets, and to note the gentle music of their
voices. After the attempted revolution of 1848 there were crowds of
them—grave, stately folk they generally were, easily to be
discriminated from the more voluble refugees from France. Quiet,
law-abiding people they appeared to be, only now and again a
terrible assassination of some unknown foreigner seemed to denote that
the last dread penalty had been exacted from some traitor to one of those
"secrete societies" which ramified the Italian nations at home or
in exile. Nearly every schoolgirl of those days had at least heard
of the poet
Silvio Pellico and his pathetic book, "In my Prison," the
record of his ten years' solitary confinement in the dungeons of Venice
and Spielberg. The British Government itself had protested
against the King of
Naples' barbarous treatment of political prisoners. London had
witnessed the jubilation of its Italian residents, when the patriot
Poerio, with 66 companions—released after years of miserable
confinement, only to be deported to South America—siezed the vessel
in which they were voyaging, and brought her triumphantly into
British waters and freedom.
This was in 1859. In the following year, the history of modern Italy
began. But we are not to attempt its formal recapitulation here.
"Italia Unita!" was the battle cry of this revolution, and the
statesman Cavour was its brain, and the hero Garibaldi was its arm. Its history reads like
a chapter from Tacitus. Think of Garibaldi with
his "thousand heroes," landing at Marsala, marching on to Naples
and driving in his open carriage right under the guns of the royal
Some of us may have heard the Rev. Mr. Haweis tell the
story of that
scene—how there was a sort of awful suspense—would the royal troops be
true to their master, or to their country? General Garibaldi was
face to face with magical victory or certain death. He rose in
his carriage, and, looking straight up at the enemies' guns, in
stentorian tones he bade his coachman "Drive slower!"—and yet again,
"Slower still!" And then the
ringing cheers broke from the Neapolitan troops-and the kingdom
passed from cruel Bomba's son and his poor young Bavarian queen.
Think of that other scene, when, victory following victory,
Garibaldi met the patriot King of Sardinia, and hailed him "King of
Italy," while the other acknowledged the power of "the Kingmaker" by
the simple words—"I thank you."
Alas! alas! the virtue of gratitude, and of loyal support to those
whose past services merit it, are at least as rare among nations as
among individuals! Garibaldi could not rest until the whole of
Italy was made one. The new Italian government—the government which
owed its very existence to his efforts—by its vacillating policies first encouraged him to
make onslaught on the Papal States; and then,
probably in fear of provoking the
hostility of the Emperor of the French, actually sent troops against
him, engaged him in conflict, wounded him (so that ever afterwards
he was lame), and took him prisoner!
And that was the last of his public life, before he — to us on that
It was such a beautiful day. April is often one of the
happiest months in London. The great city has brushed aside her
winter gloom and dust, and is prinking herself for her "season." The budding
trees are fresh and green, not yet scorched and wilted. And the
London of 1864 was not quite the London of today. True, it could
not boast its noble embankment by the river, but it was then full of
quaint corners, which have since been invaded by railway stations and
monster hotels. The air, too, seemed purer and sweeter—there was no
"underground" in those days to belch forth sulphurous vapours.
There had been no formal preparation for Garibaldi's entranced into
London. He was to be received by some private friends connected with
the City Corporation, and he was to be the guest of the Duke of
Sutherland at that Stafford House which the Queen is said to have
called "a palace." During the day before the General's arrival, some
people in the suburbs, hearing that seats where to be for letting
on the line of route, laughed the idea to scorn, and suggested that
very low fees would suffice!
Garibaldi was expected to reach the West-End in the early
afternoon. Full of ardent girlish enthusiasm, I and a companion
started forth in very good time to secure a coign of vantage. But
where should we find it? Charing Cross was one densely packed mass of
humanity. We managed to push our way through wide Cocksure Street. Pall-Mall we found well nigh impassable, so we skirted it by back
by-ways, turning into it again and again to see if prospects were
more hopeful. In vain. There were few flags and little decorations to
be seen; but the fronts of the houses were all crowded, save one or
two of the most fashionable clubs, whose members stood about at the
windows in pairs, with slightly discontented countenance, while the
appearance of some unpopular politician elicited an occasioned
expressions of disapprobation, or a jeer from the crowd.
I suppose there must have been policemen in that crowd, but
certainly they were so little in evidenced that I do not remember
them as one of its features. Yet the multitude was of that vast,
dense character which is often supposed to require the control of
cavalry. The people filled the roadways as well as the pavements,
standing about without any pretence of forming line. Carriage
traffic seemed wholly suspended.
But the crowd itself was so wonderful. The "rough" element seemed
entirely absent: it was evident that the interest of the occasion
appealed to another set. There were a great many men and women of
the higher artisan class, who must have snatched their holiday only at some
cost. Everybody looked neat and respectable. Hour after hour passed, yet
all remained cheerful and orderly in their long patience. Faces were
shining with enthusiasm. Friends talked eagerly together. Even
stranger exchanged confidences. "A touch of high emotion" was on us
"It was a sight for sin, and wrong.
And slavish cranny to see—
A sight to make our faith more pure and strong
In high humanity."
The romantic nerve which runs in the hardest nature was a-thrill in all of
At last we found a place where we could stand at our ease. The line
of route did not seem to be quite surely ascertained, and some
people had doubts whether it comprised this corner, so that there was
room for us.
We stood there for hours, content that, though we might not see very
well, we should yet see something. I remember the drift of our
it was doubtless a fair type of much of the talk going on in that
vast crowd. We talked about the hardy rearing this great man had
had in his fisher-father's home in Genoa. It was not till years
afterwards that I saw the portraits of his mother—a noble,
severe-looking old dame, doubtless a strict disciplinarian, and true
and staunch to the backbone, such a woman as we may readily find
among "grave livers" in the Scotland even of to day.
We spoke of Garibaldi's adventurous youth—his energies ever thrown
into the scale against tyranny wherever he found it—of his impetuous
wooing of the beautiful Anita de Silva, who, alas! broke her
engagement with an earlier lover for the sake of this bold
bridegroom. It is not every day that a Giuseppe Garibaldi comes to
woo, and who knows may have been the strange magnetic attraction
possessed by this man, who could dare
to "drive slower" in he face of a presumably hostile garrison? Pity
poor Anita in her short, sweet, stormy, married life, nursing her
little ones, and then surrendering them to her husband's mother, and
sharing all his dangers in the blighted revolution of 1849, until that
day of flight and misery, when heart and strength failed her, and
she lay down and died, and was buried by strangers in a brave which
nobody knows, on the shores of
the Adriatic. Pity her the more, because all the tragedy of her
romantic love did not save her from the Nemeses of her slighted
faith to her first love. We are told that the bitterest agony of her
last hour was the sense that she was leaving behind him for whom
she had sacrificed all, and was going alone into the spirit land
where her slighted lover, who had died before her, was awaiting
her. Poor Anita!
We waited and waited. The great crowd swayed slowly to and fro. We
all wondered at the delay, and conjectured that it was due to the
unprepared-for warmth of the British welcome.
At last we felt we must wait no longer. It was not that our patience
failed. We had been on our feet for nearly two hours, and we
would have remained to the end, however long it might be postponed. But we knew there were elders at home who would be anxious about us,
and sorrowful and disappointed we took our homeward way, leaving
behind the great crowd, never growing less, but always more.
We had gone a little distance, away down back streets, when a mighty
roar of acclamations announced that the triumphant moment had come
just too late for us! But not too late for us to have earned for ever that
human nature has a passion for hero-worship, and is never so happy
as in yielding to a rapture of reverence and love!
Though we did not see Garibaldi that day, we saw him afterwards, two or three
times, driving to and from the houses of his hosts. There was never
the slightest pomp or formality about his entourage. He sat in his
carriage with twos or three English friends about him. He wore his
famous red shirt, with a grey cloak thrown about his shoulders, and
a small cap on his head, which, however, was generally raised as he
saluted the cheering
crowds which attended him, whenever and wherever went out. In short,
those crowds hung about all day on the pavement outside Stafford
House, and about the area railings of the General's later host—a
Member of Parliament living on the margin of Hyde Park.
(Taken from Good Words, collected
The General's costume, as we have described it, was absolutely
appropriate to the man, and as fit for direct artistic treatment
as was his character for the page of romance and poetry. His face
characterised by its
simplicity and good humour. He always looked pleased by the
enthusiasm about him, but his pleasure was as unself-conscious as if
anther had been the object of that enthusiasm. His complexion was
fresh, though his face was lined. His thin hair was of chestnut, softening into silver. His grey eyes beamed with kindliness. His
presence had that ineffable charm that always
attends strength, which is
held at the service of others. "He is like what my father was,"
cried one good daughter, who had had cause to adorer her dead
parent. One felt so about Garibaldi: all his life long he had
probably reminded everybody of what was dearest and best. Yet one
could easily see the fire and force beneath the geniality. The
upright figure and the noble pose of the head, were the of the
spirit within. "He who bends his back too low," said the General,
"may find it hard to straighten it again." He knew no such
His two sons had accompanied him to this county. They seldom drove
with him, but generally in a carriages following his. The eldest,
Menotti, had already been the partner of his father's victories, had
been wounded with him at Aspromonte, and had shared his imprisonment. He
was a handsome young man, dark in complexion (it was said he
resembled his mother) and somewhat reserved and severe of aspect. The younger, Ricciotti, who had spent his early life in England,
under the kind care of a lady who had taken compassion on his
motherless infancy, was of a softer type, with the suggestion of a slightly
The General's daughter Teresa not with her farther in England,
having already (if I remember rightly) become the wife of one of his
officers, Signor Canzio. Those who had seen her at Caprera, her
father's island home, spoke of her as a dignified and fine-looking
damsel, of a grave and thoughtful mien, which can well be believed,
if there was any truth in the story current in society at the
time, that Magin, the sculptor, had modelled his famous "Reading
Girl" from the face and form of Teresa Garibaldi.
