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Through the Magic Door - Arthur Connan Doyle


  I care not how humble your bookshelf may
be, nor how lowly the room which it adorns. 
Close the door of that room behind you, shut
off with it all the cares of the outer world,
plunge back into the soothing company of the
great dead, and then you are through the
magic portal into that fair land whither worry
and vexation can follow you no more. You
have left all that is vulgar and all that is sordid
behind you. There stand your noble, silent
comrades, waiting in their ranks. Pass your
eye down their files. Choose your man. And
then you have but to hold up your hand to
him and away you go together into dreamland. 
Surely there would be something eerie about
a line of books were it not that familiarity has
deadened our sense of it. Each is a mummified
soul embalmed in cere-cloth and natron
of leather and printer's ink. Each cover of a
true book enfolds the concentrated essence of
a man. The personalities of the writers have
faded into the thinnest shadows, as their bodies
into impalpable dust, yet here are their very
spirits at your command.

  It is our familiarity also which has lessened
our perception of the miraculous good
fortune which we enjoy. Let us suppose that
we were suddenly to learn that Shakespeare
had returned to earth, and that he would
favour any of us with an hour of his wit and
his fancy. How eagerly we would seek him
out! And yet we have him---the very best
of him---at our elbows from week to week,
and hardly trouble ourselves to put out our
hands to beckon him down. No matter what
mood a man may be in, when once he has
passed through the magic door he can summon
the world's greatest to sympathize with
him in it. If he be thoughtful, here are the
kings of thought. If he be dreamy, here are
the masters of fancy. Or is it amusement
that he lacks? He can signal to any one of
the world's great story-tellers, and out comes
the dead man and holds him enthralled by the
hour. The dead are such good company that
one may come to think too little of the living. 
It is a real and a pressing danger with many
of us, that we should never find our own
thoughts and our own souls, but be ever obsessed
by the dead. Yet second-hand romance
and second-hand emotion are surely better
than the dull, soul-killing monotony which
life brings to most of the human race. But
best of all when the dead man's wisdom and
strength in the living of our own strenuous

  Come through the magic door with me,
and sit here on the green settee, where you
can see the old oak case with its untidy lines
of volumes. Smoking is not forbidden. 
Would you care to hear me talk of them?
Well, I ask nothing better, for there is no
volume there which is not a dear, personal
friend, and what can a man talk of more
pleasantly than that? The other books are
over yonder, but these are my own favourites
---the ones I care to re-read and to have near
my elbow. There is not a tattered cover
which does not bring its mellow memories
to me.

  Some of them represent those little sacrifices
which make a possession dearer. You
see the line of old, brown volumes at the
bottom? Every one of those represents a
lunch. They were bought in my student days,
when times were not too affluent. Threepence
was my modest allowance for my midday sandwich
and glass of beer; but, as luck would
have it, my way to the classes led past the
most fascinating bookshop in the world. Outside
the door of it stood a large tub filled with
an ever-changing litter of tattered books, with
a card above which announced that any volume
therein could be purchased for the identical
sum which I carried in my pocket. As I approached
it a combat ever raged betwixt the
hunger of a youthful body and that of an inquiring
and omnivorous mind. Five times out of
six the animal won. But when the mental
prevailed, then there was an entrancing five
minutes' digging among out-of-date almanacs,
volumes of Scotch theology, and tables of logarithms,
until one found something which made
it all worth while. If you will look over these
titles, you will see that I did not do so very
badly. Four volumes of Gordon's ``Tacitus''
(life is too short to read originals, so long
as there are good translations), Sir William
Temple's Essays, Addison's works, Swift's
``Tale of a Tub,'' Clarendon's ``History,''
``Gil Blas,'' Buckingham's Poems, Churchill's
Poems, ``Life of Bacon''---not so bad for
the old threepenny tub.

  They were not always in such plebeian company.
Look at the thickness of the rich
leather, and the richness of the dim gold
lettering. Once they adorned the shelves of
some noble library, and even among the odd
almanacs and the sermons they bore the traces
of their former greatness, like the faded silk
dress of the reduced gentlewoman, a present
pathos but a glory of the past.

  Reading is made too easy nowadays, with
cheap paper editions and free libraries. A
man does not appreciate at its full worth the
thing that comes to him without effort. Who
now ever gets the thrill which Carlyle felt
when he hurried home with the six volumes
of Gibbon's ``History'' under his arm, his
mind just starving for want of food, to devour
them at the rate of one a day? A book should
be your very own before you can really get the
taste of it, and unless you have worked for it,
you will never have the true inward pride of

  If I had to choose the one book out of all
that line from which I have had most pleasure
and most profit, I should point to yonder
stained copy of Macaulay's ``Essays.'' It
seems entwined into my whole life as I look
backwards. It was my comrade in my student
days, it has been with me on the sweltering
Gold Coast, and it formed part of my humble
kit when I went a-whaling in the Arctic. 
Honest Scotch harpooners have addled their
brains over it, and you may still see the grease
stains where the second engineer grappled
with Frederick the Great. Tattered and dirty
and worn, no gilt-edged morocco-bound volume
could ever take its place for me.

  What a noble gateway this book forms
through which one may approach the study
either of letters or of history! Milton,
Machiavelli, Hallam, Southey, Bunyan,
Byron, Johnson, Pitt, Hampden, Clive, Hastings,
Chatham---what nuclei for thought!
With a good grip of each how pleasant and
easy to fill in all that lies between! The short,
vivid sentences, the broad sweep of allusion,
the exact detail, they all throw a glamour
round the subject and should make the least
studious of readers desire to go further. If
Macaulay's hand cannot lead a man upon those
pleasant paths, then, indeed, he may give up
all hope of ever finding them.

  When I was a senior schoolboy this book
---not this very volume, for it had an even
more tattered predecessor---opened up a new
world to me. History had been a lesson
and abhorrent. Suddenly the task and the
drudgery became an incursion into an enchanted
land, a land of colour and beauty,
with a kind, wise guide to point the path. 
In that great style of his I loved even the
faults---indeed, now that I come to think of
it, it was the faults which I loved best. No
sentence could be too stiff with rich embroidery,
and no antithesis too flowery. It
pleased me to read that ``a universal shout
of laughter from the Tagus to the Vistula informed
the Pope that the days of the crusades
were past,'' and I was delighted to learn that
``Lady Jerningham kept a vase in which
people placed foolish verses, and Mr. Dash
wrote verses which were fit to be placed in
Lady Jerningham's vase.'' Those were the
kind of sentences which used to fill me with
a vague but enduring pleasure, like chords
which linger in the musician's ear. A man
likes a plainer literary diet as he grows older,
but still as I glance over the Essays I am filled
with admiration and wonder at the alternate
power of handling a great subject, and of adorning
it by delightful detail---just a bold sweep of
the brush, and then the most delicate stippling. 
As he leads you down the path, he for ever
indicates the alluring side-tracks which branch
away from it. An admirable, if somewhat old-fashioned,
literary and historical education
night be effected by working through every
book which is alluded to in the Essays. I should
be curious, however, to know the exact age of
the youth when he came to the end of his

  I wish Macaulay had written a historical
novel. I am convinced that it would have
been a great one. I do not know if he had
the power of drawing an imaginary character,
but he certainly had the gift of reconstructing
a dead celebrity to a remarkable degree. Look
at the simple half-paragraph in which he gives
us Johnson and his atmosphere. Was ever a
more definite picture given in a shorter space---

  ``As we close it, the club-room is before
us, and the table on which stand the omelet
for Nugent, and the lemons for Johnson. 
There are assembled those heads which live
for ever on the canvas of Reynolds. There
are the spectacles of Burke, and the tall thin
form of Langton, the courtly sneer of Beauclerk
and the beaming smile of Garrick, Gibbon
tapping his snuff-box, and Sir Joshua with
his trumpet in his ear. In the foreground is
that strange figure which is as familiar to us
as the figures of those among whom we have
been brought up---the gigantic body, the huge
massy face, seamed with the scars of disease,
the brown coat, the black worsted stockings,
the grey wig with the scorched foretop, the
dirty hands, the nails bitten and pared to the
quick. We see the eyes and mouth moving
with convulsive twitches; we see the heavy
form rolling; we hear it puffing, and then
comes the `Why, sir!' and the `What then,
sir?' and the `No, sir!' and the `You
don't see your way through the question,
sir! ' ''

  It is etched into your memory for ever.

  I can remember that when I visited London
at the age of sixteen the first thing I did after
housing my luggage was to make a pilgrimage
to Macaulay's grave, where he lies in Westminster
Abbey, just under the shadow of Addison,
and amid the dust of the poets whom he
had loved so well. It was the one great object
of interest which London held for me. And
so it might well be, when I think of all I owe
him. It is not merely the knowledge and the
stimulation of fresh interests, but it is the
charming gentlemanly tone, the broad, liberal
outlook, the general absence of bigotry and of
prejudice. My judgment now confirms all
that I felt for him then.

  My four-volume edition of the History
stands, as you see, to the right of the Essays. 
Do you recollect the third chapter of that
work---the one which reconstructs the England
of the seventeenth century? It has always
seemed to me the very high-water mark
of Macaulay's powers, with its marvellous
mixture of precise fact and romantic phrasing. 
The population of towns, the statistics of
commerce, the prosaic facts of life are all
transmuted into wonder and interest by the
handling of the master. You feel that he
could have cast a glamour over the multiplication
table had he set himself to do so. Take
a single concrete example of what I mean. 
The fact that a Londoner in the country, or
a countryman in London, felt equally out of
place in those days of difficult travel, would
seem to hardly require stating, and to afford
no opportunity of leaving a strong impression
upon the reader's mind. See what Macaulay
makes of it, though it is no more. than a hundred
other paragraphs which discuss a hundred
various points---

  ``A cockney in a rural village was stared
at as much as if he had intruded into a kraal
of Hottentots. On the other hand, when the
lord of a Lincolnshire or Shropshire manor
appeared in Fleet Street, he was as easily
distinguished from the resident population as
a Turk or a Lascar. His dress, his gait, his
accent, the manner in which he gazed at the
shops, stumbled into gutters, ran against the
porters, and stood under the waterspouts,
marked him out as an excellent subject for
the operations of swindlers and banterers.
Bullies jostled him into the kennel, Hackney
coachmen splashed him from head to foot,
thieves explored with perfect security the huge
pockets of his horseman's coat, while he stood
entranced by the splendour of the Lord Mayor's
Show. Money-droppers, sore from the cart's
tail, introduced themselves to him, and appeared
to him the most honest friendly gentlemen
that he had ever seen. Painted women,
the refuse of Lewkner Lane and Whetstone
Park, passed themselves on him for countesses
and maids of honour. If he asked his way to
St. James', his informants sent him to Mile
End. If he went into a shop, he was instantly
discerned to be a fit purchaser of everything
that nobody else would buy, of second-hand
embroidery, copper rings, and watches that
would not go. If he rambled into any fashionable
coffee-house, he became a mark for
the insolent derision of fops, and the grave
waggery of Templars. Enraged and mortified,
he soon returned to his mansion, and
there, in the homage of his tenants and the
conversation of his boon companions, found
consolation for the vexations and humiliations
which he had undergone. There he was once
more a great man, and saw nothing above himself
except when at the assizes he took his seat
on the bench near the Judge, or when at the
muster of the militia he saluted the Lord Lieutenant.''

  On the whole, I should put this detached
chapter of description at the very head of his
Essays, though it happens to occur in another
volume. The History as a whole does not, as
it seems to me, reach the same level as the
shorter articles. One cannot but feel that it
is a brilliant piece of special pleading from a
fervid Whig, and that there must be more to
be said for the other side than is there set forth. 
Some of the Essays are tinged also, no doubt,
by his own political and religious limitations. 
The best are those which get right away into
the broad fields of literature and philosophy. 
Johnson, Walpole, Madame D'Arblay, Addison,
and the two great Indian ones, Clive
and Warren Hastings, are my own favourites. 
Frederick the Great, too, must surely stand
in the first rank. Only one would I wish to
eliminate. It is the diabolically clever criticism
upon Montgomery. One would have
wished to think that Macaulay's heart was
too kind, and his soul too gentle, to pen so
bitter an attack. Bad work will sink of its
own weight. It is not necessary to souse
the author as well. One would think more
highly of the man if he had not done that
savage bit of work.

  I don't know why talking of Macaulay always
makes me think of Scott, whose books
in a faded, olive-backed line, have a shelf,
you see, of their own. Perhaps it is that they
both had so great an influence, and woke such
admiration in me. Or perhaps it is the real
similarity in the minds and characters of the
two men. You don't see it, you say? Well,
just think of Scott's ``Border Ballads,'' and
then of Macaulay's ``Lays.'' The machines
must be alike, when the products are so similar.
Each was the only man who could possibly
have written the poems of the other. 
What swing and dash in both of them! What
a love of all that is and noble and martial!
So simple, and yet so strong. But there
are minds on which strength and simplicity
are thrown away. They think that unless a
thing is obscure it must be superficial, whereas
it is often the shallow stream which is turbid,
and the deep which is clear. Do you
remember the fatuous criticism of Matthew
Arnold upon the glorious ``Lays,'' where he
calls out ``is this poetry?'' after quoting---

   ``And how can man die better
     Than facing fearful odds
    For the ashes of his fathers
     And the Temples of his Gods?''

In trying to show that Macaulay had not
the poetic sense he was really showing that
he himself had not the dramatic sense. The
baldness of the idea and of the language had
evidently offended him. But this is exactly
where the true merit lies. Macaulay is giving
the rough, blunt words with which a simple-minded
soldier appeals to two comrades to
help him in a deed of valour. Any high-flown
sentiment would have been absolutely
out of character. The lines are, I think, taken
with their context, admirable ballad poetry,
and have just the dramatic quality and sense
which a ballad poet must have. That opinion
of Arnold's shook my faith in his judgment,
and yet I would forgive a good deal to the
man who wrote---

    ``One more charge and then be dumb,
      When the forts of Folly fall,
     May the victors when they come
      Find my body near the wall.'

Not a bad verse that for one's life aspiration.

  This is one of the things which  human
society has not yet understood---the value of
a noble, inspiriting text. When it does we
shall meet them everywhere engraved on appropriate
places, and our progress through the
streets will be brightened and ennobled by one
continual series of beautiful mental impulses
and images, reflected into our souls from the
printed thoughts which meet our eyes. To
think that we should walk with empty, listless
minds while all this splendid material is running
to waste. I do not mean mere Scriptural
texts, for they do not bear the same meaning
to all, though what human creature can fail to
be spurred onwards by ``Work while it is
day, for the night cometh when no man can
work.'' But I mean those beautiful thoughts---
who can say that they are uninspired thoughts?
---which may be gathered from a hundred
authors to match a hundred uses. A fine
thought in fine language is a most precious
jewel, and should not be hid away, but be
exposed for use and ornament. To take the
nearest example, there is a horse-trough across
the road from my house, a plain stone trough,
and no man could pass it with any feelings
save vague discontent at its ugliness. But
suppose that on its front slab you print the
verse of Coleridge---

  ``He prayeth best who loveth best
    All things, both great and small
   For the dear Lord who fashioned him
    He knows and loveth all.''

I fear I may misquote, for I have not ``The
Ancient Mariner'' at my elbow, but even as it
stands does it not elevate the horse-trough?
We all do this, I suppose, in a small way for
ourselves. There are few men who have not
some chosen quotations printed on their study
mantelpieces, or, better still, in their hearts. 
Carlyle's transcription of ``Rest! Rest! Shall
I not have all Eternity to rest in!'' is a pretty
good spur to a weary man. But what we need
is a more general application of the same thing
for public and not for private use, until people
understand that a graven thought is as beautiful
an ornament as any graven image, striking
through the eye right deep down into the soul.

  However, all this has nothing to do with
Macaulay's glorious lays, save that when you
want some flowers of manliness and patriotism
you can pluck quite a bouquet out of those. 
I had the good fortune to learn the Lay of
Horatius off by heart when I was a child, and
it stamped itself on my plastic mind, so that
even now I can reel off almost the whole of it. 
Goldsmith said that in conversation he was like
the man who had a thousand pounds in the
bank, but could not compete with the man who
had an actual sixpence in his pocket. So the
ballad that you bear in your mind outweighs
the whole bookshelf which waits for reference. 
But I want you now to move your eye a little
farther down the shelf to the line of olive-green
volumes. That is my edition of Scott. But
surely I must give you a little breathing space
before I venture upon them.


  It is a great thing to start life with a small
number of really good books which are your
very own. You may not appreciate them at
first. You may pine for your novel of crude
and unadulterated adventure. You may, and
will, give it the preference when you can. 
But the dull days come, and the rainy days
come, and always you are driven to fill up the
chinks of your reading with the worthy books
which wait so patiently for your notice. And
then suddenly, on a day which marks an epoch
in your life, you understand the difference. 
You see, like a flash, how the one stands for
nothing, and the other for literature. From
that day onwards you may return to your
crudities, but at least you do so with some
standard of comparison in your mind. You
can never be the same as you were before. 
Then gradually the good thing becomes more
dear to you; it builds itself up with your
growing mind; it becomes a part of your
better self, and so, at last, you can look, as I
do now, at the old covers and love them for all
that they have meant in the past. Yes, it was
the olive-green line of Scott's novels which
started me on to rhapsody. They were the
first books I ever owned---long, long before I
could appreciate or even understand them. But
at last I realized what a treasure they were. In
my boyhood I read them by surreptitious candle-ends
in the dead of the night, when the sense of
crime added a new zest to the story. Perhaps
you have observed that my ``Ivanhoe'' is of a
different edition from the others. The first
copy was left in the grass by the side of a
stream, fell into the water, and was eventually
picked up three days later, swollen and decomposed,
upon a mud-bank. I think I may say,
however, that I had worn it out before I lost it. 
Indeed, it was perhaps as well that it was some
years before it was replaced, for my instinct was
always to read it again instead of breaking fresh

  I remember the late James Payn telling the
anecdote that he and two literary friends agreed
to write down what scene in fiction they thought
the most dramatic, and that on examining the
papers it was found that all three had chosen
the same. It was the moment when the unknown
knight, at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, riding past
the pavilions of the lesser men, strikes with the
sharp end of his lance, in a challenge to mortal
combat, the shield of the formidable Templar. 
It was, indeed, a splendid moment! What
matter that no Templar was allowed by the
rules of his Order to take part in so secular
and frivolous an affair as a tournament? It is
the privilege of great masters to make things
so, and it is a churlish thing to gainsay it. 
Was it not Wendell Holmes who described
the prosaic man, who enters a drawing-room
with a couple of facts, like ill-conditioned bull-dogs
at his heels, ready to let them loose on
any play of fancy? The great writer can never
go wrong. If Shakespeare gives a sea-coast to
Bohemia, or if Victor Hugo calls an English
prize-fighter Mr. Jim-John-Jack---well, it was
so, and that's an end of it. ``There is no second
line of rails at that point,'' said an editor to a
minor author. ``I make a second line,'' said
the author; and he was within his rights,
if he can carry his readers' conviction with

  But this is a digression from ``Ivanhoe.''
What a book it is! The second greatest historical
novel in our language, I think. Every
successive reading has deepened my admiration
for it. Scott's soldiers are always as good as
his women (with exceptions) are weak; but
here, while the soldiers are at their very best,
the romantic figure of Rebecca redeems the
female side of the story from the usual commonplace
routine. Scott drew manly men because
he was a manly man himself, and found
the task a sympathetic one.

  He drew young heroines because a convention
demanded it, which he had never the
hardihood to break. It is only when we get
him for a dozen chapters on end with a minimum
of petticoat---in the long stretch, for example,
from the beginning of the Tournament
to the end of the Friar Tuck incident---that we
realize the height of continued romantic narrative
to which he could attain. I don't think in
the whole range of our literature we have a finer
sustained flight than that.

  There is, I admit, an intolerable amount of
redundant verbiage in Scott's novels. Those
endless and unnecessary introductions make the
shell very thick before you come to the oyster. 
They are often admirable in themselves, learned,
witty, picturesque, but with no relation or proportion
to the story which they are supposed
to introduce. Like so much of our English
fiction, they are very good matter in a very
bad place. Digression and want of method
and order are traditional national sins. Fancy
introducing an essay on how to live on nothing
a year as Thackeray did in ``Vanity Fair,'' or
sandwiching in a ghost story as Dickens has
dared to do. As well might a dramatic author
rush up to the footlights and begin telling anecdotes
while his play was suspending its action
and his characters waiting wearily behind him. 
It is all wrong, though every great name can
be quoted in support of it. Our sense of form
is lamentably lacking, and Sir Walter sinned
with the rest. But get past all that to a crisis
in the real story, and who finds the terse phrase,
the short fire-word, so surely as he? Do you
remember when the reckless Sergeant of Dragoons
stands at last before the grim Puritan,
upon whose head a price has been set: ``A
thousand marks or a bed of heather!'' says he,
as he draws. The Puritan draws also: ``The
Sword of the Lord and of Gideon!'' says he. 
No verbiage there! But the very spirit of
either man and of either party, in the few stern
words, which haunt your mind. ``Bows and
Bills!'' cry the Saxon Varangians, as the Moslem
horse charges home. You feel it is just
what they must have cried. Even more terse
and businesslike was the actual battle-cry of the
fathers of the same men on that long-drawn day
when they fought under the ``Red Dragon of
Wessex'' on the low ridge at Hastings. ``Out!
Out!'' they roared, as the Norman chivalry
broke upon them. Terse, strong, prosaic---
the very genius of the race was in the cry.

  Is it that the higher emotions are not there?
Or is it that they are damped down and covered
over as too precious to be exhibited? Something
of each, perhaps. I once met the widow
of the man who, as a young signal midshipman,
had taken Nelson's famous message from the
Signal Yeoman and communicated it to the
ship's company. The officers were impressed. 
The men were not. ``Duty!'' they muttered. 
``We've always done it. Why not?'' Anything
in the least highfalutin' would depress,
not exalt, a British company. It is the under
statement which delights them. German troops
can march to battle singing Luther's hymns. 
Frenchmen will work themselves into a frenzy
by a song of glory and of Fatherland. Our
martial poets need not trouble to imitate---or at
least need not imagine that if they do so they
will ever supply a want to the British soldier. 
Our sailors working the heavy guns in South
Africa sang: ``Here's another lump of sugar
for the Bird.'' I saw a regiment go into action
to the refrain of ``A little bit off the top.'' The
martial poet aforesaid, unless he had the genius
and the insight of a Kipling, would have wasted
a good deal of ink before he had got down to
such chants as these. The Russians are not
unlike us in this respect. I remember reading
of some column ascending a breach and singing
lustily from start to finish, until a few survivors
were left victorious upon the crest with the song
still going. A spectator inquired what wondrous
chant it was which had warmed them to
such a deed of valour, and he found that the
exact meaning of the words, endlessly repeated,
was ``Ivan is in the garden picking cabbages.''
The fact is, I suppose, that a mere monotonous
sound may take the place of the tom-tom of
savage warfare, and hypnotize the soldier into

  Our cousins across the Atlantic have the
same blending of the comic with their most
serious work. Take the songs which they sang
during the most bloody war which the Anglo-Celtic
race has ever waged---the only war in
which it could have been said that they were
stretched to their uttermost and showed their
true form---``Tramp, tramp, tramp,'' ``John
Brown's Body,'' ``Marching through Georgia''
---all had a playful humour running through
them. Only one exception do I know, and that
is the most tremendous war-song I can recall. 
Even an outsider in time of peace can hardly
read it without emotion. I mean, of course,
Julia Ward Howe's ``War-Song of the Republic,''
with the choral opening line: ``Mine
eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the
Lord.'' If that were ever sung upon a battle-field
the effect must have been terrific.

  A long digression, is it not? But that is the
worst of the thoughts at the other side of the
Magic Door. You can't pull one out without
a dozen being entangled with it. But it was
Scott's soldiers that I was talking of, and I was
saying that there is nothing theatrical, no posing,
no heroics (the thing of all others which the hero
abominates), but just the short bluff word and
the simple manly ways, with every expression and
metaphor drawn from within his natural range
of thought. What a pity it is that he, with his
keen appreciation of the soldier, gave us so little
of those soldiers who were his own contemporaries---
the finest, perhaps, that the world has
ever seen! It is true that he wrote a life of the
great Soldier Emperor, but that was the one
piece of hackwork of his career. How could a
Tory patriot, whose whole training had been
to look upon Napoleon as a malignant Demon,
do justice to such a theme? But the Europe of
those days was full of material which he of all
men could have drawn with a sympathetic hand. 
What would we not give for a portrait of one of
Murat's light-cavalrymen, or of a Grenadier
of the Old Guard, drawn with the same bold
strokes as the Rittmeister of Gustavus or the
archers of the French King's Guard in ``Quentin

  In his visit to Paris Scott must have seen
many of those iron men who during the preceding
twenty years had been the scourge and also
the redemption of Europe. To us the soldiers
who scowled at him from the sidewalks in 1814
would have been as interesting and as much
romantic figures of the past as the mail-clad
knights or ruffling cavaliers of his novels. A
picture from the life of a Peninsular veteran,
with his views upon the Duke, would be as
striking as Dugald Dalgetty from the German
wars. But then no man ever does realize the
true interest of the age in which he happens to
live. All sense of proportion is lost, and the
little thing hard-by obscures the great thing at a
distance. It is easy in the dark to confuse the
fire-fly and the star. Fancy, for example, the
Old Masters seeking their subjects in inn parlours,
or St. Sebastians, while Columbus was
discovering America before their very faces.

  I have said that I think ``Ivanhoe'' the best
of Scott's novels. I suppose most people would
subscribe to that. But how about the second
best? It, speaks well for their general average
that there is hardly one among them which
might not find some admirers who would vote
it to a place of honour. To the Scottish-born
man those novels which deal with Scottish life
and character have a quality of raciness which
gives them a place apart. There is a rich
humour of the soil in such books as ``Old Mortality,''
``The Antiquary,'' and ``Rob Roy,''
which puts them in a different class from the
others. His old Scottish women are, next to
his soldiers, the best series of types that he has
drawn. At the same time it must be admitted
that merit which is associated with dialect has
such limitations that it can never take the same
place as work which makes an equal appeal to
all the world. On the whole, perhaps, ``Quentin
Durward,'' on account of its wider interests,
its strong character-drawing, and the European
importance of the events and people described,
would have my vote for the second place. It
is the father of all those sword-and-cape novels
which have formed so numerous an addition
to the light literature of the last century. The
pictures of Charles the Bold and of the unspeakable
Louis are extraordinarily vivid. I
can see those two deadly enemies watching the
hounds chasing the herald, and clinging to each
other in the convulsion of their cruel mirth,
more clearly than most things which my eyes
have actually rested upon.

