LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF THE GREAT, VOLUME 13
Little Journeys to the Homes of Great Lovers
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON AND FANNY OSBOURNE JOSIAH AND SARAH WEDGWOOD WILLIAM GODWIN AND MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT DANTE AND BEATRICE JOHN STUART MILL AND HARRIET TAYLOR PARNELL AND KITTY O'SHEA PETRARCH AND LAURA DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI AND ELIZABETH ELEANOR SIDDAL BALZAC AND MADAME HANSKA FENELON AND MADAME GUYON FERDINAND LASSALLE AND HELENE VON DONNIGES LORD NELSON AND LADY HAMILTON
ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON AND FANNY OSBOURNE
We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell; for the love that unites us; for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect the morrow; for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies that make our lives delightful; for our friends in all parts of the earth, and our friendly helpers in this foreign isle. Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind. Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies. Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors. If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come, that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in all changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death, loyal and loving one to another.
[Illustration: ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON]
There is a libel leveled at the Scotch and encouraged, I am very sorry to say, by Chauncey Depew, when he told of approaching the docks in Glasgow and seeing the people on shore convulsed with laughter, and was told that their mirth was the result of one of his jokes told the year before, the point just being perceived.
Bearing on the same line we have the legend that the adage, "He laughs best who laughs last," was the invention of a Scotchman who was endeavoring to explain away a popular failing of his countrymen.
An adage seems to be a statement the reverse of which is true--or not. In all the realm of letters, where can be found anything more delightfully whimsical and deliciously humorous than James Barrie's "Peter Pan"? And as a writer of exquisite humor, as opposed to English wit, that other Scotchman, Robert Louis Stevenson, stands supreme.
To Robert Louis life was altogether too important a matter to be taken seriously. The quality of fine fooling shown in the creation of a mythical character called "John Libbel" remained with Stevenson to the end of his days.
Stevenson never knew the value of money, because he was not brought up to earn money. Very early he was placed on a small allowance, which he found could be augmented by maternal embezzlements and the kindly co-operation of pawnbrokers.
Once on a trip from home with his cousin he found they lacked just five shillings of the required amount to pay their fare. They boarded the train and paid as far as they could. The train stopped at Crewe fifteen minutes for lunch. Lunch is a superfluity if you haven't the money to pay for it--but stealing a ride in Scotland is out of the question. Robert Louis hastily took a pair of new trousers from his valise and ran up the main street of the town anxiously looking for a pawnshop. There at the end of the thoroughfare he saw the three glittering, welcome balls. He entered, out of breath, threw down the trousers and asked for five shillings. "What name?" asked the pawnbroker. "John Libbel," was the reply, given without thought. "How do you spell it?" "Two b's!"
He got the five shillings and hastened back to the station, where his cousin Bob was anxiously awaiting him. Robert Louis did not have to explain that his little run up the street was a financial success--that much was understood. But what pleased him most was that he had discovered a new man, a very important man, John Libbel, the man who made pawnbrokers possible, the universal client of the craft. "You mean patient, not client," interposed Bob.
Then they invented the word libbelian, meaning one with pawnbroker inclinations. Libbelattos meant the children of John Libbel, and so it went.
The boys had an old font of type, and they busied themselves printing cards for John Libbel, giving his name and supposed business and address. These they gave out on the street, slipped under doors, or placed mysteriously in the hands of fussy old gentlemen.
Finally the boys got to ringing doorbells and asking if John Libbel lived within. They sought Libbel at hotels, stopped men on the street and asked them if their name wasn't John Libbel, and when told no, apologized profusely and declared the resemblance most remarkable.
They tied up packages of ashes or sawdust, very neatly labeled, "Compliments of John Libbel," and dropped them on the street. This was later improved on by sealing the package and marking it, "Gold Dust, for Assayer's Office, from John Libbel." These packages would be placed along the street, and the youthful jokers would watch from doorways and see the packages slyly slipped into pockets, or if the finder were honest he would hurry away to the Assayer's Office with his precious find to claim a reward.
The end of this particular kind of fun came when the two boys walked into a shop and asked for John Libbel. The clerk burst out laughing and said, "You are the Stevenson boys who have fooled the town!" Jokes explained cease to be jokes, and the young men sorrowfully admitted that Libbel was dead and should be buried.
* * * * *
Robert Louis was an only son, and alternately was disciplined and then humored, as only sons usually are.
His father was a civil engineer in the employ of the Northern Lights Company, and it was his business to build and inspect lighthouses. At his office used to congregate a motley collection of lighthouse-keepers, retired sea-captains, mates out of a job--and with these sad dogs of the sea little Robert used to make close and confidential friendships.
While he was yet a child he made the trip to Italy with his mother, and brought back from Rome and from Venice sundry crucifixes, tear-bottles and "Saint Josephs," all duly blessed, and these he sold to his companions at so many whacks apiece. That is to say, the purchaser had to pay for the gift by accepting on his bare hand a certain number of whacks with a leather strap. If the recipient winced, he forfeited the present.
The boy was flat-chested and spindle-shanked and used to bank on his physical weakness when lessons were to be evaded. He was two years at the Edinburgh Academy, where he reduced the cutting of lectures and recitations to a system, and substituted Dumas and Scott for more learned men who prepared books for the sole purpose of confounding boys.
As for making an engineer of the young man, the stern, practical father grew utterly discouraged when he saw mathematics shelved for Smollett. Robert was then put to studying law with a worthy barrister.
Law is business, and to suppose that a young man who religiously spent his month's allowance the day it was received, could make a success at the bar shows the vain delusion that often fills the parental head.
Stevenson's essay, "A Defense of Idlers," shows how no time is actually lost, not even that which is idled away. But this is a point that is very hard to explain to ambitious parents.
The traditional throwing overboard of the son the day he is twenty-one, allowing him to sink or swim, survive or perish, did not prevail with the Stevensons. At twenty-two Robert Louis still had his one guinea a month, besides what he could cajole, beg or borrow from his father and mother. He grew to watch the mood of his mother, and has recorded that he never asked favors of his father before dinner.
At twenty-three he sold an essay for two pounds, and referred gaily to himself as "one of the most popular and successful essayists in Great Britain." He was still a child in spirit, dependent upon others for support. He looked like a girl with his big wide-open eyes and long hair. As for society, in the society sense, he abhorred it and would have despised it if he had despised anything. The soft platitudes of people who win distinction by being nothing, doing nothing, and saying nothing except what has been said before, moved him to mocking mirth. From childhood he was a society rebel. He wore his hair long, because society men had theirs cut close.
His short velvet coat, negligee shirt and wide-awake hat were worn for no better reason. His long cloak gave him a look of haunting mystery, and made one think of a stage hero or a robber you read of in books. Motives are mixed, and foolish folks who ask questions about why certain men do certain things, do not know that certain men do certain things because they wish to, and leave to others the explanation of the whyness of the wherefore.
People who always dress, talk and act alike do so for certain reasons well understood, but the man who does differently from the mass is not so easy to analyze and formulate.
The feminine quality in Robert Louis' nature shows itself in that he fled the company of women, and with them held no converse if he could help it. He never wrote a love-story, and once told Crockett that if he ever dared write one it would be just like "The Lilac Sunbonnet."
Yet it will not do to call Stevenson effeminate, even if he was feminine. He had a courage that outmatched his physique. Once in a cafe in France, a Frenchman made the remark that the English were a nation of cowards.
The words had scarcely passed his lips before Robert Louis flung the back of his hand in the Frenchman's face. Friends interposed and cards were passed, but the fire-eating Frenchman did not call for his revenge or apology--much to the relief of Robert Louis.
Plays were begun, stories blocked out, and great plans made by Robert Louis and his cousin for passing a hawser to literature and taking it in tow.
When Robert Louis was in his twenty-fourth year he found a copy of "Leaves of Grass," and he and his cousin Bob reveled in what they called "a genuine book." They heard that Michael Rossetti was to give a lecture on Whitman in a certain drawing-room.
The young men attended, without invitation, and walked in coatless, just as they had heard that Walt Whitman appeared at the Astor House in New York, when he went by appointment to meet Emerson. After hearing Rossetti discuss Whitman they got the virus fixed in their systems.
They walked up and down Princess Street in their shirt-sleeves, and saw fair ladies blush and look the other way. Next they tried sleeveless jerseys for street wear, and speculated as to just how much clothing they would have to abjure before women would entirely cease to look at them.
* * * * *
The hectic flush was upon the cheek of Robert Louis, and people said he was distinguished. "Death admires me, even if the publishers do not," he declared. The doctors gave orders that he should go South and he seized upon the suggestion and wrote "Ordered South"--and started. Bob went with him, and after a trip through Italy, they arrived at Barbizon to see the scene of "The Angelus," and look upon the land of Millet--Millet, whom Michael Rossetti called "The Whitman of Art."
Bob was an artist: he could paint, write, and play the flageolet. Robert Louis declared that his own particular velvet jacket and big coat would save him at Barbizon, even if he could not draw any to speak of. "In art the main thing is to look the part--or else paint superbly well," said Robert Louis.
The young men got accommodations at "Siron's." This was an inn for artists, artists of slender means--and the patrons at Siron's held that all genuine artists had slender means. The rate was five francs a day for everything, with a modest pro-rata charge for breakage. The rules were not strict, which prompted Robert Louis to write the great line, "When formal manners are laid aside, true courtesy is the more rigidly exacted." Siron's was an inn, but it was really much more like an exclusive club, for if the boarders objected to any particular arrival, two days was the outside limit of his stay. Buttinsky the bounder was interviewed and the early coach took the objectionable one away forever.
And yet no artist was ever sent away from Siron's--no matter how bad his work or how threadbare his clothes--if he was a worker; if he really tried to express beauty, all of his eccentricities were pardoned and his pot-boiling granted absolution. But the would-be Bohemian, or the man in search of a thrill, or if in any manner the party on probation suggested that Madame Siron was not a perfect cook and Monsieur Siron was not a genuine grand duke in disguise, he was interviewed by Bailley Bodmer, the local headsman of the clan, and plainly told that escape lay in flight.
At Siron's there were several Americans, among them being Whistler; nevertheless Americans as a class were voted objectionable, unless they were artists, or perchance would-bes who supplied unconscious entertainment by an excess of boasting. Women, unless accompanied by a certified male escort, were not desired under any circumstances. And so matters stood when the "two Stensons" (the average Frenchman could not say Stevenson) were respectively Exalted Ruler and Chief Councilor of Siron's.