The home life at Caprera was always of the simplest and most
wholesome kind. The man who had made a nation had never wasted a
thought on making his own fortune. There were no servants, in the
ordinary sense, at Caprera. The "Kingmaker's" family worked with
their own hands. They got through all their farming and domestic
operations with the assistant of the "friends" who were always
staying with them, for the General's house was never closed to old
comrades. Indeed, his unsuspecting goodness of heart made him an
easy prey to the scheming, the indolent, or the odd.
visiting Caper were often unfavourably struck by the appearance of
some of those to whom the great man ungrudgingly dispensed
prolonged hospitalities. When some of Garibaldi's English friends
resolved to present him with a yacht that he might be the more free to
move about or leave his island home, it was mooted that the cost of
the upkeep and manning of the vessel would involve the General in more
expanse than he might like. When this came to the ears of one of his
sons, the young man eagerly explained that there need be no fear that
score: "We will do all the work among ourselves," said he.
Among my memories of that time, though rather later than the
General's visit to England, is a curious little glimpse of the Caper
home, and of "the lives that the women live" in the shadowy
backgrounds of history-making. It was shown in a story told me by Ricciotti
Garibaldi, whom I met in the company of his adoptive
English mother at a quiet little evening party, given in the pretty
Kensington home of a well-known literary man and his better-known wife.
[Ed.―possibly Mr. & Mrs. S. C. Hall
(Anne Maria Fielding)]
In an aside from a general conversation on the many strange things
which lie beyond the philosophy of the merely practical "Horatios"
of Society, Riciotti Garibaldi said that they
had had their own "mystery" at Caprera. One of his
fathers expeditions (he told me which expedition, but my memory will
not be quite positive on that point) had begun, as usual, in the
utmost secrecy. A band of trusted men, many of them old personal friends,
had gathered on the island, and then under the shadow of night had
embarked in little vessel for the mainland. Among these was a youth
whose family had been on the most intimated terms with the
General's, a sister of his being Teresa Garibaldi's special friend. This sister
had accompanied her brother to Caprera, and was to remains there as
Teresa's companion during the dreadful suspense of the expedition.
The embarkation took place—the ship sailed. All was silent and
desolate where recently there had been such excitement. The
girls were left in the deserted house without any other companion
than an aged man, who was to serve them in their simple
housekeeping. They got through some dreary hours in the best fashion
they could, and were not sorry to retire to rest. Leaving
their old servitor clearing away their evening meal, the two girls
went off to their sleeping chamber—a room approached from a
corridor, on which opened three or four other dormitories, all empty
and echoing now. The young visitor carrying a light in her hand,
advanced a few steps before the General's daughter, who heard her
utter a sudden exclamation, not of alarm, and then saw her step hastily forwards
and pause. She explained that her bother must have come back, he was
standing at the door of his room, and, as they came in sight, had
retired within. They thought it very strange, but they were quite
used to unexpected comings and goings, and to the need for
secrecy. So they made a brief pause, but, when one or two
gently-uttered callings of the familiar name failed to bring any answer,
a feeling of uneasiness awoke. They went to the room, found the door
still wide open and the apartment empty! The old attendant was
summoned, and a general search made, wholly without result. Uneasiness now gave place to terror and premonitions of evil. The
young visitor was inconsolable. She was sure her bother was killed,
and that, thinking of her in his last moments, he had appeared to her to
break the blow of the sad news. Teresa Garibaldi and the old Italian
refused to take this gloomy view, especially, as the latter sensibly urged,
no real danger was yet incurred by anybody, since no fighting have
could have been begun, for the whole party must be still safely
voyaging through the fine, clear night across the calm waters.
"But for all that," said Ricotta Garibaldi "the first tidings from
the expeditionary party conveyed the news of that young man's death. In the course of some nautical manipulations he had fallen
overboard, and was drowned at the very hour that his sister had
sprung forward to greet his wraith in the corridor of the Caprera
The story itself is one of the type most commons among all those
legends of the unknown world, which we are apt to whisper of "between the
lights." Its only interest is in the place where it occurred and the the
individuals and incidents connected with it. But think of that
lonely house, within sound of the eternal wash of the unresting sea,
and of the two girls, their dear ones all gone, waiting, waiting,
with nothing more to do but wait, and―
"Bear to think
You're gone— to feel you may not come—
To heard the door latch stir and clink,
Yet no more you."
Before men dare to be heroes they must, surely, have heroic women at
General Garibaldi's visit to this country came to a rather abrupt
conclusion. There were perplexities, misgivings. His was an uncomfortable
figure for politicians to find in their narrow and sinuous paths. He not only told simple truths, and nothing but
the truth, but he
told all the truth. He did not understand reserves. In political
life he was as awkward a subject as a plain-spoken school-boy at an
afternoon tea, where the polite people cannot help loving him, even
while they sigh, "Oh dear, dear, what will he say or do next?" That
is about the worst that can be said of General Garibaldi that his
faults were virtues to an extremity. He was a man of action,
not of argument or artifice.
So he came among us and went away. But I feel sure that he, and his
story, and his character, passed through our stifling social
atmosphere like a breeze from the hills blowing down a fœtid
From . . . .
THE GIRL'S OWN PAPER
12th March, 1898.
WE women are
sometimes sorely tempted to fancy that we have gifts and graces
which have been smothered and stultified by adverse circumstances.
We bewail that we have never got our chance. It is possible
that men are not exempt from this failing, but there are some
reasons why they have less temptation to it. All biography is
full of stories of men who have triumphed over every sort of
obstacle and disability, and a man can scarcely realise any
disadvantages of his own lot, whatever they may be, without
recalling some other man who was strong and brave enough to master
similar drawbacks. Then, again, the difficulties or hindrances
to a man's career are generally of an active nature, so that if
there be any "go" at all in him, he understands at once that they
serve only to test his strength and energy.
But with women there is a difference, less indeed than it
used to be, but still persisting and likely to persist. First,
they have comparatively little biographical guidance. And such
biography of women as there is, deals chiefly with women of high
place and fortune, of rare, adventurous career, or of tragic
eminence of some sort. The peculiar difficulties and
discouragement which beset most of their sex, seldom come much into
such women's lives. Those women's lives whose history,
experience and result would most benefit the majority of their
sisters, remain yet for the most part unwritten.
This is why we wish to have a little talk over Christina
Rossetti, the poet who not very long ago passed from us, and whom
the verdict of critics ventures to place in comparison not only with
Jean Ingelow but with Mrs.
Barrett-Browning. For we think the story of her life is one
which may come with peculiar strengthening and comfort to many a
disheartened girl and woman. Yet had she happened to fall even
just below the very high level of poetic power to which she rose, or
had she chanced to lack the one advantage which her life possessed,
it is very likely the world would never have heard a word of her
She was born in a prosy, dingy district of Landon, one of the
long uniform streets lying to the south-cast of Regent's Park, and
then as now, the haunt of foreign refugees of every shade of
political opinion. She herself was the daughter of an Italian
refugee, and her mother was the daughter of another Italian, so it
was by right only of her mother's English mother that Christina
Rossetti could claim to be English.
Her father, who gained his livelihood as a teacher of Italian
and who eventually became professor of that language at King's
College, was somewhat of a poet, a great student of Dante, and
altogether a clever and interesting man. Her two brothers, a
little older than herself, have both reached celebrity, the elder of
the two, the poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti attaining great
fame, though he was a man of an unfortunate temperament leading to
an unhappy history.
But from the first, it is evident that the paramount
influence in Christina's life was that of her mother, a woman of
sweet character, but one who, in modern parlance, "did nothing,"
save the housekeeping and mothering of a little household whose
means were at once narrow and precarious.
The little girl throve somewhat feebly in her London home.
She did not go to school, gaining all substantial instruction from
her mother. Though we hear that she enjoyed Hone's Every
Day Book when she was nine, she does not seem to have been a
specially bookish child, not so bookish as the elder sister and the
two brothers, who were her only youthful companions. For
visitors, there were only bearded Italian "patriots," in whose
tragic histories, however, the well-trained little ones had sense
and sympathy enough to take interest—Christina, with characteristic
faithfulness, cherishing a relic of one all her life long, so that
it stood in the chamber of her death-bed.
For pleasures, she had games with her brothers and sister,
walks in Regent's Park, every corner of which she knew, investing
the more picturesque points with romantic characteristics which
would have escaped less poetic eyes. Above all, she had
occasional visits to her maternal grandfather at Holmer's End—about
thirty miles from London, a distance which in those days involved
six hours driving in a stage coach! There she got her first
revelation of the beauty of genuine nature and the first inspiration
of her love and sympathy for the undomesticated animal creation.
For animals nearer us, she had already learned a tender affection,
for some of her earliest verses, written when she was about sixteen,
were "On the Death of a Cat, a friend of mine, aged ten years and a
half." Her happy visits to Holmer End ceased when she was
about nine, at which time her grandfather removed to London and
became a near neighbour. The old gentleman was very fond of
little Christina, and prophesied great things of her. To the
very end of her life she cherished the memory of these country
visits, and spoke of the way in which they had awakened her
imagination. A book, Time Flies, which she wrote fully
forty years afterwards, abounds with allusions to those early days,
whose slight incidents, indelibly impressed on her sensitive mind,
she often wove into exquisite parables.