  The portrait of Louis with his astuteness, his
cruelty, his superstition and his cowardice is
followed closely from Comines, and is the more
effective when set up against his bluff and war-like
rival. It is not often that historical characters
work out in their actual physique exactly
as one would picture them to be, but in the
High Church of Innsbruck I have seen effigies
of Louis and Charles which might have walked
from the very pages of Scott-Louis, thin, ascetic,
varminty; and Charles with the head of
a prize-fighter. It is hard on us when a portrait
upsets all our preconceived ideas, when,
for example, we see in the National Portrait
Gallery a man with a noble, olive-tinted, poetic
face, and with a start read beneath it that it is
the wicked Judge Jeffreys. Occasionally, however,
as at Innsbruck, we are absolutely satisfied. 
I have before me on the mantelpiece yonder a
portrait of a painting which represents Queen
Mary's Bothwell. Take it down and look at it. 
Mark the big head, fit to conceive large schemes;
the strong animal face, made to captivate a sensitive,
feminine woman; the brutally forceful
features---the mouth with a suggestion of wild
boars' tusks behind it, the beard which could
bristle with fury: the whole man and his life-history
are revealed in that picture. I wonder
if Scott had ever seen the original which hangs
at the Hepburn family seat?

  Personally, I have always had a very high
opinion of a novel which the critics have used
somewhat harshly, and which came almost the
last from his tired pen. I mean ``Count Robert
of Paris.'' I am convinced that if it had been
the first, instead of the last, of the series it would
have attracted as much attention as ``Waverley.''
I can understand the state of mind of the expert,
who cried out in mingled admiration and despair:
``I have studied the conditions of Byzantine
Society all my life, and here comes a
Scotch lawyer who makes the whole thing clear
to me in a flash!'' Many men could draw
with more or less success Norman England, or
medival France, but to reconstruct a whole
dead civilization in so plausible a way, with
such dignity and such minuteness of detail, is,
I should think, a most wonderful tour de force. 
His failing health showed itself before the end
of the novel, but had the latter half equalled the
first, and contained scenes of such humour as
Anna Comnena reading aloud her father's exploits,
or of such majesty as the account of the
muster of the Crusaders upon the shores of the
Bosphorus, then the book could not have been
gainsaid its rightful place in the very front rank
of the novels.

  I would that he had carried on his narrative,
and given us a glimpse of the actual progress of
the First Crusade. What an incident! Was
ever anything in the world's history like it? It
had what historical incidents seldom have, a
definite beginning, middle and end, from the
half-crazed preaching of Peter down to the Fall
of Jerusalem. Those leaders! It would take
a second Homer to do them justice. Godfrey
the perfect soldier and leader, Bohemund the
unscrupulous and formidable, Tancred the ideal
knight errant, Robert of Normandy the half-mad
hero! Here is material so rich that one
feels one is not worthy to handle it. What
richest imagination could ever evolve anything
more marvellous and thrilling than the actual
historical facts?

  But what a glorious brotherhood the novels
are! Think of the pure romance of ``The
Talisman''; the exquisite picture of Hebridean
life in ``The Pirate''; the splendid reproduction
of Elizabethan England in ``Kenilworth'';
the rich humour of the ``Legend of Montrose';
above all, bear in mind that in all that splendid
series, written in a coarse age, there is not one
word to offend the most sensitive car, and it is
borne in upon one how great and noble a man
was Walter Scott, and how high the service
which he did for literature and for humanity.

  For that reason his life is good reading, and
there it is on the same shelf as the novels. 
Lockhart was, of course, his son-in-law and his
admiring friend. The ideal biographer should
be a perfectly impartial man, with a sympathetic
mind, but a stern determination to tell the absolute
truth. One would like the frail, human
side of a man as well as the other. I cannot
believe that anyone in the world was ever quite
so good as the subject of most of our biographies. 
Surely these worthy people swore a little sometimes,
or had a keen eye for a pretty face, or
opened the second bottle when they would have
done better to stop at the first, or did something
to make us feel that they were men and brothers. 
They need not go the length of the lady who
began a biography of her deceased husband
with the words---``D------ was a dirty man,''
but the books certainly would be more readable,
and the subjects more lovable too, if we had
greater light and shade in the picture.

  But I am sure that the more one knew of Scott
the more one would have admired him. He
lived in a drinking age, and in a drinking country,
and I have not a doubt that he took an
allowance of toddy occasionally of an evening
which would have laid his feeble successors
under the table. His last years, at least, poor
fellow, were abstemious enough, when he sipped
his barley-water, while the others passed the
decanter. But what a high-souled chivalrous
gentleman he was, with how fine a sense of
honour, translating itself not into empty phrases,
but into years of labour and denial! You remember
how he became sleeping partner in a
printing house, and so involved himself in its
failure. There was a legal, but very little moral,
claim against him, and no one could have blamed
him had he cleared the account by a bankruptcy,
which would have enabled him to become a rich
man again within a few years. Yet he took the
whole burden upon himself and bore it for the
rest of his life, spending his work, his time, and
his health in the one long effort to save his
honour from the shadow of a stain. It was
nearly a hundred thousand pounds, I think,
which he passed on to the creditors---a great
record, a hundred thousand pounds, with his
life thrown in.

  And what a power of work he had! It was
superhuman. Only the man who has tried to
write fiction himself knows what it means when
it is recorded that Scott produced two of his
long novels in one single year. I remember
reading in some book of reminiscences---on
second thoughts it was in Lockhart himself---
how the writer had lodged in some rooms in
Castle Street, Edinburgh, and how he had seen
all evening the silhouette of a man outlined on
the blind of the opposite house. All evening
the man wrote, and the observer could see the
shadow hand conveying the sheets of paper from
the desk to the pile at the side. He went to
a party and returned, but still the hand was
moving the sheets. Next morning he was told
that the rooms opposite were occupied by
Walter Scott.

  A curious glimpse into the psychology of the
writer of fiction is shown by the fact that he
wrote two of his books---good ones, too---at a
time when his health was such that he could
not afterwards remember one word of them,
and listened to them when they were read to
him as if he were hearing the work of another
man. Apparently the simplest processes of
the brain, such as ordinary memory, were in
complete abeyance, and yet the very highest
and most complex faculty---imagination in its
supreme form---was absolutely unimpaired. It
is an extraordinary fact, and one to be pondered
over. It gives some support to the feeling
which every writer of imaginative work must
have, that his supreme work comes to him in
some strange way from without, and that he is
only the medium for placing it upon the paper. 
The creative thought---the germ thought from
which a larger growth is to come, flies through
his brain like a bullet. He is surprised at his
own idea, with no conscious sense of having
originated it. And here we have a man, with
all other brain functions paralyzed, producing
this magnificent work. Is it possible that we
are indeed but conduit pipes from the infinite
reservoir of the unknown? Certainly it is
always our best work which leaves the least
sense of personal effort.

  And to pursue this line of thought, is it possible
that frail physical powers and an unstable
nervous system, by keeping a man's materialism
at its lowest, render him a more fitting agent
for these spiritual uses? It is an old tag that

    ``Great Genius is to madness close allied,
      And thin partitions do those rooms divide.''

But, apart from genius, even a moderate
faculty for imaginative work seems to me to
weaken seriously the ties between the soul and
the body.

  Look at the British poets of a century ago
Chatterton, Burns, Shelley, Keats, Byron. 
Burns was the oldest of that brilliant band, yet
Burns was only thirty-eight when he passed
away, ``burned out,'' as his brother terribly
expressed it. Shelley, it is true, died by accident,
and Chatterton by poison, but suicide is
in itself a sign of a morbid state. It is true that
Rogers lived to be almost a centenarian, but he
was banker first and poet afterwards. Wordsworth,
Tennyson, and Browning have all raised
the average age of the poets, but for some reason
the novelists, especially of late years, have a
deplorable record. They will end by being
scheduled with the white-lead workers and other
dangerous trades. Look at the really shocking
case of the young Americans, for example. 
What a band of promising young writers have
in a few years been swept away! There was
the author of that admirable book, ``David
Harum''; there was Frank Norris, a man who
had in him, I think, the seeds of greatness more
than almost any living writer. His ``Pit''
seemed to me one of the finest American novels. 
He also died a premature death. Then there
was Stephen Crane---a man who had also done
most brilliant work, and there was Harold
Frederic, another master-craftsman. Is there
any profession in the world which in proportion
to its numbers could show such losses as that?
In the meantime, out of our own men Robert
Louis Stevenson is gone, and Henry Seton
Merriman, and many another.

  Even those great men who are usually spoken
of as if they had rounded off their career were
really premature in their end. Thackeray, for
example, in spite of his snowy head, was only
52; Dickens attained the age of 58; on the
whole, Sir Walter, with his 61 years of life,
although he never wrote a novel until he was
over 40, had, fortunately for the world, a longer
working career than most of his brethren.

  He employed his creative faculty for about
twenty years, which is as much, I suppose, as
Shakespeare did. The bard of Avon is another
example of the limited tenure which Genius has
of life, though I believe that he outlived the
greater part of his own family, who were not
a healthy stock. He died, I should judge, of
some nervous disease; that is shown by the progressive
degeneration of his signature. Probably
it was locomotor ataxy, which is the special
scourge of the imaginative man. Heine, Daudet,
and how many more, were its victims. As
to the tradition, first mentioned long after his
death, that he died of a fever contracted from
a drinking bout, it is absurd on the face of it,
since no such fever is known to science. But
a very moderate drinking bout would be extremely
likely to bring a chronic nervous complaint
to a disastrous end.

  One other remark upon Scott before I pass
on from that line of green volumes which has
made me so digressive and so garrulous. No
account of his character is complete which does
not deal with the strange, secretive vein which
ran through his nature. Not only did he stretch
the truth on many occasions in order to conceal
the fact that he was the author of the famous
novels, but even intimate friends who met him
day by day were not aware that he was the man
about whom the whole of Europe was talking. 
Even his wife was ignorant of his pecuniary
liabilities until the crash of the Ballantyne firm
told her for the first time that they were sharers
in the ruin. A psychologist might trace this
strange twist of his mind in the numerous elfish
Fenella-like characters who flit about and keep
their irritating secret through the long chapters
of so many of his novels.

  It's a sad book, Lockhart's ``Life.'' It
leaves gloom in the mind. The sight of this
weary giant, staggering along, burdened with
debt, overladen with work, his wife dead, his
nerves broken, and nothing intact but his honour,
is one of the most moving in the history
of literature. But they pass, these clouds, and
all that is left is the memory of the supremely
noble man, who would not be bent, but faced
Fate to the last, and died in his tracks without a
whimper. He sampled every human emotion. 
Great was his joy and great his success, great
was his downfall and bitter his grief. But of all
the sons of men I don't think there are many
greater than he who lies under the great slab at


We can pass the long green ranks of the
Waverley Novels and Lockhart's ``Life''
which flanks them. Here is heavier metal in
the four big grey volumes beyond. They are
an old-fashioned large-print edition of Boswell's
``Life of Johnson.'' I emphasize the large
print, for that is the weak point of most of
the cheap editions of English Classics which
come now into the market. With subjects
which are in the least archaic or abstruse you
need good clear type to help you on your way. 
The other is good neither for your eyes nor for
your temper. Better pay a little more and have
a book that is made for use.

  That book interests me---fascinates me---
and yet I wish I could join heartily in that
chorus of praise which the kind-hearted old
bully has enjoyed. It is difficult to follow
his own advice and to ``clear one's mind of
cant'' upon the subject, for when you have
been accustomed to look at him through the
sympathetic glasses of Macaulay or of Boswell,
it is hard to take them off, to rub one's eyes,
and to have a good honest stare on one's own
account at the man's actual words, deeds, and
limitations. If you try it you are left with the
oddest mixture of impressions. How could
one express it save that this is John Bull taken
to literature---the exaggerated John Bull of the
caricaturists---with every quality, good or evil,
at its highest? Here are the rough crust over
a kindly heart, the explosive temper, the arrogance,
the insular narrowness, the want of sympathy
and insight, the rudeness of perception,
the positiveness, the overbearing bluster, the
strong deep-seated religious principle, and
every other characteristic of the cruder, rougher
John Bull who was the great grandfather of the
present good-natured Johnnie.

  If Boswell had not lived I wonder how much
we should hear now of his huge friend? With
Scotch persistence he has succeeded in inoculating
the whole world with his hero worship. It
was most natural that he should himself admire
him. The relations between the two men were
delightful and reflect all credit upon each. But
they are not a safe basis from which any third
person could argue. When they met, Boswell
was in his twenty-third and Johnson in his
fifty-fourth year. The one was a keen young
Scot with a mind which was reverent and impressionable.
The other was a figure from a
past generation with his fame already made. 
From the moment of meeting the one was bound
to exercise an absolute ascendency over the
other which made unbiassed criticism far more
difficult than it would be between ordinary
father and son. Up to the end this was the
unbroken relation between them.

  It is all very well to pooh-pooh Boswell as
Macaulay has done, but it is not by chance
that a man writes the best biography in the
language. He had some great and rare literary
qualities. One was a clear and vivid style, more
flexible and Saxon than that of his great model. 
Another was a remarkable discretion which
hardly once permitted a fault of taste in this
whole enormous book where he must have had
to pick his steps with pitfalls on every side of
him. They say that he was a fool and a coxcomb
in private life. He is never so with a pen
in his hand. Of all his numerous arguments
with Johnson, where he ventured some little
squeak of remonstrance, before the roaring
``No, sir!'' came to silence him, there are few
in which his views were not, as experience
proved, the wiser. On the question of slavery
he was in the wrong. But I could quote from
memory at least a dozen cases, including such
vital subjects as the American Revolution, the
Hanoverian Dynasty, Religious Toleration, and
so on, where Boswell's views were those which

  But where he excels as a biographer is in telling
you just those little things that you want
to know. How often you read the life of a man
and are left without the remotest idea of his
personality. It is not so here. The man lives
again. There is a short description of Johnson's
person---it is not in the Life, but in the
Tour to the Hebrides, the very next book upon
the shelf, which is typical of his vivid portraiture.
May I take it down, and read you
a paragraph of it?---

  ``His person was large, robust, I may say
approaching to the gigantic, and grown unwieldy
from corpulency. His countenance was
naturally of the cast of an ancient statue, but
somewhat disfigured by the scars of King's evil. 
He was now in his sixty-fourth year and was
become a little dull of hearing. His sight had
always been somewhat weak, yet so much does
mind govern and even supply the deficiencies
of organs that his perceptions were uncommonly
quick and accurate. His head, and
sometimes also his body, shook with a kind of
motion like the effect of palsy. He appeared to
be frequently disturbed by cramps or convulsive
contractions of the nature of that distemper
called St. Vitus' dance. He wore a full
suit of plain brown clothes, with twisted hair
buttons of the same colour, a large bushy greyish
wig, a plain shirt, black worsted stockings
and silver buckles. Upon this tour when journeying
he wore boots and a very wide brown
cloth great-coat with pockets which might
almost have held the two volumes of his folio
dictionary, and he carried in his hand a large
English oak stick.'' You must admit that if
one cannot reconstruct the great Samuel after
that it is not Mr. Boswell's fault---and it is but
one of a dozen equally vivid glimpses which
he gives us of his hero. It is just these pen-pictures
of his of the big, uncouth man, with his
grunts and his groans, his Gargantuan appetite,
his twenty cups of tea, and his tricks with the
orange-peel and the lamp-posts, which fascinate
the reader, and have given Johnson a far broader
literary vogue than his writings could have

  For, after all, which of those writings can be
said to have any life to-day? Not ``Rasselas,''
surely---that stilted romance. ``The Lives of
the Poets'' are but a succession of prefaces,
and the  ``Ramblers'' of ephemeral essays.
There is the monstrous drudgery of the Dictionary,
a huge piece of spadework, a monument
to industry, but inconceivable to genius. 
``London'' has a few vigorous lines, and the
``Journey to the Hebrides'' some spirited
pages. This, with a number of political and
other pamphlets, was the main output of his
lifetime. Surely it must be admitted that it is
not enough to justify his predominant place in
English literature, and that we must turn to his
humble, much-ridiculed biographer for the real

  And then there was his talk. What was it
which gave it such distinction? His clear-cut
positiveness upon every subject. But this is a
sign of a narrow finality---impossible to the man
of sympathy and of imagination, who sees the
other side of every question and understands
what a little island the greatest human knowledge
must be in the ocean of infinite possibilities
which surround us. Look at the results. 
Did ever any single man, the very dullest of the
race, stand convicted of so many incredible
blunders? It recalls the remark of Bagehot,
that if at any time the views of the most learned
could be stamped upon the whole human race
the result would be to propagate the most
absurd errors. He was asked what became of
swallows in the winter. Rolling and wheezing,
the oracle answered: ``Swallows,'' said he,
``certainly sleep all the winter. A number of
them conglobulate together by flying round and
round, and then all in a heap throw themselves
under water and lie in the bed of a river.''
Boswell gravely dockets the information. 
However, if I remember right, even so sound
a naturalist as White of Selborne had his doubts
about the swallows. More wonderful are Johnson's
misjudgments of his fellow-authors. 
There, if anywhere, one would have expected
to find a sense of proportion. Yet his conclusions
would seem monstrous to a modern taste. 
``Shakespeare,'' he said, ``never wrote six
consecutive good lines.'' He would only admit
two good verses in Gray's exquisite ``Elegy
written in a Country Churchyard,'' where it
would take a very acid critic to find two bad
ones. ``Tristram Shandy'' would not live. 
``Hamlet'' was gabble. Swift's ``Gulliver's
Travels'' was poor stuff, and he never wrote
anything good except ``A Tale of a Tub.''
Voltaire was illiterate. Rousseau was a scoundrel.
Deists, like Hume, Priestley, or Gibbon,
could not be honest men.

  And his political opinions! They sound now
like a caricature. I suppose even in those days
they were reactionary. ``A poor man has no
honour.'' ``Charles the Second was a good
King.'' ``Governments should turn out of the
Civil Service all who were on the other side.''
``Judges in India should be encouraged to
trade.'' ``No country is the richer on account
of trade.'' (I wonder if Adam Smith was in
the company when this proposition was laid
down!) ``A landed proprietor should turn
out those tenants who did not vote as he
wished.'' ``It is not good for a labourer to
have his wages raised.'' ``When the balance of
trade is against a country, the margin must be
paid in current coin.'' Those were a few of
his convictions.

  And then his prejudices! Most of us have
some unreasoning aversion. In our more generous
moments we are not proud of it. But
consider those of Johnson! When they were
all eliminated there was not so very much left. 
He hated Whigs. He disliked Scotsmen. He
detested Nonconformists (a young lady who
joined them was ``an odious wench''). He
loathed Americans. So he walked his narrow
line, belching fire and fury at everything to the
right or the left of it. Macaulay's posthumous
admiration is all very well, but had they met
in life Macaulay would have contrived to unite
under one hat nearly everything that Johnson

  It cannot be said that these prejudices were
founded on any strong principle, or that they
could not be altered where his own personal
interests demanded it. This is one of the weak
points of his record. In his dictionary he
abused pensions and pensioners as a means
by which the State imposed slavery upon
hirelings. When he wrote the unfortunate
definition a pension must have seemed a
most improbable contingency, but when
George III., either through policy or charity,
offered him one a little later, he made no
hesitation in accepting it. One would have
liked to feel that the violent expression of
his convictions represented a real intensity
of feeling, but the facts in this instance seem
against it.

  He was a great talker---but his talk was more
properly a monologue. It was a discursive
essay, with perhaps a few marginal notes from
his subdued audience. How could one talk on
equal terms with a man who could not brook
contradiction or even argument upon the most
vital questions in life? Would Goldsmith
defend his literary views, or Burke his Whiggism,
or Gibbon his Deism? There was no
common ground of philosophic toleration on
which one could stand. If he could not argue
he would be rude, or, as Goldsmith put it:
``If his pistol missed fire, he would knock you
down with the butt end.'' In the face of that
``rhinoceros laugh'' there was an end of gentle
argument. Napoleon said that all the other
kings would say ``Ouf!'' when they heard he
was dead, and so I cannot help thinking that
the older men of Johnson's circle must have
given a sigh of relief when at last they could
speak freely on that which was near their hearts,
without the danger of a scene where ``Why, no,
sir!'' was very likely to ripen into ``Let us have
no more on't!'' Certainly one would like to
get behind Boswell's account, and to hear a
chat between such men as Burke and Reynolds,
as to the difference in the freedom and atmosphere
of the Club on an evening when the
formidable Doctor was not there, as compared
to one when he was.

  No smallest estimate of his character is fair
which does not make due allowance for the
terrible experiences of his youth and early
middle age. His spirit was as scarred as his
face. He was fifty-three when the pension
was given him, and up to then his existence had
been spent in one constant struggle for the first
necessities of life, for the daily meal and the
nightly bed. He had seen his comrades of
letters die of actual privation. From childhood
he had known no happiness. The half
blind gawky youth, with dirty linen and twitching
limbs, had always, whether in the streets of
Lichfield, the quadrangle of Pembroke, or the
coffee-houses of London, been an object of
mingled pity  and amusement. With a proud
and sensitive soul, every day of his life must
have brought  some bitter humiliation. Such
an experience must either break a man's spirit
or embitter it, and here, no doubt, was the
secret of that roughness, that carelessness
for the sensibilities of others, which caused
Boswell's father to christen him ``Ursa Major.''
If his nature was in any way warped,
it must be admitted that terrific forces had
gone to the rending of it. His good was
innate, his evil the result of a dreadful experience.

  And he had some great qualities. Memory
was the chief of them. He had read omnivorously,
and all that he had read he remembered,
not merely in the vague, general way in which
we remember what we read, but with every
particular of place and date. If it were poetry,
he could quote it by the page, Latin or English. 
Such a memory has its enormous advantage,
but it carries with it its corresponding defect. 
With the mind so crammed with other people's
goods, how can you have room for any fresh
manufactures of your own? A great memory
is, I think, often fatal to originality, in spite of
Scott and some other exceptions. The slate
must be clear before you put your own writing
upon it. When did Johnson ever discover an
original thought, when did he ever reach forward
into the future, or throw any fresh light
upon those enigmas with which mankind is
faced? Overloaded with the past, he had space
for nothing else. Modern developments of
every sort cast no first herald rays upon his
mind. He journeyed in France a few years
before the greatest cataclysm that the world has
ever known, and his mind, arrested by much
that was trivial, never once responded to the
storm-signals which must surely have been
visible around him. We read that an amiable
Monsieur Sansterre showed him over his brewery
and supplied him with statistics as to his
output of beer. It was the same foul-mouthed
Sansterre who struck up the drums to drown
Louis' voice at the scaffold. The association
shows how near the unconscious sage was to
the edge of that precipice and how little his
learning availed him in discerning it.

  He would have been a great lawyer or divine. 
Nothing, one would think, could have kept him
from Canterbury or from the Woolsack. In
either case his memory, his learning, his dignity,
and his inherent sense of piety and justice,
would have sent him straight to the top. His
brain, working within its own limitations, was
remarkable. There is no more wonderful
proof of this than his opinions on questions
of Scotch law, as given to Boswell and as used
by the latter before the Scotch judges. That
an outsider with no special training should
at short notice write such weighty opinions,
crammed with argument and reason, is, I think,
as remarkable a _tour de force_ as literature can

  Above all, he really was a very kind-hearted
man, and that must count for much. His was
a large charity, and it came from a small purse. 
The rooms of his house became a sort of harbour
of refuge in which several strange battered hulks
found their last moorings. There were the blind
Mr. Levett, and the acidulous Mrs. Williams,
and the colourless Mrs. De Moulins, all old
and ailing---a trying group amid which to spend
one's days. His guinea was always ready for
the poor acquaintance, and no poet was so
humble that he might not preface his book
with a dedication whose ponderous and
sonorous sentences bore the hall-mark of their
maker. It is the rough, kindly man, the man
who bore the poor street-walker home upon
his shoulders, who makes one forget, or at least
forgive, the dogmatic pedantic Doctor of the

  There is always to me something of interest
in the view which a great man takes of old age
and death. It is the practical test of how far the
philosophy of his life has been a sound one. 
Hume saw death afar, and met it with unostentatious
calm. Johnson's mind flinched from
that dread opponent. His letters and his talk
during his latter years are one long cry of fear. 
It was not cowardice, for physically he was one
of the most stout-hearted men that ever lived. 
There were no limits to his courage. It was
spiritual diffidence, coupled with an actual belief
in the possibilities of the other world, which
a more humane and liberal theology has done
something to soften. How strange to see him
cling so desperately to that crazy body, with its
gout, its asthma, its St. Vitus' dance, and its
six gallons of dropsy! What could be the
attraction of an existence where eight hours of
every day were spent groaning in a chair, and
sixteen wheezing in a bed? ``I would give
one of these legs,'' said he, ``for another year
of life.'' None the less, when the hour did at
last strike, no man could have borne himself
with more simple dignity and courage. Say
what you will of him, and resent him how
you may, you can never open those four
grey volumes without getting some mental
stimulus, some desire for wider reading,
some insight into human learning or character,
which should leave you a better and a wiser


Next to my Johnsoniana are my Gibbons
---two editions, if you please, for my old
complete one being somewhat crabbed in the
print I could not resist getting a set of Bury's
new six-volume presentment of the History. 
In reading that book you don't want to be handicapped
in any way. You want fair type, clear
paper, and a light volume. You are not to read
it lightly, but with some earnestness of purpose
and keenness for knowledge, with a classical
atlas at your elbow and a note-book hard by,
taking easy stages and harking back every now
and then to keep your grip of the past and to
link it up with what follows. There are no
thrills in it. You won't be kept out of your bed
at night, nor will you forget your appointments
during the day, but you will feel a certain sedate
pleasure in the doing of it, and when it is done
you will have gained something which you can
never lose---something solid, something definite,
something that will make you broader and
deeper than before.

  Were I condemned to spend a year upon a
desert island and allowed only one book for my
companion, it is certainly that which I should
choose. For consider how enormous is its
scope, and what food for thought is contained
within those volumes. It covers a thousand
years of the world's history, it is full and good
and accurate, its standpoint is broadly philosophic,
its style dignified. With our more
elastic methods we may consider his manner
pompous, but he lived in an age when Johnson's
turgid periods had corrupted our literature. 
For my own part I do not dislike Gibbon's
pomposity. A paragraph should be measured
and sonorous if it ventures to describe the
advance of a Roman legion, or the debate of a
Greek Senate. You are wafted upwards, with
this lucid and just spirit by your side upholding
and instructing you. Beneath you are warring
nations, the clash of races, the rise and fall of
dynasties, the conflict of creeds. Serene you
float above them all, and ever as the panorama
flows past, the weighty measured unemotional
voice whispers the true meaning of the scene
into your ear.

  It is a most mighty story that is told. You
begin with a description of the state of the
Roman Empire when the early Csars were on
the throne, and when it was undisputed mistress
of the world. You pass down the line of
the Emperors with their strange alternations of
greatness and profligacy, descending occasionally
to criminal lunacy. When the Empire
went rotten it began at the top, and it took centuries
to corrupt the man behind the spear. 
Neither did a religion of peace affect him much,
for, in spite of the adoption of Christianity,
Roman history was still written in blood. The
new creed had only added a fresh cause of
quarrel and violence to the many which already
existed, and the wars of angry nations were
mild compared to those of excited sectaries.