At that time one must remember that the chambermaid and the landlady might be allowed to mince across the stage, but men took the leading parts in life. The cousins had been away on a three-days' tramping tour through the forest. When they returned they were informed that something terrible had occurred--a woman had arrived: an American woman with a daughter aged, say, fourteen, and a son twelve. They had paid a month in advance and were duly installed by Siron. Siron was summoned and threatened with deposition. The poor man shrugged his shoulders in hopeless despair. Mon Dieu! how could he help it--the "Stensons" were not at hand to look after their duties--the woman had paid for accommodations, and money in an art colony was none too common! But Bailley Bodmer--had he, too, been derelict? Bailley appeared, his boasted courage limp, his prowess pricked.
He asked to have a man pointed out--any two or three men--and he would see that the early stage should not go away empty. But a woman, a woman in half-mourning, was different, and besides, this was a different woman. She was an American, of course, but probably against her will. Her name was Osbourne and she was from San Francisco. She spoke good French and was an artist. One of the Stevensons sneezed; the other took a lofty and supercilious attitude of indifference. It was tacitly admitted that the woman should be allowed to remain, her presence being a reminder to Siron of remissness, and to Bailley of cowardice.
So the matter rested, the Siron Club being in temporary disgrace, the unpleasant feature too distasteful even to discuss. As the days passed, however, it was discovered that Mrs. Osbourne did not make any demands upon the Club. She kept her own counsel, rose early and worked late, and her son and daughter were very well behaved and inclined to be industrious in their studies and sketching.
It was discovered one day that Robert Louis had gotten lunch from the Siron kitchen and was leading the Osbourne family on a little excursion to the wood back of Rosa Bonheur's. Self-appointed scouts who happened to be sketching over that way came back and reported that Mrs. Osbourne was seen painting, while Robert Louis sat on a rock near by and told pirate tales to Lloyd, the twelve-year-old boy. A week later Robert Louis had one of his "bad spells," and he told Bob to send for Mrs. Osbourne. Nobody laughed after this. It was silently and unanimously voted that Mrs. Osbourne was a good fellow, and soon she was enjoying all the benefits of the Siron Club. When a frivolous member suggested that it be called the Siren Club he was met with an oppressive stillness and black looks.
Mrs. Osbourne was educated, amiable, witty and wise. She evidently knew humanity, and was on good terms with sorrow, although sorrow never subdued her; what her history was nobody sought to inquire.
When she sketched, Robert Louis told pirate tales to Lloyd.
The Siron Club took on a degree of sanity that it had not known before. Little entertainments were given now and then, where Mrs. Osbourne read to the company from an unknown American poet, Joaquin Miller by name, and Bob expounded Walt Whitman.
The Americans as a people evidently were not wholly bad--at least there was hope for them. Bob began to tire of Barbizon, and finally went back to Edinburgh alone. Arriving there he had to explain why Robert Louis did not come too.
Robert Louis had met an American woman, and they seemed to like each other. The parents of Robert Louis did not laugh: they were grieved. Their son, who had always kept himself clear from feminine entanglements, was madly, insanely, in love with a woman, the mother of two grown-up children, and a married woman and an American at that--it was too much!
Just how they expostulated and how much will never be known. They declined to go over to France to see her, and they declined to have her come to see them: a thing Mrs. Osbourne probably would not have done--at that time, anyway.
But there was a comfort in this: their son was in much better health, and several of his articles had been accepted by the great London magazines.
So three months went by, when suddenly and without notice Robert Louis appeared at home, and in good spirits. As for Mrs. Osbourne, she had sailed for America with her two children. And the elder Stevensons breathed more freely.
* * * * *
On August Tenth, Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine, Robert Louis sailed from Glasgow for New York on the steamship "Devonia." It was a sudden move, taken without the consent of his parents or kinsmen. The young man wrote a letter to his father, mailing it at the dock.
When the missive reached the father's hands, that worthy gentleman was unspeakably shocked and terribly grieved. He made frantic attempts to reach the ship before it had passed out of the Clyde and rounded into the North Sea, but it was too late. He then sent two telegrams to the Port of Londonderry, one to Louis begging him to return at once as his mother was very sick, and the other message to the captain of the ship ordering him to put the wilful son ashore bag and baggage.
The things we do when fear and haste are at the helm are usually wrong, and certainly do not mirror our better selves.
Thomas Stevenson was a Scotchman, and the Scotch, a certain man has told us, are the owners of a trinity of bad things--Scotch whisky, Scotch obstinacy and Scotch religion. What the first-mentioned article has to do with the second and the third, I do not know, but certain it is that the second and the third are hopelessly intertwined--this according to Ian MacLaren, who ought to know.
This obstinacy in right proportion constitutes will, and without will life languishes and projects die a-borning. But mixed up with this religious obstinacy is a goodly jigger of secretiveness, and in order to gain his own point the religion of the owner does not prevent him from prevarication. In "Margaret Ogilvie," that exquisite tribute to his mother by Barrie, the author shows us a most religious woman who was well up to the head of the Sapphira class. The old lady had been reading a certain book, and there was no reason why she should conceal the fact. The son suddenly enters and finds the mother sitting quietly looking out of the window. She was suspiciously quiet. The son questions her somewhat as follows:
"What are you doing, mother?"
"Nothing," was the answer.
"Have you been reading?"
"Do I look like it?"
"Why, yes--the book on your lap!"
"The book under your apron."
And so does this sweetly charming and deeply religious old lady prove her fitness in many ways to membership in the liar's league. She secretes, prevaricates, quibbles, lays petty traps and mouses all day long. The Eleventh Commandment, "Thou Shalt Not Snoop," evidently had never been called to her attention, and even her gifted son is seemingly totally unaware of it. So Thomas Stevenson, excellent man that he was, turned to subterfuge, and telegraphed his runaway son that his mother was sick, appealing to his love for his mother to lure him back.
However, children do not live with their forebears for nothing--they know their parents just as well as their parents know them. Robert Louis reasoned that it was quite as probable that his father lied as that his mother was sick. He yielded to the stronger attraction--and stuck to the ship.
He was sailing to America because he had received word that Fanny Osbourne was very ill. Half a world divided them, but attraction to lovers is in inverse ratio to the square of the distance. He must go to her!
She was sick and in distress. He must go to her. The appeals of his parents--even their dire displeasure--the ridicule of relatives, all were as naught. He had some Scotch obstinacy of his own. Every fiber of his being yearned for her. She needed him. He was going to her!
Of course his action in thus sailing away to a strange land alone was a shock to his parents. He was a man in years, but they regarded him as but a child, as indeed he was. He had never earned his own living. He was frail in body, idle, erratic, peculiar. His flashing wit and subtle insight into the heart of things were quite beyond his parents--in this he was a stranger to them. Their religion to him was gently amusing, and he congratulated himself on not having inherited it. He had a pride, too, but Graham Balfour said it was French pride, not the Scotch brand. He viewed himself as a part of the passing procession. His own velvet jacket and marvelous manifestations in neckties added interest to the show. And that he admired his own languorous ways there is no doubt.
His "Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde" he declared in sober earnest, in which was concealed a half-smile, was autobiography. And this is true, for all good things that every writer writes are a self-confession.
Stevenson was a hundred men in one and "his years were anything from sixteen to eighty," says Lloyd Osbourne in his "Memoirs." But when a letter came from San Francisco saying Fanny Osbourne was sick, all of that dilatory, procrastinating, gently trifling quality went out of his soul and he was possessed by one idea--he must go to her!
The captain of the ship had no authority to follow the order of an unknown person and put him ashore, so the telegram was given to the man to whom it referred.
He read the message, smiled dreamily, tore it into bits and dropped it on the tide. And the ship turned her prow toward America and sailed away. So this was the man who had no firmness, no decision, no will! Aye, heretofore he had only lacked a motive. Now love supplied it.
* * * * *
It is life supplies the writer his theme. People who have not lived, no matter how grammatically they may write, have no real message. Robert Louis had now severed the umbilical cord. He was going to live his own life, to earn his own living. He could do but one thing, and that was to write. He may have been a procrastinator in everything else, but as a writer he was a skilled mechanic. And so straightway on that ship he began to work his experiences up into copy. Just what he wrote the world will never know, for although the manuscript was sold to a publisher, yet Barabbas did not give it to the people. There are several ways by which a publisher can thrive.
To get paid for not publishing is easy money--it involves no risk. In this instance an Edinburgh publisher bought the manuscript for thirty pounds, intending to print it in book form, showing the experience of a Scotchman in search of a fortune in New York.
In order to verify certain dates and data, the publisher submitted the manuscript to Thomas Stevenson. Great was that gentleman's interest in the literary venture of his son. He read with a personal interest, for he was the author of the author's being. But as he read he felt that he himself was placed in a most unenviable light, for although he was not directly mentioned, yet the suffering of the son on the emigrant ship seemed to point out the father as one who disregarded his parental duties. And above all things Thomas Stevenson prided himself on being a good provider. Thomas Stevenson straightway bought the manuscript from the publisher for one hundred pounds.
On hearing of the fate of his book, Robert Louis intimated to his father that thereafter it would be as well for them to deal direct with each other and thus save the middleman's profits.
However, the father and son got together on the manuscript question some years later, and the over-sensitive parent was placated by striking out certain passages that might be construed as aspersions, and a few direct complimentary references inserted, and the printer got the book on payment of two hundred pounds. The transaction turned out so well that Thomas Stevenson said, "I told you so," and Robert Louis saw the patent fact that hindsight, accident and fear sometimes serve us quite as well as insight and perspicacity, not to mention perspicuity. We aim for one target and hit the bull's-eye on another. We sail for a certain port, where, unknown to us, pirates lie in wait, and God sends His storms and drives us upon Treasure Island. There we load up with ingots; the high tide floats us, and we sail away for home with our unearned increment to tell the untraveled natives how we most surely are the people and that wisdom will die with us.
* * * * *
Robert Louis was a sick man. The ship was crowded and the fare and quarters were far from being what he always had been used to. The people he met in the second cabin were neither literary nor artistic, but some of them had right generous hearts. On being interrogated by one of his messmates as to his business, Robert Louis replied that he was a stone-mason. The man looked at his long, slim, artistic fingers and knew better, but he did not laugh.
He respected this young man with the hectic flush, reverenced his secret whatever it might be, and smuggled delicacies from the cook's galley for the alleged stone-mason. "Thus did he shovel coals of fire on my head until to ease my heart I called him aft one moonlight night and told him I was no stone-mason, and begged him to forgive me for having sought to deceive one of God's own gentlemen." Meantime, every day our emigrant turned out a little good copy, and this made life endurable, for was it not Robert Louis himself who gave us this immortal line, "I know what pleasure is, for I have done good work"?