Another youthful joy lay in visits to the Zoological Gardens,
though there her feeling was that the imprisoned birds should sing
"plaintive verses." It is said that, as a child, she told of a
strange dream she had. "She thought she was in Regent's Park
at dawn, while, just as the sun ruse, she seemed to see a wave of
yellow light sweep from the trees. It was a multitude of
canaries, thousands of them, all the canaries in London. They
had met and were now going back to captivity."
A most interesting reminiscence of her childhood we find,
when, veiling her own identity, she told―
"I know of a little girl who, not
far from half a century ago, having heard that oil calmed troubled
waters, suggested to her mother its adoption for such a purpose in
case of a sea-storm.
"Her suggestion fell flat, as from her it deserved to fall.
Yet nowadays here is science working out the babyish hint of
She called herself "the ill-tempered one of the family,"
there having been, in her earlier life, a decidedly irritable strain
in her disposition, partly caused by the infirmity of her health.
"In later life," says her last biographer, Mackenzie Bell, "this was
entirely conquered, and this conquest strengthened her character, as
moral conquests ever do strengthen the character."
As Christina advanced into young womanhood the family means
grew narrower. The brothers had not yet had time to make any
mark in their respective careers, the father was growing old and
feeble, and not only so, but his subject, Italian, was giving place
to German as a favourite study. One of those critical times
came when a household is brought to realise that "something must be
done." It was decided that Mrs. Rossetti and Christina should
start a little school. The experiment was first made in the
house where the family had lived for some time, near Mornington
Crescent. Fifty years ago this school-keeping was the
favourite resource of gentle poverty. It would be as wrong as
it is idle to wish that such avenue of profit was still open, for
too often it admitted women who had little to impart beyond their
own prejudices and ineptitude. It must, however, be owned that
it had some advantages, since it could offer an opportunity to such
women as Christina and her mother. Neither of them might have
been found able to pass modern examinations or to fulfil present-day
"requirements," and yet surely their sweet, conscientious natures
would be a priceless influence on any young girl with whom they came
The London school-keeping, however, did not succeed.
Accordingly Christina and her mother, the invalid father
accompanying them, resolved to renew the experiment at Frome,
Somersetshire, the brothers and the elder daughter struggling on in
In Frome they stayed for about a year. It is
significant that this was longest period that Christina ever lived
out of London. She was not very happy while she was there; it
was scarcely likely that she could be. Her father's health was
failing day by day, so that he died almost immediately their sojourn
at Frome came to an end. The school venture succeeded no
better than the first one had done. Also Christina had not
long before had her first love-affair, receiving an offer of
marriage which, as happened with another offer later on, she
resolutely put aside in the belief that both were accompanied by
circumstances which would not have conduced to her highest spiritual
But all these shadows, outer and inner, did not prevent her
from keeping her mind and heart open to impressions and influences.
Among those dull, grey days she laid up beautiful thoughts, albeit
they may be sometimes tremulous with the misgivings of a
self-mistrustful heart. She tells us that on one of her
country walks she found a four-leaved trefoil. She did not
then know of its rarity. She Says—
"Perhaps I plucked and so
destroyed it: I certainly left it, for most certainly I have it not
. . . Now I would give something to recover that wonder: then,
when I might have it for the carrying, I left it.
"Once missed, one may peer about in vain all the rest of
one's days for a second four-leaved trefoil.
"No one expects to find whole fields of such: even one for
once is an extra allowance.
"Life has, so to say, its four-leaved trefoils for a favoured
few: and how many of us overlook once and finally our rare chance!"
It is pretty to know that one who read this parable sent her
a gift of a four-leaved trefoil, and doubtless Christina saw a still
sweeter parable in the substitution.
After the return to London, and the father's death, the
little family struggled on again, its path, however steep being at
least upward. Christina did some literary work in the way of
of compilation and translating: she also began to publish her poems.
But she was not a voluminous writer, nor was any of her work, prose
or poetry, from first to last, of the class which readily commands
"a large market." Consequently, though her name was more or
less before the public from 1855 to her death in 1894, and though
some of her best poems were produced comparatively early, yet her
income from literature never exceeded—and seldom reached—£45 per
annum, until 1890!
Nevertheless, through the success of the brothers and other
circumstances, the family affairs grew easier. In 1861 and
1865, the younger son took his mother and Christina for visits to
the continent. Neither trip exceeded six weeks in duration,
nor did either go beyond tracks tolerably beaten even then: the
first was to Paris and Normandy, returning by the Channel Islands;
in the second, Basle, Como, Milan, Freiburg and the Black Forest
were visited. Christina wrote of those holidays that they were
"enjoyable beyond words; a pleasure in one's life never to he
forgotten," adding that all she had seen made her "proud of her
Italian blood." It appears that the little party walked into
Italy by the Pass of Mount St. Gothard, for she says: "We did not
tunnel our way like worms through its dense substance. We
surmounted its crest like eagles. Or, if you please, not at
all like eagles, yet assuredly as like those born monarchs as it
consisted with our possibilities."
If we did not know that "Uphill" (which, short as it is,
remains to many minds as her masterpiece) had been written in 1858,
we might imagine it to be the outcome of such a pilgrimage.
Mr. Mackenzie Bell aptly says that this "brief sixteen line poem
reveals quaintly, with one flash of genius, a whole philosophy of
life." It is not yet so widely known as to make quotation
"Does the road wind uphill all the way?
Yes, to the very
Will the day's journeys take the whole long day?
From morn to
night, my friend.
But is there for the night a resting place
A bed for
when the slow dark hours begin.
May not the darkness hide it from my face?
miss that inn.
Shall I meet other wayfarers at night
have gone before.
Then must I knock, or call when just in sight?
They will not
keep you standing at that door.
Shall I find comfort, travel-sore and weak?
Of labour you
shall find the sum.
Will there be beds for me and all who seek?
Yes, beds for
all who come."
Much that had made the interests and pleasures of Christina's life
till this time, now began to fade out of her daily living. The
brothers got married. The very success of the circle of brilliant
young people who had frequented the Rossetti household during its
struggling time, now drew them apart into spheres of their own. So
just as Christina's own genius had obtained some sort of worthy
recognition (pecuniarily unprofitable as it remained till long
afterwards) her personal life settled down upon the narrowest lines.
She was not very much over thirty when she found herself the
youngest member of a household consisting of her ageing mother and
two old maiden aunts. Even her elder sister, Maria Francesca, for
whom Christina had a most reverent love, was much withdrawn by
duties connected with an Anglican sisterhood to which she had
attached herself, her younger sister Christina's self-devotion
enabling her to do thus without dereliction of home duty.
Henceforth, Christina devoted herself to the old ladies, not in any
self-conscious spirit of sacrifice, but with joyful loving service. From that time, with the exceptions of one or two brief visits to a
friend in Scotland, her "holidays" were taken in little
commonplace seaside or spa resorts not far from London, and always
selected solely with a view to the comfort and pleasure of the
seniors. She had no "study" to herself nor made her work of any
importance in the household life. All her daily comings and goings
were regulated in the interests of mother and aunts, so that as
their age and infirmities increased, she was little seen in society,
and could receive nothing in the way of formal visits in her own
house—that house in Torrington Square where she lived on till her
death. Indeed in time its public rooms were converted into bedrooms
for the bed-ridden sufferers.
Despite her tender love for her brother, the poet-painter Dante
Gabriel, and her interest and pride in his genius, there was much in
his history which must have touched her tender spirit to the quick. She was very true about it, too. She would not put a gloss on his
There is no doubt that Christina Rossetti's love for her mother was
the "grand passion" of her life. All her books, save two, were
dedicated to her. After the mother's death, which occurred at a
great age, and only eight years before Christina's own, they were
dedicated to her memory. Through the revelations of her made by her
gifted daughter, we gain a glimpse of a singularly sweet and strong
character, not without some of the mental limitations common to her
period, but a woman with whom tender caressing speeches were a daily
habit, one delicately scrupulous in money matters and always careful
how to spare trouble to everybody.
Such was the life and the surroundings which sufficed Christina
Rossetti for well-nigh thirty years. From everything about her she
drew good and satisfaction and delight. As a young girl she had been
of pensive nature, but it was the avowed creed of her later years
that "Cheerfulness is a fundamental and essential Christian
virtue—the blithe cheerfulness which one can put over one's sadness
like a veil—a bright-shining veil."
She was always ready to learn lessons from the quiet, patient lives
about her, those, as she herself expresses it―
"Learned in life's sufficient school."
telling us how "a good, unobtrusive soul," whom we now know to have
been her aunt Eliza, found comfort in the recollection "that no day
lasted longer than twenty-four hours," and setting before herself
and others the example of "an exemplary Christian" (her aunt
Charlotte) who said "that she was never blamed without perceiving
some justice in the charge." Sometimes such little autobiographic
touches (their secret kept till after her death) take very
beautiful form, as when she tells us―
"Once in conversation I happened to lay stress on the virtue of
resignation, when the friend I spoke to depreciated resignation in
comparison with conformity to the Divine will.
"My spiritual height was my friend's spiritual
Her quiet matter-of-fact "changes" sufficed to help her to vivid or
beautiful imagery. The sight of a spider running down the bare wall
of a seaside bedroom, apparently frightened of its own huge shadow
cast by the gas-jet, was to her a symbol of "an impenitent sinner
who, having outlived enjoyment, remains isolated irretrievably with
his own horrible, loathsome self."
The sight of swallows perched on a telegraph wire at Walton-on-Naze
could give rise to a parable of subtle beauty, thus―
"There they sat steadily. After a
while, when someone looked again, they were gone.