  Then came the mighty rushing wind from
without, blowing from the waste places of the
world, destroying, confounding, whirling madly
through the old order, leaving broken chaos
behind it, but finally cleansing and purifying
that which was stale and corrupt. A storm-centre
somewhere in the north of China did
suddenly what it may very well do again. The
human volcano blew its top off, and Europe was
covered by the destructive _dbris_. The absurd
point is that it was not the conquerors who overran
the Roman Empire, but it was the terrified
fugitives, who, like a drove of stampeded cattle,
blundered over everything which barred their
way. It was a wild, dramatic time---the time of
the formation of the modern races of Europe. 
The nations came whirling in out of the north
and east like dust-storms, and amid the seeming
chaos each was blended with its neighbour so as
to toughen the fibre of the whole. The fickle
Gaul got his steadying from the Franks, the
steady Saxon got his touch of refinement from
the Norman, the Italian got a fresh lease of life
from the Lombard and the Ostrogoth, the corrupt
Greek made way for the manly and earnest
Mahommedan. Everywhere one seems to see a
great hand blending the seeds. And so one can
now, save only that emigration has taken the
place of war. It does not, for example, take
much prophetic power to say that something
very great is being built up on the other side of
the Atlantic. When on an Anglo-Celtic basis
you see the Italian, the Hun, and the Scandinavian
being added, you feel that there is
no human quality which may not be thereby

  But to revert to Gibbon: the next stage is
the flight of Empire from Rome to Byzantium,
even as the Anglo-Celtic power might find its
centre some day not in London but in Chicago
or Toronto. There is the whole strange story
of the tidal wave of Mahommedanism from the
south, submerging all North Africa, spreading
right and left to India on the one side and to
Spain on the other, finally washing right over
the walls of Byzantium until it, the bulwark of
Christianity, became what it is now, the advanced
European fortress of the Moslem. Such
is the tremendous narrative covering half the
world's known history, which can all be acquired
and made part of yourself by the aid of that
humble atlas, pencil, and note-book already

  When all is so interesting it is hard to pick
examples, but to me there has always seemed to
be something peculiarly impressive in the first
entrance of a new race on to the stage of history. 
It has something of the glamour which hangs
round the early youth of a great man. You
remember how the Russians made their _dbut_---
came down the great rivers and appeared at the
Bosphorus in two hundred canoes, from which
they endeavoured to board the Imperial galleys. 
Singular that a thousand years have passed and
that the ambition of the Russians is still to
carry out the task at which their skin-clad
ancestors failed. Or the Turks again; you may
recall the characteristic ferocity with which
they opened their career. A handful of them
were on some mission to the Emperor. The
town was besieged from the landward side by
the barbarians, and the Asiatics obtained leave
to take part in a skirmish. The first Turk
galloped out, shot a barbarian with his arrow,
and then, lying down beside him, proceeded to
suck his blood, which so horrified the man's
comrades that they could not be brought to face
such uncanny adversaries. So, from opposite
sides, those two great races arrived at the city
which was to be the stronghold of the one and
the ambition of the other for so many centuries.

  And then, even more interesting than the
races which arrive are those that disappear. 
There is something there which appeals most
powerfully to the imagination. Take, for example,
the fate of those Vandals who conquered
the north of Africa. They were a German
tribe, blue-eyed and flaxen-haired, from somewhere
in the Elbe country. Suddenly they,
too, were seized with the strange wandering
madness which was epidemic at the time. 
Away they went on the line of least resistance,
which is always from north to south and from
east to west. South-west was the course of
the Vandals---a course which must have been
continued through pure love of adventure, since
in the thousands of miles which they traversed
there were many fair resting-places, if that were
only their quest.

  They crossed the south of France, conquered
Spain, and, finally, the more adventurous
passed over into Africa, where they occupied
the old Roman province. For two or three
generations they held it, much as the English
hold India, and their numbers were at the least
some hundreds of thousands. Presently the
Roman Empire gave one of those flickers which
showed that there was still some fire among the
ashes. Belisarius landed in Africa and reconquered
the province. The Vandals were cut
off from the sea and fled inland. Whither did
they carry those blue eyes and that flaxen hair?
Were they exterminated by the negroes, or did
they amalgamate with them? Travellers have
brought back stories from the Mountains of the
Moon of a Negroid race with light eyes and
hair. Is it possible that here we have some
trace of the vanished Germans?

  It recalls the parallel case of the lost settlements
in Greenland. That also has always
seemed to me to be one of the most romantic
questions in history---the more so, perhaps, as I
have strained my eyes to see across the ice-floes
the Greenland coast at the point (or near it)
where the old ``Eyrbyggia'' must have stood. 
That was the Scandinavian city, founded by
colonists from Iceland, which grew to be a considerable
place, so much so that they sent to
Denmark for a bishop. That would be in the
fourteenth century. The bishop, coming out to
his see, found that he was unable to reach it on
account of a climatic change which had brought
down the ice and filled the strait between Iceland
and Greenland. From that day to this no
one has been able to say what has become of
these old Scandinavians, who were at the time,
be it remembered, the most civilized and advanced
race in Europe. They may have been
overwhelmed by the Esquimaux, the despised
Skroeling---or they may have amalgamated with
them---or conceivably they might have held their
own. Very little is known yet of that portion
of the coast. It would be strange if some Nansen
or Peary were to stumble upon the remains
of the old colony, and find possibly in that
antiseptic atmosphere a complete mummy of
some bygone civilization.

  But once more to return to Gibbon. What
a mind it must have been which first planned,
and then, with the incessant labour of twenty
years, carried out that enormous work! There
was no classical author so little known, no
Byzantine historian so diffuse, no monkish
chronicle so crabbed, that they were not
assimilated and worked into their appropriate
place in the huge framework. Great application,
great perseverance, great attention to detail
was needed in all this, but the coral polyp
has all those qualities, and somehow in the
heart of his own creation the individuality of
the man himself becomes as insignificant and
as much overlooked as that of the little creature
that builds the reef. A thousand know Gibbon's
work for one who cares anything for

  And on the whole this is justified by the
facts. Some men are greater than their work. 
Their work only represents one facet of their
character, and there may be a dozen others,
all remarkable, and uniting to make one complex
and unique creature. It was not so with
Gibbon. He was a cold-blooded man, with a
brain which seemed to have grown at the expense
of his heart. I cannot recall in his life
one generous impulse, one ardent enthusiasm,
save for the Classics. His excellent judgment
was never clouded by the haze of human emotion---
or, at least, it was such an emotion as
was well under the control of his will. Could
anything be more laudable---or less lovable?
He abandons his girl at the order of his father,
and sums it up that he ``sighs as a lover but
obeys as a son.'' The father dies, and he records
the fact with the remark that ``the tears
of a son are seldom lasting.'' The terrible
spectacle of the French Revolution excited in
his mind only a feeling of self-pity because
his retreat in Switzerland was invaded by the
unhappy refugees, just as a grumpy country
gentleman in England might complain that
he was annoyed by the trippers. There is
a touch of dislike in all the allusions which
Boswell makes to Gibbon---often without even
mentioning his name---and one cannot read
the great historian's life without understanding

  I should think that few men have been born
with the material for self-sufficient contentment
more completely within himself than Edward
Gibbon. He had every gift which a great
scholar should have, an insatiable thirst for
learning in every form, immense industry, a
retentive memory, and that broadly philosophic
temperament which enables a man to rise above
the partisan and to become the impartial critic
of human affairs. It is true that at the time he
was looked upon as bitterly prejudiced in the
matter of religious thought, but his views are
familiar to modern philosophy, and would
shock no susceptibilities in these more liberal
(and more virtuous) days. Turn him up in
that Encyclopedia, and see what the latest word
is upon his contentions. ``Upon the famous
fifteenth and sixteenth chapters it is not necessary
to dwell,'' says the biographer, ``because
at this time of day no Christian apologist dreams
of denying the substantial truth of any of the
more important allegations of Gibbon. Christians
may complain of the suppression of some
circumstances which might influence the general
result, and they must remonstrate against the
unfair construction of their case. But they no
longer refuse to hear any reasonable evidence
tending to show that persecution was less severe
than had been once believed, and they have
slowly learned that they can afford to concede
the validity of all the secondary causes assigned
by Gibbon and even of others still more discreditable.
The fact is, as the historian has
again and again admitted, that his account of
the secondary causes which contributed to the
progress and establishment of Christianity
leaves the question as to the natural or supernatural
origin of Christianity practically untouched.''
This is all very well, but in that
case how about the century of abuse which has
been showered upon the historian? Some
posthumous apology would seem to be called for.

  Physically, Gibbon was as small as Johnson
was large, but there was a curious affinity in
their bodily ailments. Johnson, as a youth,
was ulcerated and tortured by the king's evil,
in spite of the Royal touch. Gibbon gives
us a concise but lurid account of his own

  ``I was successively afflicted by lethargies
and fevers, by opposite tendencies to a consumptive
and dropsical habit, by a contraction
of my nerves, a fistula in my eye, and the bite
of a dog, most vehemently suspected of madness. 
Every practitioner was called to my aid, the fees
of the doctors were swelled by the bills of the
apothecaries and surgeons. There was a time
when I swallowed more physic than food, and
my body is still marked by the indelible scars
of lancets, issues, and caustics.''

  Such is his melancholy report. The fact is
that the England of that day seems to have been
very full of that hereditary form of chronic
ill-health which we call by the general name of
struma. How far the hard-drinking habits in
vogue for a century or so before had anything to
do with it I cannot say, nor can I trace a connection
between struma and learning; but one
has only to compare this account of Gibbon
with Johnson's nervous twitches, his scarred
face and his St. Vitus' dance, to realize that
these, the two most solid English writers of
their generation, were each heir to the same
gruesome inheritance.

  I wonder if there is any picture extant of
Gibbon in the character of subaltern in the
South Hampshire Militia? With his small
frame, his huge head, his round, chubby face,
and the pretentious uniform, he must have
looked a most extraordinary figure. Never was
there so round a peg in a square hole! His
father, a man of a very different type, held a
commission, and this led to poor Gibbon becoming
a soldier in spite of himself. War had
broken out, the regiment was mustered, and the
unfortunate student, to his own utter dismay,
was kept under arms until the conclusion of
hostilities. For three years he was divorced
from his books, and loudly and bitterly did he
resent it. The South Hampshire Militia never
saw the enemy, which is perhaps as well for
them. Even Gibbon himself pokes fun at
them; but after three years under canvas it is
probable that his men had more cause to smile
at their book-worm captain than he at his men. 
His hand closed much more readily on a pen-handle
than on a sword-hilt. In his lament,
one of the items is that his colonel's example
encouraged the daily practice of hard and even
excessive drinking, which gave him the gout. 
``The loss of so many busy and idle hours were
not compensated for by any elegant pleasure,''
says he; ``and my temper was insensibly soured
by the society of rustic officers, who were alike
deficient in the knowledge of scholars and the
manners of gentlemen.'' The picture of Gibbon
flushed with wine at the mess-table, with these
hard-drinking squires around him, must certainly
have been a curious one. He admits,
however, that he found consolations as well as
hardships in his spell of soldiering. It made
him an Englishman once more, it improved his
health, it changed the current of his thoughts. 
It was even useful to him as an historian. 
In a celebrated and characteristic sentence,
he says, ``The discipline and evolutions of
a modern battalion gave me a clearer notion
of the Phalanx and the Legions, and the captain
of the Hampshire Grenadiers has not
been useless to the historian of the Roman

  If we don't know all about Gibbon it is not
his fault, for he wrote no fewer than six accounts
of his own career, each differing from the other,
and all equally bad. A man must have more
heart and soul than Gibbon to write a good
autobiography. It is the most difficult of all
human compositions, calling for a mixture of
tact, discretion, and frankness which make an
almost impossible blend. Gibbon, in spite
of his foreign education, was a very typical
Englishman in many ways, with the reticence,
self-respect, and self-consciousness of the race. 
No British autobiography has ever been frank,
and consequently no British autobiography has
ever been good. Trollope's, perhaps, is as
good as any that I know, but of all forms of
literature it is the one least adapted to the
national genius. You could not imagine a
British Rousseau, still less a British Benvenuto
Cellini. In one way it is to the credit of the
race that it should be so. If we do as much
evil as our neighbours we at least have grace
enough to be ashamed of it and to suppress its

  There on the left of Gibbon is my fine
edition (Lord Braybrooke's) of Pepys' Diary. 
That is, in truth, the greatest autobiography in
our language, and yet it was not deliberately
written as such. When Mr. Pepys jotted down
from day to day every quaint or mean thought
which came into his head he would have been
very much surprised had any one told him that
he was doing a work quite unique in our literature.
Yet his involuntary autobiography, compiled
for some obscure reason or for private
reference, but certainly never meant for publication,
is as much the first in that line of
literature as Boswell's book among biographies
or Gibbon's among histories.

  As a race we are too afraid of giving ourselves
away ever to produce a good autobiography.
We resent the charge of national
hypocrisy, and yet of all nations we are the
least frank as to our own emotions---especially
on certain sides of them. Those affairs of the
heart, for example, which are such an index to
a man's character, and so profoundly modify
his life---what space do they fill in any man's
autobiography? Perhaps in Gibbon's case
the omission matters little, for, save in the
instance of his well-controlled passion for the
future Madame Neckar, his heart was never an
organ which gave him much trouble. The fact
is that when the British author tells his own
story he tries to make himself respectable,
and the more respectable a man is the less
interesting does he become. Rousseau may
prove himself a maudlin degenerate. Cellini
may stand self-convicted as an amorous
ruffian. If they are not respectable they are
thoroughly human and interesting all the

  The wonderful thing about Mr. Pepys is that
a man should succeed in making himself seem
so insignificant when really he must have been
a man of considerable character and attainments.
Who would guess it who read all these
trivial comments, these catalogues of what he
had for dinner, these inane domestic confidences
---all the more interesting for their inanity!
The effect left upon the mind is of some grotesque
character in a play, fussy, self-conscious,
blustering with women, timid with men, dress-proud,
purse-proud, trimming in politics and
in religion, a garrulous gossip immersed always
in trifles. And yet, though this was the day-by-day
man, the year-by-year man was a very
different person, a devoted civil servant, an
eloquent orator, an excellent writer, a capable
musician, and a ripe scholar who accumulated
3000 volumes---a large private library in those
days---and had the public spirit to leave them all
to his University. You can forgive old Pepys
a good deal of his philandering when you remember
that he was the only official of the Navy
Office who stuck to his post during the worst
days of the Plague. He may have been---indeed,
he assuredly was---a coward, but the
coward who has sense of duty enough to overcome
his cowardice is the most truly brave of

  But the one amazing thing which will never
be explained about Pepys is what on earth
induced him to go to the incredible labour of
writing down in shorthand cipher not only all
the trivialities of his life, but even his own very
gross delinquencies which any other man would
have been only too glad to forget. The Diary
was kept for about ten years, and was abandoned
because the strain upon his eyes of the
crabbed shorthand was helping to destroy his
sight. I suppose that he became so familiar
with it that he wrote it and read it as easily as he
did ordinary script. But even so, it was a huge
labour to compile these books of strange manuscript.
Was it an effort to leave some memorial
of his own existence to single him out from all
the countless sons of men? In such a case he
would assuredly have left directions in somebody's
care with a reference to it in the deed by
which he bequeathed his library to Cambridge. 
In that way he could have ensured having his
Diary read at any date he chose to name after
his death. But no allusion to it was left, and if
it had not been for the ingenuity and perseverance
of a single scholar the dusty volumes
would still lie unread in some top shelf of the
Pepysian Library. Publicity, then, was not
his object. What could it have been? The
only alternative is reference and self-information.
You will observe in his character a
curious vein of method and order, by which
he loved, to be for ever estimating his exact
wealth, cataloguing his books, or scheduling
his possessions. It is conceivable that this
systematic recording of his deeds---even of his
misdeeds---was in some sort analogous, sprung
from a morbid tidiness of mind. It may be a
weak explanation, but it is difficult to advance
another one.

  One minor point which must strike the reader
of Pepys is how musical a nation the English
of that day appear to have been. Every one
seems to have had command of some instrument,
many of several. Part-singing was common.
There is not much of Charles the Second's
days which we need envy, but there, at least,
they seem to have had the advantage of us. It
was real music, too---music of dignity and tenderness---
with words which were worthy of
such treatment. This cult may have been the
last remains of those medival pre-Reformation
days when the English Church choirs were, as
I have read somewhere, the most famous in
Europe. A strange thing this for a land which
in the whole of last century has produced no
single master of the first rank!

  What national change is it which has driven
music from the land? Has life become so
serious that song has passed out of it? In
Southern climes one hears poor folk sing for
pure lightness of heart. In England, alas, the
sound of a poor man's voice raised in song means
only too surely that he is drunk. And yet it is
consoling to know that the germ of the old
powers is always there ready to sprout forth
if they be nourished and cultivated. If our
cathedral choirs were the best in the old Catholic
days, it is equally true, I believe, that our
orchestral associations are now the best in
Europe. So, at least, the German papers said
on the occasion of the recent visit of a north of
England choir. But one cannot read Pepys
without knowing that the general musical habit
is much less cultivated now than of old.


It is a long jump from Samuel Pepys to
George Borrow---from one pole of the human
character to the other---and yet they are in contact
on the shelf of my favourite authors. There
is something wonderful, I think, about the
land of Cornwall. That long peninsula extending
out into the ocean has caught all sorts
of strange floating things, and has held them
there in isolation until they have woven themselves
into the texture of the Cornish race. 
What is this strange strain which lurks down
yonder and every now and then throws up a
great man with singular un-English ways and
features for all the world to marvel at? It
is not Celtic, nor is it the dark old Iberian. 
Further and deeper lie the springs. Is it not
Semitic, Phnician, the roving men of Tyre,
with noble Southern faces and Oriental imaginations,
who have in far-off days forgotten their
blue Mediterranean and settled on the granite
shores of the Northern Sea?

  Whence came the wonderful face and great
personality of Henry Irving? How strong,
how beautiful, how un-Saxon it was! I only
know that his mother was a Cornish woman. 
Whence came the intense glowing imagination
of the Bronts---so unlike the Miss-Austen-like
calm of their predecessors? Again, I only
know that their mother was a Cornish woman. 
Whence came this huge elfin creature, George
Borrow, with his eagle head perched on his
rocklike shoulders, brown-faced, white-headed,
a king among men? Where did he get that
remarkable face, those strange mental gifts,
which place him by himself in literature?
Once more, his father was a Cornishman. Yes,
there is something strange, and weird, and great,
lurking down yonder in the great peninsula
which juts into the western sea. Borrow may,
if he so pleases, call himself an East Anglian---
``an English Englishman,'' as he loved to term
it---but is it a coincidence that the one East
Anglian born of Cornish blood was the one who
showed these strange qualities? The birth
was accidental. The qualities throw back to
the twilight of the world.

  There are some authors from whom I shrink
because they are so voluminous that I feel that,
do what I may, I can never hope to be well read
in their works. Therefore, and very weakly,
I avoid them altogether. There is Balzac, for
example, with his hundred odd volumes. I am
told that some of them are masterpieces and the
rest pot-boilers, but that no one is agreed which
is which. Such an author makes an undue
claim upon the little span of mortal years. Because
he asks too much one is inclined to give
him nothing at all. Dumas, too! I stand on
the edge of him, and look at that huge crop, and
content myself with a sample here and there. 
But no one could raise this objection to Borrow. 
A month's reading---even for a leisurely reader
---will master all that he has written. There
are ``Lavengro,'' ``The Bible in Spain,'' ``Romany
Rye,'' and, finally, if you wish to go
further, ``Wild Wales.'' Only four books---
not much to found a great reputation upon---
but, then, there are no other four books quite
like them in the language.

  He was a very strange man, bigoted, prejudiced,
obstinate, inclined to be sulky, as wayward
as a man could be. So far his catalogue
of qualities does not seem to pick him as a
winner. But he had one great and rare gift. 
He preserved through all his days a sense of
the great wonder and mystery of life---the child
sense which is so quickly dulled. Not only did
he retain it himself, but he was word-master
enough to make other people hark back to it also. 
As he writes you cannot help seeing through
his eyes, and nothing which his eyes saw or his
ear heard was ever dull or commonplace. It
was all strange, mystic, with some deeper meaning
struggling always to the light. If he
chronicled his conversation with a washer-woman
there was something arresting in the
words he said, something singular in her reply. 
If he met a man in a public-house one felt,
after reading his account, that one would wish
to know more of that man. If he approached
a town he saw and made you see---not a collection
of commonplace houses or frowsy streets,
but something very strange and wonderful, the
winding river, the noble bridge, the old castle,
the shadows of the dead. Every human being,
every object, was not so much a thing in itself,
as a symbol and reminder of the past. He
looked through a man at that which the man
represented. Was his name Welsh? Then
in an instant the individual is forgotten and
he is off, dragging you in his train, to ancient
Britons, intrusive Saxons, unheard-of bards,
Owen Glendower, mountain raiders and a thousand
fascinating things. Or is it a Danish
name? He leaves the individual in all his
modern commonplace while he flies off to huge
skulls at Hythe (in parenthesis I may remark
that I have examined the said skulls with some
care, and they seemed to me to be rather below
the human average), to Vikings, Berserkers,
Varangians, Harald Haardraada, and the innate
wickedness of the Pope. To Borrow all roads
lead to Rome.

  But, my word, what English the fellow could
write! What an organ-roll he could get into
his sentences! How nervous and vital and
vivid it all is!

  There is music in every line of it if you have
been blessed with an ear for the music of prose.
Take the chapter in ``Lavengro'' of how the
screaming horror came upon his spirit when he
was encamped in the Dingle. The man who
wrote that has caught the true mantle of Bunyan
and Defoe. And, observe the art of it,
under all the simplicity---notice, for example,
the curious weird effect produced by the studied
repetition of the word ``dingle'' coming ever
round and round like the master-note in a chime. 
Or take the passage about Britain towards the
end of ``The Bible in Spain.'' I hate quoting
from these masterpieces, if only for the very
selfish reason that my poor setting cannot afford
to show up brilliants. None the less, cost what
it may, let me transcribe that one noble piece of
impassioned prose---

  ``O England! long, long may it be ere the
sun of thy glory sink beneath the wave of
darkness! Though gloomy and portentous
clouds are now gathering rapidly around thee,
still, still may it please the Almighty to disperse
them, and to grant thee a futurity longer in
duration and still brighter in renown than thy
past! Or, if thy doom be at hand, may that
doom be a noble one, and worthy of her who
has been styled the Old Queen of the waters!
May thou sink, if thou dost sink, amidst blood
and flame, with a mighty noise, causing more
than one nation to participate in thy downfall!
Of all fates, may it please the Lord to preserve
thee from a disgraceful and a slow decay; becoming,
ere extinct, a scorn and a mockery for
those self-same foes who now, though they envy
and abhor thee, still fear thee, nay even against
their will, honour and respect thee. . . . Remove
from thee the false prophets, who have
seen vanity and divined lies; who have daubed
thy wall with untempered mortar, that it may
fall; who see visions of peace where there is no
peace; who have strengthened the hands of the
wicked, and made the heart of the righteous sad. 
Oh, do this, and fear not the result, for either
shall thy end be a majestic and an enviable
one; or God shall perpetuate thy reign upon
the waters, thou Old Queen!''

  Or take the fight with the Flaming Tinman. 
It's too long for quotation---but read it, read
every word of it. Where in the language can
you find a stronger, more condensed and more
restrained narrative? I have seen with my own
eyes many a noble fight, more than one international
battle, where the best of two great
countries have been pitted against each other---
yet the second-hand impression of Borrow's
description leaves a more vivid remembrance
upon my mind than any of them. This is the
real witchcraft of letters.

  He was a great fighter himself. He has left
a secure reputation in other than literary circles
---circles which would have been amazed to
learn that he was a writer of books. With his
natural advantages, his six foot three of height
and his staglike agility, he could hardly fail to
be formidable. But he was a scientific sparrer
as well, though he had, I have been told, a
curious sprawling fashion of his own. And
how his heart was in it---how he loved the
fighting men! You remember his thumb-nail
sketches of his heroes. If you don't I must
quote one, and if you do you will be glad to read
it again---

  ``There's Cribb, the Champion of England,
and perhaps the best man in England; there
he is, with his huge, massive figure, and face
wonderfully like that of a lion. There is Belcher,
the younger, not the mighty one, who is
gone to his place, but the Teucer Belcher, the
most scientific pugilist that ever entered a ring,
only wanting strength to be I won't say what. 
He appears to walk before me now, as he did
that evening, with his white hat, white great
coat, thin genteel figure, springy step, and keen
determined eye. Crosses him, what a contrast!
Grim, savage Shelton, who has a civil word for
nobody, and a hard blow for anybody. Hard!
One blow given with the proper play of his
athletic arm will unsense a giant. Yonder
individual, who strolls about with his hands
behind him, supporting his brown coat lappets,
undersized, and who looks anything but what
he is, is the king of the light-weights, so-called
---Randall! The terrible Randall, who has
Irish blood in his veins; not the better for that,
nor the worse; and not far from him is his last
antagonist, Ned Turner, who, though beaten
by him, still thinks himself as good a man, in
which he is, perhaps, right, for it was a near
thing. But how shall I name them all? They
were there by dozens, and all tremendous in
their way. There was Bulldog Hudson, and
fearless Scroggins, who beat the conqueror of
Sam the Jew. There was Black Richmond---
no, he was not there, but I knew him well; he
was the most dangerous of blacks, even with a
broken thigh. There was Purcell, who could
never conquer until all seemed over with him. 
There was---what! shall I name thee last?
Ay, why not? I believe that thou art the last
of all that strong family still above the sod,
where mayst thou long continue---true piece of
English stuff---Tom of Bedford. Hail to thee,
Tom of Bedford, or by whatever name it may
please thee to be called, Spring or Winter!
Hail to thee, six-foot Englishman of the brown
eye, worthy to have carried a six-foot
bow at Flodden, where England's yeomen triumphed
over Scotland's King, his clans and chivalry. 
Hail to thee, last of English bruisers, after all the
many victories which thou hast achieved---true
English victories, unbought by yellow gold.''

  Those are words from the heart. Long
may it be before we lose the fighting blood
which has come to us from of old! In a world
of peace we shall at last be able to root it from
our natures. In a world which is armed to the
teeth it is the last and only guarantee of our
future. Neither our numbers, nor our wealth,
nor the waters which guard us can hold us safe
if once the old iron passes from our spirit. 
Barbarous, perhaps----but there are possibilities
for barbarism, and none in this wide world for

  Borrow's views of literature and of literary
men were curious. Publisher and brother
author, he hated them with a fine comprehensive
hatred. In all his books I cannot recall a
word of commendation to any living writer,
nor has he posthumous praise for those of the
generation immediately preceding. Southey,
indeed, he commends with what most would
regard as exaggerated warmth, but for the rest
he who lived when Dickens, Thackeray, and
Tennyson were all in their glorious prime, looks
fixedly past them at some obscure Dane or forgotten
Welshman. The reason was, I expect,
that his proud soul was bitterly wounded by
his own early failures and slow recognition. 
He knew himself to be a chief in the clan, and
when the clan heeded him not he withdrew
in haughty disdain. Look at his proud, sensitive
face and you hold the key to his life.