He was going to her. Arriving in New York he straightway invested two good dollars in a telegram to San Francisco, and five cents in postage on a letter to Edinburgh. These two things done he would take time to rest up for a few days in New York. One of the passengers had given him the address of a plain and respectable tavern, where an honest laborer of scanty purse could find food and lodging. This was Number Ten West Street.
Robert Louis dare not trust himself to the regular transfer-company, so he listened to the siren song of the owner of a one-horse express-wagon who explained that the distance to Number Ten West Street was something to be dreaded, and that five dollars for the passenger and his two tin boxes was like doing it for nothing. The money was paid; the boxes were loaded into the wagon, and Robert Louis seated upon one of them, with a horse-blanket around him, in the midst of a pouring rain, the driver cracked his whip and started away. He drove three blocks to the starboard and one to port, and backed up in front of Number Ten West Street, which proved to be almost directly across the street from the place where the "Devonia" was docked. But strangers in a strange country can not argue--they can only submit.
The landlord looked over the new arrival from behind the bar, and then through a little window called for his wife to come in from the kitchen. The appearance of the dripping emigrant who insisted in answer to their questions that he was not sick, and that he needed nothing, made an appeal to the mother-heart of this wife of an Irish saloonkeeper.
Straightway she got dry clothes from her husband's wardrobe for the poor man, and insisted that he should at once go to his room and change the wet garments for the dry ones. She then prepared him supper which he ate in the kitchen, and choked for gratitude when this middle-aged, stout and illiterate woman poured his tea and called him "dear heart."
She asked him where he was going and what he was going to do. He dare not repeat the story that he was a stone-mason--the woman knew he was some sort of a superior being, and his answer that he was going out West to make his fortune was met by the Irish-like response, "And may the Holy Mother grant that ye find it."
It is very curious how gentle and beautiful souls find other gentle and beautiful souls even in barrooms, and among the lowly--I really do not understand it! In his book Robert Louis paid the landlord of Number Ten West Street such a heartfelt compliment that the traditions still invest the place, and the present landlord is not forgetful that his predecessor once entertained an angel unawares.
When the literary pilgrim enters the door, scrapes his feet on the sanded floor, and says "Robert Louis Stevenson," the barkeeper and loafers straighten up and endeavor to put on the pose and manner of gentlemen and all the courtesy, kindness and consideration they can muster are yours. The man who could redeem a West Street barkeeper and glorify a dock saloon must indeed have been a most remarkable personality.
[Illustration: FANNY OSBOURNE]
* * * * *
To get properly keelhauled for his overland emigrant trip across the continent, Robert Louis remained in New York three days. The kind landlady packed a big basket of food--not exactly the kind to tempt the appetite of an invalid, but all flavored with good-will, and she also at the last moment presented him a pillow in a new calico pillowcase that has been accurately described, and the journey began.
There was no sleeping-car for the author of "A Lodging for the Night." He sat bolt upright and held tired babies on his knees, or tumbled into a seat and wooed the drowsy god. The third night out he tried sleeping flat in the aisle of the car on the floor until the brakeman ordered him up, and then two men proposed to fight the officious brakeman if he did not leave the man alone. To save a riot Robert Louis agreed to obey the rules. It was a ten-day trip across the continent, filled with discomforts that would have tried the constitution of a strong man.
Robert Louis arrived "bilgy," as he expressed it, but alive. Mrs. Osbourne was better. The day she received the telegram was the turning-point in her case.
The doctor perceived that his treatment was along the right line, and ordered the medicine continued.
She was too ill to see Robert Louis--it was not necessary, anyway. He was near and this was enough. She began to gain. Just here seems a good place to say that the foolish story to the effect that Mr. Osbourne was present at the wedding and gave his wife away has no foundation in fact. Robert Louis never saw Mr. Osbourne and never once mentioned his name to any one so far as we know. He was a mine-prospector and speculator, fairly successful in his work. That he and his wife were totally different in their tastes and ambitions is well understood. They whom God has put asunder no man can join together.
The husband and wife had separated, and Mrs. Osbourne went to France to educate her children--educate them as far from their father as possible. Also, she wished to study art on her own account. So, blessed be stupidity--and heart-hunger and haunting misery that drive one out and away.
She returned to California to obtain legal freedom and make secure her business affairs. There are usually three parties to a divorce, and this case was no exception. It is a terrible ordeal for a woman to face a divorce-court and ask the State to grant her a legal separation from the father of her children. Divorce is not a sudden, spontaneous affair--it is the culmination of a long train of unutterable woe. Under the storm and stress of her troubles Mrs. Osbourne had been stricken with fever. Sickness is a result, and so is health.
When Robert Louis arrived in San Francisco Mrs. Osbourne grew better. In a few months she pushed her divorce case to a successful conclusion.
Mr. Osbourne must have been a man with some gentlemanly instincts, for he made no defense, provided a liberal little fortune for his former family, and kindly disappeared from view.
Robert Louis did desultory work on newspapers in San Francisco and later at Monterey, with health up and down as hope fluctuated. In the interval a cablegram had come from his father saying, "Your allowance is two hundred and fifty pounds a year." This meant that he had been forgiven, although not very graciously, and was not to starve.
Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osbourne were married May Tenth, Eighteen Hundred Eighty. "The Silverado Squatters" shows how to spend a honeymoon in a miner's deserted cabin, a thousand miles from nowhere. The Osbourne children were almost grown, and were at that censorious age when the average youngster feels himself capable of taking mental and moral charge of his parents.
But these children were different; then, they had a different mother, and as for Robert Louis, he certainly was a different proposition from that ever evolved from creation's matrix. He belongs to no class, evades the label, and fits into no pigeonhole.
The children never called him "father": he was always "Louis"--simply one of them. He married the family and they married him. He had captured their hearts in France by his story-telling, his flute-playing and his skilful talent with the jackknife. Now he was with them for all time, and he was theirs. It was the most natural thing in the world.
Mrs. Stevenson was the exact opposite of her husband in most things. She was quick, practical, accurate, and had a manual dexterity in a housekeeping way beyond the lot of most women. With all his half-invalid, languid, dilettante ways, Robert Louis adored the man or woman who could do things. Perhaps this was why his heart went out to those who go down to the sea in ships, the folk whose work is founded not on theories, but on absolute mathematical laws.
In their fourteen years of married life, Robert Louis never tired of watching Fanny at her housekeeping. "To see her turn the flapjacks by a simple twist of the wrist is a delight not soon to be forgotten, and my joy is to see her hanging clothes on the line in a high wind."
The folks at home labored under the hallucination that Robert Louis had married "a native Californian," and to them a "native" meant a half-breed Indian. The fact was that Fanny was born in Indiana, but this explanation only deepened the suspicion, for surely people who lived in Indiana are Indians--any one would know that! Cousin Robert made apologies and explanations, although none was needed, and placed himself under the ban of suspicion of being in league to protect Robert Louis, for the fact that the boys had always been quite willing to lie for each other had been very well known.
Mrs. Stevenson made good all that Robert Louis lacked. In physique she was small, but sturdy and strong.
Mentally she was very practical, very sensible, very patient. Then she had wit, insight, sympathy and that fluidity of spirit which belongs only to the Elect Few who know that nothing really matters much either way. Such a person does not contradict, set folks straight as to dates, and shake the red rag of wordy warfare, even in the interests of truth.
Then keeping house on Silverado Hill was only playing at "keep-house," and the way all hands entered into the game made it the genuine thing. People who keep house in earnest or do anything else in dead earnest are serious, but not sincere. Sincere people are those who can laugh--even laugh at themselves--and thus are they saved from ossification of the heart and fatty degeneration of the cerebrum. The Puritans forgot how to play, otherwise they would never have hanged the witches or gone after the Quakers with fetters and handcuffs. Uric acid and crystals in the blood are bad things, but they are worse when they get into the soul.
That most delightful story of "Treasure Island" was begun as a tale for Lloyd Osbourne, around the evening campfire. Then the hearers begged that it be written out, and so it was begun, one chapter a day. As fast as a chapter was written it was read in the evening to an audience that hung on every word and speculated as to what the characters would do next. All applauded, all criticized--all made suggestions as to what was "true," that is to say, as to what the parties actually did and said. "Treasure Island" is the best story of adventure ever written, and if anybody knows a better recipe for story-writing than the plan of writing just for fun, for some one else, it has not yet been discovered.
The miracle is that Robert Louis the Scotchman should have been so perfectly understood and appreciated by this little family from the other side of the world.
The Englishman coming to America speaks a different language from ours--his allusions, symbols, aphorisms belong to another sphere. He does not understand us, nor we him. But Robert Louis Stevenson and Fanny Osbourne must have been "universals," for they never really had to get acquainted: they loved the same things, spoke a common language, and best of all recognized that what we call "life" isn't life at the last, and that an anxious stirring, clutching for place, pelf and power is not nearly so good in results as to play the flute, tell stories and keep house just for fun.
The Stevenson spirit of gentle raillery was well illustrated by Mrs. Strong in an incident that ran somewhat thus: A certain boastful young person was telling of a funeral where among other gorgeous things were eight "pallberries."
Said Mrs. Stevenson in admiration, "Just now, a-think, pallberries at a funeral; how delightful!" "My dear," said Robert Louis, reprovingly, "you know perfectly well that we always have pallberries at our funerals in Samoa."
"Quite true, my dear, provided it is pallberry season."
"And suppose it is not pallberry season, do we not have them tinted?"
"Yes, but there is a tendency to pick them green--that is awful!"
"But not so awful as to leave them on the bushes until they get rotten."
Finck in his fine book, "Romantic Love and Personal Beauty," says that not once in a hundred thousand times do you find man and wife who have reached a state of actual understanding.
Incompatibility comes from misunderstanding and misconstruing motives, and more often, probably, attributing motives where none exists. And until a man and a woman comprehend the working of each other's mind and "respect the mood," there is no mental mating, and without a mental mating we can talk of rights and ownership, but not of marriage.
The delight of creative work lies in self-discovery: you are mining nuggets of power out of your own cosmos, and the find comes as a great and glad surprise. The kindergarten baby who discovers he can cut out a pretty shape from colored paper, and straightway wants to run home to show mamma his find, is not far separated from the literary worker who turns a telling phrase, and straightway looks for Her, to read it to double his joy by sharing it. Robert Louis was ever discovering new beauties in his wife and she in him. Eliminate the element of surprise and anticipate everything a person can do or say, and love is a mummy. Thus do we get the antithesis--understanding and surprise.