"This happened so late in the year as to suggest that the
birds had mustered for migration and then had started.
"The sight was quaint, comfortable-looking, pretty. The small
creatures seemed so fit and so ready to launch out on their pathless
journey: contented to wait, contented to start, at peace and
"Altogether they formed an apt emblem or souls, willing to
willing to depart.
"That combination of swallows with
telegraph wire sets in vivid contrast before our mental eye the sort
of evidence we put confidence in, and the sort of evidence we
"The telegraph conveys messages from man to man.
"The swallows, by dint of analogy, of suggestion, of parallel
experience, if I may call it so, convey messages from the Creator to
the human creature.
"We act instantly, eagerly, on telegrams. Who would dream of
stopping to question their genuineness ?
"Who, watching us, could suppose that the senders of the
telegrams were fallible, and that the only Sender of providential
messages is infallible?"
She had, as we have said before, that love of all created life which
did not only care for those which touched her own personality, as
"Muff," the pet cat, but was also aware of links between her soul
and those creatures which seem remotest from humanity. She did not
think all is waste which does not served man. She sang―
"And other eyes not ours
Were made to look on flowers,
Eyes of small birds and insects small:
The deep sun-blushing rose
Round which the prickles close
Opens her bosom to them all.
The tiniest living thing
That soars on feathered wing,
Or crawls among the long grass out of sight,
Has just as good a right
To its appointed portion of delight
As any king,"
Of course, such a temperament is open to soothing and consolation
which could not touch the coarser natures which have not cultivated
sympathy. She tells us how in her earlier, troubled times—
"One day long ago, I sat in a
certain garden by a certain ornamental water.
"I sat so long and so quietly that a wild garden creatures or
two made its appearance: a water-rat, perhaps, or a water-haunting
bird. Few have been my personal experiences of this sort, and this
one gratified me. I was absorbed that afternoon in anxious thought,
yet the slight incident pleased me.
"Many (I hope) whom we pity as
even wretched, may in reality, as I was at that moment, be conscious
of some small secret fount of pleasure: a bubble, perhaps, yet lit
by a dancing rainbow.
"I hope so and I think so: for we and all creatures alike are
in God's hands, and God loves us."
With such thoughts and feelings, vivisection was, of course,
abhorrence to her, as much from the thought of those who inflict
agony as of the dumb innocent who endure it. In her quiet way she
worked in the cause of mercy and justice in this matter, as also in
the effort to secure better legal protection for young people under
the age of responsibility. She was much interested in endeavours to
help the poorest girl-workers of London, such as the matchmakers,
jam-makers, and rope-makers. She had a friend actively engaged in
this work and used to look for her accounts with great interest,
"London makes mirth, but I know God bears
The sobs in the dark and the dropping of tears."
She would have liked herself to join in these labours, but felt that
her duties kept her at home, for though by that time her dear mother
had been taken from—doubtless leaving a void which nothing could
have filled so well as active good works—the two aged invalid aunts
But in neighbourly services she abounded: she was ready to seek work
for the workless: and a most touching little relic is an
accidentally preserved list of seaside lodgings, with a detailed
description of accommodations and charges, drawn up by her to spare
trouble to a suffering lady, the wife of a valued friend. Such
books as she had in her little library—which after all was not hers
in a way, for she had few books save those which had been bought by
her mother—were always eagerly pressed into the service of any
friend likely to find them useful. Mr. Mackenzie Bell says,
"Whenever Christina Rossetti wished to confer a favour, her manner
of doing so was as if she were about to ask one." That is the
hall-mark of God's ladyhood.
It is said she was a great judge of character and had strong
likes and dislikes. But she held all this in charity.
None of her parables are more telling than that which narrates how a
traveller was received at a certain house with great hospitality and
courtesy, so that he felt "he lacked nothing but a welcome," and so
went away with a most gloomy impression, only to learn afterwards
that the hosts he had thought so chill, had been bearing an
irretrievable grief, which they could hide from him, though they
could not rejoice with him. So they had given him all they
could. Her comment is―
"The fret of temper we despise may
have its rise in the agony of some great, unflinching, unsuspected
self-sacrifice, or in the sustained strain of self-conquest, or in
the endurance of unavowed, almost intolerable pain."
Elsewhere, remarking that even our most cherished opinions
are almost inevitably modified by time, she adds, with subtle
"If even time lasts long enough to
reverse a verdict of time, how much more eternity?
"Let us take courage, secondary as we may for the present
appear. Of ourselves likewise, the comparative aspect will
fade away, the positive will remain."
She drained all the little pleasures of life to their last
drop, loving to tend her ferns, to watch the sunlight effects in the
trees of the London square, to walk in the London square itself.
But let nobody think that this noble contentment is reached without
effort. She was not one to talk of her struggles but we can
trace the marks of them, as it were, in her poems. She had
"If I might only love my God and die!
But now He bids me love Him and live on."
She had felt—
"These thorns are sharp, yet I can tread
This cup is loathsome, yet
Christ makes it sweet,
My face is steadfast towards Jerusalem—
My heart remembers it.
Although to-day, I walk in tedious ways,
To-day His staff is turned into
Yet will I wait for Him the appointed days
And stay upon my God."
And thus she reached the calm heights where she could sing—
"Chimes that keep time are neither slow
Not many are the numbered sands nor few;
A time to suffer, and a time to do,
And then the time is past."
The end came to her just when her selfless nature would have
chosen, for as she had thanked God that she was left to mourn her
mother and not her mother to mourn her, so she survived till both
the agèd aunts were also removed.
Indeed, all the family circle, save her youngest brother, had gone
before her—Dante Gabriel, the unhappy genius, her sister, and both
her brothers' wives.
Christina Rossetti had suffered much from physical ill-health
all her life, and her end was full of bodily pain of a peculiar
nature which tended to gather clouds of depression about her.
But one of those who best knew and appreciated her, declares that
Christina herself would accept even this with joy, could she but
have realised how the thought of her passage through these deep
waters must strengthen and cheer others called to follow her by the
same dark way. Her beautiful spirit never failed. To the
offertory of the church, in whose services she had found so much
comfort, she sent the regular contribution she could no longer give
with her own hand. She liked to be told when visitors called,
though she could no longer see them, and she liked them to be
detained till she could send down some special, kind little message.
She even instructed her nurse that if a certain valued friend should
call soon after her departure, that friend should be at once
admitted to look on her dead face.
In person, Christina Rossetti was very attractive, though an
illness from which she suffered twenty years before her death,
slightly marred the beauty of her face. She had a placid,
gentle manner. "In going into her house," says her biographer,
"one seemed to have passed into an atmosphere of rest and of peace."
Speaking, as she spoke, in symbols, we would say that the
sweetest fruits often ripen in walled gardens.
(From Good Words)
Do you flatter yourself that nobody thinks you eccentric? Do
not. If there is not something about you which would seem to
others eccentric, then you have no reasonable hope of immortality,
for you have no centre of individuality, nothing to show that you
are a being and not a mould.
We call people eccentric whose ways are not our ways.
“She is so eccentric, poor thing!” says the woman of society,
speaking of some old friend. “She never goes anywhere.
She says she does not receive nor pay calls. There is no use
in asking her to take a stall at a bazaar. She has buried
herself alive with that husband of hers and those four rough boys.”
Yet probably the woman who speaks and the woman who is spoken about,
both say alike that home should take precedence, and all the
“eccentricity” lies in the fact that the one puts her precepts into
The eccentricities of genius have long been a handy theme for
the leisurely comments of people of safely limited talent. The
genius is eccentric, because, having discovered the diet best suited
to his constitution, he keeps to it and will not eat pickled salmon,
no, not even to please a lord mayor. The genius is eccentric,
because he did not pay the least attention to the Countess of Dulborough, but spent the whole evening talking to that old maid,
Miss Good, who is nobody at all.
The word “eccentric” is commonly applied to any deviation from
custom, or from the habits and manners of others, but as they never
profess to radiate from any centre, ought it not rather, in mere
strictness of speech, to be applied to any deviation from the
declared centre of our own existence?
Is not true eccentricity simply a wish to do an easy and plain thing
in a hard and intricate way, or else to do something which had
better not be done at all? To call a merely unusual or novel action
eccentric is to confound eccentricity with originality and progress. The first man to build a house or to carry an umbrella was no
eccentric. Any man who would persist in walking on his hands, or in
going to bed in all his day-apparel, would have been always
eccentric, and will be ever so.
On the other hand, what is generally called eccentricity is commonly
the discovery of easier and swifter methods, or of novelties,
whether in duty or circumstance. Such a man is said to be so
“peculiar“— he made all his friends in such queer ways, — one
friendship began in a chance conversation on a steamer, another in a
meeting at an inn. Now, everybody admits that the making of friends
is perfectly legitimate and normal; only most prefer the manufacture
to be carried on by an elaborate machinery of introductions, calls,
cards, etc., through which all our carpets are worn out by the feet
of casual comers and goers, before we hear the footfall of one who
really brings good tidings of love and fellowship to our own soul. Or another is called eccentric, because, heartily believing
something to be of vital good to his fellow-creatures, he invests
all his money in furthering it, and spends himself in recommending
it in season and out of season. His belief itself may be eccentric,
or it may not; it may be in the golden rule or in a particular pill,
but his honest application of that belief is not eccentric, and
never can be. At that point precisely he is at one with all the
great men who have soiled and strained themselves to push the world
towards God and good, — and one against the huge army of charlatans
who impose burdens which they do not bear.