  Harking back and talking of pugilism, I recall
an incident which gave me pleasure. A friend
of mine read a pugilistic novel called ``Rodney
Stone'' to a famous Australian prize-fighter,
stretched upon a bed of mortal sickness. The
dying gladiator listened with intent interest but
keen, professional criticism to the combats of
the novel. The reader had got to the point
where the young amateur fights the brutal
Berks. Berks is winded, but holds his adversary
off with a stiff left arm. The amateur's
second in the story, an old prize-fighter, shouts
some advice to him as to how to deal with the
situation. ``That's right. By ---- he's got
him!'' yelled the stricken man in the bed. 
Who cares for critics after that?

  You can see my own devotion to the ring in
that trio of brown volumes which stand, appropriately
enough, upon the flank of Borrow. 
They are the three volumes of ``Pugilistica,''
given me years ago by my old friend, Robert
Barr, a mine in which you can never pick for
half an hour without striking it rich. Alas!
for the horrible slang of those days, the vapid
witless Corinthian talk, with its ogles and its
fogles, its pointless jokes, its maddening habit
of italicizing a word or two in every sentence. 
Even these stern and desperate encounters, fit
sports for the men of Albuera and Waterloo,
become dull and vulgar, in that dreadful jargon. 
You have to tum to Hazlitt's account of the
encounter between the Gasman and the Bristol
Bull, to feel the savage strength of it all. It is
a hardened reader who does not wince even in
print before that frightful right-hander which
felled the giant, and left him in ``red ruin''
from eyebrow to jaw. But even if there be no
Hazlitt present to describe such a combat it is a
poor imagination which is not fired by the deeds
of the humble heroes who lived once so vividly
upon earth, and now only appeal to faithful
ones in these little-read pages. They were
picturesque creatures, men of great force of
character and will, who reached the limits of
human bravery and endurance. There is Jackson
on the cover, gold upon brown, ``gentleman
Jackson,'' Jackson of the balustrade calf
and the noble head, who wrote his name with
an 88-pound weight dangling from his little

  Here is a pen-portrait of him by one who
knew him well----

  ``I can see him now as I saw him in '84
walking down Holborn Hill, towards Smithfield.
He had on a scarlet coat worked in gold
at the buttonholes, ruffles and frill of fine lace,
a small white stock, no collar (they were not then
invented), a looped hat with a broad black band,
buff knee-breeches and long silk strings, striped
white silk stockings, pumps and paste buckles;
his waistcoat was pale blue satin, sprigged with
white. It was impossible to look on his fine
ample chest, his noble shoulders, his waist (if
anything too small), his large but not too large
hips, his balustrade calf and beautifully turned
but not over delicate ankle, his firm foot and
peculiarly small hand, without thinking that
nature had sent him on earth as a model. On
he went at a good five miles and a half an hour,
the envy of all men and the admiration of all

  Now, that is a discriminating portrait---a portrait
which really helps you to see that which
the writer sets out to describe. After reading
it one can understand why even in reminiscent
sporting descriptions of those old days, amid
all the Tonis and Bills and Jacks, it is always Mr.
John Jackson. He was the friend and instructor
of Byron and of half the bloods in town. Jackson
it was who, in the heat of combat, seized the
Jew Mendoza by the hair, and so ensured that
the pugs for ever afterwards should be a close-cropped
race. Inside you see the square face
of old Broughton, the supreme fighting man of
the eighteenth century, the man whose humble
ambition it was to begin with the pivot man of
the Prussian Guard, and work his way through
the regiment. He had a chronicler, the good
Captain Godfrey, who has written some English
which would take some beating. How about
this passage?----

  ``He stops as regularly as the swordsman,
and carries his blows truly in the line; he steps
not back distrusting of himself, to stop a blow,
and puddle in the return, with an arm unaided
by his body, producing but fly-flap blows. 
No! Broughton steps boldly and firmly in,
bids a welcome to the coming blow; receives
it with his guardian arm; then, with a general
summons of his swelling muscles, and his firm
body seconding his arm, and supplying it with
all its weight, pours the pile-driving force upon
his man.''

  One would like a little more from the gallant
Captain. Poor Broughton! He fought once
too often. ``Why, damn you, you're beat!''
cried the Royal Duke. ``Not beat, your highness,
but I can't see my man!'' cried the blinded
old hero. Alas, there is the tragedy of the ring
as it is of life! The wave of youth surges ever
upwards, and the wave that went before is
swept sobbing on to the shingle. ``Youth will
be served,'' said the terse old pugs. But what
so sad as the downfall of the old champion!
Wise Tom Spring---Tom of Bedford, as Borrow
calls him---had the wit to leave the ring
unconquered in the prime of his fame. Cribb
also stood out as a champion. But Broughton,
Slack, Belcher, and the rest---their end was one
common tragedy.

  The latter days of the fighting men were
often curious and unexpected, though as a rule
they were short-lived, for the alternation of the
excess of their normal existence and the asceticism
of their training undermined their constitution.
Their popularity among both men
and women was their undoing, and the king of
the ring went down at last before that deadliest
of light-weights, the microbe of tubercle, or
some equally fatal and perhaps less reputable
bacillus. The crockiest of spectators had a
better chance of life than the magnificent young
athlete whom he had come to admire. Jem
Belcher died at 30, Hooper at 3I, Pearce, the
Game Chicken, at 32, Turner at 35, Hudson at
38, Randall, the Nonpareil, at 34. Occasionally,
when they did reach mature age, their lives took
the strangest turns. Gully, as is well known,
became a wealthy man, and Member for Pontefract
in the Reform Parliament. Humphries
developed into a successful coal merchant.
Jack Martin became a convinced teetotaller
and vegetarian. Jem Ward, the Black Diamond,
developed considerable powers as an
artist. Cribb, Spring, Langan, and many
others, were successful publicans. Strangest of
all, perhaps, was Broughton, who spent his old
age haunting every sale of old pictures and
bric--brac. One who saw him has recorded
his impression of the silent old gentleman, clad
in old-fashioned garb, with his catalogue in his
hand---Broughton, once the terror of England,
and now the harmless and gentle collector.

  Many of them, as was but natural, died
violent deaths, some by accident and a few by
their own hands. No man of the first class
ever died in the ring. The nearest approach
to it was the singular and mournful fate which
befell Simon Byrne, the brave Irishman, who
had the misfortune to cause the death of his
antagonist, Angus Mackay, and afterwards met
his own end at the hands of Deaf Burke. 
Neither Byrne nor Mackay could, however, be
said to be boxers of the very first rank. It certainly
would appear, if we may argue from the
prize-ring, that the human machine becomes
more delicate and is more sensitive to jar or
shock. In the early days a fatal end to a fight
was exceedingly rare. Gradually such tragedies
became rather more common, until now even
with the gloves they have shocked us by their
frequency, and we feel that the rude play of
our forefathers is indeed too rough for a more
highly organized generation. Still, it may help
us to clear our minds of cant if we remember
that within two or three years the hunting-field
and the steeple-chase claim more victims
than the prize-ring has done in two centuries.

  Many of these men had served their country
well with that strength and courage which
brought them fame. Cribb was, if I mistake
not, in the Royal Navy. So was the terrible
dwarf Scroggins, all chest and shoulders, whose
springing hits for many a year carried all before
them until the canny Welshman, Ned Turner,
stopped his career, only to be stopped in turn
by the brilliant Irishman, Jack Randall. Shaw,
who stood high among the heavy-weights, was
cut to pieces by the French Cuirassiers in the
first charge at Waterloo. The brutal Berks
died greatly in the breach of Badajos. The
lives of these men stood for something, and that
was just the one supreme thing which the times
called for---an unflinching endurance which
could bear up against a world in arms. Look
at Jem Belcher---beautiful, heroic Jem, a manlier
Byron---but there, this is not an essay on the
old prize-ring, and one man's lore is another
man's bore. Let us pass those three low-down,
unjustifiable, fascinating volumes, and
on to nobler topics beyond!


Which are the great short stories of the
English language? Not a bad basis for a
debate! This I am sure of: that there are far
fewer supremely good short stories than there
are supremely good long books. It takes more
exquisite skill to carve the cameo than the
statue. But the strangest thing is that the two
excellences seem to be separate and even antagonistic.
Skill in the one by no means ensures
skill in the other. The great masters of our
literature, Fielding, Scott, Dickens, Thackeray,
Reade, have left no single short story of outstanding
merit behind them, with the possible
exception of Wandering Willie's Tale in ``Red
Gauntlet.'' On the other hand, men who have
been very great in the short story, Stevenson,
Poe, and Bret Harte, have written no great book. 
The champion sprinter is seldom a five-miler as

  Well, now, if you had to choose your team
whom would you put in? You have not really
a large choice. What are the points by which
you judge them? You want strength, novelty,
compactness, intensity of interest, a single
vivid impression left upon the mind. Poe is
the master of all. I may remark by the way
that it is the sight of his green cover, the next
in order upon my favourite shelf, which has
started this train of thought. Poe is, to my
mind, the supreme original short story writer
of all time. His brain was like a seed-pod full
of seeds which flew carelessly around, and from
which have sprung nearly all our modern types
of story. Just think of what he did in his offhand,
prodigal fashion, seldom troubling to
repeat a success, but pushing on to some new
achievement. To him must be ascribed the
monstrous progeny of writers on the detection
of crime---``_quorum pars parva fui!_'' Each
may find some little development of his own,
but his main art must trace back to those admirable
stories of Monsieur Dupin, so wonderful
in their masterful force, their reticence,
their quick dramatic point. After all, mental
acuteness is the one quality which can be ascribed
to the ideal detective, and when that
has once been admirably done, succeeding
writers must necessarily be content for all time
to follow in the same main track. But not only
is Poe the originator of the detective story;
all treasure-hunting, cryptogram-solving yarns
trace back to his ``Gold Bug,'' just as all
pseudo-scientific Verne-and-Wells stories have
their prototypes in the ``Voyage to the Moon,''
and the ``Case of Monsieur Valdemar.'' If
every man who receives a cheque for a story
which owes its springs to Poe were to pay tithe
to a monument for the master, he would have a
pyramid as big as that of Cheops.

  And yet I could only give him two places in
my team. One would be for the ``Gold Bug,''
the other for the ``Murder in the Rue Morgue.''
I do not see how either of those could be bettered.
But I would not admit _perfect_ excellence
to any other of his stories. These two have a
proportion and a perspective which are lacking
in the others, the horror or weirdness of the idea
intensified by the coolness of the narrator and
of the principal actor, Dupin in the one case
and Le Grand in the other. The same may be
said of Bret Harte, also one of those great short
story tellers who proved himself incapable of a
longer flight. He was always like one of his
own gold-miners who struck a rich pocket, but
found no continuous reef. The pocket was,
alas, a very limited one, but the gold was of the
best. ``The Luck of Roaring Camp'' and
``Tennessee's Partner'' are both, I think,
worthy of a place among my immortals. They
are, it is true, so tinged with Dickens as to be
almost parodies of the master, but they have a
symmetry and satisfying completeness as short
stories to which Dickens himself never attained. 
The man who can read those two stories without
a gulp in the throat is not a man I envy.

  And Stevenson? Surely he shall have two
places also, for where is a finer sense of what the
short story can do? He wrote, in my judgment,
two masterpieces in his life, and each of
them is essentially a short story, though the one
happened to be published as a volume. The
one is ``Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,'' which,
whether you take it as a vivid narrative or as
a wonderfully deep and true allegory, is a
supremely fine bit of work. The other story
of my choice would be ``The Pavilion on the
Links''---the very model of dramatic narrative. 
That story stamped itself so clearly on my brain
when I read it in _Cornhill_ that when I came
across it again many years afterwards in volume
form, I was able instantly to recognize two small
modifications of the text---each very much for
the worse---from the original form. They were
small things, but they seemed somehow like
a chip on a perfect statue. Surely it is only a
very fine work, of art which could leave so definite
an impression as that. Of course, there are a
dozen other of his stories which would put the
average writer's best work to shame, all with
the strange Stevenson glamour upon them, of
which I may discourse later, but only to those
two would I be disposed to admit that complete
excellence which would pass them into such a
team as this.

  And who else? If it be not an impertinence
to mention a contemporary, I should certainly
have a brace from Rudyard Kipling. His
power, his compression, his dramatic sense,
his way of glowing suddenly into a vivid flame,
all mark him as a great master. But which are
we to choose from that long and varied collection,
many of which have claims to the highest?
Speaking from memory, I should say that the
stories of his which have impressed me most
are ``The Drums of the Fore and Aft,'' ``The
Man who Would be King,'' ``The Man who
Was,'' and ``The Brushwood Boy.'' Perhaps,
on the whole, it is the first two which I should
choose to add to my list of masterpieces.

  They are stories which invite criticism and
yet defy it. The great batsman at cricket is the
man who can play an unorthodox game, take
every liberty which is denied to inferior players,
and yet succeed brilliantly in the face of his
disregard of law. So it is here. I should think
the model of these stories is the most dangerous
that any young writer could follow. There is
digression, that most deadly fault in the short
narrative; there is incoherence, there is want
of proportion which makes the story stand still
for pages and bound forward in a few sentences. 
But genius overrides all that, just as the great
cricketer hooks the off ball and glides the
straight one to leg. There is a dash, an exuberance,
a full-blooded, confident mastery
which carries everything before it. Yes, no
team of immortals would be complete which
did not contain at least two representatives of

  And now whom? Nathaniel Hawthorne
never appealed in the highest degree to me. 
The fault, I am sure, is my own, but I always
seemed to crave stronger fare than he gave me. 
It was too subtle, too elusive, for effect. Indeed,
I have been more affected by some of the
short work of his son Julian, though I can
quite understand the high artistic claims which
the senior writer has, and the delicate charm
of his style. There is Bulwer Lytton as a
claimant. His ``Haunted and the Haunters''
is the very best ghost story that I know. As
such I should include it in my list. There was
a story, too, in one of the old _Blackwoods_---
``Metempsychosis'' it was called, which left so
deep an impression upon my mind that I should
be inclined, though it is many years since I read
it, to number it with the best. Another story
which has the characteristics of great work is
Grant Allen's ``John Creedy.'' So good a
story upon so philosophic a basis deserves a
place among the best. There is some first-class
work to be picked also from the contemporary
work of Wells and of Quiller-Couch
which reaches a high standard. One little
sketch---``Old son'' in ``Noughts and
Crosses''---is, in my opinion, as good as anything
of the kind which I have ever read.

  And all this didactic talk comes from looking
at that old green cover of Poe. I am sure that
if I had to name the few books which have
really influenced my own life I should have to
put this one second only to Macaulay's Essays. 
I read it young when my mind was plastic. It
stimulated my imagination and set before me a
supreme example of dignity and force in the
methods of telling a story. It is not altogether
a healthy influence, perhaps. It turns the
thoughts too forcibly to the morbid and the

  He was a saturnine creature, devoid of
humour and geniality, with a love for the grotesque
and the terrible. The reader must himself
furnish the counteracting qualities or Poe
may become a dangerous comrade. We know
along what perilous tracks and into what deadly
quagmires his strange mind led him, down to
that grey October Sunday morning when he
was picked up, a dying man, on the side-walk
at Baltimore, at an age which should have seen
him at the very prime of his strength and his

  I have said that I look upon Poe as the
world's supreme short story writer. His nearest
rival, I should say, was Maupassant. The
great Norman never rose to the extreme force
and originality of the American, but he had a
natural inherited power, an inborn instinct towards
the right way of making his effects, which
mark him as a great master. He produced
stories because it was in him to do so, as naturally
and as perfectly as an apple tree produces
apples. What a fine, sensitive, artistic touch it
is! How easily and delicately the points are
made! How clear and nervous is his style,
and how free from that redundancy which disfigures
so much of our English work! He
pares it down to the quick all the time.

  I cannot write the name of Maupassant without
recalling what was either a spiritual interposition
or an extraordinary coincidence in my
own life. I had been travelling in Switzerland
and had visited, among other places, that
Gemmi Pass, where a huge cliff separates a
French from a German canton. On the summit
of this cliff was a small inn, where we broke
our journey. It was explained to us that,
although the inn was inhabited all the year
round, still for about three months in winter
it was utterly isolated, because it could at any
time only be approached by winding paths on
the mountain side, and when these became
obliterated by snow it was impossible either to
come up or to descend. They could see the lights
in the valley beneath them, but were as lonely as
if they lived in the moon. So curious a situation
naturally appealed to one's imagination,
and I speedily began to build up a short story
in my own mind, depending upon a group of
strong antagonistic characters being penned up
in this inn, loathing each other and yet utterly
unable to get away from each other's society,
every day bringing them nearer to tragedy. For
a week or so, as I travelled, I was turning over
the idea.

  At the end of that time I returned through
France. Having nothing to read I happened
to buy a volume of Maupassant's Tales which
I had never seen before. The first story was
called ``L'Auberge'' (The Inn)---and as I ran
my eye down the printed page I was amazed
to see the two words, ``Kandersteg'' and
``Gemmi Pass.'' I settled down and read it
with ever-growing amazement. The scene was
laid in the inn I had visited. The plot depended
on the isolation of a group of people
through the snowfall. Everything that I imagined
was there, save that Maupassant had
brought in a savage hound.

  Of course, the genesis of the thing is clear
enough. He had chanced to visit the inn, and
had been impressed as I had been by the same
train of thought. All that is quite intelligible. 
But what is perfectly marvellous is that in that
short journey I should have chanced to buy the
one book in all the world which would prevent
me from making a public foot of myself, for who
would ever have believed that my work was not
an imitation? I do not think that the hypothesis
of coincidence can cover the facts. It is
one of several incidents in my life which have
convinced me of spiritual interposition---of the
promptings of some beneficent force outside
ourselves, which tries to help us where it can. 
The old Catholic doctrine of the Guardian
Angel is not only a beautiful one, but has in it,
I believe, a real basis of truth.

  Or is it that our subliminal ego, to use the
jargon of the new psychology, or our astral, in
the terms of the new theology, can learn and
convey to the mind that which our own
known senses are unable to apprehend? But
that is too long a side track for us to turn
down it.

  When Maupassant chose he could run Poe
close in that domain of the strange and weird
which the American had made so entirely his
own. Have you read Maupassant's story called
``Le Horla''? That is as good a bit of _diablerie_
as you could wish for. And the Frenchman
has, of course, far the broader range. He
has a keen sense of humour, breaking out beyond
all decorum in some of his stories, but
giving a pleasant sub-flavour to all of them. 
And yet, when all is said, who can doubt that
the austere and dreadful American is far the
greater and more original mind of the two?

  Talking of weird American stories, have you
ever read any of the works of Ambrose Bierce?
I have one of his works there, ``In the Midst
of Life.'' This man had a flavour quite his own,
and was a great artist in his way. It is not
cheering reading, but it leaves its mark upon
you, and that is the proof of good work.

  I have often wondered where Poe got his
style. There is a sombre majesty about his
best work, as if it were carved from polished
jet, which is peculiarly his own. I dare say if
I took down that volume I could light anywhere
upon a paragraph which would show you what
I mean. This is the kind of thing---

  ``Now there are fine tales in the volumes
of the Magi---in the iron-bound melancholy
volumes of the Magi. Therein, I say, are
glorious histories of the heaven and of the
earth, and of the mighty sea---and of the genius
that overruled the sea, and the earth, and the
lofty heaven. There were much lore, too, in the
sayings which were said by the Sybils, and holy,
holy things were heard of old by the dim leaves
which trembled round Dodona, but as Allah
liveth, that fable which the Demon told me as
he sat by my side in the shadow of the tomb, I
hold to be the most wonderful of all.'' Or this
sentence: ``And then did we, the seven, start
from our seats in horror, and stand trembling
and aghast, for the tones in the voice of the
shadow were not the tones of any one being,
but of a multitude of beings, and, varying in
their cadences from syllable to syllable, fell
duskily upon our ears in the well-remembered
and familiar accents of many thousand departed

  Is there not a sense of austere dignity? No
man invents a style. It always derives back
from some influence, or, as is more usual, it is a
compromise between several influences. I cannot
trace Poe's. And yet if Hazlitt and De
Quincey had set forth to tell weird stories they
might have developed something of the kind.

  Now, by your leave, we will pass on to my
noble edition of ``The Cloister and the Hearth,''
the next volume on the left.

  I notice, in glancing over my rambling remarks,
that I classed ``Ivanhoe'' as the second
historical novel of the century. I dare say there
are many who would give ``Esmond'' the first
place, and I can quite understand their position,
although it is not my own. I recognize the
beauty of the style, the consistency of the character-drawing,
the absolutely perfect Queen
Anne atmosphere. There was never an historical
novel written by a man who knew his
period so thoroughly. But, great as these virtues
are, they are not the essential in a novel. 
The essential in a novel is interest, though Addison
unkindly remarked that the real essential
was that the pastrycooks should never run short
of paper. Now ``Esmond'' is, in my opinion,
exceedingly interesting during the campaigns in
the Lowlands, and when our Machiavelian hero,
the Duke, comes in, and also whenever Lord
Mohun shows his ill-omened face; but there
are long stretches of the story which are heavy
reading. A pre-eminently good novel must
always advance and never mark time. ``Ivanhoe''
never halts for an instant, and that just
makes its superiority as a novel over ``Esmond,''
though as a piece of literature I think the latter
is the more perfect.

  No, if I had three votes, I should plump
them all for ``The Cloister and the Hearth,''
as being our greatest historical novel, and, indeed,
as being our greatest novel of any sort. 
I think I may claim to have read most of the
more famous foreign novels of last century,
and (speaking only for myself and within the
limits of my reading) I have been more impressed
by that book of Reade's and by Tolstoi's
``Peace and War'' than by any others. 
They seem to me to stand at the very top of the
century's fiction. There is a certain resemblance
in the two---the sense of space, the number
of figures, the way in which characters drop
in and drop out. The Englishman is the more
romantic. The Russian is the more real and
earnest. But they are both great.

  Think of what Reade does in that one book.
He takes the reader by the hand, and he leads
him away into the Middle Ages, and not a conventional
study-built Middle Age, but a period
quivering with life, full of folk who are as
human and real as a 'bus-load in Oxford Street.
He takes him through Holland, he shows him
the painters, the dykes, the life. He leads him
down the long line of the Rhine, the spinal
marrow of Medival Europe. He shows him
the dawn of printing, the beginnings of freedom,
the life of the great mercantile cities of
South Germany, the state of Italy, the artist-life
of Rome, the monastic institutions on the
eve of the Reformation. And all this between
the covers of one book, so naturally introduced,
too, and told with such vividness and spirit. 
Apart from the huge scope of it, the mere study
of Gerard's own nature, his rise, his fall, his
regeneration, the whole pitiable tragedy at the
end, make the book a great one. It contains,
I think, a blending of knowledge with imagination,
which makes it stand alone in our literature.
Let any one read the ``Autobiography
of Benvenuto Cellini,'' and then Charles Reade's
picture of Medival Roman life, if he wishes
to appreciate the way in which Reade has collected
his rough ore and has then smelted it
all down in his fiery imagination. It is a good
thing to have the industry to collect facts. It
is a greater and a rarer one to have the tact
to know how to use them when you have got
them. To be exact without pedantry, and
thorough without being dull, that should be
the ideal of the writer of historical romance.

  Reade is one of the most perplexing figures
in our literature. Never was there a man so
hard to place. At his best he is the best we
have. At his worst he is below the level of
Surreyside melodrama. But his best have weak
pieces, and his worst have good. There is always
silk among his cotton, and cotton among
his silk. But, for all his flaws, the man who, in
addition to the great book, of which I have already
spoken, wrote ``It is Never Too Late to
Mend,'' ``Hard Cash,'' ``Foul Play,'' and
``Griffith Gaunt,'' must always stand in the
very first rank of our novelists.

  There is a quality of heart about his work
which I recognize nowhere else. He so absolutely
loves his own heroes and heroines, while
he so cordially detests his own villains, that he
sweeps your emotions along with his own. 
No one has ever spoken warmly enough of
the humanity and the lovability of his women. 
It is a rare gift---very rare for a man---this
power of drawing a human and delightful girl. 
If there is a better one in nineteenth-century
fiction than Julia Dodd I have never had the
pleasure of meeting her. A man who could
draw a character so delicate and so delightful,
and yet could write such an episode as that
of the Robber Inn in ``The Cloister and the
Hearth,'' adventurous romance in its highest
form, has such a range of power as is granted
to few men. My hat is always ready to come
off to Charles Reade.


It is good to have the magic door shut behind
us. On the other side of that door are
the world and its troubles, hopes and fears, headaches
and heartaches, ambitions and disappointments;
but within, as you lie back on the
green settee, and face the long lines of your
silent soothing comrades, there is only peace
of spirit and rest of mind in the company of
the great dead. Learn to love, learn to admire
them; learn to know what their comradeship
means; for until you have done so the greatest
solace and anodyne God has given to man have
not yet shed their blessing upon you. Here behind
this magic door is the rest house, where
you may forget the past, enjoy the present,
and prepare for the future.

  You who have sat with me before upon the
green settee are familiar with the upper shelf,
with the tattered Macaulay, the dapper Gibbon,
the drab Boswell, the olive-green Scott, the
pied Borrow, and all the goodly company
who rub shoulders yonder. By the way, how
one wishes that one's dear friends would only
be friends also with each other. Why should
Borrow snarl so churlishly at Scott? One
would have thought that noble spirit and romantic
fancy would have charmed the huge
vagrant, and yet there is no word too bitter
for the younger man to use towards the elder. 
The fact is that Borrow had one dangerous
virus in him---a poison which distorts the
whole vision---for he was a bigoted sectarian in
religion, seeing no virtue outside his own interpretation
of the great riddle. Downright
heathendom, the blood-stained Berserk or the
chaunting Druid, appealed to his mind through
his imagination, but the man of his own creed
and time who differed from him in minuti of
ritual, or in the interpretation of mystic passages,
was at once evil to the bone, and he had
no charity of any sort for such a person. Scott
therefore, with his reverent regard for old
usages, became at once hateful in his eyes. In
any case he was a disappointed man, the big
Borrow, and I cannot remember that he ever
had much to say that was good of any brother
author. Only in the bards of Wales and in the
Scalds of the Sagas did he seem to find his
kindred spirits, though it has been suggested
that his complex nature took this means of informing
the world that he could read both
Cymric and Norse. But we must not be unkind
behind the magic door---and yet to be
charitable to the uncharitable is surely the
crown of virtue.