Marriage worked a miracle in Robert Louis; suddenly he became industrious. He ordered that a bell should be tinkled at six o'clock every morning or a whistle blown as a sign that he should "get away," and at once he began the work of the day. More probably he had begun it hours before, for he had the bad habit of the midnight brain. Kipling calls Robert Louis our only perfect artist in letters--the man who filed down to a hair.
Robert Louis knew no synonyms; for him there was the right word and none other. He balanced the sentence over and over on his tongue, tried and tried again until he found the cadence that cast the prophetic purple shadow--that not only expressed a meaning, but which tokened what would follow.
He was always assiduously graceful, always desiring to present his idea in as persuasive a light as possible, and with as much harmony as possible. That self-revelatory expression of Stevenson's is eminently characteristic of the man: "I know what pleasure is, for I have done good work."
"Treasure Island" opened the market for Stevenson, and thereafter there was a steadily increasing demand for his wares.
Health came back; and the folks at home seeing that Robert Louis was getting his name in the papers, and noting the steady, triumphant tone of sanity in all he wrote, came to the conclusion that his marriage was not a failure.
* * * * *
Above all men in the realm of letters Robert Louis had that peculiar and divine thing called "charm." To know him was to love him, and those who did not love him did not know him.
This welling grace of spirit was also the possession of his wife.
In his married life Stevenson was always a lover, never the loved. The habit of his mind is admirably shown in these lines:
TO MY WIFE
Trusty, dusky, vivid, true, With eyes of gold and bramble dew, Steel true and blade straight, The Great Artisan made my mate.
Honor, courage, valor, fire, A love that life could never tire, Death quench nor evil stir, The Mighty Master gave to her.
Teacher, pupil, comrade, wife, A fellow-farer true through life, Heart-whole and soul free, The august Father gave to me.
Edmund Gosse gives a pen-picture of Stevenson thus:
I came home dazzled with my new friend, saying as Constance does of Arthur, "Was ever such a gracious creature born?" That impression of ineffable mental charm was formed the first moment of acquaintance, about Eighteen Hundred Seventy-seven, and it never lessened or became modified. Stevenson's rapidity in the sympathetic interchange of ideas was, doubtless, the source of it. He has been described as an "egotist," but I challenge the description. If ever there was an altruist it was Louis Stevenson; he seemed to feign an interest in himself merely to stimulate you to be liberal in your confidences. Those who have written about him from later impressions than those of which I speak seem to me to give insufficient prominence to the gaiety of Stevenson. It was his cardinal quality in those early days. A childlike mirth leaped and danced in him; he seemed to skip the hills of life. He was simply bubbling with quips and jest; his inherent earnestness or passion about abstract things was incessantly relieved by jocosity; and when he had built one of his intellectual castles in the sand, a wave of humor was certain to sweep in and destroy it. I can not, for the life of me, recall any of his jokes; and written down in cold blood, they might not seem funny if I did. They were not wit so much as humanity, the many-sided outlook upon life. I am anxious that his laughter-loving mood should not be forgotten, because later on it was partly quenched by ill health, responsibility and the advance of years. He was often, in the old days, excessively, delightfully silly--silly with the silliness of an inspired schoolboy; I am afraid our laughter sometimes sounded ill in the ears of age.
* * * * *
A visit to Scotland and the elders capitulated, apologized, and asked for quarter. So delighted was Thomas Stevenson with Lloyd Osbourne that he made the boy his chief heir, and declared in the presence of Robert Louis that he only regretted that his own son was never half so likely a lad. To which Robert Louis made reply, "Genius always skips one generation."
Health had come to Robert Louis in a degree he had never before known. He also had dignity and a precision such as his parents and kinsmen had despaired of seeing in one so physically and mentally vacillating.
Stevenson was once asked by a mousing astrologer to state the date of his birth. Robert Louis looked at his wife soberly and slowly answered, "May Tenth, Eighteen Hundred Eighty." And not even a smile crossed the countenance of either. Each understood.
That the nature of Stevenson was buoyed up, spiritualized, encouraged and given strength by his marriage, no quibbler has ever breathed the ghost of a doubt. His wife supplied him the mothering care that gave his spirit wing. He loved her children as his own, and they reciprocated the affection in a way that embalms their names in amber forevermore.
When Robert Louis, after a hemorrhage, sat propped up in bed, forbidden to speak, he wrote on a pad with pencil: "Mr. Dumbleigh presents his compliments and praises God that he is sick so he has to be cared for by two tender, loving fairies. Was ever a man so blest?"
Again he begins the day by inditing a poem, "To the bare, brown feet of my wife and daughter dear." And this, be it remembered, was after the bare, brown feet had been running errands for him for thirteen years. And think you that women so loved, and by such a man, would not fetch and carry and run and find their highest joy in ministering to him? If he were thrice blest in having them, as he continually avowed, how about them? It only takes a small dole of love when fused with loyalty to win the abject, doglike devotion of a good woman. On the day of his death Stevenson said to his wife, "You have already given me fourteen years of life." And this is the world's verdict--fourteen years of life and love, and without these fourteen years the name and fame of Robert Louis Stevenson were writ in water; with them "R. L. S." has been cut deep in the granite of time, but better still, the gentle spirit of Stevenson lives again in the common heart of the world in lives made better.
JOSIAH AND SARAH WEDGWOOD
Admitting my inexperience, I must say that I think the instinct for beauty and all the desire to produce beautiful things, which you and Goethe refer to as the "Art Impulse," is a kind of sex quality, not unlike the song of birds or their beautiful plumage.
--_Josiah Wedgwood to Doctor Erasmus Darwin_
[Illustration: JOSIAH WEDGWOOD]
Once upon a day a financial panic was on in Boston. Real estate was rapidly changing hands, most all owners making desperate efforts to realize. Banks which were thought to be solvent and solid went soaring skyward, and even collapsed occasionally, with a loud, ominous, R. G. Dun report. And so it happened that about this time Henry Thoreau strolled out of his cabin and looking up at the placid moon, murmured, "Moonshine, after all, is the only really permanent thing we possess."
This is the first in the series of twelve love-stories--or "tales of moonshine," to use the phrase of Thomas Carlyle.
In passing, let us note the fact that the doughty Thomas was not a lover, and he more than once growled out his gratitude in that he had never lost either his head or his heart, for men congratulate themselves on everything they have, even their limitations. Thomas Carlyle was not a lover.
A great passion is a trinitarian affair. And I sometimes have thought it a matter of regret, as well as of wonder, that a strong man did not appear on the scene and fall in love with the winsome Jeannie Welsh. Conditions were ripe there for a great drama. I know it would have blown the roof off that little house in Cheyne Row, but it might have crushed the heart of Thomas Carlyle and made him a lover, indeed. After death had claimed Jeannie as a bride, the fastnesses of the old Sartor Resartus soul were broken up, and Carlyle paced the darkness, crying aloud, "Oh, why was I cruel to her?" He manifested a tenderness toward the memory of the woman dead which the woman alive had never been able to bring forth.
Love demands opposition and obstacle. It is the intermittent or obstructed current that gives power.
The finest flowers are those transplanted; for transplanting means difficulty, a readjusting to new conditions, and through the effort put forth to find adjustment does the plant progress. Transplanted men are the ones who do the things worth while, and transplanted girls are the only ones who inspire a mighty passion. Audrey transplanted might have evolved into a Nell Gwynn or a Lady Hamilton.
In such immortal love-stories as Romeo and Juliet, Tristram and Isolde, and Paolo and Francesca, a love so mad in its wild impetus is pictured that it dashes itself against danger; and death for the lovers, we feel from the beginning, is the sure climax when the curtain shall fall on the fifth act.
The sustained popular interest in these tragedies proves that the entranced auditors have dabbled in the eddies, so they feel a fervent interest in those hopelessly caught in the current, and from the snug safety of the parquette live vicariously their lives and the loves that might have been.
But let us begin with a life-story, where love resolved its "moonshine" into life, and justified itself even to stopping the mouths of certain self-appointed censors, who caviled much and quibbled overtime. Here is a love so great that in its beneficent results we are all yet partakers.
* * * * *
About all the civilization England has she got from the Dutch; her barbarisms are all her own. It was the Dutch who taught the English how to print and bind books and how to paint pictures.
It was the Dutch who taught the English how to use the potter's wheel and glaze and burn earthenware. Until less than two hundred years ago, the best pottery in use in England came from Holland. It was mostly made at Delft, and they called it Delftware.
Finally they got to making Delftware in Staffordshire. This was about the middle of the Eighteenth Century. And it seems that, a little before this time, John Wesley, a traveling preacher, came up this way on horseback, carrying tracts in his saddlebags, and much love in his heart. He believed that we should use our religion in our life--seven days in the week, and not save it up for Sunday. In ridicule, some one had called him a "Methodist," and the name stuck.
John Wesley was a few hundred years in advance of his time. He is the man who said, "Slavery is the sum of all villainies." John Wesley had a brother named Charles, who wrote hymns, but John did things. He had definite ideas about the rights of women and children, also on temperance, education, taxation and exercise, and whether his followers have ever caught up with him, much less gone ahead of him, is not for me, a modest farmer, to say.
In the published "Journal of John Wesley," is this: "March 8, 1760. Preached at Burslem, a town made up of potters. The people are poor, ignorant, and often brutal, but in due time the heart must be moved toward God, and He will enlighten the understanding."
And again: "Several in the congregation talked out loud and laughed continuously. And then one threw at me a lump of potter's clay that struck me in the face, but it did not disturb my discourse."
This whole section was just emerging out of the Stone Age, and the people were mostly making stoneware. They worked about four days in a week. The skilful men made a shilling a day--the women one shilling a week. And all the money they got above a meager living went for folly. Bear-baiting, bullfighting and drunkenness were the rule. There were breweries at Staffordshire before there were potteries, but now the potters made jugs and pots for the brewers.
These potters lived in hovels, and, what is worse, were quite content with their lot. In the potteries women often worked mixing the mud, and while at work wore the garb of men.
Wesley referred to the fact of the men and women dressing alike, and relates that once a dozen women wearing men's clothes, well plastered with mud, entered the chapel where he was preaching, and were urged on by the men to affront him and break up the meeting.