What a huge mass of small misery would vanish if people could dare
to be eccentric in the sense of doing something which is right for
themselves as individuals! How many a woman suffering under the
close pinches of a narrow income, with a constant dispiriting sense
of shabbiness, could be set free from her worst torture, if she gave
up the use of gloves except when needed for warmth, and put their
price into her general treasury! Is it best to have hands a little
brown or a face worried and anxious? The real beauty of a hand is
not spoiled by exposure, or even by hard work, and nothing can be
more hideous than the preserved whiteness and plumpness of a coarse
hand. We cannot imagine angels in gloves. We cannot imagine the old
healthy heathen goddesses in gloves. The hand-clasps which we shall
never forget were given by ungloved fingers.
To hide hands or face from ordinary wear and tear lest they spoil
them is as bad as to starve with money in the bank lest we spend it. Hands and faces were given us to be used and worn out, and wear out
they will whether or no. The true test of beauty is its long
resistance and its faculty for wearing well. Who would put brown holland over Russia leather chairs? While new, they might be taken
for good imitation, but when old they are undoubted.
Everybody has to be eccentric somehow. It takes many a queer twist
before the infinite variety of human character and circumstances can
be reduced to a similarity almost as striking as that in a packet of
pins. It was a humorous and suggestive illustration of this that a
book, lately written to advise ladies of limited income how to look
like their richer neighbours, hinted that in order to secure the
conventional number of silk dresses and parasols, they might even
wear coloured under-linen!
It is often said that when poverty approaches as “an armed man,” the
first retrenchment is made on the table, the last in the wardrobe.
This ought not to be. Is not “the body more than raiment”? Put the
boy into corduroys instead of broadcloth, but spare him a good
dinner, and so give him a chance of getting his own broadcloth when
his turn comes, instead of wearing out yours till it drops in rags
about him in some casual ward. Any linen shirts and beaver hats you
can buy will soon be translated to some other sphere of matter quite
beyond his use, while muscle and nerve will remain. There is nothing
sadder than the study of the children of shabby-genteel families. They retain the well-moulded features and lithe forms of “good
blood,” long after the departure of the hot energy or cool staying
power which really constituted it. To borrow a phrase from the
stable, “They are good ones to look at, but bad ones to go.” They
are our social slaves — the drug of our labour-market, and capital
shrewdly knows that it can extort any terms from them, while it does
not insist on fustian jackets or white caps and aprons.
There may be table-retrenchments for which nobody needs pity. If the
children get porridge instead of tea, rosy apples instead of
jellies, they may bless the poverty that suggested the change. It is
the poorer tea and the thinner bread and butter which is to be
deprecated. Even the moderate cost of the carefully hoarded black
silk dress, which deceives nobody, if put into the bread account,
would relieve all tightness in that quarter for the whole period
that it would wear.
Let a widowed mother make her Sabbath-best of serge, and boldly
teach her lads the virtues of holland and corduroy, that she may
grudge no quantity of wholesome food, no cost of merry holiday, and
she may live to display the rich gifts from her eldest, and to boast
that her youngest, though he does not make money, has learned to
live so simply that he can easily afford to give his life to the art
or science of his ambition, and so to write the name she gave him on
the best page of his country’s history.
To wish to be like other people is as futile as it is fatal. We
cannot be like anybody but ourselves. The more conventional we are,
the more we resemble the jay which borrowed a feather from every
other bird. We do not succeed in our attempted resemblance, we only
spoil our own appearance and our own capacities. Nobody admires
such. They are ridiculous even in the eyes of similarly bedecked
jays. How the people in a theatre laugh as old Polonius proses! There is wisdom in his words, but it is wisdom as a rose after a
snail has slimed it. He knows right, wrongly. And yet we may be
quite sure there are more of Poloniuses in box, pit, and gallery
than there are of vacillating Hamlets, blunt Horatios, or guilty
kings and queens. These belie the prince’s words. These “galled
jades” do not wince. Their criticism is, “This is a fool:” the moral
they deduce appears to be, “Let us be so likewise.”
Our use of the word “must” should be greatly in our minds when we
confess that we do those things which we ought not to do, and leave
undone those things which we should do. We neglect duties that
should be done at any cost of will-power; we helplessly accept as
duties actions which, done as such, lose all their value. How many
“cannot” dismiss a servant, and open their own hall-door or dust
their own shoes, even though their annual expenditure is regularly
in excess of their annual income! Yet they “must” pay calls on
people whom they do not like, and they “must” go to parties where
two or three hours of black-hole atmosphere and ten minutes’ gobble
at unwholesome food leave them with a week’s indigestion and bad
temper. Or on higher levels it may be that we “cannot” keep a
certain commandment, but we “must” believe a certain creed. We
cannot serve some fellow-creature, but we must love him! It is
simply a double lie, as transparent as if one should say he cannot
cross a gutter, but can easily jump over the moon.
From some people’s talk one might infer that public opinion was a
solid body of resistless force, or at least a policeman with a
truncheon. “One cannot go to two parties in the same dress,” said a
lady. “What prevents you?” asked her companion. “Simply do it.”
What is public opinion? The aggregate of many persons’ opinions,
mostly founded on their own ways. Do you acknowledge even to
yourself that their ways and their opinions are better than yours? You think Mrs. S. a feather-brained creature, in fact a fool, and
yet you feel it a terrible judgment if you can imagine that she is
making derogatory remarks on the length of your skirt, or even the
amount of beef you order from your butcher.
When you shrink from handing the dishes at your own table, or from
the growing necessity that your daughters should do something for
their own livelihood, whose image looms terribly before you? Is it
that of the great man whose rare visits fill your house with
spiritual light and warmth? Or that of the good woman whose life you
know goes up as daily incense before God? Or that of the dear friend
who knows all about you, even about the skeleton in your cupboard,
and whose life has so penetrated your life, that you cannot realize
how it was when you did not know him? No, it is that of the De Vescis opposite — about whom you delight to tell the naughty anecdote
that they have a malicious cousin who superscribes his letters to
Gentility Square, with the plain name of “Mr. Vesey.” Or that of the Wildes, over whom there always hangs such a cloud of mystery, so
that nobody has ever heard how he made his money, or what was her
maiden name. Or lastly and chiefly, it is that of Lady Pompon, who
twice a year kindly renews the card that you keep on the top of your
card-basket, and who, could you only know it, goes to her next
evening service with a happy consciousness of “acts of humility.”
We should all have a “proper regard” for public opinion. Only what
public opinion? Our most conventional acquaintance seeks the
favourable verdict of Pluto Place, not of Black Slum. Let us think
of the quality of the approval we gain rather than of its quantity. Let us dare to do what should be done, and the best will either
approve us at once, or presently thank us for teaching them a new
lesson. People’s moral tastes, like their artistic, want educating. The greater a man is, the fewer within earshot will praise him. Condemnation is the only title of honour that some people can
bestow. Mazzini’s greatness was truly recognized when he was judged
as an assassin by those who would have been proud of a presentation
to the besotted Bomba. They saw that white was the opposite of
black: they only mistook the terms. Columbus was wise when he had
his fetters buried with him: he had doubtless learned that in such a
world the iron chain is a far more substantial order of merit than
the most selectly distributed golden fleece. Higher yet. While the
Jews made a hero of Barabbas the robber, their only possible tribute
to Jesus was to crucify him.
If there be anything which we secretly long to do, could we only
muster courage, then we may be sure that there are many others like
us — standing still as sheep till the bell-wether moves onward. There are some slaves who achieve their own freedom long before the
general emancipation act which they help to bring about. And let us
remember the old proverb — it is “the hindmost” whom the devil
takes. It would be a foolish cat who refused to go to the milk-pan
till the other cats had licked off the cream. Yet there are people
who can accept nothing till it begins to grow stale. The originality
of some impulses are half their value. When they cease to be a
protest against the untruthfulness and unthinkingness of habit, they
are often far on the way to be untruthful or unthinking themselves. To-day, the most conventional of us are doing what was first done by
some very “eccentric” forefather. Shall we drive the steeds of the
car of time, or shall we toil ever behind in the dust which it
raises? Shall we be slaves ourselves, or free liberators of others?
Dare to be strong: the world is very
And longs for burning words which strong souls speak,
Thirsts for the cup which ye have strength to grasp,
Toils on the road where ye are swift to run,
Does nought itself, but worships what is done.
Spare it one hand: thine other angels clasp.
ISABELLA FYVIE MAYO.
THE SISTER'S JOURNEY.
A STORY IN THREE CHAPTERS.
ISABELLA FYVIE MAYO.
(From The Girl's Own Paper, 1881)
DO you know the road that leads from Medmedham to Wygate? And do you
know a row of little cottages which stands aside from the road soon
after it leaves our village? Neither their back windows nor their
front look upon the road, to which the house at the end turns only
its blind gable. A little paved footpath runs immediately in front
of these houses, and gives access to all of them, and on the other
side of this path is a green wicker paling, with one gate in its
centre, through which the tenants of the houses can pass into the
large common garden. As a common garden it is large, pretty, and
profitable. Had it been cut up and a portion allotted to each little
dwelling it would have been but a set of patches wasted with narrow
paths and cumbrous hedges. As it is, it has a fairly broad walk
running round it and another cutting across it, and can boast some
very good fruit trees, and each house has its share of kitchen
garden, flower-bed, and border. There may be sometimes a little
civil bickering and dissatisfaction over the first of these, but the
care of the others is very generally left to the taste and industry
of some of the elderly people in the row, guided by the skill of the
one or two among the tenants who happens to know something of
In all Medmedham there are not quieter, more old-fashioned people
than the dwellers in Convent row. It got its name because it was
originally built by one Dame Elinor Parkiss as a sort of refuge for
the older among the nuns who lost their home when Henry VIII. sacked
the convent, whose ruins may still be seen on the south bank of the
River Mede. And when the nuns were all dead it became a favourite
retreat for the aged pensioned servants from the great houses round,
and thus it got a repute as a kind of quiet resting-place; and
though it is now rented out in quite the ordinary way, there are
some people who would never dream of taking up their abode in it —
people with late, noisy habits, or large broods of troublesome
Perhaps the houses themselves have something to do with this. They
had been built of solid old-English masonry, and having from time to
time been solidly and stoutly repaired they keep much of their
original character. They are full of all sorts of queer dark corners; the rooms are on different levels with one or two steps between
them, and the staircases would be fatal to a tipsy man or a
neglected child. But all theses drawbacks are easily borne by sedate
old ladies and gentlemen, who "take their time" to all they do, and
who cheerfully bear the lack of an oven and of "laid-on" water
while they can enjoy a fireplace with a genuine chimney-corner, and a
chimney in which they can cure their bacon.