  So much for the top line, concerning which
I have already gossipped for six sittings, but
there is no surcease for you, reader, for as you
see there is a second line, and yet a third, all
equally dear to my heart, and all appealing in
the same degree to my emotions and to my
memory. Be as patient as you may, while I
talk of these old friends, and tell you why I
love them, and all that they have meant to me
in the past. If you picked any book from that
line you would be picking a little fibre also
from my mind, very small, no doubt, and yet
an intimate and essential part of what is now
myself. Hereditary impulses, personal experiences,
books---those are the three forces which
go to the making of man. These are the

  This second line consists, as you see, of novelists
of the eighteenth century, or those of them
whom I regard as essential. After all, putting
aside single books, such as Sterne's ``Tristram
Shandy,'' Goldsmith's ``Vicar of Wakefield,''
and Miss Burney's ``Evelina,'' there are only
three authors who count, and they in turn
wrote only three books each, of first-rate importance,
so that by the mastery of nine books
one might claim to have a fairly broad view
of this most important and distinctive branch
of English literature. The three men are, of
course, Fielding, Richardson, and Smollett.
The books  are: Richardson's ``Clarissa Harlowe,''
``Pamela,'' and ``Sir Charles Grandison'';
Fielding's ``Tom Jones'', ``Joseph
Andrews,'' and ``Amelia''; Smollett's ``Peregrine
Pickle,'' ``Humphrey Clinker,'' and
``Roderick Random.'' There we have the
real work of the three great contemporaries
who illuminated the middle of the eighteenth
century---only nine volumes in all. Let us
walk round these nine volumes, therefore, and
see whether we cannot discriminate and throw
a little light, after this interval of a hundred
and fifty years, upon their comparative aims,
and how far they have justified them by the
permanent value of their work. A fat little
bookseller in the City, a rakehell wit of noble
blood, and a rugged Scotch surgeon from the
navy---those are the three strange immortals
who now challenge a comparison---the three
men who dominate the fiction of their century,
and to whom we owe it that the life and the
types of that century are familiar to us, their
fifth generation.

  It is not a subject to be dogmatic upon, for
I can imagine that these three writers would
appeal quite differently to every temperament,
and that whichever one might desire to champion
one could find arguments to sustain one's
choice. Yet I cannot think that any large
section of the critical public could maintain
that Smollett was on the same level as the other
two. Ethically he is gross, though his grossness
is accompanied by a full-blooded humour
which is more mirth-compelling than the more
polished wit of his rivals. I can remember in
callow boyhood---_puris omnia pura_---reading
``Peregrine Pickle,'' and laughing until I cried
over the Banquet in the Fashion of the Ancients.
I read it again in my manhood with
the same effect, though with a greater appreciation
of its inherent bestiality. That merit, a
gross primitive merit, he has in a high degree,
but in no other respect can he challenge comparison
with either Fielding or Richardson. 
His view of life is far more limited, his characters
less varied, his incidents less distinctive,
and his thoughts less deep. Assuredly I, for
one, should award him the third place in
the trio.

  But how about Richardson and Fielding?
There is indeed a competition of giants. Let
us take the points of each in turn, and then
compare them with each other.

  There is one characteristic, the rarest and
subtlest of all, which each of them had in a
supreme degree. Each could draw the most
delightful women---the most perfect women,
I think, in the whole range of our literature. 
If the eighteenth-century women were like
that, then the eighteenth-century men got a
great deal more than they ever deserved. 
They had such a charming little dignity of
their own, such good sense, and yet such
dear, pretty, dainty ways, so human and so
charming, that even now they become our
ideals. One cannot come to know them without
a double emotion, one of respectful devotion
towards themselves, and the other of abhorrence
for the herd of swine who surrounded
them. Pamela, Harriet Byron, Clarissa, Amelia,
and Sophia Western were all equally delightful,
and it was not the negative charm of
the innocent and colourless woman, the amiable
doll of the nineteenth century, but it was
a beauty of nature depending upon an alert
mind, clear and strong principles, true womanly
feelings, and complete feminine charm. In
this respect our rival authors may claim a tie,
for I could not give a preference to one set of
these perfect creatures over another. The
plump little printer and the worn-out man-about-town
had each a supreme woman in his

  But their men! Alas, what a drop is there!
To say that we are all capable of doing what
Tom Jones did---as I have seen stated---is the
worst form of inverted cant, the cant which
makes us out worse than we are. It is a libel
on mankind to say that a man who truly loves
a woman is usually false to her, and, above all,
a libel that he should be false in the vile fashion
which aroused good Tom Newcome's indignation.
Tom Jones was no more fit to touch the
hem of Sophia's dress than Captain Booth was
to be the mate of Amelia. Never once has
Fielding drawn a gentleman, save perhaps
Squire Alworthy. A lusty, brawling, good-hearted,
material creature was the best that
he could fashion. Where, in his heroes, is
there one touch of distinction, of spirituality,
of nobility? Here I think that the plebeian
printer has done very much better than the
aristocrat. Sir Charles Grandison is a very
noble type---spoiled a little by over-coddling
on the part of his creator, perhaps, but a very
high-souled and exquisite gentleman all the
same. Had _he_ married Sophia or Amelia I
should not have forbidden the banns. Even
the persevering Mr. B--- and the too amorous
Lovelace were, in spite of their aberrations,
men of gentle nature, and had possibilities of
greatness and tenderness within them. Yes, I
cannot doubt that Richardson drew the higher
type of man---and that in Grandison he has
done what has seldom or never been bettered.

  Richardson was also the subtler and deeper
writer, in my opinion. He concerns himself
with fine consistent character-drawing, and
with a very searching analysis of the human
heart, which is done so easily, and in such
simple English, that the depth and truth of
it only come upon reflection. He condescends
to none of those scuffles and buffetings and
pantomime rallies which enliven, but cheapen,
many of Fielding's pages. The latter has, it
may be granted, a broader view of life. He
had personal acquaintance of circles far above,
and also far below, any which the douce citizen,
who was his rival, had ever been able or
willing to explore. His pictures of low London
life, the prison scenes in ``Amelia,'' the
thieves' kitchens in ``Jonathan Wild,'' the
sponging houses and the slums, are as vivid
and as complete as those of his friend Hogarth
---the most British of artists, even as Fielding
was the most British of writers. But the
greatest and most permanent facts of life are
to be found in the smallest circles. Two men
and a woman may furnish either the tragedian
or the comedian with the most satisfying
theme. And so, although his range was limited,
Richardson knew very clearly and very
thoroughly just that knowledge which was
essential for his purpose. Pamela, the perfect
woman of humble life, Clarissa, the perfect
lady, Grandison the ideal gentleman---
these were the three figures on which he lavished
his most loving art. And now, after one
hundred and fifty years, I do not know where
we may find more satisfying types.

  He was prolix, it may be admitted, but who
could bear to have him cut? He loved to sit
down and tell you just all about it. His use of
letters for his narratives made this gossipy style
more easy. First _he_ writes and he tells all that
passed. You have his letter. _She_ at the same
time writes to her friend, and also states her
views. This also you see. The friends in each
case reply, and you have the advantage of their
comments and advice. You really do know all
about it before you finish. It may be a little
wearisome at first, if you have been accustomed
to a more hustling style with fireworks in every
chapter. But gradually it creates an atmosphere
in which you live, and you come to know these
people, with their characters and their troubles,
as you know no others of the dream-folk of fiction.
Three times as long as an ordinary book,
no doubt, but why grudge the time? What
is the hurry? Surely it is better to read one
masterpiece than three books which will leave
no permanent impression on the mind.

  It was all attuned to the sedate life of that,
the last of the quiet centuries. In the lonely
country-house, with few letters and fewer
papers, do you suppose that the readers ever
complained of the length of a book, or could
have too much of the happy Pamela or of the
unhappy Clarissa? It is only under extraordinary
circumstances that one can now get into
that receptive frame of mind which was normal
then. Such an occasion is recorded by Macaulay,
when he tells how in some Indian hill
station, where books were rare, he let loose a
copy of ``Clarissa.'' The effect was what
might have been expected. Richardson in a
suitable environment went through the community
like a mild fever. They lived him, and
dreamed him, until the whole episode passed
into literary history, never to be forgotten by
those who experienced it. It is tuned, for
every ear. That beautiful style is so correct
and yet so simple that there is no page which
a scholar may not applaud nor a servant-maid

  Of course, there are obvious disadvantages
to the tale which is told in letters. Scott reverted
to it in ``Guy Mannering,'' and there
are other conspicuous successes, but vividness
is always gained at the expense of a strain upon
the reader's good-nature and credulity. One
feels that these constant details, these long
conversations, could not possibly have been
recorded in such a fashion. The indignant
and dishevelled heroine could not sit down and
record her escape with such cool minuteness
of description. Richardson does it as well as
it could be done, but it remains intrinsically
faulty. Fielding, using the third person, broke
all the fetters which bound his rival, and gave
a freedom and personal authority to the novel
which it had never before enjoyed. There at
least he is the master.

  And yet, on the whole, my balance inclines
towards Richardson, though I dare say I am
one in a hundred in thinking so. First of all,
beyond anything I may have already urged, he
had the supreme credit of having been the first. 
Surely the originator should have a higher place
than the imitator, even if in imitating he should
also improve and amplify. It is Richardson
and not Fielding who is the father of the
English novel, the man who first saw that without
romantic gallantry, and without bizarre
imaginings, enthralling stories may be made
from everyday life, told in everyday language. 
This was his great new departure. So entirely
was Fielding his imitator, or rather perhaps
his parodist, that with supreme audacity (some
would say brazen impudence) he used poor
Richardson's own characters, taken from
``Pamela,'' in his own first novel, ``Joseph
Andrews,'' and used them too for the unkind
purpose of ridiculing them. As a matter of
literary ethics, it is as if Thackeray wrote a
novel bringing in Pickwick and Sam Weller
in order to show what faulty characters these
were. It is no wonder that even the gentle
little printer grew wroth, and alluded to his
rival as a somewhat unscrupulous man.

  And then there is the vexed question of
morals. Surely in talking of this also there is a
good deal of inverted cant among a certain class
of critics. The inference appears to be that
there is some subtle connection between immorality
and art, as if the handling of the lewd, or
the depicting of it, were in some sort the hallmark
of the true artist. It is not difficult to
handle or depict. On the contrary, it is so easy,
and so essentially dramatic in many of its forms,
that the temptation to employ it is ever present. 
It is the easiest and cheapest of all methods of
creating a spurious effect. The difficulty does
not lie in doing it. The difficulty lies in avoiding
it. But one tries to avoid it because on the
face of it there is no reason why a writer should
cease to be a gentleman, or that he should
write for a woman's eyes that which he would
be justly knocked down for having said in a
woman's ears. But ``you must draw the world
as it is.'' Why must you? Surely it is just in
selection and restraint that the artist is shown. 
It is true that in a coarser age great writers
heeded no restrictions, but life itself had fewer
restrictions then. We are of our own age, and
must live up to it.

  But must these sides of life be absolutely
excluded? By no means. Our decency need
not weaken into prudery. It all lies in the
spirit in which it is done. No one who wished
to lecture on these various spirits could preach
on a better text than these three great rivals,
Richardson, Fielding, and Smollett. It is possible
to draw vice with some freedom for the
purpose of condemning it. Such a writer is a
moralist, and there is no better example than
Richardson. Again, it is possible to draw vice
with neither sympathy nor disapprobation, but
simply as a fact which is there. Such a writer
is a realist, and such was Fielding. Once more,
it is possible to draw vice in order to extract
amusement from it. Such a man is a coarse
humorist, and such was Smollett. Lastly, it
is possible to draw vice in order to show sympathy
with it. Such a man is a wicked man,
and there were many among the writers of the
Restoration. But of all reasons that exist for
treating this side of life, Richardson's were the
best, and nowhere do we find it more deftly done.

  Apart from his writings, there must have
been something very noble about Fielding as a
man. He was a better hero than any that he
drew. Alone he accepted the task of cleansing
London, at that time the most dangerous and
lawless of European capitals. Hogarth's pictures
give some notion of it in the pre-Fielding
days, the low roughs, the high-born bullies, the
drunkenness, the villainies, the thieves' kitchens
with their riverside trapdoors, down which the
body is thrust. This was the Augean stable
which had to be cleaned, and poor Hercules
was weak and frail and physically more fitted
for a sick-room than for such a task. It cost
him his life, for he died at 47, worn out with
his own exertions. It might well have cost
him his life in more dramatic fashion, for he
had become a marked man to the criminal
classes, and he headed his own search-parties
when, on the information of some bribed rascal,
a new den of villainy was exposed. But he
carried his point. In little more than a year
the thing was done, and London turned from
the most rowdy to what it has ever since
remained, the most law-abiding of European
capitals. Has any man ever left a finer monument
behind him?

  If you want the real human Fielding you will
find him not in the novels, where his real kindliness
is too often veiled by a mock cynicism, but
in his ``Diary of his Voyage to Lisbon.'' He
knew that his health was irretrievably ruined and
that his years were numbered. Those are the
days when one sees a man as he is, when he has
no longer a motive for affectation or pretence in
the immediate presence of the most tremendous
of all realities. Yet, sitting in the shadow of
death, Fielding displayed a quiet, gentle courage
and constancy of mind, which show how
splendid a nature had been shrouded by his
earlier frailties.

  Just one word upon another eighteenth-century
novel before I finish this somewhat
didactic chat. You will admit that I have
never prosed so much before, but the period
and the subject seem to encourage it. I skip
Sterne, for I have no great sympathy with his
finicky methods. And I skip Miss Burney's
novels, as being feminine reflections of the
great masters who had just preceded her. But
Goldsmith's ``Vicar of Wakefield'' surely deserves
one paragraph to itself. There is a book
which is tinged throughout, as was all Goldsmith's
work, with a beautiful nature. No one
who had not a fine heart could have written it,
just as no one without a fine heart could have
written ``The Deserted Village.'' How strange
it is to think of old Johnson patronizing or
snubbing the shrinking Irishman, when both
in poetry, in fiction, and in the drama the latter
has proved himself far the greater man. But
here is an object-lesson of how the facts of life
may be treated without offence. Nothing is
shirked. It is all faced and duly recorded. 
Yet if I wished to set before the sensitive mind
of a young girl a book which would prepare her
for life without in any way contaminating her
delicacy of feeling, there is no book which I
should choose so readily as ``The Vicar of

  So much for the eighteenth-century novelists. 
They have a shelf of their own in the case, and
a corner of their own in my brain. For years
you may never think of them, and then suddenly
some stray word or train of thought leads
straight to them, and you look at them and love
them, and rejoice that you know them. But let
us pass to something which may interest you

  If statistics could be taken in the various free
libraries of the kingdom to prove the comparative
popularity of different novelists with the
public, I think that it is quite certain that Mr.
George Meredith would come out very low
indeed. If, on the other hand, a number of
authors were convened to determine which of
their fellow-craftsmen they considered the
greatest and the most stimulating to their own
minds, I am equally confident that Mr. Meredith
would have a vast preponderance of votes. 
Indeed, his only conceivable rival would be Mr.
Hardy. It becomes an interesting study, therefore,
why there should be such a divergence of
opinion as to his merits, and what the qualities
are which have repelled so many readers, and
yet have attracted those whose opinion must be
allowed to have a special weight.

  The most obvious reason is his complete
unconventionality. The public read to be
amused. The novelist reads to have new light
thrown upon his art. To read Meredith is not
a mere amusement; it is an intellectual exercise,
a kind of mental dumb-bell with which
you develop your thinking powers. Your
mind is in a state of tension the whole time
that you are reading him.

  If you will follow my nose as the sportsman
follows that of his pointer, you will observe
that these remarks are excited by the presence of
my beloved ``Richard Feverel,'' which lurks in
yonder corner. What a great book it is, how
wise and how witty! Others of the master's
novels may be more characteristic or more
profound, but for my own part it is the one
which I would always present to the new-comer
who had not yet come under the influence. I
think that I should put it third after ``Vanity
Fair'' and ``The Cloister and the Hearth'' if
I had to name the three novels which I admire
most in the Victorian era. The book was
published, I believe, in 1859, and it is almost
incredible, and says little for the discrimination
of critics or public, that it was nearly twenty
years before a second edition was needed.

  But there are never effects without causes,
however inadequate the cause may be. What
was it that stood in the way of the book's
success? Undoubtedly it was the style. And
yet it is subdued and tempered here with little
of the luxuriance and exuberance which it
attained in the later works. But it was an
innovation, and it stalled off both the public
and the critics. They regarded it, no doubt,
as an affectation, as Carlyle's had been considered
twenty years before, forgetting that in the
case of an original genius style is an organic
thing, part of the man as much as the colour of
his eyes. It is not, to quote Carlyle, a shirt to
be taken on and off at pleasure, but a skin, eternally
fixed. And this strange, powerful style,
how is it to be described? Best, perhaps, in his
own strong words, when he spoke of Carlyle with
perhaps the _arrire pense_ that the words would
apply as strongly to himself.

  ``His favourite author,'' says he, ``was one
writing on heroes in a style resembling either
early architecture or utter dilapidation, so loose
and rough it seemed. A wind-in-the-orchard
style that tumbled down here and there an appreciable
fruit with uncouth bluster, sentences
without commencements running to abrupt
endings and smoke, like waves against a sea-wall,
learned dictionary words giving a hand to
street slang, and accents falling on them haphazard,
like slant rays from driving clouds; all
the pages in a breeze, the whole book producing
a kind of electrical agitation in the mind and

  What a wonderful description and example
of style! And how vivid is the impression
left by such expressions as ``all the pages in a
breeze.'' As a comment on Carlyle, and as a
sample of Meredith, the passage is equally

Well, ``Richard Feverel'' has come into its
own at last. I confess to having a strong belief
in the critical discernment of the public. I do
not think good work is often overlooked. Literature,
like water, finds its true level. Opinion
is slow to form, but it sets true at last. I am
sure that if the critics were to unite to praise a
bad book or to damn a good one they could
(and continually do) have a five-year influence,
but it would in no wise affect the final result. 
Sheridan said that if all the fleas in his bed had
been unanimous, they could have pushed him
out of it. I do not think that any unanimity
of critics has ever pushed a good book out of

  Among the minor excellences of ``Richard
Feverel''---excuse the prolixity of an enthusiast---
are the scattered aphorisms which are
worthy of a place among our British proverbs. 
What could be more exquisite than this, ``Who
rises from prayer a better man his prayer is
answered''; or this, ``Expediency is man's
wisdom. Doing right is God's''; or, ``All
great thoughts come from the heart''? Good
are the words ``The coward amongst us is he
who sneers at the failings of humanity,'' and a
healthy optimism rings in the phrase ``There
is for the mind but one grasp of happiness;
from that uppermost pinnacle of wisdom whence
we see that this world is well designed.'' In
more playful mood is ``Woman is the last thing
which will be civilized by man.'' Let us hurry
away abruptly, for he who starts quotation from
``Richard Feverel'' is lost.

  He has, as you see, a goodly line of his
brothers beside him. There are the Italian
ones, ``Sandra Belloni,'' and ``Vittoria''; there
is ``Rhoda Fleming,'' which carried Stevenson
off his critical feet; ``Beauchamp's Career,'' too,
dealing with obsolete politics. No great writer
should spend himself upon a temporary theme. 
It is like the beauty who is painted in some
passing fashion of gown. She tends to become
obsolete along with her frame. Here also is
the dainty ``Diana,'' the egoist with immortal
Willoughby Pattern, eternal type of masculine
selfishness, and ``Harry Richmond,'' the first
chapters of which are, in my opinion, among the
finest pieces of narrative prose in the language. 
That great mind would have worked in any form
which his age had favoured. He is a novelist
by accident. As an Elizabethan he would have
been a great dramatist; under Queen Anne a
great essayist. But whatever medium he worked
in, he must equally have thrown the image of
a great brain and a great soul.


We have left our eighteenth-century novelists
---Fielding, Richardson, and Smollett---
safely behind us, with all their solidity and their
audacity, their sincerity, and their coarseness
of fibre. They have brought us, as you perceive,
to the end of the shelf. What, not
wearied? Ready for yet another? Let us
run down this next row, then, and I will tell
you a few things which may be of interest,
though they will be dull enough if you have not
been born with that love of books in your heart
which is among the choicest gifts of the gods. 
If that is wanting, then one might as well play
music to the deaf, or walk round the Academy
with the colour-blind, as appeal to the book-sense
of an unfortunate who has it not.

  There is this old brown volume in the corner. 
How it got there I cannot imagine, for it is one
of those which I bought for threepence out of
the remnant box in Edinburgh, and its weather-beaten
comrades are up yonder in the back
gallery, while this one has elbowed its way
among the quality in the stalls. But it is worth
a word or two. Take it out and handle it!
See how swarthy it is, how squat, with how
bullet-proof a cover of scaling leather. Now
open the fly-leaf ``_Ex libris_ Guilielmi Whyte.
1672'' in faded yellow ink. I wonder who
William Whyte may have been, and what he did
upon earth in the reign of the merry monarch. 
A pragmatical seventeenth-century lawyer, I
should judge, by that hard, angular writing. 
The date of issue is 1642, so it was printed just
about the time when the Pilgrim Fathers were
settling down into their new American home,
and the first Charles's head was still firm upon
his shoulders, though a little puzzled, no doubt,
at what was going on around it. The book is in
Latin---though Cicero might not have admitted
it---and it treats of the laws of warfare.

  I picture some pedantic Dugald Dalgetty
bearing it about under his buff coat, or down
in his holster, and turning up the reference
for every fresh emergency which occurred.
``Hullo! here's a well!'' says he. ``I wonder
if I may poison it?'' Out comes the
book, and he runs a dirty forefinger down the
index. ``_Ob fas est aquam hostis venere,_'' etc.
``Tut, tut, it's not allowed. But here are some
of the enemy in a barn? What about that?''
``_Ob fas est hostem incendio,_'' etc. ``Yes; he
says we may. Quick, Ambrose, up with the
straw and the tinder box.'' Warfare was no
child's play about the time when Tilly sacked
Magdeburg, and Cromwell turned his hand
from the mash tub to the sword. It might not
be much better now in a long campaign, when
men were hardened and embittered. Many of
these laws are unrepealed, and it is less than a
century since highly disciplined British troops
claimed their dreadful rights at Badajos and
Rodrigo. Recent European wars have been so
short that discipline and humanity have not had
time to go to pieces, but a long war would show
that man is ever the same, and that civilization
is the thinnest of veneers.

  Now you see that whole row of books which
takes you at one sweep nearly across the shelf?
I am rather proud of those, for they are my
collection of Napoleonic military memoirs. 
There is a story told of an illiterate millionaire
who gave a wholesale dealer an order for a copy
of all books in any language treating of any
aspect of Napoleon's career. He thought it
would fill a case in his library. He was somewhat
taken aback, however, when in a few
weeks he received a message from the dealer
that he had got 40,000 volumes, and awaited
instructions as to whether he should send them
on as an instalment, or wait for a complete set. 
The figures may not be exact, but at least they
bring home the impossibility of exhausting the
subject, and the danger of losing one's self for
years in a huge labyrinth of reading, which may
end by leaving no very definite impression upon
your mind. But one might, perhaps, take a
corner of it, as I have done here in the military
memoirs, and there one might hope to get some

  Here is Marbot at this end---the first of all
soldier books in the world. This is the complete
three-volume French edition, with red
and gold cover, smart and _dbonnaire_ like its
author. Here he is in one frontispiece with
his pleasant, round, boyish face, as a Captain of
his beloved Chasseurs. And here in the other
is the grizzled old bull-dog as a full general,
looking as full of fight as ever. It was a real
blow to me when some one began to throw
doubts upon the authenticity of Marbot's
memoirs. Homer may be dissolved into a
crowd of skin-clad bards. Even Shakespeare
may be jostled in his throne of honour by plausible
Baconians; but the human, the gallant,
the inimitable Marbot! His book is that which
gives us the best picture by far of the Napoleonic
soldiers, and to me they are even more interesting
than their great leader, though his must ever
be the most singular figure in history. But
those soldiers, with their huge shakoes, their
hairy knapsacks, and their hearts of steel---what
men they were! And what a latent power there
must be in this French nation which could go
on pouring out the blood of its sons for twenty-three
years with hardly a pause!

  It took all that time to work off the hot ferment
which the Revolution had left in men's
veins. And they were not exhausted, for the
very last fight which the French fought was the
finest of all. Proud as we are of our infantry at
Waterloo, it was really with the French cavalry
that the greenest laurels of that great epic rested. 
They got the better of our own cavalry, they
took our guns again and again, they swept a
large portion of our allies from the field, and
finally they rode off unbroken, and as full of
fight as ever. Read Gronow's ``Memoirs,''
that chatty little yellow volume yonder which
brings all that age back to us more vividly than
any more pretentious work, and you will find
the chivalrous admiration which our officers
expressed at the fine performance of the French

  It must be admitted that, looking back upon
history, we have not always been good allies,
nor yet generous co-partners in the battlefield. 
The first is the fault of our politics, where one
party rejoices to break what the other has bound. 
The makers of the Treaty are staunch enough,
as the Tories were under Pitt and Castlereagh,
or the Whigs at the time of Queen Anne, but
sooner or later the others must come in. At
the end of the Marlborough wars we suddenly
vamped up a peace and, left our allies in the
lurch, on account of a change in domestic
politics. We did the same with Frederick the
Great, and would have done it in the Napoleonic
days if Fox could have controlled the
country. And as to our partners of the battlefield,
how little we have ever said that is hearty
as to the splendid staunchness of the Prussians
at Waterloo. You have to read the Frenchman,
Houssaye, to get a central view and to
understand the part they played. Think of old
Blucher, seventy years old, and ridden over by
a regiment of charging cavalry the day before,
yet swearing that he would come to Wellington
if he had to be strapped to his horse. He nobly
redeemed his promise.

  The loss of the Prussians at Waterloo was not
far short of our own. You would not know it,
to read our historians. And then the abuse
of our Belgian allies has been overdone. Some
of them fought splendidly, and one brigade of
infantry had a share in the critical instant when
the battle was turned. This also you would
not learn from British sources. Look at our
Portuguese allies also! They trained into
magnificent troops, and one of Wellington's
earnest desires was to have ten thousand of them
for his Waterloo campaign. It was a Portuguese
who first topped the rampart of Badajos. 
They have never had their due credit, nor have
the Spaniards either, for, though often defeated,
it was their unconquerable pertinacity
which played a great part in the struggle. No;
I do not think that we are very amiable partners,
but I suppose that all national history may be
open to a similar charge.

  It must be confessed that Marbot's details
are occasionally a little hard to believe. Never
in the pages of Lever has there been such a
series of hairbreadth escapes and dare-devil
exploits. Surely he stretched it a little sometimes.
You may remember his adventure at
Eylau---I think it was Eylau---how a cannon-ball,
striking the top of his helmet, paralyzed
him by the concussion of his spine; and how,
on a Russian officer running forward to cut him
down, his horse bit the man's face nearly off. 
This was the famous charger which savaged
everything until Marbot, having bought it for
next to nothing, cured it by thrusting a boiling
leg of mutton into its mouth when it tried to
bite him. It certainly does need a robust faith
to get over these incidents. And yet, when
one reflects upon the hundreds of battles and
skirmishes which a Napoleonic officer must have
endured---how they must have been the uninterrupted
routine of his life from the first dark
hair upon his lip to the first grey one upon his
head, it is presumptuous to say what may or
may not have been possible in such unparalleled
careers. At any rate, be it fact or fiction---fact it
is, in my opinion, with some artistic touching up
of the high lights---there are few books which I
could not spare from my shelves better than the
memoirs of the gallant Marbot.