Then comes this interesting item: "I met a young man by the name of J. Wedgwood, who had planted a flower-garden adjacent to his pottery. He also had his men wash their hands and faces and change their clothes after working in the clay. He is small and lame, but his soul is near to God."
I think that John Wesley was a very great man. I also think he was great enough to know that only a man who is in love plants a flower-garden.
Yes, such was the case--Josiah Wedgwood was in love, madly, insanely, tragically in love! And he was liberating that love in his work. Hence, among other forms that his "insanity" took, he planted a flower-garden.
And of course, the garden was for the lady he loved.
Love must do something--it is a form of vital energy and the best thing it does, it does for the beloved. Flowers are love's own properties. And so flowers, natural or artificial, are a secondary sex manifestation.
I said Josiah Wedgwood was tragically in love--the word was used advisedly. One can play comedy; two are required for melodrama; but a tragedy demands three.
A tragedy means opposition, obstacle, objection. Josiah Wedgwood was putting forth a flower-garden, not knowing why, possibly, but as a form of attraction. And John Wesley riding by, reined in, stopped and after talking with the owner of the flower-garden wrote, "He is small and lame, but his soul is near to God."
* * * * *
Josiah Wedgwood, like Richard Arkwright, his great contemporary, was the thirteenth child of his parents.
Let family folk fear no more about thirteen being an unlucky number. The common law of England, which usually has some good reason based on commonsense for its existence, makes the eldest son the heir: this on the assumption that the firstborn inherits brain and brawn plus. If the firstborn happened to be a girl, it didn't count.
The rest of the family grade down until we get "the last run of shad." But Nature is continually doing things just as if to smash our theories. The Arkwrights and the Wedgwoods are immortal through Omega and not Alpha.
Thomas Wedgwood, the father of Josiah, was a potter who made butter-pots and owned a little pottery that stood in the yard behind the house. He owned it, save for a mortgage, and when he died, he left the mortgage and the property to his eldest son Thomas, to look after.
Josiah was then nine years old, but already he was throwing clay on the potter's wheel. It would not do to say that he was clay in the hand of the potter, for while the boys of his age were frolicking through the streets of the little village of Burslem where he lived, he was learning the three R's at his mother's knee.
I hardly suppose we can speak of a woman who was the mother of thirteen children before she was forty, and taking care of them all without a servant, as highly cultivated. Several of Josiah's brothers and sisters never learned to read and write, for like Judith Shakespeare, the daughter of William, they made their mark: which shows us that there are several ways of turning that pretty trick. Children born of the same parents are not necessarily related to each other, nor to their parents.
Mary Wedgwood, Josiah's mother, wrote for him his name in clay, and some years after he related how he copied it a hundred times every day for a week, writing with a stick in the mud.
Lame children or weakly ones seem to get their quota of love all right, so let us not feel sorry for them--everything is equalized.
When Josiah was fourteen he could write better than either his mother or his brother Thomas; for we have the signatures of all three appended to an indenture of apprenticeship, wherein Josiah was bound to his brother Thomas for five years. The youngster was to be taught the "mystery, trade, occupation and secrets of throwing and handling clay, and also burning it." But the fact was that as he was born in the pottery and had lived and worked in it, and was a most alert and impressionable child, he knew quite as much about the work as his brother Thomas, who was twenty years older. Years are no proof of ability.
At nineteen, Josiah's apprenticeship to his brother expired. "I have my trade, a lame leg and the marks of smallpox--and I never was good-looking, anyway," he wrote in his commonplace-book.
The terrific attack of smallpox that he had undergone had not only branded his face, but had left an inflammation in his right knee that made walking most difficult. This difficulty was no doubt aggravated by his hard work turning the potter's wheel with one foot. During the apprenticeship the brother had paid him no wages, simply "booarde, meate, drink and cloatheing."
Now he was sick, lame and penniless. His mother had died the year before. He was living with his brothers and sisters, who were poor, and felt that he was more or less of a burden to them and to the world: the tide was at ebb. And about this time it was that Richard Wedgwood, Esquire, from Cheshire, came over to Burslem on horseback. Richard has been mentioned as a brother of Thomas, the father of Josiah, but the fact seems to be that they were cousins.
Richard was a gentleman in truth, if not in title. He had made a fortune as a cheesemonger and retired. He went to London once a year, and had been to Paris. He was decently fat, was senior warden of his village church, and people who knew their business addressed him as Squire. The whole village of Burslem boasted only one horse and a mule, but Squire Wedgwood of Cheshire owned three horses, all his own. He rode only one horse though, when he came to Burslem, and behind him, seated on a pillion, was his only and motherless daughter Sarah, aged fourteen, going on fifteen, with dresses to her shoe-tops.
He brought her because she teased to come, and in truth he loved the girl very much and was extremely proud of her, even if he did reprove her more than was meet. But she usually got even by doing as she pleased.
Now they were on their way to Liverpool and just came around this way a-cousining.
And among others on whom they called were the Wedgwood potters. In the kitchen, propped up on a bench, with his lame leg stretched out before him, sat Josiah, worn, yellow and wan, all pitted with smallpox-marks. The girl looked at the young man and asked him how he got hurt--she was only a child. Then she asked him if he could read. And she was awful glad he could, because to be sick and not to be able to read was awful!
Her father had a copy of Thomson's "Seasons" in his saddlebags. She went and got the book and gave it to Josiah, and told her father about it afterward. And when the father and daughter went away, the girl stroked the sick boy's head, and said she hoped he would get well soon. She would not have stroked the head of one of those big, burly potters; but this potter was different--he was wofully disfigured, and he was sick and lame. Woman's tenderness goes out to homely and unfortunate men--read your Victor Hugo!
And Josiah--he was speechless, dumb--his tongue paralyzed! The room swam and then teetered up and down, and everything seemed touched with a strange, wondrous light. And in both hands Josiah Wedgwood tenderly held that precious copy of James Thomson's "Seasons."
* * * * *
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty, just one hundred years after John Wesley visited Burslem, Gladstone came here and gave an address on the founding of the Wedgwood Memorial Institute.
Among other things said in the course of his speech was this: "Then comes the well-known smallpox, the settling of the dregs of the disease in the lower part of the leg, and the eventual amputation of the limb, rendering him lame for life. It is not often that we have such palpable occasion to record our obligations to calamity. But in the wonderful ways of Providence, that disease which came to him as a twofold scourge was probably the occasion of his subsequent excellence. It prevented him from growing up to be the active, vigorous workman, possessed of all his limbs, and knowing right well the use of them; but it put him upon considering whether, as he could not be that, he might not be something else, and something greater. It sent his mind inward; it drove him to meditate upon the laws and secrets of his art. The result was that he arrived at a perception and grasp of them which might, perhaps, have been envied, certainly have been owned, by an Athenian potter. Relentless criticism has long since torn to pieces the old legend of King Numa receiving in a cavern, from the nymph of Egeria, the laws which were to govern Rome. But no criticism can shake the record of that illness and that mutilation of the boy Josiah Wedgwood, which made a cavern of his bedroom, and an oracle of his own inquiring, searching, meditative mind."
You remember how that great and good man, Richard Maurice Bucke, once said, "After I had lost my feet in the Rocky Mountain avalanche, I lay for six weeks in a cabin, and having plenty of time to think it over, I concluded that, now my feet were gone, I surely could no longer depend upon them, so I must use my head." And he did.
The loss of an arm in a sawmill was the pivotal point that gave us one of the best and strongest lawyers in Western New York. And heaven knows we need good lawyers: the other kind are so plentiful!
Gladstone thought it was smallpox that drove Josiah Wedgwood to books and art. But other men have had the smallpox--bless me!--and they never acquired much else.
Josiah kept Thomson's "Seasons" three months, and then returned it to Sarah Wedgwood, with a letter addressing her as "Dear Cousin." You will find it set down in most of the encyclopedias that she was his cousin, but this seems to be because writers of encyclopedias are literalists, and lovers are poets.
Josiah said he returned the book for two reasons: first, inasmuch as he had committed it to memory, he no longer needed it; second, if he sent it back, possibly another book might be sent him instead. Squire Wedgwood answered this letter himself, and sent two books, with a good, long letter of advice about improving one's time, and "not wasting life in gambling and strong drink, as most potters do."
Six months had passed since the Squire and his daughter had been to Burslem. Josiah was much better. He was again at work in the pottery. And now, instead of making brown butter-crocks and stone jugs all of the time, he was experimenting in glazes. In fact, he had made a little wooden workbox and covered it over with tiny pieces of ornamental "porcelain" in a semi-transparent green color, that he had made himself. And this pretty box he sent to Sarah. Unfortunately, the package was carried on horseback in a bag by the mail-carrier, and on the way the horse lay down, or fell down and rolled on the mail-bag, reducing the pretty present to fragments. When the wreck was delivered to Sarah, she consulted with her father about what should be done.
We ask advice, not because we want it, but because we wish to be backed up in the thing we desire to do.
Sarah wrote to Josiah, acknowledging receipt of the box, praising its beauty in lavish terms, but not a word about the condition in which it arrived. A few weeks afterward the Squire wrote on his own account and sent ten shillings for two more boxes--"just like the first, only different." Ten shillings was about what Josiah was getting for a month's work.
Josiah was now spending all of his spare time and money in experimenting with new clays and colors, and so the ten shillings came in very handy.
He had made ladles, then spoons, and knife-handles to take the place of horn, and samples of all his best work he sent on to his "Uncle Richard."
His brother Thomas was very much put out over this trifling. He knew no way to succeed, save to stick to the same old ways and processes that had always been employed. Josiah chafed under the sharp chidings of his brother, and must have written something about it to Sarah, for the Squire sent some of the small wares made by Josiah over to Sheffield to one of the big cutlers, and the cutler wrote back saying he would like to engage the services of so talented a person as the young man who could make a snuffbox with beautiful leaves modeled on it. Thomas Wedgwood, however, refused to allow his brother to leave, claiming the legal guardianship over him until he was twenty-one. From this we assume that Josiah's services were valuable.
Josiah had safely turned his twenty-first year before he decided to go down to Cheshire and see his Uncle Richard. He had anticipated the visit for weeks, but now as he was on the verge of starting he was ready to back out. A formal letter of excuse and apology was written, but never dispatched. On the appointed day, Josiah was duly let down from the postman's cart at the gate of Squire Wedgwood, Spen Green, Cheshire. The young woman who came down the steps to meet him at the gate might indeed be Sarah Wedgwood, but she wasn't the same little girl who had ridden over to Burslem on a pillion behind her father! She was tall, slender, and light of step. She was a dream of grace and beauty, and her presence seemed to fill the landscape. Over Josiah's being ran a bitter regret that he had come at all. He looked about for a good place to hide, then he tried to say something about "how glad I am to be here," but there was a bur on his tongue and so he stammered, "The roads are very muddy." In his pocket he had the letter of regret, and he came near handing it to her and climbing into the postman's cart that still stood there.