Still there is always plenty of youth in Convent-row, and one of the
prettiest girls of Medmedham lived in the house farthest from the
road, and the smallest and quaintest in the Row. Any summer evening
you liked you might see Ruth Venn following her father about the
garden, binding up the sunflowers and hollyhocks, and chatting
pleasantly to him, her soft laugh mingling sweetly with his low,
merry chuckle. Any Sunday morning you might see her going to church
with her father and mother; and on Medmedham market-day she might be
often seen in grave consultation with the substantial farmers'
wives, for Ruth Venn and her mothers did plain needlework, and their
handicraft was much favoured by old-fashioned folk who liked
neatness and durability, and perhaps had a lingering prejudice
Elsewhere Ruth Venn was not often to be seen. She was a quiet, shy
girl, and her mother had made her so much of a companion that she
had not required close friendship with anybody else. Her home was
not a dull one. Job Venn, her father, had travelled in his day—a
young crippled master having taken a great fancy to him when he was
the gardener, and insisted that as nobody could help him so well as
Job, Job must go with him wherever he went. Job had been in
Flanders, and to France and Spain. Perhaps his observing powers had
been sharpened by trying to get some interest and amusement out of
the ways of people whose speech he did not understand. At any rate,
Job came home a shrewd, clever fellow, whose wise sayings where
worthy of note by deeper minds than those of his admiring little
girl. And Mrs. Venn was a lively little woman, one of those whom
years seem only to brighten and sharpen.
Ruth was not the only child of the house. There was her brother
Harold, two years younger than herself. Harold had got his
high-sounding name from his father's invalid master, who at his
death had left a sum for the lad's education, which had been well
laid out, and by which the boy had heartily profited. A handsome,
bright-faced young fellow was Harold Venn, free of speech
and popular of manner, quite different from his quiet sister, but
not therefore the less dear to her. All his life he had seemed her
especial charge, and nobody can tell the awful difference it made to
Ruth, nor how all the sunshine of her life seemed to change to grey
mist when, through the interest of some of his godfather's
connexions, he got a situation in the foreign telegraph service,
and was presently drafted off to an office in Canada.
Children cannot guess how much their welfare costs at home. Some
parents might have thought that an only boy should be kept there for
their own sake; but Job and Mrs. Venn knew that their boy was not
fit for hard, manual work, also that, his education having prepared
him for something else, it was not fair that he should stand still,
filling up the place of another who had not received his advantages. For such as he there was no real chance in life in Medmedham.
"Mothers have got to give way," said Mrs. Venn, with the tears
standing in her eyes. "We should not be where we are to-day if your
mother had not let you go out into the world, Job. And she died
while you were away too, so I mustn't fret, whatever may happen. Don't
think I'm going to harden my heart, though; but fretting isn't
sorrow. Jesus wept. Tears in moderation are natural; but you have to
twist your face out of shape to grizzle, and then it stiffens so. The only question we have to put ourselves is, 'Is this for Harold's
good?' It seems so every way."
"It will find out what mettle is in the lad," put in Job. "You never
know what your children are till you stand 'em down alone out of
your sight. But it has to be done sooner or later. You don't make
cracked china whole by keeping it in cotton wool. If the crack is
there its only chance is to go in two, and then get a honest rivet."
Harold had been as well-trained as well-taught, and all his impulses
and inclinations were kindly, so that if there were any misgivings
in his parents' hearts they were too vague to find form in definite
warnings. Perhaps the nearest approach to this was his mother's
"Take care who your first friends are, Harry. Better live lonely for
a year than go haunted all your days."
And then the boy was gone. And Mrs. Venn and Ruth did the women's
part in the little tragedy of life: they folded away his old
clothes, sorted his school-books, stored his "rubbish" among their
treasures, and set their minds to wait for letters and compose
Harold had gone out on a great line steamer, and he had a gay and
pleasant voyage, for the ship was full, and the weather delightful. He wrote home that he found most agreeable people among his
fellow-passengers. Perhaps there were very few among those with whom
he associated who would have noticed how bright and clever he was if
they had seen him among the humble surroundings of the old home at
Medmedham. Harold Venn was not a snob. He was not ashamed of his
fine old father and mother, and he would not wilfully have added a
pound to a statement of their income, nor a foot to a description of
the size of their house. But people do not ask plain questions about
these things, and Harold's innocent allusions to many matters of
old-fashioned furniture and strict ways, the school he had
attended, and the sort of books he had read, raised a mistaken
impression on the minds of his fellow-passengers, too many of whom
were of the thriftless and shifting kind who, paying very dear for
discomfort and muddle, cannot believe that comfort and order can be
got at little cost by those who know how to search for those
commodities at the right time and in the right place. They presumed
Harold to be the son of some farmer, old-fashioned, perhaps, but
wealthy and well-considered, and so treated him with a courtesy and
friendliness which they would not have dreamed of extending to the
child of a mere working gardener. It is often hard to draw the line
between vanity and geniality; perhaps no such line existed in Harold
Venn's simple nature. At any rate, he was half-flattered,
half-grateful, and wholly pleased.
Many and merry were the earlier letters which he wrote home;
whether or not there were any secret misgivings in the parents'
hearts, they openly expressed a satisfaction in which it pained Ruth
that she could not heartily join. She thought the fault lay in her
own heart, and hated herself accordingly. She said to herself that
surely she was jealous of these strangers of whom Harold seemed so
fond, that surely she was envious of the pleasures and prosperities
which seemed crowding round her darling brother. And yet there was
something in her pain which she could not beat down, even on her
bended knees. In those days Ruth sat in the seat of humiliation and
felt herself truly a miserable sinner.
The letters grew fewer and fewer by-and-by; fewer in number and
vaguer in tone, with hints of much business and even of failing
health. The father and mother were rather proud of the former, and
innocently credulous and anxious concerning the latter.
And just about that time other trouble and sorrow entered the little
household in Convent-row. To anybody who knew all the secret of
those changed letters from abroad it might almost have seemed as if
they brought a deadly infection with them which poisoned the poor
mother's life blood and palsies the old father's limbs. For that
winter, cheery, active Mrs. Venn suddenly drooped and faded; and
Job himself, the hale, vigorous man, had a stroke of paralysis
which, making his right leg almost useless, laid him aside from all
his gardening and carpentering. For a long time Ruth's sweet face
was not seen among the farmers' wives at Medmedham market, for care
of the two sick people and sole charge of the little house took up
all her time. But the tiny savings of happier days soon wasted away. They were but a tiny store, for the bequest for Harold's education
had been sacredly kept to its proper use and expended thereon. And
Ruth presently felt, with a sigh, that at any cost, more money must
be earned instead of less. She must resign herself to leave her
parents lonely, while she went to and fro, and they must all submit
to less perfect order and cleanliness, and reconcile themselves to
the make-shift meals and irregular hours which must be often borne
in homes where the housekeeper is also the breadwinner.
They were all shrewd, sensible people, who could see the bearings of
new facts, and did not require to state them to themselves or to
each other in words, which make troubles harder to bear, precisely
as a heavy weight would be harder to carry if it was wrapped in
stinging-nettles. Mrs. Venn said nothing, nor shed a tear, when for
the first time in her married life clean curtains were not put up in
the sitting-room on Saturday evening. And when Job found that a soft
grey comforter was prepared for him, to supply the place of the
starched collars which his wife and daughter had hitherto kept so
dainty, he actually went and looked at himself in the glass, and
said "it was a comfortable fashion for an old man, and hid up his
poor, scraggy neck."
NOBODY hinted that Harold might be asked if he had anything to spare
for his struggling home. Did anybody feel that such a resource might
be more available kept as a dim comfort in the background than
fairly put to the test? It is hard to say. But it was bitter to have
even that dim comfort swept away by a short, convulsively-written
letter from the boy himself, pleading sudden unexpected and
unexplained difficulties, and entreating them to send him help—he
did not say how much, he only said as much as they could.
It was a sad time. There were many tears shed that evening. The
parents' pity and alarm concerning their boy were so passionate that
even Ruth's simple ears detected a suspicion that excuse and
justification were needed. Their own letters to Harold had been as
cheerful as possible. They had made the best of everything, as
people can, without being untrue. They had owned to illness, and to
necessary economising. But they had hastend to assure him of
recovery, without specifying what sort of recovery, and they had
never added one of those details which bring a change of
circumstances vividly before an absent and unimaginative mind. Of
late Ruth had been the chief letter-writer, and she had felt so much
pain breathing between the lines of her epistles that she had
dreaded their effect on Harold. And now!―somehow, on that very
night a strange feeling entered Ruth's mind that the worst was not
yet, and a strange dread filled her heart, which she afterwards
owned was a merciful preparation for what followed.