  I dwell upon this particular book because it
is the best; but take the whole line, and there
is not one which is not full of interest. Marbot
gives you the point of view of the officer. So
does De Sgur and De Fezensac and Colonel
Gonville, each in some different branch of the
service. But some are from the pens of the
men in the ranks, and they are even more graphic
than the others. Here, for example, are the
papers of good old Cogniet, who was a grenadier
of the Guard, and could neither read nor write
until after the great wars were over. A tougher
soldier never went into battle. Here is Sergeant
Bourgogne, also with his dreadful account
of that nightmare campaign in Russia, and the
gallant Chevillet, trumpeter of Chasseurs, with
his matter-of-fact account of all that he saw,
where the daily ``combat'' is sandwiched in
betwixt the real business of the day, which was
foraging for his frugal breakfast and supper. 
There is no better writing, and no easier reading,
than the records of these men of action.

  A Briton cannot help asking himself, as he
realizes what men these were, what would have
happened if 150,000 Cogniets and Bourgognes,
with Marbots to lead them, and the great captain
of all time in the prime of his vigour at their
head, had made their landing in Kent? For
months it was touch-and-go. A single naval
slip which left the Channel clear would have
been followed by an embarkation from Boulogne,
which had been brought by constant
practice to so incredibly fine a point that the
last horse was aboard within two hours of the
start. Any evening might have seen the whole
host upon the Pevensey Flats. What then?
We know what Humbert did with a handful
of men in Ireland, and the story is not reassuring.
Conquest, of course, is unthinkable. The
world in arms could not do that. But Napoleon
never thought of the conquest of Britain. He
has expressly disclaimed it. What he did contemplate
was a gigantic raid in which he would
do so much damage that for years to come England
would be occupied at home in picking up
the pieces, instead of having energy to spend
abroad in thwarting his Continental plans.

  Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Sheerness in
flames, with London either levelled to the
ground or ransomed at his own figure---that
was a more feasible programme. Then, with
the united fleets of conquered Europe at his
back, enormous armies and an inexhaustible
treasury, swollen with the ransom of Britain, he
could turn to that conquest of America which
would win back the old colonies of France and
leave him master of the world. If the worst
happened and he had met his Waterloo upon
the South Downs, he would have done again
what he did in Egypt and once more in Russia:
hurried back to France in a swift vessel, and still
had force enough to hold his own upon the
Continent. It would, no doubt, have been a
big stake to lay upon the table---150,000 of his
best---but he could play again if he lost; while,
if he won, he cleared the board. A fine game---
if little Nelson had not stopped it, and with one
blow fixed the edge of salt water as the limit of
Napoleon's power.

  There's the cast of a medal on the top of
that cabinet which will bring it all close home
to you. It is taken from the die of the medal
which Napoleon had arranged to issue on the
day that he reached London. It serves, at any
rate, to show that his great muster was not a
bluff, but that he really did mean serious
business. On one side is his head. On the
other France is engaged in strangling and
throwing to earth a curious fish-tailed creature,
which stands for perfidious Albion. ``Frapp
 Londres'' is printed on one part of it, and
``La Descente dans Angleterre'' upon another. 
Struck to commemorate a conquest, it remains
now as a souvenir of a fiasco. But it was a
close call.

  By the way, talking of Napoleon's flight
from Egypt, did you ever see a curious little
book called, if I remember right, ``Intercepted
Letters''? No; I have no copy upon this
shelf, but a friend is more fortunate. It shows
the almost incredible hatred which existed at
the end of the eighteenth century between the
two nations, descending even to the most petty
personal annoyance. On this occasion the
British Government intercepted a mail-bag of
letters coming from French officers in Egypt
to their friends at home, and they either published
them, or at least allowed them to be
published, in the hope, no doubt, of causing
domestic complications. Was ever a more
despicable action? But who knows what other
injuries had been inflicted to draw forth such a
retaliation? I have myself seen a burned and
mutilated British mail lying where De Wet
had left it; but suppose the refinement of his
vengeance had gone so far as to publish it, what
a thunder-bolt it might have been!

  As to the French officers, I have read their
letters, though even after a century one had a
feeling of guilt when one did so. But, on the
whole, they are a credit to the writers, and give
the impression of a noble and chivalrous set of
men. Whether they were all addressed to the
right people is another matter, and therein lay
the poisoned sting of this most un-British affair. 
As to the monstrous things which were done
upon the other side, remember the arrest of all
the poor British tourists and commercials who
chanced to be in France when the war was renewed
in 1803. They had run over in all trust
and confidence for a little outing and change of
air. They certainly got it, for Napoleon's steel
grip fell upon them, and they rejoined their
families in 1814. He must have had a heart of
adamant and a will of iron. Look at his conduct
over the naval prisoners. The natural
proceeding would have been to exchange them. 
For some reason he did not think it good policy
to do so. All representations from the British
Government were set aside, save in the case
of the higher officers. Hence the miseries of
the hulks and the dreadful prison barracks in
England. Hence also the unhappy idlers of
Verdun. What splendid loyalty there must
have been in those humble Frenchmen which
never allowed them for one instant to turn
bitterly upon the author of all their great misfortunes.
It is all brought vividly home by the
description of their prisons given by Borrow in
``Lavengro.'' This is the passage---

  ``What a strange appearance had those
mighty casernes, with their blank, blind walls,
without windows or grating, and their slanting
roofs, out of which, through orifices where the
tiles had been removed, would be protruded
dozens of grim heads, feasting their prison-sick
eyes on the wide expanse of country unfolded
from their airy height. Ah! there was much
misery in those casernes; and from those roofs,
doubtless, many a wistful look was turned in
the direction of lovely France. Much had the
poor inmates to endure, and much to complain
of, to the disgrace of England be it said---of
England, in general so kind and bountiful. 
Rations of carrion meat, and bread from which
I have seen the very hounds occasionally turn
away, were unworthy entertainment even for
the most ruffian enemy, when helpless and
captive; and such, alas! was the fare in those
casernes. And then, those visits, or rather ruthless
inroads, called in the slang of the place
`straw-plait hunts,' when in pursuit of a contraband
article, which the prisoners, in order
to procure themselves a few of the necessaries
and comforts of existence, were in the habit
of making, red-coated battalions were marched
into the prisons, who, with the bayonet's point,
carried havoc and ruin into every poor convenience
which ingenious wretchedness had been
endeavouring to raise around it; and then the
triumphant exit with the miserable booty, and
worst of all, the accursed bonfire, on the barrack
parade of the plait contraband, beneath the
view of glaring eyeballs from those lofty roofs,
amid the hurrahs of the troops frequently
drowned in the curses poured down from above
like a tempest-shower, or in the terrific war-whoop
of `Vive l'Empereur!' ''

  There is a little vignette of Napoleon's men
in captivity. Here is another which is worth
preserving of the bearing of his veterans when
wounded on the field of battle. It is from
Mercer's recollections of the Battle of Waterloo. 
Mercer had spent the day firing case into the
French cavalry at ranges from fifty to two hundred
yards, losing two-thirds of his own battery
in the process. In the evening he had a look at
some of his own grim handiwork.

  ``I had satisfied my curiosity at Hougoumont,
and was retracing my steps up the hill when my
attention was called to a group of wounded
Frenchmen by the calm, dignified, and soldier-like
oration addressed by one of them to the rest. 
I cannot, like Livy, compose a fine harangue for
my hero, and, of course, I could not retain the
precise words, but the import of them was to
exhort them to bear their sufferings with fortitude;
not to repine, like women or children,
at what every soldier should have made up his
mind to suffer as the fortune of war, but above
all, to remember that they were surrounded by
Englishmen, before whom they ought to be
doubly careful not to disgrace themselves by
displaying such an unsoldier-like want of fortitude.

  ``The speaker was sitting on the ground with
his lance stuck upright beside him---an old
veteran with thick bushy, grizzly beard, countenance
like a lion---a lancer of the old guard,
and no doubt had fought in many a field. One
hand was flourished in the air as he spoke, the
other, severed at the wrist, lay on the earth
beside him; one ball (case-shot, probably) had
entered his body, another had broken his leg. 
His suffering, after a night of exposure so
mangled, must have been great; yet he betrayed
it not. His bearing was that of a Roman, or
perhaps an Indian warrior, and I could fancy
him concluding appropriately his speech in the
words of the Mexican king, `And I too; am
I on a bed of roses?' ''

  What a load of moral responsibility upon one
man! But his mind was insensible to moral
responsibility. Surely if it had not been it
must have been crushed beneath it. Now, if
you want to understand the character of
Napoleon---but surely I must take a fresh start
before I launch on so portentous a subject as

  But before I leave the military men let me, for
the credit of my own country, after that infamous
incident of the letters, indicate these six
well-thumbed volumes of ``Napier's History.''
This is the story of the great Peninsular War,
by one who fought through it himself, and in
no history has a more chivalrous and manly
account been given of one's enemy. Indeed,
Napier seems to me to push it too far, for his
admiration appears to extend not only to the
gallant soldiers who opposed him, but to the
character and to the ultimate aims of their leader. 
He was, in fact, a political follower of Charles
James Fox, and his heart seems to have been
with the enemy even at the moment when he led
his men most desperately against them. In
the verdict of history the action of those men
who, in their honest zeal for freedom, inflamed
somewhat by political strife, turned against their
own country, when it was in truth the Champion
of Freedom, and approved of a military
despot of the most uncompromising kind, seems
wildly foolish.

  But if Napier's politics may seem strange,
his soldiering was splendid, and his prose
among the very best that I know. There
are passages in that work---the one which
describes the breach of Badajos, that of the
charge of the Fusiliers at Albuera, and that
of the French advance at Fuentes d'Onoro---
which once read haunt the mind for ever. 
The book is a worthy monument of a
great national epic. Alas! for the pregnant
sentence with which it closes, ``So ended
the great war, and with it all memory of
the services of the veterans.'' Was there ever
a British war of which the same might not
have been written?

  The quotation which I have given from
Mercer's book turns my thoughts in the direction
of the British military reminiscences of
that period, less numerous, less varied, and
less central than the French, but full of character
and interest all the same. I have found
that if I am turned loose in a large library,
after hesitating over covers for half an hour
or so, it is usually a book of soldier memoirs
which I take down. Man is never so interesting
as when he is thoroughly in earnest, and
no one is so earnest as he whose life is at stake
upon the event. But of all types of soldier the
best is the man who is keen upon his work,
and yet has general culture which enables him
to see that work in its due perspective, and
to sympathize with the gentler aspirations of
mankind. Such a man is Mercer, an ice-cool
fighter, with a sense of discipline and decorum
which prevented him from moving when a
bombshell was fizzing between his feet, and
yet a man of thoughtful and philosophic temperament,
with a weakness for solitary musings,
for children, and for flowers. He has
written for all time the classic account of a great
battle, seen from the point of view of a battery
commander. Many others of Wellington's soldiers
wrote their personal reminiscences. You
can get them, as I have them there, in the
pleasant abridgement of ``Wellington's Men''
(admirably edited by Dr. Fitchett)---Anton the
Highlander, Harris the rifleman, and Kincaid
of the same corps. It is a most singular
fate which has made an Australian nonconformist
clergyman the most sympathetic and
eloquent reconstructor of those old heroes,
but it is a noble example of that unity of
the British race, which in fifty scattered lands
still mourns or rejoices over the same historic

  And just one word, before I close down this
over-long and too discursive chatter, on the
subject of yonder twin red volumes which flank
the shelf. They are Maxwell's ``History of
Wellington,'' and I do not think you will find
a better or more readable one. The reader
must ever feel towards the great soldier what
his own immediate followers felt, respect rather
than affection. One's failure to attain a more
affectionate emotion is alleviated by the knowledge
that it was the last thing which he invited
or desired. ``Don't be a damned fool,
sir!'' was his exhortation to the good citizen
who had paid him a compliment. It was a
curious, callous nature, brusque and limited. 
The hardest huntsman learns to love his hounds,
but he showed no affection and a good deal of
contempt for the men who had been his instruments.
``They are the scum of the earth,''
said he. ``All English soldiers are fellows who
have enlisted for drink. That is the plain fact
---they have all enlisted for drink.'' His general
orders were full of undeserved reproaches at a
time when the most lavish praise could hardly
have met the real deserts of his army. When
the wars were done he saw little, save in his
official capacity, of his old comrades-in-arms. 
And yet, from major-general to drummer-boy,
he was the man whom they would all have
elected to serve under, had the work to be
done once more. As one of them said, ``The
sight of his long nose was worth ten thousand
men on a field of battle.'' They were themselves
a leathery breed, and cared little for the
gentler amenities so long as the French were
well drubbed.

  His mind, which was comprehensive and
alert in warfare, was singularly limited in civil
affairs. As a statesman he was so constant an
example of devotion to duty, self-sacrifice, and
high disinterested character, that the country
was the better for his presence. But he fiercely
opposed Catholic Emancipation, the Reform
Bill, and everything upon which our modern
life is founded. He could never be brought
to see that a pyramid should stand on its base
and not on its apex, and that the larger the
pyramid, the broader should be the base. 
Even in military affairs he was averse from
every change, and I know of no improvements
which came from his initiative during all those
years when his authority was supreme. The
floggings which broke a man's spirit and self-respect,
the leathern stock which hampered
his movements, all the old traditional rgime
found a champion in him. On the other hand,
he strongly opposed the introduction of the
percussion cap as opposed to the flint and steel
in the musket. Neither in war nor in politics
did he rightly judge the future.

  And yet in reading his letters and dispatches,
one is surprised sometimes at the incisive
thought and its vigorous expression. There is
a passage in which he describes the way in
which his soldiers would occasionally desert
into some town which he was besieging. ``They
knew,'' he writes, ``that they must be taken, for
when we lay our bloody hands upon a place we
are sure to take it, sooner or later; but they
liked being dry and under cover, and then
that extraordinary caprice which always pervades
the English character! Our deserters
are very badly treated by the enemy; those
who deserted in France were treated as the
lowest of mortals, slaves and scavengers. Nothing
but English caprice can account for it; just
what makes our noblemen associate with stage-coach
drivers, and become stage-coach drivers
themselves.'' After reading that passage, how
often does the phrase ``the extraordinary caprice
which always pervades the English character''
come back as one observes some fresh
manifestation of it!

  But let not my last note upon the great duke
be a carping one. Rather let my final sentence
be one which will remind you of his frugal and
abstemious life, his carpetless floor and little
camp bed, his precise courtesy which left no
humblest letter unanswered, his courage which
never flinched, his tenacity which never faltered,
his sense of duty which made his life one long
unselfish effort on behalf of what seemed to
him to be the highest interest of the State. 
Go down and stand by the huge granite sarcophagus
in the dim light of the crypt of St.
Paul's, and in the hush of that austere spot,
cast back your mind to the days when little
England alone stood firm against the greatest
soldier and the greatest army that the world
has ever known. Then you feel what this
dead man stood for, and you pray that we may
still find such another amongst us when the
clouds gather once again.

  You see that the literature of Waterloo is well
represented in my small military library. Of
all books dealing with the personal view of
the matter, I think that ``Siborne's Letters,''
which is a collection of the narratives of surviving
officers made by Siborne in the year
1827, is the most interesting. Gronow's account
is also very vivid and interesting. Of
the strategical narratives, Houssaye's book is
my favourite. Taken from the French point
of view, it gets the actions of the allies in
truer perspective than any English or German
account can do; but there is a fascination
about that great combat which makes every
narrative that bears upon it of enthralling

  Wellington used to say that too much was
made of it, and that one would imagine that
the British Army had never fought a battle
before. It was a characteristic speech, but it
must be admitted that the British Army never
had, as a matter of fact, for many centuries
fought a battle which was finally decisive of a
great European war. There lies the perennial
interest of the incident, that it was the last act
of that long-drawn drama, and that to the very
fall of the curtain no man could tell how the
play would end---`` the nearest run thing that
ever you saw''---that was the victor's description.
It is a singular thing that during those
twenty-five years of incessant fighting the material
and methods of warfare made so little
progress. So far as I know, there was no great
change in either between 1789 and 1805. The
breech-loader, heavy artillery, the ironclad, all
great advances in the art of war, have been invented
in time of peace. There are some improvements
so obvious, and at the same time
so valuable, that it is extraordinary that they
were not adopted. Signalling, for example,
whether by heliograph or by flag-waving, would
have made an immense difference in the Napoleonic
campaigns. The principle of the semaphore
was well known, and Belgium, with its
numerous windmills, would seem to be furnished
with natural semaphores. Yet in the
four days during which the campaign of Waterloo
was fought, the whole scheme of military
operations on both sides was again and again
imperilled, and finally in the case of the French
brought to utter ruin by lack of that intelligence
which could so easily have been conveyed. 
June 18th was at intervals a sunshiny day---a
four-inch glass mirror would have put Napoleon
in communication with Gruchy, and the whole
history of Europe might have been altered. 
Wellington himself suffered dreadfully from
defective information which might have been
easily supplied. The unexpected presence of
the French army was first discovered at four
in the morning of June 15. It was of enormous
importance to get the news rapidly to Wellington
at Brussels that he might instantly concentrate
his scattered forces on the best line of
resistance---yet, through the folly of sending
only a single messenger, this vital information
did not reach him until three in the afternoon,
the distance being thirty miles. Again, when
Blucher was defeated at Ligny on the 16th, it
was of enormous importance that Wellington
should know at once the line of his retreat so
as to prevent the French from driving a wedge
between them. The single Prussian officer
who was despatched with this information
was wounded, and never reached his destination,
and it was only next day that Wellington
learned the Prussian plans. On what tiny
things does History depend!


The contemplation of my fine little regiment
of French military memoirs had
brought me to the question of Napoleon himself,
and you see that I have a very fair line
dealing with him also. There is Scott's life,
which is not entirely a success. His ink was
too precious to be shed in such a venture. 
But here are the three volumes of the physician
Bourrienne---that Bourrienne who knew
him so well. Does any one ever know a man
so well as his doctor? They are quite excellent
and admirably translated. Meneval also---
the patient Meneval---who wrote for untold
hours to dictation at ordinary talking speed,
and yet was expected to be legible and to make
no mistakes. At least his master could not
fairly criticize his legibility, for is it not on
record that when Napoleon's holograph account
of an engagement was laid before the President
of the Senate, the worthy man thought that it
was a drawn plan of the battle? Meneval survived
his master and has left an excellent and
intimate account of him. There is Constant's
account, also written from that point of view in
which it is proverbial that no man is a hero. 
But of all the vivid terrible pictures of Napoleon
the most haunting is by a man who never saw
him and whose book was not directly dealing
with him. I mean Taine's account of him, in
the first volume of ``Les Origines de la France
Contemporaine.'' You can never forget it
when once you have read it. He produces his
effect in a wonderful, and to me a novel, way. 
He does not, for example, say in mere crude
words that Napoleon had a more than medival
Italian cunning. He presents a succession
of documents---gives a series of contemporary
instances to prove it. Then, having got that
fixed in your head by blow after blow, he passes
on to another phase of his character, his coldhearted
amorousness, his power of work, his
spoiled child wilfulness, or some other quality,
and piles up his illustrations of that. Instead,
for example, of saying that the Emperor had a
marvellous memory for detail, we have the
account of the head of Artillery laying the list
of all the guns in France before his master,
who looked over it and remarked, ``Yes, but
you have omitted two in a fort near Dieppe.''
So the man is gradually etched in with indelible
ink. It is a wonderful figure of which you are
conscious in the end, the figure of an archangel,
but surely of an archangel of darkness.

  We will, after Taine's method, take one fact
and let it speak for itself. Napoleon left a
legacy in a codicil to his will to a man who
tried to assassinate Wellington. There is the
medival Italian again! He was no more a
Corsican than the Englishman born in India
is a Hindoo. Read the lives of the Borgias,
the Sforzas, the Medicis, and of all the lustful,
cruel, broad-minded, art-loving, talented despots
of the little Italian States, including
Genoa, from which the Buonapartes migrated. 
There at once you get the real descent of the
man, with all the stigmata clear upon him---
the outward calm, the inward passion, the
layer of snow above the volcano, everything
which characterized the old despots of his
native land, the pupils of Machiavelli, but
all raised to the dimensions of genius. You
can whitewash him as you may, but you will
never get a layer thick enough to cover the
stain of that cold-blooded deliberate endorsement
of his noble adversary's assassination.

  Another book which gives an extraordinarily
vivid picture of the man is this one---the Memoirs
of Madame de Remusat. She was in daily
contact with him at the Court, and she studied
him with those quick critical eyes of a clever
woman, the most unerring things in life when
they are not blinded by love. If you have read
those pages, you feel that you know him as if
you had yourself seen and talked with him. 
His singular mixture of the small and the great,
his huge sweep of imagination, his very limited
knowledge, his intense egotism, his impatience
of obstacles, his boorishness, his gross impertinence
to women, his diabolical playing upon the
weak side of every one with whom he came in
contact---they make up among them one of
the most striking of historical portraits.

  Most of my books deal with the days of his
greatness, but here, you see, is a three-volume
account of those weary years at St. Helena. 
Who can help pitying the mewed eagle? And
yet if you play the great game you must pay
a stake. This was the same man who had a
royal duke shot in a ditch because he was a
danger to his throne. Was not he himself a
danger to every throne in Europe? Why so
harsh a retreat as St. Helena, you say? Remember
that he had been put in a milder one
before, that he had broken away from it, and
that the lives of fifty thousand men had paid
for the mistaken leniency. All this is forgotten
now, and the pathetic picture of the modern
Prometheus chained to his rock and devoured
by the vultures of his own bitter thoughts, is
the one impression which the world has retained. 
It is always so much easier to follow the emotions
than the reason, especially where a cheap
magnanimity and second-hand generosity are
involved. But reason must still insist that
Europe's treatment of Napoleon was not vindictive,
and that Hudson Lowe was a man
who tried to live up to the trust which had
been committed to him by his country.

  It was certainly not a post from which any
one would hope for credit. If he were slack
and easy-going all would be well. But there
would be the chance of a second flight with its
consequences. If he were strict and assiduous
he would be assuredly represented as a petty
tyrant. ``I am glad when you are on outpost,''
said Lowe's general in some campaign, ``for
then I am sure of a sound rest.'' He was on
outpost at St. Helena, and because he was true
to his duties Europe (France included) had a
sound rest. But he purchased it at the price
of his own reputation. The greatest schemer
in the world, having nothing else on which to
vent his energies, turned them all to the task of
vilifying his guardian. It was natural enough
that he who had never known control should
not brook it now. It is natural also that sentimentalists
who have not thought of the details
should take the Emperor's point of view. What
is deplorable, however, is that our own people
should be misled by one-sided accounts, and
that they should throw to the wolves a man who
was serving his country in a post of anxiety
and danger, with such responsibility upon him
as few could ever have endured. Let them
remember Montholon's remark: ``An angel
from heaven would not have satisfied us.'' Let
them recall also that Lowe with ample material
never once troubled to state his own case. ``_Je
fais mon devoir et suis indiffrent pour le reste_,''
said he, in his interview with the Emperor. 
They were no idle words.

  Apart from this particular epoch, French
literature, which is so rich in all its branches,
is richest of all in its memoirs. Whenever
there was anything of interest going forward
there was always some kindly gossip who knew
all about it, and was ready to set it down for
the benefit of posterity. Our own history has
not nearly enough of these charming sidelights. 
Look at our sailors in the Napoleonic wars,
for example. They played an epoch-making
part. For nearly twenty years Freedom
was a Refugee upon the seas. Had our navy
been swept away, then all Europe would have
been one organized despotism. At times everybody
was against us, fighting against their own
direct interests under the pressure of that terrible
hand. We fought on the waters with the
French, with the Spaniards, with the Danes,
with the Russians, with the Turks, even with
our American kinsmen. Middies grew into
post-captains, and admirals into dotards during
that prolonged struggle. And what have we
in literature to show for it all? Marryat's
novels, many of which are founded upon personal
experience, Nelson's and Collingwood's
letters, Lord Cochrane's biography---that is
about all. I wish we had more of Collingwood,
for he wielded a fine pen. Do you remember
the sonorous opening of his Trafalgar message
to his captains?---

  ``The ever to be lamented death of Lord
Viscount Nelson, Duke of Bronte, the Commander-in-Chief,
who fell in the action of the
21st, in the arms of Victory, covered with
glory, whose memory will be ever dear to the
British Navy and the British Nation; whose
zeal for the honour of his king and for the
interests of his country will be ever held up as a
shining example for a British seaman---leaves
to me a duty to return thanks, etc., etc.''

  It was a worthy sentence to carry such a
message, written too in a raging tempest, with
sinking vessels all around him. But in the main
it is a poor crop from such a soil. No doubt
our sailors were too busy to do much writing,
but none the less one wonders that among so
many thousands there were not some to understand
what a treasure their experiences would
be to their descendants. I can call to mind the
old three-deckers which used to rot in Portsmouth
Harbour, and I have often thought,
could they tell their tales, what a missing chapter
in our literature they could supply.

  It is not only in Napoleonic memoirs that
the French are so fortunate. The almost
equally interesting age of Louis XIV. produced
an even more wonderful series. If you go
deeply into the subject you are amazed by their
number, and you feel as if every one at the Court
of the Roi Soleil had done what he (or she) could
to give away their neighbours. Just to take
the more obvious, there are St. Simon's Memoirs---
those in themselves give us a more
comprehensive and intimate view of the age
than anything I know of which treats of the
times of Queen Victoria. Then there is St.
Evremond, who is nearly as complete. Do
you want the view of a woman of quality?
There are the letters of Madame de Svign
(eight volumes of them), perhaps the most wonderful
series of letters that any woman has ever
penned. Do you want the confessions of a
rake of the period? Here are the too salacious
memoirs of the mischievous Duc de Roquelaure,
not reading for the nursery certainly, not
even for the boudoir, but a strange and very
intimate picture of the times. All these books
fit into each other, for the characters of the one
reappear in the others. You come to know
them quite familiarly before you have finished,
their loves and their hates, their duels, their
intrigues, and their ultimate fortunes. If you
do not care to go so deeply into it you have only
to put Julia Pardoe's four-volumed ``Court of
Louis XIV.'' upon your shelf, and you will find
a very admirable condensation---or a distillation
rather, for most of the salt is left behind. There
is another book too---that big one on the bottom
shelf---which holds it all between its brown
and gold covers. An extravagance that---for
it cost me some sovereigns---but it is something
to have the portraits of all that wonderful galaxy,
of Louis, of the devout Maintenon, of the frail
Montespan, of Bossuet, Fnelon, Molire,
Racine, Pascal, Cond, Turenne, and all the
saints and sinners of the age. If you want to
make yourself a present, and chance upon a
copy of ``The Court and Times of Louis XIV.,''
you will never think that your money has been

  Well, I have bored you unduly, my patient
friend, with my love of memoirs, Napoleonic
and otherwise, which give a touch of human
interest to the arid records of history. Not
that history should be arid. It ought to be the
most interesting subject upon earth, the story
of ourselves, of our forefathers, of the human
race, the events which made us what we are,
and wherein, if Weismann's views hold the
field, some microscopic fraction of this very
body which for the instant we chance to inhabit
may have borne a part. But unfortunately the
power of accumulating knowledge and that of
imparting it are two very different things, and
the uninspired historian becomes merely the
dignified compiler of an enlarged almanac.
Worst of all, when a man does come along with
fancy and imagination, who can breathe the
breath of life into the dry bones, it is the fashion
for the dryasdusts to belabour him, as one who
has wandered away from the orthodox path and
must necessarily be inaccurate. So Froude
was attacked. So also Macaulay in his day. 
But both will be read when the pedants are forgotten.
If I were asked my very ideal of how
history should be written, I think I should
point to those two rows on yonder shelf, the one
M`Carthy's ``History of Our Own Times,''
the other Lecky's ``History of England in
the Eighteenth Century.'' Curious that each
should have been written by an Irishman, and
that though of opposite politics and living in
an age when Irish affairs have caused such
bitterness, both should be conspicuous not
merely for all literary graces, but for that broad
toleration which sees every side of a question,
and handles every problem from the point of
view of the philosophic observer and never of
the sectarian partisan.