He started to go through the gate, and the postman coughed, and asked him for his fare. When the fare was paid, Josiah felt sure that Sarah thought he had tried to cheat the poor postman.
He protested to her that he hadn't, in a strange falsetto voice that was not his own.
As they walked toward the house, Josiah was conscious he was limping, and as he passed his hand over his forehead he felt the pockmarks stand out like moles.
And she was so gracious and sprightly and so beautiful! He knew she was beautiful, although he really had not looked at her; but he realized the faint perfume of her presence, and he knew her dress was a light blue--the color of his favorite glaze.
He decided he would ask her for a sample of the cloth that he might make her a plate just like it.
When they were seated on the veranda, over which were climbing-roses, the young lady addressed him as "Mr. Wedgwood," whereas in her letters she had called him "Dear Cousin" or "Josiah."
It was now Sarah's turn to be uncomfortable, and this was a great relief to him. He felt he must put her at ease, so he said, "These roses would look well on a platter--I will model one for you when I go home." This helped things a little, and the girl offered to show him the garden. There were no flowers in Burslem. People had no time to take care of them.
And just then the Squire appeared, bluff, bold and hearty, and soon everything was all right. That evening the young lady played for them on the harpsichord; the father told stories and laughed heartily at them because nobody else did; and Josiah seated in a dim corner recited pages from Thomson's "Seasons," and the next day was frightened at his temerity.
* * * * *
When Josiah returned to Burslem, it was with the firm determination that he must get away from his brother and branch out for himself. That he loved Sarah or had any idea of wedding her, he was not conscious. Yet her life to him was a great living presence, and all of his plans for the future were made with her in mind. Brown butter-crocks were absolutely out of the question! It was blue plates, covered with vines and roses, or nothing; and he even had visions of a tea-set covered with cupids and flying angels.
In a few weeks we find Josiah over near Sheffield making knife-handles for a Mr. Harrison, an ambitious cutler. Harrison lacked the art spirit and was found too mercenary for our young man, who soon after formed a partnership with a man named Whieldon, "to make tortoise-shell and ivory from ground flint and other stones by processes secret to said Wedgwood." Whieldon furnished the money and Wedgwood the skill. Up to this time the pottery business in England had consisted in using the local clays. Wedgwood invented a mill for grinding stone, and experimented with every kind of rock he could lay his hands on.
He also became a skilled modeler, and his success at ornamenting the utensils and pretty things they made caused the business to prosper. In a year he had saved up a hundred pounds of his own. This certainly was quite a fortune, and Sarah had written him, "I am so proud of your success--we all predict for you a great future."
Such assurances had a sort of undue weight with Josiah, for we find him not long after making bold to call on Squire Wedgwood on "a matter of most important business."
The inspired reader need not be told what that business was. Just let it go that the Squire told Josiah he was a fool to expect that the only daughter of Richard Wedgwood, Esquire, retired monger in Cheshire cheese, should think of contracting marriage with a lame potter from Burslem. Gadzooks! The girl would some day be heiress to ten thousand pounds or so, and the man she would marry must match her dowry, guinea for guinea. And another thing: a nephew of Lord Bedford, a rising young barrister of London, had already asked for her hand.
To be a friend to a likely potter wasn't the same as asking him into the family!
Josiah's total sum of assurance had been exhausted when he blurted out his proposal to the proud father; there was now nothing he could do but to grow first red and then white. He was suppressed, undone, and he could not think of a thing to say, or an argument to put forth. The air seemed stifling. He stumbled down the steps and started down the road as abruptly as he had appeared.
What he would do or where he would go were very hazy propositions in his mind. He limped along and had gone perhaps a mile. Things were getting clearer in his mind. His first decision as sanity returned was that he would ask the first passer-by which way it was to the river.
Now he was getting mad. "A Burslem potter!" that is what the Squire called him, and a lame one at that! It was a taunt, an epithet, an insult! To call a person a Burslem potter was to accuse him of being almost everything that was bad.
The stage did not go until the next day--Josiah had slackened his pace and was looking about for an inn. He would get supper first anyway, and then the river--it would only be one Burslem potter less.
And just then there was a faint cry of "Oh, Josiah!" and a vision of blue. Sarah was right there behind him, all out of breath from running across the meadows. "Oh, Josiah--I--I just wanted to say that I hate that barrister! And then you heard papa say that you must match my dowry, guinea for guinea--I am sorry it is so much, but you can do it, Josiah, you can do it!"
She held out her hand and Josiah clutched and twisted it, and then smacked at it, but smacked into space.
And the girl was gone! She was running away from him. He could not hope to catch her--he was lame, and she was agile as a fawn. She stepped upon a stile that led over through the meadow, and as she stood there she waved her hand, and Josiah afterward thought she said, "Match my dowry, guinea for guinea, Josiah: you can do it, you can do it." Just an instant she stood there, and then she ran across the meadow and disappeared amid the oaks.
An old woman came by and saw him staring at the trees, but he did not ask her the way to the river.
* * * * *
From a shy youth, Josiah Wedgwood had evolved into a man of affairs, and was surely doing a man's work. He had spent about five years making curious earthenware ornaments for the Sheffield cutlers; and then with full one thousand pounds he had come back to Burslem and started business on his own account. He had read and studied and worked, and he had evolved. He was an educated man; that is to say, he was a competent and useful man. He determined to free Burslem from the taint that had fallen upon it. "Burslem?" he once wrote to Sarah, "Burslem? the name shall yet be a symbol of all that is beautiful, honest and true; we shall see! I am a potter--yes, but I'll be the best one that England has ever seen."
And the flower-garden was one of the moves in the direction of evolution.
Occasionally, Josiah made visits to Cheshire, riding forty miles on horseback, for he now had horses of his own. The roads in Spring and Winter were desperately bad, but Josiah by persistent agitation had gotten Parliament to widen and repair, at the expense of several hundred pounds, the road between Lawton in Cheshire to Cliffe Bank at Staffordshire.
And it so happened that this was the road which led from where Wedgwood lived to where lived his lady-love. Josiah and Sarah had many a smile over the fact that Cupid had taken a hand in road-building. Evidently Dan Cupid is a very busy and versatile individual.
Sarah was her father's housekeeper. She had one brother, a young man of meager qualities. These two were joint heirs to their father's estate of something over twenty thousand pounds. Josiah and Sarah thought what a terrible blow it would be if this brother should die and Sarah thus have her dowry doubled!
The Squire depended upon Sarah in many ways. She wrote his letters and kept his accounts; and his fear for her future was founded on a selfish wish not to lose her society and services, quite as much as a solicitude for her happiness.
For a year after Josiah had exploded his bombshell by asking Squire Richard for his daughter's hand, the lover was forbidden the house.
Then the Squire relaxed so far that he allowed Josiah and Sarah to meet in his presence. And finally there was a frank three-cornered understanding. And that was that, when Josiah could show that he had ten thousand pounds in his own name, the marriage would take place. This propensity on the part of parents to live their children's lives is very common. Few be the parents and very great are they who can give liberty and realize that their children are only loaned to them. I fear we parents are prone to be perverse and selfish.
Josiah and Sarah reviewed their status from all sides. They could have thrown the old gentleman overboard entirely and cut for Gretna Green, but that would have cost them an even ten thousand pounds. It would also have secured the Squire's enmity, and might have caused him a fit of apoplexy. And surely, as it was, the lovers were not lost to each other. To wed is often fatal to romance; but it is expecting too much to suppose that lovers will reason that too much propinquity is often worse than obstacle. The road between them was a good one--the letter-carrier made three trips a week, and an irascible parent could not stop dreams, nor veto telepathy, even if he did pass a law that one short visit a month was the limit.
Lovers not only laugh at locksmiths, but at most everything else. Josiah and Sarah kept the line warm with a stream of books, papers, manuscripts and letters. By meeting the mail-carrier a mile out of the village, the vigilant Squire's censorship was curtailed by Sarah to reasonable proportions.
And so the worthy Richard had added the joys of smuggling to the natural sweets of a grand passion. In thus giving zest to the chase, no thanks, however, should be sent his way. Even stout and stubborn old gentlemen with side-whiskers have their uses.
And it was about this time that John Wesley came to Burslem and was surprised to find a flower-garden in a community of potters. He looked at the flowers, had a casual interview with the owner and wrote, "His soul is near to God."
* * * * *
Wedgwood knew every part of his business. He modeled, made designs, mixed clay, built kilns, and at times sat up all night and fed fuel into a refractory furnace. Nothing was quite good enough--it must be better. And to make better pottery, he said, we must produce better people. He even came very close to plagiarizing Walt Whitman by saying, "Produce great people--the rest follows!"
Wedgwood instituted a class in designing and brought a young man from London to teach his people the rudiments of art.
Orders were coming in from nobility for dinner-sets, and the English middle class, instead of dipping into one big pot set in the center of the table, were adopting individual plates.
Knives and forks came into use in England about the time of Good Queen Bess, who was only fairly good. Sir Walter Raleigh, who never posted signs reading, "No Smoking," records, "Tiny forks are being used to spear things at table, instead of the thumb-and-finger method sanctified by long use." But until the time of Wedgwood a plate and a cup for each person at the table was a privilege only of the nobility, and napkins and finger-bowls were on the distant horizon.
Wedgwood had not only to educate his workmen, but he had also to educate the public. But he made head. He had gotten a good road to Cheshire, and an equally good one to Liverpool, and was shipping crockery in large quantities to America. Occasionally, Wedgwood taught the designing classes, himself. As a writer he had developed a good deal of facility, for three love-letters a week for five years will educate any man. To know the right woman is a liberal education. Wedgwood also had given local addresses on the necessity of good roads, and the influence of a tidy back-yard on character.
He was a little past thirty years old, sole owner of a prosperous business and was worth pretty near the magic sum of ten thousand pounds.
Squire Wedgwood had been formally notified to come over to Burslem and take an inventory. He came, coughed and said that pottery was only a foolish fashion, and people would soon get enough of it. Richard felt sure that common folks would never have much use for dishes.
On being brought back to concrete reasons, he declared that his daughter's dowry had increased, very much increased, through wise investments of his own. The girl had a good home--better than she would have at Burslem. The man who married her must better her condition, etc., etc.