Very, very few were the sovereigns left in the little family
treasury, but five of them were instantly counted off for the
"He is alone in a strange country," sobbed the poor mother. "We are
together in the old place."
There was no way of sending out the money except by a post-office
order. If Ruth had had cash to spend for a conveyance, or spare time
for a long walk, she would have toiled over to Wygate to take out
the order at an office where she and her people were unknown. She
knew well enough that the postmaster was bound to keep secret all
facts which he learned in his calling, and that, therefore, she
need not fear her brother's wants leaking into common gossip; but
it was so dreadful that even one pair of disinterested eyes should
be allowed to peep into what poor Ruth began to feel would be soon
the family-skeleton cupboard.
It is hard for most of us to believe that others cannot realise the
full significance of facts in our own history, and we are often
wounded by words which might not be so frankly spoken if their point
Ruth walked all the way up the High street and back again before she
ventured into the post-office, and when she made her modest request,
the old postmaster, who had known her from her childhood, and had
always praised the handwriting on the outside of her letters, said,
with a laugh—
"Halloo, Miss Venn, this money is travelling the wrong way."
It stabbed Ruth to the heart. In reality the old man, never dreaming
how poor the Venns were, only thought, "I should not wonder if
that sharp young monkey Harry Venn is beginning to buy lots in the
backwoods, and his sister is putting a bit of her money alongside of
There came one hasty line—literally, only one — acknowledging that
five pounds, and then the Canadian letters stopped.
That seemed a terrible summer. How is it that in one way or another
the weather always does seem terrible when our hearts are heavy? How
sultry it was; how the thick white mist crept along over the
shallow pools and parched meadows round Medmedham. It seemed always
daytime—garish, glaring day, making tired heads ache and weeping
eyes burn. And yet the nights were too long for lying awake, or for
falling asleep and having terrible dreams.
And yet Ruth was aware of a feeling of respite every morning, when
the postman passed without a letter. Not so the poor mother. For
her, her lost boy had become a child again—a child who could not
take care of itself, and was in allsorts of perils and dangers. She
only wanted to hear of him — to know that he was safe.
Tidings came at last. And they were what might have been expected. Harold Venn was in prison. He had kept silence through his frantic
struggle to extricate himself from the mesh in which was caught, and
through the suspense of his trial. Now he wrote to tell them the
truth — he could scarcely say to set their minds at ease — and to bid
them farewell. He would do the best he could for himself. If he ever
again became a credit to them they should hear from him. His
sentence would end early in the following spring, and then he would
go West and get some sort of work somewhere.
The father took the blow very quietly, expressing his emotion only
in the sudden palsied shaking of his head and the rapid bending of
his stiff old back. The mother cried out, with the passionate
vehemence of a stormy nature which never before through a long lifetime had been stirred to its depth. It was "her boy — her boy." The
terror of utterly losing him overcame the present shame and pain for
His was the old story of the simple youth led out of his depth by
companions whose means and manners of life were not suited to his
own. Those who rise from their own class, especially when they do so
by no more solid advantages than personal appearance and vivacity of
manner, are in great danger of rising only to the dregs of the class
above them. It was so with Harry Venn, and he had run the familiar
course of carelessness, extravagance, debt, difficulty, gambling,
embezzlement, and detection.
Ruth's mind, like her mother's, went on to the future, but, being
less blinded by intensity of pain, it could see more clearly. She
did not altogether fear that they should lose sight of Harry. She
knew her brother, and felt sure that such heroic resolution of
disappearance would be likely to go the way of his other
resolutions. But she realised clearly that a possible turning-point
in his life, the crisis of his welfare and of the happiness of her
parents' declining years, lay at the moment when he should return
through the prison gates to the outer world. Even in his day of
unsullied innocence and untarnished hope he had failed, and now the
ill-savour of his blighted character would attract all noxious
things to it. She knew her brother's nature better than did anybody
else, and loved him so much that even in that knowledge she did not
One thing stood clear before her mind. If the good in Harold was to
have another chance, then somebody must stand at his side to uphold
and encourage him when he left his prison.
There was nobody who could so stand but herself.
And how was she to travel thousands of miles
without money, or to leave a home of which she was now the main support? These were the
thoughts that were for ever seething in Ruth Venn's mind as she lay
awake on those autumn evenings when the freshening breeze blew down
the first leaves from the elms of Convent-row, or as she sat sewing
beside her mother, who thought her silence cold and severe, and
yearned towards her lost boy with an increasing increasing vehemence
that the more sharply pierced her daughter's heart.
A plan shaped itself at last in Ruth's mind, as plans do generally
shape themselves where love and pity and earnestness mingle
together. She had heard of men who "worked their way out to the
Colonies." She must work out hers. Stewardesses must be required,
and nurses for ladies and children. She must get a place as such.
But before this plan had occurred to her, precious time had been
lost. There was no longer leisure for advertisements, even had there
been means. Her resolution must be put to the test at once by one
bold stroke. She must go to the nearest seaport town and struggle
for such employment on the spot.
With a beating heart, she unfolded her scheme to her father and
mother. They both cried out against it at first, saying they had
better keep what they had got. But it was the sea and the sickness
and the sore loneliness only which they feared for Ruth. They could
trust their girl as they now felt they had never trusted their boy. Where she went God would go with her. And as Ruth argued and
pleaded, they slowly yielded, as old and failing people will yield
to the young on whom they have learned to rely.
Job Venn had one trustworthy acquaintance in the seaport, an old
woman who kept a little haberdasher's shop, and to her Ruth proposed
to go in the first instance. They had not heard of her for two or
three years, but she would be sure to be found in the same place.
Very, very small was the sum which would remain for the maintenance
of the old couple when their daughter's labour was withdrawn. But
she said she would "surely be able to send them something soon," and
they counted the few poor pounds, and said they "would do,"
thinking that when they came to an end a few more weeks' sustenance
could be eked out by the sale of the few humble household treasures
they had gathered about them. All would be well lost if only Harry
was saved. Poor, independent-spirited Mrs. Venn now felt that she
could die happy in the workhouse if she might hear that her boy was
doing well in the far country.
Ruth scarcely touched the little hoard of cash. For before she
opened her plan to her father and mother, she had made a tiny purse
for herself. She had walked over to Wygate, and sold the poor little
possessions she could call her own — a handsome Scotch pebble brooch
which her father had given her in their prosperous days — a gold
pencil-case which had been a sort of family heirloom — the books which
she had won as prizes at school. This was her all, and its proceeds
would only serve to take her to the seaport, and maintain her there
for a day or two. If she failed, then she would have to walk home,
begging her way, like the poor tramper women she had often helped. But Ruth Venn was determined not to fail.
"She kissed her mother at the gate, and parted from
her father quite brightly."
She started off on a grey October morning. She kissed her mother at
the gate, and parted from her father quite brightly. And when she
was really off, quite alone, she felt as if she could have lain down
beneath the withering hedgerow, and died there. But she did not even
cry. Her fellow-travellers an the later part of her journey thought
her a cheerful, contented girl; and when they heard that she was
seeking a passage to Canada, they guessed she had a sweetheart
there, and was going out to be married. And Ruth only smiled and
Her troubles began the moment she reached the seaport. She found the
little haberdashery shop shut up, and learned, on inquiry that her
father's old friend had been dead for about three months.
She got such cheap lodgement as her scanty purse could procure. It
was decent enough to be sure, but to Ruth's daintily trained village
senses, it was coarse, unclean, and uncomely. Alas, only two or
three months later she had learned to smile at the discomfort she
felt in that rough abode.
And then she set about seeking the work she wanted. She scarcely
knew how to seek it, and so exposed herself to many useless
ordeals. The loud-voiced captains scoffed at the idea of a
stewardess who had never been to sea, and the sailors paid rude
compliments and cut broad jokes which made her heart beat and her
cheeks burn. Yet perhaps she fared better among them than she might
among any other class, for the rough, strong men knew the hardships of the
life she was seeking, and pitied the gentle-toned fair-faced girl
who, perhaps, reminded each one of them of another "lass" left
safe in some sweet inland village.
N those bitter days Ruth Venn first learned what it is to rise
hungry from one's breakfast, and put aside half of a dry roll for
one's supper. But she learned also, that while there is a part of
one's courage and spirit which ebbs when one is ill-fed and ill-lodged, there is another part which quietly settles down on the
ancient rock, "Though God slay me, yet will I trust in Him." And
perhaps the one lesson was worth learning even at the price of the
At last, when only pence remained in her purse, a white-haired old
steward, who had stood listening and watching her as she timidly
answered a busy captain's disparaging questions, followed her up the
companion ladder when the interview was over, and hinted that he
knew of something which might suit her, if her requirements in the
way of wage were as humble as her qualifications seemed to be. He
knew the master of a small sailing vessel, just starting for Quebec,
who wanted a young woman to look after a little girl during the
voyage. She was his brother's child, and both her parents were dead,
the mother having recently died in England, and the master wanted
to take his niece back to his own folk in the Canadian township. He
was but poor himself, and could not afford to give much, but what he
could give was safe, would be given at once, "down on the nail,"
said the old steward, adding that he was a good God-fearing man,
with whom he would trust a daughter of his own.
Ruth's heart leaped for joy. Not only had her plan succeeded, but
she would be able to send her parents something before she went,
which, beside materially aiding them, would cheer them with the
assurance of her prosperity. She only felt more happy after she had
seen the honest-looking grey-eyed captain and his pretty little
niece. To her new master she he told her simple story without
disguising one fact. And after he had heard it he insisted on
adding another pound to the wage they had agreed between them.