  By the way, talking of history, have you read
Parkman's works? He was, I think, among
the very greatest of the historians, and yet one
seldom hears his name. A New England man
by birth, and writing principally of the early
history of the American Settlements and of
French Canada, it is perhaps excusable that he
should have no great vogue in England, but
even among Americans I have found many who
have not read him. There are four of his
volumes in green and gold down yonder,
``The Jesuits in Canada,'' and ``Frontenac,''
but there are others, all of them well worth
reading, ``Pioneers of France,'' ``Montcalm and
Wolfe,'' ``Discovery of the Great West,'' etc.
Some day I hope to have a complete set.

  Taking only that one book, ``The Jesuits
in Canada,'' it is worth a reputation in itself. 
And how noble a tribute is this which a man of
Puritan blood pays to that wonderful Order!
He shows how in the heyday of their enthusiasm
these brave soldiers of the Cross invaded
Canada as they did China and every other place
where danger was to be faced, and a horrible
death to be found. I don't care what faith a
man may profess, or whether he be a Christian
at all, but he cannot read these true records
without feeling that the very highest that man
has ever evolved in sanctity and devotion was
to be found among these marvellous men. 
They were indeed the pioneers of civilization,
for apart from doctrines they brought among
the savages the highest European culture, and
in their own deportment an object-lesson of
how chastely, austerely, and nobly men could
live. France has sent myriads of brave men on
to her battlefields, but in all her long record of
glory I do not think that she can point to any
courage so steadfast and so absolutely heroic as
that of the men of the Iroquois Mission.

  How nobly they lived makes the body of the
book, how serenely they died forms the end to
it. It is a tale which cannot even now be read
without a shudder---a nightmare of horrors. 
Fanaticism may brace a man to hurl himself
into oblivion, as the Mahdi's hordes did before
Khartoum, but one feels that it is at least a
higher development of such emotion, where
men slowly and in cold blood endure so thankless
a life, and welcome so dreadful an end. 
Every faith can equally boast its martyrs---a
painful thought, since it shows how many thousands
must have given their blood for error---
but in testifying to their faith these brave men
have testified to something more important still,
to the subjugation of the body and to the absolute
supremacy of the dominating spirit.

  The story of Father Jogue is but one of many,
and yet it is worth recounting, as showing the
spirit of the men. He also was on the Iroquois
Mission, and was so tortured and mutilated by
his sweet parishioners that the very dogs used
to howl at his distorted figure. He made his
way back to France, not for any reason of personal
rest or recuperation, but because he
needed a special dispensation to say Mass. 
The Catholic Church has a regulation that a
priest shall not be deformed, so that the savages
with their knives had wrought better than they
knew. He received his dispensation and was
sent for by Louis XIV., who asked him what
he could do for him. No doubt the assembled
courtiers expected to hear him ask for the next
vacant Bishopric. What he did actually ask
for, as the highest favour, was to be sent back
to the Iroquois Mission, where the savages
signalized his arrival by burning him alive.

  Parkman is worth reading, if it were only for
his account of the Indians. Perhaps the very
strangest thing about them, and the most unaccountable,
is their small numbers. The
Iroquois were one of the most formidable of
tribes. They were of the Five Nations, whose
scalping-parties wandered over an expanse of
thousands of square miles. Yet there is good
reason to doubt whether the whole five nations
could have put as many thousand warriors in
the field. It was the same with all the other
tribes of Northern Americans, both in the east,
the north, and the west. Their numbers were
always insignificant. And yet they had that
huge country to themselves, the best of climates,
and plenty of food. Why was it that they did
not people it thickly? It may be taken as a
striking example of the purpose and design
which run through the affairs of men, that at
the very moment when the old world was ready
to overflow the new world was empty to receive
it. Had North America been peopled as China
is peopled, the Europeans might have founded
some settlements, but could never have taken
possession of the continent. Buffon has made
the striking remark that the creative power
appeared to have never had great vigour in
America. He alluded to the abundance of the
flora and fauna as compared with that of other
great divisions of the earth's surface. Whether
the numbers of the Indians are an illustration
of the same fact, or whether there is some
special cause, is beyond my very modest scientific
attainments. When one reflects upon the
countless herds of bison which used to cover
the Western plains, or marks in the present day
the race statistics of the French Canadians at
one end of the continent, and of the Southern
negro at the other, it seems absurd to suppose
that there is any geographical reason against
Nature being as prolific here as elsewhere. 
However, these be deeper waters, and with your
leave we will get back into my usual six-inch
wading-depth once more.


I don't know how those two little books got
in there. They are Henley's ``Song of the
Sword'' and ``Book of Verses.'' They ought
to be over yonder in the rather limited Poetry
Section. Perhaps it is that I like his work so,
whether it be prose or verse, and so have put
them ready to my hand. He was a remarkable
man, a man who was very much greater than his
work, great as some of his work was. I have
seldom known a personality more magnetic
and stimulating. You left his presence, as a
battery leaves a generating station, charged up
and full. He made you feel what a lot of work
there was to be done, and how glorious it was
to be able to do it, and how needful to get started
upon it that very hour. With the frame and the
vitality of a giant he was cruelly bereft of all
outlet for his strength, and so distilled it off in
hot words, in warm sympathy, in strong prejudices,
in all manner of human and stimulating
emotions. Much of the time and energy which
might have built an imperishable name for
himself was spent in encouraging others; but
it was not waste, for he left his broad thumb-mark
upon all that passed beneath it. A dozen
second-hand Henleys are fortifying our literature

  Alas that we have so little of his very best!
for that very best was the finest of our time. 
Few poets ever wrote sixteen consecutive lines
more noble and more strong than those which
begin with the well-known quatrain---

    ``Out of the night that covers me,
        Black as the pit from Pole to Pole,
      I thank whatever Gods there be
        For my unconquerable soul.''

It is grand literature, and it is grand pluck
too; for it came from a man who, through no
fault of his own, had been pruned, and pruned
again, like an ill-grown shrub, by the surgeon's
knife. When he said---

    ``In the fell clutch of Circumstance
        I have not winced nor cried aloud,
      Beneath the bludgeonings of Chance
        My head is bloody but unbowed.''

It was not what Lady Byron called ``the
mimic woe'' of the poet, but it was rather the
grand defiance of the Indian warrior at the
stake, whose proud soul can hold in hand his
quivering body.

  There were two quite distinct veins of poetry
in Henley, each the very extreme from the
other. The one was heroic, gigantic, running
to large sweeping images and thundering words. 
Such are the ``Song of the Sword'' and much
more that he has written, like the wild singing
of some Northern scald. The other, and to my
mind both the more characteristic and the finer
side of his work, is delicate, precise, finely
etched, with extraordinarily vivid little pictures
drawn in carefully phrased and balanced English.
Such are the ``Hospital Verses,'' while
the ``London Voluntaries'' stand midway
between the two styles. What! you have not
read the ``Hospital Verses!'' Then get the
``Book of Verses'' and read them without
delay. You will surely find something there
which, for good or ill, is unique. You can
name---or at least I can name---nothing to compare
it with. Goldsmith and Crabbe have
written of indoor themes; but their monotonous,
if majestic metre, wearies the modern
reader. But this is so varied, so flexible, so
dramatic. It stands by itself. Confound the
weekly journals and all the other lightning
conductors which caused such a man to pass
away, and to leave a total output of about five
booklets behind him!

  However, all this is an absolute digression,
for the books had no business in this shelf at
all. This corner is meant for chronicles of
various sorts. Here are three in a line, which
carry you over a splendid stretch of French
(which usually means European) history, each,
as luck would have it, beginning just about the
time when the other leaves off. The first is
Froissart, the second de Monstrelet, and the
third de Comines. When you have read the
three you have the best contemporary account
first hand of considerably more than a century
---a fair slice out of the total written record of
the human race.

  Froissart is always splendid. If you desire
to avoid the medival French, which only a
specialist can read with pleasure, you can get
Lord Berners' almost equally medival, but
very charming English, or you can turn to a
modern translation, such as this one of Johnes. 
A single page of Lord Berners is delightful;
but it is a strain, I think, to read bulky volumes
in an archaic style. Personally, I prefer the
modern, and even with that you have shown
some patience before you have reached the end
of that big second tome.

  I wonder whether, at the time, the old Hainault
Canon had any idea of what he was doing
---whether it ever flashed across his mind that
the day might come when his book would be
the one great authority, not only about the
times in which he lived, but about the whole
institution of chivalry? I fear that it is far
more likely that his whole object was to gain
some mundane advantage from the various
barons and knights whose names and deeds be
recounts. He has left it on record, for example,
that when he visited the Court of England he
took with him a handsomely-bound copy of his
work; and, doubtless, if one could follow the
good Canon one would find his journeys littered
with similar copies which were probably expensive
gifts to the recipient, for what return would
a knightly soul make for a book which enshrined
his own valour?

  But without looking too curiously into his
motives, it must be admitted that the work
could not have been done more thoroughly. 
There is something of Herodotus in the Canon's
cheery, chatty, garrulous, take-it-or-leave-it
manner. But he has the advantage of the old
Greek in accuracy. Considering that he belonged
to the same age which gravely accepted
the travellers' tales of Sir John Maundeville,
it is, I think, remarkable how careful and
accurate the chronicler is. Take, for example,
his description of Scotland and the Scotch. 
Some would give the credit to Jean-le-Bel, but
that is another matter. Scotch descriptions
are a subject over which a fourteenth-century
Hainaulter might fairly be allowed a little scope
for his imagination. Yet we can see that the
account must on the whole have been very
correct. The Galloway nags, the girdle-cakes,
the bagpipes---every little detail rings true. 
Jean-le-Bel was actually present in a Border
campaign, and from him Froissart got his
material; but he has never attempted to embroider
it, and its accuracy, where we can to
some extent test it, must predispose us to accept
his accounts where they are beyond our

  But the most interesting portion of old Froissart's
work is that which deals with the knights
and the knight-errants of his time, their deeds,
their habits, their methods of talking. It is
true that he lived himself just a little after the
true heyday of chivalry; but he was quite early
enough to have met many of the men who had
been looked upon as the flower of knighthood
of the time. His book was read too, and commented
on by these very men (as many of them
as could read), and so we may take it that it was
no fancy portrait, but a correct picture of these
soldiers which is to be found in it. The accounts
are always consistent. If you collate
the remarks and speeches of the knights (as I
have had occasion to do) you will find a remarkable
uniformity running through them. We
may believe then that this really does represent
the kind of men who fought at Crecy and at
Poictiers, in the age when both the French and
the Scottish kings were prisoners in London,
and England reached a pitch of military glory
which has perhaps never been equalled in her

  In one respect these knights differ from anything
which we have had presented to us in our
historical romances. To turn to the supreme
romancer, you will find that Scott's medival
knights were usually muscular athletes in the
prime of life: Bois-Guilbert, Front-de-Beuf,
Richard, Ivanhoe, Count Robert---they all were
such. But occasionally the most famous of
Froissart's knights were old, crippled and
blinded. Chandos, the best lance of his day,
must have been over seventy when he lost his
life through being charged upon the side on
which he had already lost an eye. He was well
on to that age when he rode out from the English
army and slew the Spanish champion,
big Marten Ferrara, upon the morning of Navaretta.
Youth and strength were very useful, no
doubt, especially where heavy armour had to
be carried, but once on the horse's back the gallant
steed supplied the muscles. In an English
hunting-field many a doddering old man, when
he is once firmly seated in his familiar saddle,
can give points to the youngsters at the game. 
So it was among the knights, and those who had
outlived all else could still carry to the wars
their wiliness, their experience with arms, and,
above all, their cool and undaunted courage.

  Beneath his varnish of chivalry, it cannot
be gainsayed that the knight was often a bloody
and ferocious barbarian. There was little
quarter in his wars, save when a ransom might
be claimed. But with all his savagery, he was
a light-hearted creature, like a formidable boy
playing a dreadful game. He was true also to
his own curious code, and, so far as his own
class went, his feelings were genial and sympathetic,
even in warfare. There was no personal
feeling or bitterness as there might be now
in a war between Frenchmen and Germans. 
On the contrary, the opponents were very softspoken
and polite to each other. ``Is there
any small vow of which I may relieve you?''
``Would you desire to attempt some small deed
of arms upon me?'' And in the midst of a
fight they would stop for a breather, and converse
amicably the while, with many compliments
upon each other's prowess. When
Seaton the Scotsman had exchanged as many
blows as he wished with a company of French
knights, he said, ``Thank you, gentlemen,
thank you!'' and galloped away. An English
knight made a vow, ``for his own advancement
and the exaltation of his lady,'' that he would
ride into the hostile city of Paris, and touch
with his lance the inner barrier. The whole
story is most characteristic of the times. As
he galloped up, the French knights around the
barrier, seeing that he was under vow, made
no attack upon him, and called out to him that
he had carried himself well. As he returned,
however, there stood an unmannerly butcher
with a pole-axe upon the side-walk, who struck
him as he passed, and killed him. Here ends
the chronicler; but I have not the least doubt
that the butcher had a very evil time at the
hands of the French knights, who would not
stand by and see one of their own order, even
if he were an enemy, meet so plebeian an end.

  De Comines, as a chronicler, is less quaint
and more conventional than Froissart, but the
writer of romance can dig plenty of stones out
of that quarry for the use of his own little
building. Of course Quentin Durward has
come bodily out of the pages of De Comines. 
The whole history of Louis XI. and his relations
with Charles the Bold, the strange life at Plessis-le-Tours,
the plebeian courtiers, the barber
and the hangman, the astrologers, the alternations
of savage cruelty and of slavish superstition---
it is all set forth here. One would
imagine that such a monarch was unique, that
such a mixture of strange qualities and monstrous
crimes could never be matched, and yet
like causes will always produce like results. 
Read Walewski's ``Life of Ivan the Terrible,''
and you will find that more than a century later
Russia produced a monarch even more diabolical,
but working exactly on the same lines as
Louis, even down to small details. The same
cruelty, the same superstition, the same astrologers,
the same low-born associates, the same
residence outside the influence of the great
cities---a parallel could hardly be more complete.
If you have not supped too full of
horrors when you have finished Ivan, then
pass on to the same author's account of Peter
the Great. What a land! What a succession
of monarchs! Blood and snow and iron!
Both Ivan and Peter killed their own sons. 
And there is a hideous mockery of religion
running through it all which gives it a grotesque
horror of its own. We have had our Henry
the Eighth, but our very worst would have
been a wise and benevolent rule in Russia.

  Talking of romance and of chivalry, that tattered
book down yonder has as much between
its disreputable covers as most that I know. It
is Washington Irving's ``Conquest of Granada.''
I do not know where he got his material for this
book---from Spanish Chronicles, I presume---
but the wars between the Moors and the Christian
knights must have been among the most
chivalrous of exploits. I could not name a
book which gets the beauty and the glamour of
it better than this one, the lance-heads gleaming
in the dark defiles, the red bale fires glowing
on the crags, the stern devotion of the mail-clad
Christians, the debonnaire and courtly courage
of the dashing Moslem. Had Washington
Irving written nothing else, that book alone
should have forced the door of every library.
I love all his books, for no man wrote fresher
English with a purer style; but of them all it
is still ``The Conquest of Granada'' to which
I turn most often.

  To hark back for a moment to history as seen
in romances, here are two exotics side by side,
which have a flavour that is new. They are a
brace of foreign novelists, each of whom, so far
as I know, has only two books. This green-and-gold
volume contains both the works of
the Pomeranian Meinhold in an excellent
translation by Lady Wilde. The first is ``Sidonia
the Sorceress,'' the second, ``The Amber
Witch.'' I don't know where one may turn for
a stranger view of the Middle Ages, the quaint
details of simple life, with sudden intervals of
grotesque savagery. The most weird and barbarous
things are made human and comprehensible.
There is one incident which haunts
one after one has read it, where the executioner
chaffers with the villagers as to what price they
will give him for putting some young witch to
the torture, running them up from a barrel of
apples to a barrel and a half, on the grounds
that he is now old and rheumatic, and that the
stooping and straining is bad for his back. It
should be done on a sloping hill, he explains, so
that the ``dear little children'' may see it easily.
Both ``Sidonia'' and ``The Amber Witch''
give such a picture of old Germany as I have
never seen elsewhere.

  But Meinhold belongs to a bygone generation. 
This other author, in whom I find a new note,
and one of great power, is Merejkowski, who
is, if I mistake not, young and with his career
still before him. ``The Forerunner'' and
``The Death of the Gods'' are the only two
books of his which I have been able to obtain,
but the pictures of Renaissance Italy in the one,
and of declining Rome in the other, are in my
opinion among the masterpieces of fiction. I
confess that as I read them I was pleased to
find how open my mind was to new impressions,
for one of the greatest mental dangers which
comes upon a man as he grows older is that he
should become so attached to old favourites
that he has no room for the new-comer, and persuades
himself that the days of great things are
at an end because his own poor brain is getting
ossified. You have but to open any critical
paper to see how common is the disease, but a
knowledge of literary history assures us that it
has always been the same, and that if the young
writer is discouraged by adverse comparisons it
has been the common lot from the beginning. 
He has but one resource, which is to pay no
heed to criticism, but to try to satisfy his own
highest standard and leave the rest to time and
the public. Here is a little bit of doggerel,
pinned, as you see, beside my bookcase, which
may in a ruffled hour bring peace and guidance
to some younger brother---

	``Critics kind---never mind!
          Critics flatter---no matter!
          Critics blame---all the same!
          Critics curse---none the worse!''
          Do your best--- ------ the rest!''


I have been talking in the past tense of heroes
and of knight-errants, but surely their day
is not yet passed. When the earth has all been
explored, when the last savage has been tamed,
when the final cannon has been scrapped, and
the world has settled down into unbroken virtue
and unutterable dulness, men will cast their
thoughts back to our age, and will idealize our
romance and---our courage, even as we do that of
our distant forbears. ``It is wonderful what
these people did with their rude implements
and their limited appliances!'' That is what
they will say when they read of our explorations,
our voyages, and our wars.

  Now, take that first book on my travel shelf. 
It is Knight's ``Cruise of the _Falcon._'' Nature
was guilty of the pun which put this soul into a
body so named. Read this simple record and
tell me if there is anything in Hakluyt more
wonderful. Two landsmen---solicitors, if I
remember right---go down to Southampton
Quay. They pick up a long-shore youth, and
they embark in a tiny boat in which they put
to sea. Where do they turn up? At Buenos
Ayres. Thence they penetrate to Paraquay,
return to the West Indies, sell their little boat
there, and so home. What could the Elizabethan
mariners have done more? There are
no Spanish galleons now to vary the monotony
of such a voyage, but had there been I am very
certain our adventurers would have had their
share of the doubloons. But surely it was the
nobler when done out of the pure lust of adventure
and in answer to the call of the sea, with
no golden bait to draw them on. The old spirit
still lives, disguise it as you will with top hats,
frock coats, and all prosaic settings. Perhaps
even they also will seem romantic when centuries
have blurred them.

  Another book which shows the romance and
the heroism which still linger upon earth is that
large copy of the ``Voyage of the _Discovery_ in
the Antarctic'' by Captain Scott. Written in
plain sailor fashion with no attempt at over-statement
or colour, it none the less (or perhaps
all the more) leaves a deep impression
upon the mind. As one reads it, and reflects
on what one reads, one seems to get a clear view
of just those qualities which make the best
kind of Briton. Every nation produces brave
men. Every nation has men of energy. But
there is a certain type which mixes its bravery
and its energy with a gentle modesty and a
boyish good-humour, and it is just this type
which is the highest. Here the whole expedition
seem to have been imbued with the spirit
of their commander. No flinching, no grumbling,
every discomfort taken as a jest, no thought
of self, each working only for the success of
the enterprise. When you have read of such
privations so endured and so chronicled, it
makes one ashamed to show emotion over the
small annoyances of daily life. Read of Scott's
blinded, scurvy-struck party staggering on to
their goal, and then complain, if you can, of
the heat of a northern sun, or the dust of a
country road.

  That is one of the weaknesses of modern
life. We complain too much. We are not
ashamed of complaining. Time was when it
was otherwise---when it was thought effeminate
to complain. The Gentleman should always
be the Stoic, with his soul too great to be
affected by the small troubles of life. ``You
look cold, sir,'' said an English sympathizer
to a French _emigr_. The fallen noble drew
himself up in his threadbare coat. ``Sir,''
said he, ``a gentleman is never cold.'' One's
consideration for others as well as one's own
self-respect should check the grumble. This
self-suppression, and also the concealment of
pain are two of the old _noblesse oblige_ characteristics
which are now little more than a
tradition. Public opinion should be firmer on
the matter. The man who must hop because
his shin is hacked, or wring his hand because
his knuckles are bruised should be made to
feel that he is an object not of pity, but of

  The tradition of Arctic exploration is a noble
one among Americans as well as ourselves. The
next book is a case in point. It is Greely's
``Arctic Service,'' and it is a worthy shelf-companion
to Scott's ``Account of the Voyage
of the _Discovery_.'' There are incidents in
this book which one can never forget. The
episode of those twenty-odd men lying upon
that horrible bluff, and dying one a day from
cold and hunger and scurvy, is one which
dwarfs all our puny tragedies of romance. 
And the gallant starving leader giving lectures
on abstract science in an attempt to take the
thoughts of the dying men away from their
sufferings---what a picture! It is bad to suffer
from cold and bad to suffer from hunger, and
bad to live in the dark; but that men could do
all these things for six months on end, and
that some should live to tell the tale, is, indeed,
a marvel. What a world of feeling lies in the
exclamation of the poor dying lieutenant:
``Well, this _is_ wretched,'' he groaned, as he
turned his face to the wall.

  The Anglo-Celtic race has always run to
individualism, and yet there is none which is
capable of conceiving and carrying out a finer
ideal of discipline. There is nothing in Roman
or Grecian annals, not even the lava-baked
sentry at Pompeii, which gives a more sternly
fine object-lesson in duty than the young recruits
of the British army who went down in
their ranks on the _Birkenhead_. And this expedition
of Greely's gave rise to another example
which seems to me hardly less remarkable. 
You may remember, if you have read the book,
that even when there were only about eight
unfortunates still left, hardly able to move for
weakness and hunger, the seven took the odd
man out upon the ice, and shot him dead for
breach of discipline. The whole grim proceeding
was carried out with as much method and
signing of papers, as if they were all within
sight of the Capitol at Washington. His
offence had consisted, so far as I can remember,
of stealing and eating the thong which
bound two portions of the sledge together,
something about as appetizing as a bootlace. 
It is only fair to the commander to say, however,
that it was one of a series of petty thefts,
and that the thong of a sledge might mean life
or death to the whole party.

  Personally I must confess that anything
bearing upon the Arctic Seas is always of the
deepest interest to me. He who has once been
within the borders of that mysterious region,
which can be both the most lovely and the
most repellent upon earth, must always retain
something of its glamour. Standing on the
confines of known geography I have shot the
southward flying ducks, and have taken from
their gizzards pebbles which they have swallowed
in some land whose shores no human
foot has trod. The memory of that inexpressible
air, of the great ice-girt lakes of deep blue
water, of the cloudless sky shading away into a
light green and then into a cold yellow at the
horizon, of the noisy companionable birds, of
the huge, greasy-backed water animals, of the
slug-like seals, startlingly black against the dazzling
whiteness of the ice---all of it will come
back to a man in his dreams, and will seem
little more than some fantastic dream itself, go
removed is it from the main stream of his life. 
And then to play a fish a hundred tons in
weight, and worth two thousand pounds---but
what in the world has all this to do with my

  Yet it has its place in my main line of thought,
for it leads me straight to the very next upon
the shelf, Bullen's ``Cruise of the _Cachelot_,'' a
book which is full of the glamour and the
mystery of the sea, marred only by the brutality
of those who go down to it in ships. This is
the sperm-whale fishing, an open-sea affair, and
very different from that Greenland ice groping
in which I served a seven-months' apprenticeship.
Both, I fear, are things of the past---
certainly the northern fishing is so, for why
should men risk their lives to get oil when one
has but to sink a pipe in the ground. It is
the more fortunate then that it should have
been handled by one of the most virile writers
who has described a sailor's life. Bullen's
English at its best rises to a great height. If
I wished to show how high, I would take that
next book down, ``Sea Idylls.''

  How is this, for example, if you have an
ear for the music of prose? It is a simple
paragraph out of the magnificent description
of a long calm in the tropics.

  ``A change, unusual as unwholesome, came
over the bright blue of the sea. No longer
did it reflect, as in a limpid mirror, the splendour
of the sun, the sweet silvery glow of the
moon, or the coruscating clusters of countless
stars. Like the ashen-grey hue that bedims
the countenance of the dying, a filmy greasy
skin appeared to overspread the recent loveliness
of the ocean surface. The sea was sick,
stagnant, and foul, from its turbid waters
arose a miasmatic vapour like a breath of decay,
which clung clammily to the palate and dulled
all the senses. Drawn by some strange force,
from the unfathomable depths below, eerie
shapes sought the surface, blinking glassily at
the unfamiliar glare they had exchanged for
their native gloom---uncouth creatures bedight
with tasselled fringes like weed-growths waving
around them, fathom-long, medus with coloured
spots like eyes clustering all over their
transparent substance, wriggling worm-like
forms of such elusive matter that the smallest
exposure to the sun melted them, and they
were not. Lower down, vast pale shadows
creep sluggishly along, happily undistinguishable
as yet, but adding a half-familiar flavour
to the strange, faint smell that hung about us.''