It seems that Josiah and Sarah had a little of the good Semitic instinct in their make-up. The old gentleman must be managed; the dowry was too valuable to let slip. They needed the money in their business, and had even planned just what they would do with it. They were going to found a sort of Art Colony, where all would work for the love of it, and where would take place a revival of the work of the Etruscans. As classic literature had been duplicated, and the learning of the past had come down to us in books, so would they duplicate in miniature the statues, vases, bronzes and other marvelous beauty of antiquity.
And the name of the new center of art was chosen--it should be "Etruria." It was a great dream; but then lovers are given to dreams: in fact, they have almost a monopoly on the habit!
* * * * *
Great people have great friends. Wedgwood had a friend in Liverpool named Bentley. Bentley was a big man--a gracious, kindly, generous, receptive, broad, sympathetic man. Your friend is the lengthened shadow of yourself.
Bentley was both an artist and a businessman. Bentley had no quibble or quarrel with himself, and therefore was at peace with the world; he had eliminated all grouch from his cosmos. Bentley began as Wedgwood's agent, and finally became his partner, and had a deal to do with the evolution of Etruria.
When Bentley opened a showroom in London and showed the exquisite, classic creations of Flaxman and the other Wedgwood artists, carriages blocked the streets, and cards of admission had to be issued to keep back the crowds. Bentley dispatched a messenger to Wedgwood with the order, "Turn every available man on vases--London is vase mad!"
A vase, by the way, is a piece of pottery that sells for from one to ten shillings; if it sells for more than ten shillings, you should pronounce it vawse.
On the ninth of January, Seventeen Hundred Sixty-four, Wedgwood wrote Bentley this letter: "If you know my temper and sentiments on these affairs, you will be sensible how I am mortified when I tell you I have gone through a long series of bargain-making, of settlements, reversions, provisions and so on. 'Gone through it,' did I say? Would to Hymen that I had! No! I am still in the attorney's hands, from which I hope it is no harm to pray, 'Good Lord, Deliver me!' Sarah and I are perfectly agreed, and would settle the whole affair in three minutes; but our dear papa, over-careful of his daughter's interest, would by some demands which I can not comply with, go near to separate us if we were not better determined.
"On Friday next, Squire Wedgwood and I are to meet in great form, with each of us our attorney, which I hope will prove conclusive. You shall then hear further from your obliged and very affectionate friend, Josiah Wedgwood."
On January Twenty-ninth, Sarah and Josiah walked over to the little village of Astbury, Cheshire, and were quietly married, the witnesses being the rector's own family, and the mail-carrier. Just why the latter individual was called in to sign the register has never been explained, but I imagine most lovers can. He surely had been "particeps criminis" to the event.
And so they were married, and lived happily afterward. Josiah was thirty-four, and Sarah twenty-nine when they were married. The ten years of Laban service was not without its compensation. The lovers had lived in an ideal world long enough to crystallize their dreams.
In just a year after the marriage a daughter was born to Mr. and Mrs. Josiah Wedgwood, and they called her name Susannah.
And Susannah grew up and became the mother of Charles Darwin, the greatest scientist the world has ever produced.
Writers of romances have a way of leaving their lovers at the church-door, a cautious and wise expedient, since too often love is one thing and life another. But here we find a case where love was worked into life. From the date of his marriage Wedgwood's business moved forward with never a reverse nor a single setback.
When Wedgwood and Bentley were designated "Potters to the Queen," and began making "queensware," coining the word, they laid the sure foundation for one of the greatest business fortunes ever accumulated in England.
Two miles from Burslem, they built the little village of Etruria--a palpable infringement on the East Aurora caveat. And so the dream all came true, and in fact was a hundred times beyond what the lovers had ever imagined.
Sarah's brother accommodatingly died a few years after her marriage, and so she became sole heiress to a fortune of twenty thousand pounds, and this went to the building up of Etruria.
Wedgwood, toward the close of his life, was regarded as the richest man in England who had made his own fortune. And better still, he was rich in intellect and all those finer faculties that go into the making of a great and generous man.
Twenty-two years after his marriage, Wedgwood wrote to his friend Lord Gower: "I never had a great plan that I did not submit to my wife. She knew all the details of the business, and it was her love for the beautiful that first prompted and inspired me to take up Grecian and Roman Art, and in degree, reproduce the Classic for the world. I worked for her approval, and without her high faith in me I realize that my physical misfortunes would have overcome my will, and failure would have been written large where now England has carved the word Success."
WILLIAM GODWIN AND MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT
If children are to be educated to understand the true principle of patriotism, their mother should be a patriot; and the love of mankind, from which an orderly train of virtues springs, can only be produced by considering the moral and civil interest of the race. Woman should be prepared by education to become the companion of man, or she will stop the progress of knowledge, for truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practise.
[Illustration: WILLIAM GODWIN]
Others may trace the love-tales of milkmaids and farmhands; I deal with the people who have made their mark upon the times; people who have tinted the world's thought-fabric and to whose genius we are all heirs. And the reason the story of their love is vital to us is because their love was vital to them. Thought is born of parents, and literature is the child of married minds. So this, then, is the love-story of William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft.
History and literature are very closely related. If one sets down the chief events in political history, and over against these writes the names of the radical authors and orators of the time, he can not but be convinced that literature leads, and soldiers and politicians are puppets tossed on the tide of time. A thought, well expressed, is a bomb that explodes indefinitely.
Two men, Rousseau and Voltaire, lighted the fuse that created the explosion known as the French Revolution. Luther's books and sermons brought about the Reformation.
Thomas Paine's little book, "The Crisis," of which half a million copies were printed and distributed from Virginia to Maine, stirred the Colonists to the sticking-point; and George Washington, who was neither a writer nor an orator, paid "Letters and Truth" the tribute of saying, "Without the pamphlets of Thomas Paine the hearts and minds of the people would never have been prepared to respond to our call for troops." No one disputes now that it was a book written by a woman, of which a million copies were sold in the North, that prepared the way for Lincoln's call for volunteers.
Literature and oratory are arsenals that supply the people their armament of reasons. And through the use and exercise of these borrowed reasons, we learn to create new ones for ourselves. Thinkers prepare the way for thinkers, and every John the Baptist uttering his cry in the wilderness is heard.
And the fate of John the Baptist, and the fate of the Man whom he preceded, are typical of the fate of all who are bold enough to carry the standard of revolt into the camp of the entrenched enemy. The Cross is a mighty privilege; and only the sublimely great are able to pay the price at which hemlock is held.
Buddha said that the finest word in any language is "Equanimity." This is a paradox, and like every paradox implies that the reverse is equally true. Equanimity in the face of opposition, steadfastness in time of stress, and wise and useful purpose, are truly godlike.
And there is only one thing worth fighting for, talking for, or writing for; and all literature and all oratory have this for their central theme--Freedom. It was only Freedom that could lure Cincinnatus from his plow or Lincoln from his law-office.
And so Mary Wollstonecraft's book, "The Rights of Woman," was the first strong, earnest, ringing word on the subject. She summed up the theme once and for all, just as an essay by Herbert Spencer anticipates and answers every objection, exhausting the theme. And that the author had a whimsical touch of humor in her composition is shown in that she dedicates the book to that Prince of Woman-Haters, "Talleyrand, Late Bishop of Autun."
"Political Justice," by William Godwin, was published in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-three. The work, on its first appearance, created a profound impression among English thinking people, although orthodoxy has almost succeeded in smothering it in silence since John Stuart Mill declared that this book created an epoch and deserved to rank with Milton's "Speech for Unlicensed Printing," Locke's "Essay on Human Understanding" or Jean Jacques' "Emile." That it was a positive force in Mill's own life he always admitted.
However, it is only within our own time--only, in fact, since Eighteen Hundred Seventy-six--that the views of Godwin as expressed in "Political Justice" have been adopted by the spirit of Christendom. Godwin believed in the perfectibility of the race, and proved that man's career has been a constant movement forward. That is, there never was a "Fall of Man." Man has always fallen upward, and when he has kicked the ball it has always been toward the goal. Godwin believed that it was well to scan the faults of our fellows closely, in order to see, forsooth, whether they are not their virtues. The belief that mankind should by nature tend to evil, he considered absurd and unscientific, for the strongest instinct in all creation is self-preservation; and that certain men should love darkness rather than light was mainly because governments and religions have warped man's nature through oppression and coercion until it no longer acts normally. "Normal man seeks the light, just as the flowers do. Man, if not too much interfered with, will make for himself the best possible environment and create for his children right conditions because the instinct for peace and liberty is deeply rooted in his nature. Control by another has led to revolt, and revolt has led to oppression, and oppression occasions grief and deadness: hence bruises and distortion follow. When we view humanity, we behold not the true and natural man, but a deformed and pitiable product, undone by the vices of those who have sought to improve on Nature by shaping his life to feed the vanity of a few and minister to their wantonness. In our plans for social betterment, let us hold in mind the healthy and unfettered man, and not the cripple that interference and restraint have made."
Godwin, like Robert Ingersoll, was the son of a clergyman, which reminds me that liberal thought is under great obligations to the clergy, since their sons, taught by antithesis, are often shining lights of radicalism. Godwin was a non-resistant, philosophic anarchist. He was the true predecessor of George Eliot, Walt Whitman, Henry Thoreau and Leo Tolstoy, and the best that is now being expressed from advanced Christian pulpits harks back to him. All that the foremost of our contemporary thinkers have written and said was suggested and touched upon by William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, with like conclusions.
* * * * *
Carnegie is credited with this: "There is only one generation between shirt-sleeves and shirt-sleeves." Now, the grandfather of Mary Wollstonecraft was an employing-weaver who did his work so well that his wares commanded a price.
He grew rich, and when he died he left a fortune of some thirty thousand pounds, not being able to take it with him. This fortune descended to his eldest son.
Samuel Johnson thought the law of primogeniture a most excellent thing, since it insured there being only one fool in the family. The Wollstonecraft boys who had no money went to work, and in taking care of themselves became strong, sturdy and prosperous men. The one who succeeded to the patrimony was at first a gentleman, then a shabby-genteel, and at forty his time was taken up with schemes to dodge the debtors' prison, and with plans to pay off the National Debt; for it seems that men who can not manage their own affairs are not deterred thereby from volunteering to look after those of the nation.
It appears, also, that Mr. Wollstonecraft wrote a book entitled, "How to Command Success," and by its sale hoped to retrieve the fortune now lost--but alas! he ran in debt to the printer and finally sold the copyright to that worthy for five shillings, and on the proceeds got plain drunk.