When Ruth had despatched her last letter to Convent-row, and saw the
seaport fading from sight as the ship moved out to sea, she felt as
if she had turned over the darkest page of her life.
She did not mind the sea-sickness which prostrated her and her
little charge for the first few days. The crew were kind and cheery
to them both, and the mere rest was grateful to Ruth's worn nerve
and weary limbs. Nor did she fear much when the great storms came
and the little ship seemed to toss here and there, like a feather in
the wind. For herself she did not fear at all, but she could not
help thinking of her father and mother at home, and of Harold in his
dismal prison, and of her own incomplete task. But she presently
remembered that if God took her from her work, then she left it in
Lengthened horrors where to follow. The ship had suffered severely,
and had got far out of her track. A dead rat was discovered in the
water-tank, poisoning all the store of water, and putting them on
the short allowance they could get from an apparatus which made
sea-water fit for drinking, and which machine itself had suffered
severely during the storm. Nor had the decaying carcase been
discovered soon enough to save the captain, who was a great water
drinker, from catching a fever which quite incapacitated him for
his duties and threatened to endanger his life. His little niece
drooped and faded with fear and privation. Of the two mates, had
never made that voyage before, and the other soon showed himself a
drunkard, quarrelsome and tyrannical in his cups, bringing out all
that was evil and dangerous in the men under his rule. Ruth had to
hear violent words and awful threats, and even to see fierce blows. It was true nobody hastened to show any unkindness to her and the
child — unless, indeed, it was the drunken mate himself, who looked
upon them as troublesome consumers of little luxuries he would have
liked for himself. But Ruth began to see the evil that was in the
men, and to discover the vile and brutal past which lay in the
history of many of them. More than once she wondered if she could
have undertaken this task had she foreseen all it involved; but her
brave heart only answered that if not, then she thanked God that we
never know the dangers which beset our duties, till our duties are
half done, and the dangers are passing.
Still, for all her courage, she felt the dreadful strain of a
constant nameless terror — a constants watching for what would
happen, when whatever could happen was almost sure to be for the
worse. And still the voyage seemed to draw no nearer to its end. And
the captain tossed in delirium, and still his little niece's cheek
wore paler and thinner day by day.
Once ― it was the first time for many weeks ― they came for a moment
within the ken of humanity. They passed another ship which, like
their own, had got out of her track. Her captain and their mate
hailed each other through their trumpets, but she was a faster sailer than their vessel, and they were soon left behind again.
The weather was bitterly cold by this time, and Ruth was not very
well provided against its inclemency. The captain grew rather
better. It was true he remained as helpless as an infant, and could
not have aided Ruth in any real danger. But the fever and delirium
had passed, and he could reassure and soothe her and his niece, as
a good man always can. They sighted land at last. But it was a
gloomy and terrible land, not less forbidding than the waste of
waters which had surrounded rounded them so long. Ruth had never
even heard its name. The captain called it the Island of Anticosti
[Ed.― situatedat the mouth of the St. Lawrence River]. It showed no sign of human habitation — nothing but a stretch of
waving shore, here and there broken into low ravines, all dark with
primeval pine and fir. The captains said there was no life upon
it, except bears and wolves, and two French Canadians, set to keep a
sort of watch-tower on its coast.
And while the ship was passing this inhospitable shore another
terrible storm arose. It was fiercer and wilder than any which had
befallen them yet — much fiercer and wilder than those which had
harassed them since the captain's illness. And whether the previous
ones had partly disabled the ship or whether the mate's management
was unskilful, this storm proved too much for the poor "Sea Gull,"
and she was driven sideways and run aground, and lay a helpless
mass of hull and and splinters on the frowning shore of Anticosta. All got safely
ashore except one sailor, whose body was washed up by the
waves the next morning. For the night, they sheltered
themselves as best they could, burning the brushwood to make heat
for themselves and to scare any wild things which might be prowling
about. Winter had now quite set in, and everywhere was white with
snow. As soon it was daybreak the whole party set off to the
watch-tower. The captain was still unable to walk, and was carried,
turn about, by two of the men. The ship's cook and carpenter took
charge of the little girl. And everybody, even the drunken mate, now
cowed and penitent, was ready with a helping hand for poor Ruth. She needed it sorely. Her feet were cut and frozen, and every limb
was numb. They had to walk many miles before they reached the
lighthouse, and then it could offer few of the solaces they all
required so terribly. True, there were safe shelter and fire, and a
little tea and food, but no beds, no bath, no fit nourishment. And
when, on the second day after her arrival, Ruth ventured to look
beyond the narrow wall, and noticed some snow-covered mounds of
earth scattered here and there, she was not surprised to learn that
these were the graves of travellers who had been shipwrecked there
before them—feeble women or maimed sailors who had succumbed to the
hardships of a shelter scarcely less cruel than the devouring sea
Ruth feared for the captain, the one human reliance she had. But it
was not the captain who died. It was his little niece. Among the
general haggardness and misery the rapidity of her fading had not
shown as it would otherwise, and the sudden end startled everybody. She woke one morning, smiled in Ruth's face, called her
and prattled of sunshine and flowers which nobody else could see. Half-an-hour lather she was dead, and when Ruth saw the little still
countenance, and knew she would never again hear the childish
treble, she realised a new loneliness, and understood how much help
we get from those for whom we have to care, and how we are supported
by that which leans on us.
It was many days before they were released from their solitary
retreat by a vessel which brought stores to the French watchmen. And
during those days, with the little grave before their eyes, and
danger and hardship of all kinds surrounding them on every hand,
Ruth and the young captain learned to value each other. The dark
background served to set forth the courage, and patience, and
gentleness of both their characters. And though it may seem at first
as if life had been cheated of its holiday by this grave and solemn
courtship with its stern surroundings, yet might such easily serve
as a rock whereon to found the sunny bowers of household bliss.
Very light and easy seemed the privations of the short remainder of
their journey, and soon after the New Year came in, they arrived at
Quebec. Ruth walked up the steep streets alike one in a dream, and
after the cramped cabins with their recent wreckage and disorder,
the strange lodging, poor enough, but neat and clean, seemed
uncannily like her own old chamber in Convent Row. Womanlike,
perhaps, she walked to the little looking-glass to gaze upon her own
countenance for the first time after she had won a good man's love. She started. For a moment it seemed as if it was her mother's face,
as she could remember it in her infancy, which looked back upon her. The girlish bloom and shyness had alike vanished. It was a resolute
face now, worn lines and steadfast eyes, and there were a few silver
steaks among the golden hair.
But Ruth Venn did not forget that her brother and her brother's
welfare had been the object of her journey, and that unless this
was accomplished it would lie a failures. This was her own work,
which she must do by herself — the burden which she must bear alone,
though she would not reject any friendly grasp which should
strengthen her for the bearing. She settled down in a lonely lodging
hard by the prison, and counted herself happy in finding work at
which, with hard labour, she could earn her daily bread.
Captain Rogers presently started off on a return voyage to England. He was to go up to Medmedham and see her parents and tell all the
news. Ruth managed to scrape together a trifle to send by his
hand — the merest trifle, which would not have been worth sending save
by such a friendly bearer. And then he was gone, and she was quite
alone — an unnoticed unit on the great strange Continent.
She often wondered afterwards how she lived through those days. They
only who have experienced times of inactive and helpless waiting
after seasons of wild excitement can know what she bore. Her work did
not help her. The regular hours of silent stitching were almost an
aggravation, though she felt that the constant strain necessary to
make both ends meet was a great blessing. She took long walks by
plain and shore; she watched the magical transformation of the
Canadian spring, she found out little children and garrulous old
folks for whom she could do little services. But all her life
afterwards it might have been noticed that Ruth Venn always took up
the suffering and sorrowful at the point where most consolers let
"The storm uses up our strength and the after-calm demands it," she
sometimes said, years after, when, as a sailor's wife, many of her
figures of speech were borrowed from a seafaring life.
She met Harold at his prison gate, and the two went off together to
one of the townships near Montreal, where Captain Rogers had some
kinsfolk who, on his recommendation, were willing to be kind to the
strangers without asking too many questions. Homely work was found
for Harold, wood-cutting, apple-gathering, and such like wholesome
occupations, which led him among simple, honest men who did not stir
the old vanities nor graze the old wound. Tenderly and faithfully
did the sister watch over the brother. But there was many a time
when her influence would have failed and her ministrations have been
thrust aside, but for the fact which touched all that was good in
the lad, and which his evil genius could neither ignore nor
deny — that for his sake she had taken her life in her hand, and dared
the worst dangers which women dread.
While her story is being thus told Ruth Venn is seated by her own
hearth in a pleasant timbered house in Sherbrooke, Canada. She is
Ruth Rogers now, and her life is free from all anxieties and
sorrows, except those of a woman who never sees half enough of a
dear husband whose heart dwells at home while he roams the stormy
seas. She is not lonely in her little home, for her father and
mother have ventured out to the new country long, long ago. Old
rather liked to renew the adventures of his youth, and his wife
yearned for her children, and felt that it was better for all that
she should go to them than that they should return to her.
And Harold is doing well. And when one sees how the giddy prodigal,
who might so easily have become the branded outcast, is grown into
the steady thriving man, with a kind word and a helping hand for
everybody, though with a curious gravity which seems always
struggling with the natural gaiety of his disposition, one feels
what miracles may be wrought in this world, and how very near the
Kingdom of God might he, if there was more of that force of love
which beareth all things, hopeth all things, endure all things.