  Take the whole of that essay which describes
a calm in the Tropics, or take the other one
``Sunrise as seen from the Crow's-nest,'' and
you must admit that there have been few finer
pieces of descriptive English in our time. If
I had to choose a sea library of only a dozen
volumes I should certainly give Bullen two
places. The others? Well, it is so much a
matter of individual taste. ``Tom Cringle's
Log'' should have one for certain. I hope
boys respond now as they once did to the
sharks and the pirates, the planters, and all
the rollicking high spirits of that splendid
book. Then there is Dana's ``Two Years
before the Mast.'' I should find room also
for Stevenson's ``Wrecker'' and ``Ebb Tide.''
Clark Russell deserves a whole shelf for himself,
but anyhow you could not miss out ``The
Wreck of the _Grosvenor_.'' Marryat, of course,
must be represented, and I should pick ``Midshipman
Easy'' and ``Peter Simple'' as his
samples. Then throw in one of Melville's
Otaheite books---now far too completely forgotten---
``Typee'' or ``Omoo,'' and as a quite
modern flavour Kipling's ``Captains Courageous''
and Jack London's ``Sea Wolf,'' with
Conrad's ``Nigger of the Narcissus.'' Then
you will have enough to turn your study into
a cabin and bring the wash and surge to your
cars, if written words can do it. Oh, how
one longs for it sometimes when life grows
too artificial, and the old Viking blood begins
to stir! Surely it must linger in all of us, for
no man who dwells in an island but had an
ancestor in longship or in coracle. Still more
must the salt drop tingle in the blood of an
American when you reflect that in all that
broad continent there is not one whose forefather
did not cross 3000 miles of ocean. And
yet there are in the Central States millions and
millions of their descendants who have never
seen the sea.

  I have said that ``Omoo'' and ``Typee,''
the books in which the sailor Melville describes
his life among the Otaheitans, have
sunk too rapidly into obscurity. What a
charming and interesting task there is for
some critic of catholic tastes and sympathetic
judgment to undertake rescue work among
the lost books which would repay salvage!
A small volume setting forth their names and
their claims to attention would be interesting
in itself, and more interesting in the material
to which it would serve as an introduction. I
am sure there are many good books, possibly
there are some great ones, which have been
swept away for a time in the rush. What
chance, for example, has any book by an unknown
author which is published at a moment
of great national excitement, when some public
crisis arrests the popular mind? Hundreds
have been still-born in this fashion, and are
there none which should have lived among
them? Now, there is a book, a modern one,
and written by a youth under thirty. It is
Snaith's ``Broke of Covenden,'' and it scarce
attained a second edition. I do not say that
it is a Classic---I should not like to be positive
that it is not---but I am perfectly sure that the
man who wrote it has the possibility of a
Classic within him. Here is another novel---
``Eight Days,'' by Forrest. You can't buy it. 
You are lucky even if you can find it in a
library. Yet nothing ever written will bring
the Indian Mutiny home to you as this book
will do. Here's another which I will warrant
you never heard of. It is Powell's ``Animal
Episodes.'' No, it is not a collection of dog-and-cat
anecdotes, but it is a series of very
singularly told stories which deal with the
animal side of the human, and which you will
feel have an entirely new flavour if you have
a discriminating palate. The book came out
ten years ago, and is utterly unknown. If I can
point to three in one small shelf, how many
lost lights must be flitting in the outer darkness!

  Let me hark back for a moment to the
subject with which I began, the romance of
travel and the frequent heroism of modern
life. I have two books of Scientific Exploration
here which exhibit both these qualities
as strongly as any I know. I could not
choose two better books to put into a young
man's hands if you wished to train him first
in a gentle and noble firmness of mind, and
secondly in a great love for and interest in
all that pertains to Nature. The one is Darwin's
``Journal of the Voyage of the _Beagle_.''
Any discerning eye must have detected long
before the ``Origin of Species'' appeared,
simply on the strength of this book of travel,
that a brain of the first order, united with
many rare qualities of character, had arisen. 
Never was there a more comprehensive mind. 
Nothing was too small and nothing too great
for its alert observation. One page is occupied
in the analysis of some peculiarity in the web
of a minute spider, while the next deals with
the evidence for the subsidence of a continent
and the extinction of a myriad animals. And
his sweep of knowledge was so great---botany,
geology, zoology, each lending its corroborative
aid to the other. How a youth of Darwin's
age---he was only twenty-three when in the
year 1831 he started round the world on the
surveying ship _Beagle_---could have acquired
such a mass of information fills one with the
same wonder, and is perhaps of the same
nature, as the boy musician who exhibits by
instinct the touch of the master. Another
quality which one would be less disposed to
look for in the savant is a fine contempt for
danger, which is veiled in such modesty that
one reads between the lines in order to detect
it. When he was in the Argentina, the country
outside the Settlements was covered with
roving bands of horse Indians, who gave no
quarter to any whites. Yet Darwin rode the
four hundred miles between Bahia and Buenos
Ayres, when even the hardy Gauchos refused
to accompany him. Personal danger and a
hideous death were small things to him compared
to a new beetle or an undescribed fly.

  The second book to which I alluded is
Wallace's ``Malay Archipelago.'' There is a
strange similarity in the minds of the two
men, the same courage, both moral and physical,
the same gentle persistence, the same
catholic knowledge and wide. sweep of mind,
the same passion for the observation of Nature. 
Wallace by a flash of intuition understood and
described in a letter to Darwin the cause of
the Origin of Species at the very time when
the latter was publishing a book founded upon
twenty years' labour to prove the same thesis. 
What must have been his feelings when he
read that letter? And yet he had nothing to
fear, for his book found no more enthusiastic
admirer than the man who had in a sense anticipated
it. Here also one sees that Science
has its heroes no less than Religion. One of
Wallace's missions in Papua was to examine
the nature and species of the Birds-of-Paradise;
but in the course of the years of his
wanderings through those islands he made a
complete investigation of the whole fauna. 
A footnote somewhere explains that the Papuans
who lived in the Bird-of-Paradise country
were confirmed cannibals. Fancy living for
years with or near such neighbours! Let a
young fellow read these two books, and he
cannot fail to have both his mind and his
spirit strengthened by the reading.


Here we are at the final sance. For the
last time, my patient comrade, I ask you to
make yourself comfortable upon the old green
settee, to look up at the oaken shelves, and to
bear with me as best you may while I preach
about their contents. The last time! And
yet, as I look along the lines of the volumes,
I have not mentioned one out of ten of those to
which I owe a debt of gratitude, nor one in a
hundred of the thoughts which course through
my brain as I look at them. As well perhaps,
for the man who has said all that he has to say
has invariably said too much.

  Let me be didactic for a moment! I assume
this solemn---oh, call it not pedantic!---attitude
because my eye catches the small but select
corner which constitutes my library of Science. 
I wanted to say that if I were advising a young
man who was beginning life, I should counsel
him to devote one evening a week to scientific
reading. Had he the perseverance to adhere
to his resolution, and if he began it at twenty,
he would certainly find himself with an unusually
well-furnished mind at thirty, which would
stand him in right good stead in whatever line
of life he might walk. When I advise him to
read science, I do not mean that he should choke
himself with the dust of the pedants, and lose
himself in the subdivisions of the Lepidoptera,
or the classifications of the dicotyledonous
plants. These dreary details are the prickly
bushes in that enchanted garden, and you are
foolish indeed if you begin your walks by butting
your head into one. Keep very clear of
them until you have explored the open beds
and wandered down every easy path. For this
reason avoid the text-books, which repel, and
cultivate that popular science which attracts. 
You cannot hope to be a specialist upon all these
varied subjects. Better far to have a broad
idea of general results, and to understand their
relations to each other. A very little reading
will give a man such a knowledge of geology,
for example, as will make every quarry and
railway cutting an object of interest. A very
little zoology will enable you to satisfy your
curiosity as to what is the proper name and
style of this buff-ermine moth which at the
present instant is buzzing round the lamp. A
very little botany will enable you to recognize
every flower you are likely to meet in your walks
abroad, and to give you a tiny thrill of interest
when you chance upon one which is beyond your
ken. A very little archology will tell you all
about yonder British tumulus, or help you to
fill in the outline of the broken Roman camp
upon the downs. A very little astronomy will
cause you to look more intently at the heavens,
to pick out your brothers the planets, who move
in your own circles, from the stranger stars, and
to appreciate the order, beauty, and majesty of
that material universe which is most surely the
outward sign of the spiritual force behind it. 
How a man of science can be a materialist is as
amazing to me as how a sectarian can limit the
possibilities of the Creator. Show me a picture
without an artist, show me a bust without a
sculptor, show me music without a musician,
and then you may begin to talk to me of a
universe without a Universe-maker, call Him
by what name you will.

  Here is Flammarion's ``L'Atmosphre''---
a very gorgeous though weather-stained copy
in faded scarlet and gold. The book has a
small history, and I value it. A young Frenchman,
dying of fever on the west coast of Africa,
gave it to me as a professional fee. The sight
of it takes me back to a little ship's bunk, and a
sallow face with large, sad eyes looking out at
me. Poor boy, I fear that he never saw his
beloved Marseilles again!

  Talking of popular science, I know no better
books for exciting a man's first interest, and
giving a broad general view of the subject, than
these of Samuel Laing. Who would have imagined
that the wise savant and gentle dreamer
of these volumes was also the energetic secretary
of a railway company? Many men of the
highest scientific eminence have begun in prosaic
lines of life. Herbert Spencer was a railway
engineer. Wallace was a land surveyor. 
But that a man with so pronounced a scientific
brain as Laing should continue all his life to
devote his time to dull routine work, remaining
in harness until extreme old age, with his soul
still open to every fresh idea and his brain acquiring
new concretions of knowledge, is indeed
a remarkable fact. Read those books, and you
will be a fuller man.

  It is an excellent device to talk about what
you have recently read. Rather hard upon your
audience, you may say; but without wishing
to be personal, I dare bet it is more interesting
than your usual small talk. It must, of course,
be done with some tact and discretion. It is
the mention of Laing's works which awoke
the train of thought which led to these remarks. 
I had met some one at a _table d'hte_ or elsewhere
who made some remark about the prehistoric
remains in the valley of the Somme. I knew
all about those, and showed him that I did. I
then threw out some allusion to the rock temples
of Yucatan, which he instantly picked up and
enlarged upon. He spoke of ancient Peruvian
civilization, and I kept well abreast of him. I
cited the Titicaca image, and he knew all about
that. He spoke of Quaternary man, and I was
with him all the time. Each was more and
more amazed at the fulness and the accuracy of
the information of the other, until like a flash
the explanation crossed my mind. ``You are
reading Samuel Laing's `Human Origins'!''
I cried. So he was, and so by a coincidence
was I. We were pouring water over each other,
but it was all new-drawn from the spring.

  There is a big two-volumed book at the end
of my science shelf which would, even now,
have its right to be called scientific disputed by
some of the pedants. It is Myers' ``Human
Personality.'' My own opinion, for what it is
worth, is that it will be recognized a century
hence as a great root book, one from which a
whole new branch of science will have sprung. 
Where between four covers will you find greater
evidence of patience, of industry, of thought, of
discrimination, of that sweep of mind which can
gather up a thousand separate facts and bind
them all in the meshes of a single consistent
system? Darwin has not been a more ardent
collector in zoology than Myers in the dim
regions of psychic research, and his whole hypothesis,
so new that a new nomenclature and
terminology had to be invented to express it,
telepathy, the subliminal, and the rest of it, will
always be a monument of acute reasoning, expressed
in fine prose and founded upon ascertained

  The mere suspicion of scientific thought or
scientific methods has a great charm in any
branch of literature, however far it may be removed
from actual research. Poe's tales, for
example, owe much to this effect, though in his
case it was a pure illusion. Jules Verne also
produces a charmingly credible effect for the
most incredible things by an adept use of a
considerable amount of real knowledge of
nature. But most gracefully of all does it
shine in the lighter form of essay, where playful
thoughts draw their analogies and illustrations
from actual fact, each showing up the other,
and the combination presenting a peculiar
piquancy to the reader.

  Where could I get better illustration of what
I mean than in those three little volumes which
make up Wendell Holmes' immortal series,
``The Autocrat,'' ``The Poet,'' and ``The
Professor at the Breakfast Table''? Here the
subtle, dainty, delicate thought is continually
reinforced by the allusion or the analogy which
shows the wide, accurate knowledge behind it. 
What work it is! how wise, how witty, how large-hearted
and tolerant! Could one choose one's
philosopher in the Elysian fields, as once in
Athens, I would surely join the smiling group
who listened to the human, kindly words of the
Sage of Boston. I suppose it is just that continual
leaven of science, especially of medical
science, which has from my early student days
given those books so strong an attraction for me. 
Never have I so known and loved a man whom
I had never seen. It was one of the ambitions
of my lifetime to look upon his face, but by the
irony of Fate I arrived in his native city just in
time to lay a wreath upon his newly-turned
grave. Read his books again, and see if you are
not especially struck by the up-to-dateness of
them. Like Tennyson's ``In Memoriam,'' it
seems to me to be work which sprang into full
flower fifty years before its time. One can
hardly open a page haphazard without lighting
upon some passage which illustrates the breadth
of view, the felicity of phrase, and the singular
power of playful but most suggestive analogy. 
Here, for example, is a paragraph---no better
than a dozen others---which combines all the
rare qualities:---

  ``Insanity is often the logic of an accurate
mind overtasked. Good mental machinery
ought to break its own wheels and levers, if anything
is thrust upon them suddenly which tends
to stop them or reverse their motion. A weak
mind does not accumulate force enough to hurt
itself; stupidity often saves a man from going
mad. We frequently see persons in insane
hospitals, sent there in consequence of what are
called religious mental disturbances. I confess
that I think better of them than of many who
hold the same notions, and keep their wits and
enjoy life very well, outside of the asylums. 
Any decent person ought to go mad if he really
holds such and such opinions. . . . Anything
that is brutal, cruel, heathenish, that makes life
hopeless for the most of mankind, and perhaps
for entire races---anything that assumes the
necessity for the extermination of instincts
which were given to be regulated---no matter
by what name you call it---no matter whether
a fakir, or a monk, or a deacon believes it---if
received, ought to produce insanity in every
well-regulated mind.''

  There's a fine bit of breezy polemics for the
dreary fifties---a fine bit of moral courage too for
the University professor who ventured to say it.

I put him above Lamb as an essayist, because
there is a flavour of actual knowledge and of
practical acquaintance with the problems and
affairs of life, which is lacking in the elfin Londoner.
I do not say that the latter is not the
rarer quality. There are my ``Essays of Elia,''
and they are well-thumbed as you see, so it is
not because I love Lamb less that I love this
other more. Both are exquisite, but Wendell
Holmes is for ever touching some note which
awakens an answering vibration within my own

  The essay must always be a somewhat repellent
form of literature, unless it be handled with
the lightest and deftest touch. It is too reminiscent
of the school themes of our boyhood
---to put a heading and then to show what you
can get under it. Even Stevenson, for whom
I have the most profound admiration, finds it
difficult to carry the reader through a series of
such papers, adorned with his original thought
and quaint turn of phrase. Yet his ``Men and
Books'' and ``Virginibus Puerisque'' are high
examples of what may be done in spite of the
inherent unavoidable difficulty of the task.

  But his style! Ah, if Stevenson had only
realized how beautiful and nervous was his own
natural God-given style, he would never have
been at pains to acquire another! It is sad to
read the much-lauded anecdote of his imitating
this author and that, picking up and dropping,
in search of the best. The best is always the
most natural. When Stevenson becomes a
conscious stylist, applauded by so many critics,
he seems to me like a man who, having most
natural curls, will still conceal them under a
wig. The moment he is precious he loses his
grip. But when he will abide by his own sterling
Lowland Saxon, with the direct word and
the short, cutting sentence, I know not where in
recent years we may find his mate. In this
strong, plain setting the occasional happy
word shines like a cut jewel. A really good
stylist is like Beau Brummell's description of
a well-dressed man---so dressed that no one
would ever observe him. The moment you
begin to remark a man's style the odds are that
there is something the matter with it. It is
a clouding of the crystal---a diversion of the
reader's mind from the matter to the manner,
from the author's subject to the author himself.

  No, I have not the Edinburgh edition. If
you think of a presentation---but I should be the
last to suggest it. Perhaps on the whole I would
prefer to have him in scattered books, rather
than in a complete set. The half is more than
the whole of most authors, and not the least of
him. I am sure that his friends who reverenced
his memory had good warrant and express
instructions to publish this complete edition---
very possibly it was arranged before his lamented
end. Yet, speaking generally, I would say that
an author was best served by being very carefully
pruned before being exposed to the winds
of time. Let every weak twig, every immature
shoot be shorn away, and nothing but strong,
sturdy, well-seasoned branches left. So shall
the whole tree stand strong for years to come. 
How false an impression of the true Stevenson
would our critical grandchild acquire if he
chanced to pick down any one of half a dozen
of these volumes! As we watched his hand
stray down the rank, how we would pray that
it might alight upon the ones we love, on the
``New Arabian Nights'' ``The Ebb-tide,''
``The Wrecker,'' ``Kidnapped,'' or ``Treasure
Island.'' These can surely never lose their

  What noble books of their class are those
last, ``Kidnapped'' and ``Treasure Island''!
both, as you see, shining forth upon my lower
shelf. ``Treasure Island'' is the better story,
while I could imagine that ``Kidnapped''
might have the more permanent value as being
an excellent and graphic sketch of the state of
the Highlands after the last Jacobite insurrection.
Each contains one novel and admirable
character, Alan Breck in the one, and Long John
in the other. Surely John Silver, with his face
the size of a ham, and his little gleaming eyes
like crumbs of glass in the centre of it, is the
king of all seafaring desperadoes. Observe
how the strong effect is produced in his case:
seldom by direct assertion on the part of the
story-teller, but usually by comparison, innuendo,
or indirect reference. The objectionable
Billy Bones is haunted by the dread of ``a
seafaring man with one leg.'' Captain Flint,
we are told, was a brave man; `` he was afraid
of none, not he, only Silver---Silver was that
genteel.'' Or, again, where John himself says,
``there was some that was feared of Pew, and
some that was feared of Flint; but Flint his own
self was feared of me. Feared he was, and
proud. They was the roughest crew afloat was
Flint's. The devil himself would have been
feared to go to sea with them. Well, now, I
will tell you. I'm not a boasting man, and you
seen yourself how easy I keep company; but
when I was quartermaster, lambs wasn't the
word for Flint's old buccaneers.'' So, by a
touch here and a hint there, there grows upon
us the individuality of the smooth-tongued,
ruthless, masterful, one-legged devil. He is
to us not a creation of fiction, but an organic
living reality with whom we have come in contact;
such is the effect of the fine suggestive
strokes with which he is drawn. And the buccaneers
themselves, how simple and yet how
effective are the little touches which indicate
their ways of thinking and of acting. ``I want
to go in that cabin, I do; I want their pickles
and wine and that.'' ``Now, if you had sailed
along o' Bill you wouldn't have stood there
to be spoke twice---not you. That was never
Bill's way, not the way of sich as sailed with
him.'' Scott's buccaneers in ``The Pirate''
are admirable, but they lack something human
which we find here. It will be long before
John Silver loses his place in sea fiction, ``and
you may lay to that.''

  Stevenson was deeply influenced by Meredith,
and even in these books the influence of
the master is apparent. There is the apt use
of an occasional archaic or unusual word, the
short, strong descriptions, the striking metaphors,
the somewhat staccato fashion of speech. 
Yet, in spite of this flavour, they have quite
individuality enough to constitute a school of
their own. Their faults, or rather perhaps
their limitations, lie never in the execution,
but entirely in the original conception. They
picture only one side of life, and that a strange
and exceptional one. There is no female interest.
We feel that it is an apotheosis of the
boy-story---the penny number of our youth _in
excelsis_. But it is all so good, so fresh, so picturesque,
that, however limited its scope, it
still retains a definite and well-assured place in
literature. There is no reason why ``Treasure
Island'' should not be to the rising generation
of the twenty-first century what ``Robinson
Crusoe'' has been to that of the nineteenth. 
The balance of probability is all in that direction.

  The modern masculine novel, dealing almost
exclusively with the rougher, more stirring
side of life, with the objective rather
than the subjective, marks the reaction against
the abuse of love in fiction. This one phase
of life in its orthodox aspect, and ending in the
conventional marriage, has been so hackneyed
and worn to a shadow, that it is not to be
wondered at that there is a tendency sometimes
to swing to the other extreme, and to
give it less than its fair share in the affairs of
men. In British fiction nine books out of ten
have held up love and marriage as the be-all
and end-all of life. Yet we know, in actual
practice, that this may not be so. In the
career of the average man his marriage is an
incident, and a momentous incident; but it
is only one of several. He is swayed by many
strong emotions---his business, his ambitions,
his friendships, his struggles with the recurrent
dangers and difficulties which tax a man's
wisdom and his courage. Love will often play
a subordinate part in his life. How many go
through the world without ever loving at all?
It jars upon us then to have it continually held
up as the predominating, all-important fact in
life; and there is a not unnatural tendency
among a certain school, of which Stevenson
is certainly the leader, to avoid altogether a
source of interest which has been so misused
and overdone. If all love-making were like
that between Richard Feverel and Lucy Desborough,
then indeed we could not have too
much of it; but to be made attractive once
more, the passion must be handled by some
great master who has courage to break down
conventionalities and to go straight to actual
life for his inspiration.

  The use of novel and piquant forms of speech
is one of the most obvious of Stevenson's devices.
No man handles his adjectives with
greater judgment and nicer discrimination. 
There is hardly a page of his work where we
do not come across words and expressions
which strike us with a pleasant sense of novelty,
and yet express the meaning with admirable
conciseness. ``His eyes came coasting round
to me.'' It is dangerous to begin quoting, as
the examples are interminable, and each suggests
another. Now and then he misses his
mark, but it is very seldom. As an example,
an ``eye-shot'' does not commend itself as a
substitute for ``a glance,'' and ``to tee-hee''
for ``to giggle'' grates somewhat upon the
ear, though the authority of Chaucer might
be cited for the expressions.

  Next in order is his extraordinary faculty
for the use of pithy similes, which arrest the
attention and stimulate the imagination. ``His
voice sounded hoarse and awkward, like a
rusty lock.'' ``I saw her sway, like something
stricken by the wind.'' ``His laugh rang false,
like a cracked bell.'' ``His voice shook like
a taut rope.'' ``My mind flying like a weaver's
shuttle.'' ``His blows resounded on the grave
as thick as sobs.'' ``The private guilty considerations
I would continually observe to peep
forth in the man's talk like rabbits from a hill.''
Nothing could be more effective than these
direct and homely comparisons.

  After all, however, the main characteristic of
Stevenson is his curious instinct for saying in
the briefest space just those few words which
stamp the impression upon the reader's mind. 
He will make you see a thing more clearly than
you would probably have done had your eyes
actually rested upon it. Here are a few of
these word-pictures, taken haphazard from
among hundreds of equal merit---

  ``Not far off Macconochie was standing with
his tongue out of his mouth, and his hand upon
his chin, like a dull fellow thinking hard.

  ``Stewart ran after us for more than a mile,
and I could not help laughing as I looked back
at last and saw him on a hill, holding his hand
to his side, and nearly burst with running.

  ``Ballantrae turned to me with a face all
wrinkled up, and his teeth all showing in his
mouth.... He said no word, but his whole
appearance was a kind of dreadful question.

  ``Look at him, if you doubt; look at him,
grinning and gulping, a detected thief.

  ``He looked me all over with a warlike eye,
and I could see the challenge on his lips.''

  What could be more vivid than the effect
produced by such sentences as these?

  There is much more that might be said as
to Stevenson's peculiar and original methods
in fiction. As a minor point, it might be remarked
that he is the inventor of what may
be called the mutilated villain. It is true that
Mr. Wilkie Collins has described one gentleman
who had not only been deprived of all
his limbs, but was further afflicted by the insupportable
name of Miserrimus Dexter. Stevenson,
however, has used the effect so often,
and with such telling results, that he may be
said to have made it his own. To say nothing
of Hyde, who was the very impersonation of
deformity, there is the horrid blind Pew, Black
Dog with two fingers missing, Long John with
his one leg, and the sinister catechist who is
blind but shoots by car, and smites about him
with his staff. In ``The Black Arrow,'' too,
there is another dreadful creature who comes
tapping along with a stick. Often as he has
used the device, he handles it so artistically
that it never fails to produce its effect.

  Is Stevenson a classic? Well, it is a large
word that. You mean by a classic a piece of
work which passes into the permanent literature
of the country. As a rule, you only know your
classics when they are in their graves. Who
guessed it of Poe, and who of Borrow? The
Roman Catholics only canonize their saints a
century after their death. So with our classics. 
The choice lies with our grandchildren. But
I can hardly think that healthy boys will ever
let Stevenson's books of adventure die, nor
do I think that such a short tale as ``The
Pavilion on the Links'' nor so magnificent a
parable as ``Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde'' will
ever cease to be esteemed. How well I remember
the eagerness, the delight with which
I read those early tales in ``Cornhill'' away
back in the late seventies and early eighties. 
They were unsigned, after the old unfair fashion,
but no man with any sense of prose could fail
to know that they were all by the same author. 
Only years afterwards did I learn who that
author was.

  I have Stevenson's collected poems over
yonder in the small cabinet. Would that he
had given us more! Most of them are the
merest playful sallies of a freakish mind. But
one should, indeed, be a classic, for it is in
my judgment by all odds the best narrative
ballad of the last century---that is if I am right
in supposing that ``The Ancient Mariner''
appeared at the very end of the eighteenth. 
I would put Coleridge's _tour de force_ of grim
fancy first, but I know none other to compare
in glamour and phrase and easy power with
``Ticonderoga.'' Then there is his immortal
epitaph. The two pieces alone give him a
niche of his own in our poetical literature, just
as his character gives him a niche of his own
in our affections. No, I never met him. But
among my most prized possessions are several
letters which I received from Samoa. From
that distant tower he kept a surprisingly close
watch upon what was doing among the bookmen,
and it was his hand which was among the
first held out to the striver, for he had quick
appreciation and keen sympathies which met
another man's work half-way, and wove into it
a beauty from his own mind.

  And now, my very patient friend, the time
has come for us to part, and I hope my little
sermons have not bored you overmuch. If
I have put you on the track of anything which
you did not know before, then verify it and
pass it on. If I have not, there is no harm
done, save that my breath and your time have
been wasted. There may be a score of mistakes
in what I have said---is it not the privilege of
the conversationalist to misquote? My judgments
may differ very far from yours, and my
likings may be your abhorrence; but the mere
thinking and talking of books is in itself good,
be the upshot what it may. For the time the
magic door is still shut. You are still in the
land of frie. But, alas, though you shut that
door, you cannot seal it. Still come the ring
of bell, the call of telephone, the summons back
to the sordid world of work and men and daily
strife. Well, that's the real life after all---this
only the imitation. And yet, now that the
portal is wide open and we stride out together,
do we not face our fate with a braver heart for
all the rest and quiet and comradeship that we
found behind the Magic Door?


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