The family moved as often as landlords demanded, which was about every three months. There were three girls in the family--Mary, Everina and Eliza--all above the average in intelligence. Whether there is any such thing in Nature as justice for the individual is a question, but cosmic justice is beyond cavil. The stupidity of a parent is often a very precious factor in the evolution of his children. He teaches them by antithesis. So if a man can not be useful and strong, all is not lost: he can still serve humanity as a horrible example--like the honest hobo who volunteered to pay the farmer for his dinner by acting as a scarecrow. Children of drunkards make temperance fanatics; and those who have a shiftless father stand a better chance of developing into financiers than if they had a parent who would set them up in business, stand between them and danger, and meet the deficit.
Women married to punk husbands need not be discouraged, nor should husbands with nagging wives be cast down, for was it not Emerson who said, "It is better to be a nettle in the side of your friend than his echo?"
Thus do all things work together for good, whether you love the Lord or not.
The Wollstonecraft family traversed London with their handcart, from Chelsea to East End; they also roamed through Essex, Yorkshire and Kent. When matters became strained they fell back on London, paid one month's rent in advance and then stayed three, when their goods and chattels were gently landed on the curb, and the handcart came in handy.
As the girls grew up they worked at weaving, served as house-girls and nurses, and finally Mary became a governess in the family of Lord Kingsborough, an Irish nobleman. This gave her access to her employer's library, and she went at it as a hungry colt enters a clover-field. Not knowing how long her good fortune would last, she eagerly improved her time. She wrote frequent letters to her sisters, telling what she was doing and what she was reading. She was eminently superior to any of the females in the family, and acknowledged it. A tutor in the house taught her French; and whether the nobleman's children learned much or not, we do not know, but Mary soon equaled her teacher.
Knowledge is a matter of desire.
The next year the Wollstonecraft girls opened a private school, a kind of "Young Ladies' Establishment," quite on the Mrs. Nickleby order. And indeed, if a Micawber had been wanting, Mary knew where to look for him.
About this time Mary met Ursa Major, who may have treated men very rudely, but not your petite, animated and clever women.
Doctor Johnson quite liked little Mary Wollstonecraft. She matched her wit against his and put him on his mettle, and when Mary once expressed a desire to become an authoress he encouraged her by saying, "Yes, my dear, you should write, for that is the way to learn; and no matter how badly you write, you can always be encouraged by finding men who write worse." And another time he said, "Women have quite as much interest in life as men, and see things just as clearly, and why they should not write the last word as well as speak it, I do not know."
That settled it with Mary: She gave up her part in the school; and very soon after, the sisters gave up theirs; one of them wedding a ne'er-do-well scion of nobility, and the other marrying an orthodox curate with a harelip. Through the help of Doctor Johnson, Mary got a position as proofreader with a publisher. Here her knowledge of French was valuable, and she assisted in translations. Then she became literary adviser and reader for different publishers. She was making money, and had accumulated a little fortune of near a hundred pounds by the sweat of her brain. Her close acquaintanceship with printers and publishers thus placed her where she became acquainted with several statesmen who had speeches to make, and for these she constructed arguments and also helped them out of dire difficulties by rounding out their periods, and by introducing flights of fancy for men whose fancies were wingless.
On her own account she had written various stories and essays. She had met the wits and thinkers of London and had learned to take care of herself. She was an honest, industrious, and highly intelligent woman, and commanded the respect of those who knew her best. "To know her," says Godwin in his Memoirs, "was to love her, and those who did not love her, did not know her."
Of course, she was an exceptional person, for have I not intimated that she was a thinker? This was over a hundred years ago, and thinkers were as scarce then as now, for even so-called educated folk, for the most part, only think that they think. Frederic Harrison did not stray far a-field when he referred to Charlotte Perkins Gilman as a reincarnation of Mary Wollstonecraft.
Mary Wollstonecraft had translated Rousseau's "Emile" into English, and had read Voltaire closely and with appreciation.
The momentous times of Seventeen Hundred Ninety-two were on in Paris. That mob of women, ragged and draggled, had tramped out to Versailles, and Marie Antoinette, a foolish girl who rattled around in a place that should have been occupied by a Queen, had looked out of the window and propounded her immortal question, "What do they want?"
"Bread!" was the answer.
"Why don't they eat cake?" asked Her Chatterbox.
Mary Wollstonecraft was a revolutionary by nature. Looking about her she saw London seething with swarms of humanity just one day's rations removed from starvation. A few miles away she saw acres upon acres--thousands of acres--kept and guarded for private parks and game-preserves. Then it was that she supplied Henry George that fine phrase, "Man is a land animal." And she fully comprehended that the question of human rights will never be ended until we settle the land question. She said: "Man is a land animal, and to deprive the many of the right to till the soil is like depriving fishes of the right to swim in the sea. You force fish into a net, and they cease to thrive; you entrap men, through economic necessity, in cities, and allow a few to control the land, and you perpetuate ignorance and crime. And eventually you breed a race of beings who take no joy in Nature, never having gotten acquainted with her. The problem is not one of religion, but of commonsense in economics. Back to the land!" Of course a writing woman who could think like this was deeply interested in the unrest across the Channel.
And so Mary packed up and went over to Paris, lured by three things: a curiosity concerning the great social experiment being there worked out; an ambition to perfect herself in the French language by speaking only French; a writer's natural thirst for good copy.
In all these things the sojourn of Mary Wollstonecraft in Paris was an eminent success, but tragedy was lurking and lying in wait for her. And it came to her as it has come for women ever since time began--through that awful handicap, her nature's crying need for affection.
* * * * *
In Paris martial law reigned supreme; in the streets the death-tumbrel rattled, and through a crack in the closed casement Mary Wollstonecraft peered cautiously out and saw Louis the Sixteenth riding calmly to his death. The fact that she was an Englishwoman brought Mary Wollstonecraft under suspicion, for the English sympathized with royalty. When men with bloody hands come to your door, and question you concerning your business and motives, the mind is not ripe for literature!
The letters Mary Wollstonecraft had written for English journals she now destroyed, since she could not mail them, and to keep them was to run the risk of having them misinterpreted. The air was full of fear and fever.
No one was allowed to leave the city unless positively necessary, and to ask permission to go was to place one's self under surveillance.
It was at this time that Mary Wollstonecraft met Gilbert Imlay, an American, who had fought with Lafayette and Washington. He was a man of some means, alert, active and of good address. On account of his relationship with Lafayette, he stood well with the revolutionaries of Paris. He was stopping at the same hotel where Mary lodged, and very naturally, speaking the same language, they became acquainted. She allowed herself to be placed under his protection, and their simple friendship soon ripened into a warmer feeling. Love is largely a matter of propinquity.
It was a time when all formal rites were in abeyance; and in England any marriage-contract made in France, and not sanctified by the clergy, was not regarded as legal. Mary Wollstonecraft became Mrs. Mary Imlay, and that she regarded herself as much the wife of Imlay as God and right could command, there is no doubt.
In a few months the tempest and tumult subsided so they got away from Paris to Havre, where Imlay was interested in a shipping-office. At Havre their daughter Fanny was born.
Imlay had made investments in timber-lands in Norway, and was shipping lumber to France. Some of these ventures turned out well, and Imlay extended his investments on borrowed capital. The man was a nomad by nature--generous, extravagant and kind--but he lacked the patience and application required to succeed as a businessman. He could not wait--he wanted quick returns.
The wife had insight and intellect, and could follow a reason to its lair. Imlay skimmed the surface.
Leaving his wife and babe at Havre, he went across to London. Mary once made a trip to Norway for him, with the power of attorney, to act as she thought best in his interests. In Norway she found that much of the land that Imlay had bought was worthless, being already stripped of its timber. However, she improved the time by writing letters for London papers, and these eventually found form in her book entitled, "Letters From Norway."
Arriving at Havre she found that Imlay had dismantled their home, and for a time she did not know his whereabouts. Later they met in London.
When the time of separation came, however, she was sufficiently disillusioned to make the actual parting without pain. When Imlay saw she would no longer consent to be his wife, he proposed to provide for her, but she declined the offer, fearing it would give him some claim upon her and upon their child. And so Gilbert Imlay sailed away to America and out of the life of Mary Wollstonecraft. Exit Imlay.
[Illustration: MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT]
* * * * *
In London the position of Mary Wollstonecraft was most trying.
Penniless, deserted by Imlay, her husband, with a hungry babe at her breast, she was looked at askance by most of her old acquaintances. There were not wanting good folks who gathered their skirts about them, sneezed as she passed, and said, "I told you so."
Her brother Charles--a degenerate, pettifogging barrister, with all his father's faults and none of his grandfather's virtues--for whom Mary had advanced money so that he could go to college, came to her in her dire extremity and proffered help. But it was on condition that she should give up her babe and allow him to place it in a foundlings' home. This being done, the virtuous Charles would get Mary a position as weaver in a woolen-mill, under an assumed name, and the past would be as if it never had been. This in the face of the assertion of Pliny, who said, eighteen hundred years before, that one of the things even God could not do, was to obliterate the past; and of Omar's words, "Nor all your tears shall blot a line of it."
The mental processes of Charles are shown in his suggestion of a pleasant plan whereby Imlay could be lured back to England, arrested, and with the assistance of a bumbailiff, marriage forced upon him. His scheme was rejected by the obdurate Mary, who held that the very essence of marriage was freedom.
The tragic humor of the action of Charles turns on his assumption that his sister was "a fallen woman," and must be saved from disgrace. This opinion was shared by various other shady respectables, who kept the matter secret by lifting a soprano wail of woe from the housetops, declaring that Mary had smirched their good names and those of their friends by her outrageous conduct. These people also busied themselves in spreading a report that Mary had gone into "French ways," it being strongly held, then as now, by the rank and file of burly English beef-eaters, male and female, that morality in France is an iridescent dream--only that is not the exact expression they use.
Hope sank in the heart of the lone woman, and for a few weeks it appeared that suicide was the only way out. As for parting with her child, or with her brother Charles and his kin, Mary would stand by her child. It is related that on one occasion her sister Everina came to visit her, and Mary made bold to minister to her babe in the beautiful maternal way sanctified by time, before bottle-babies became the vogue and Nature was voted vulgar. The sight proved too much for Everina's nerves, and she fainted, first loudly calling for the camphor.
The family din evidently caused Mary to go a step further than she otherwise might, and she dropped the name Imlay and called herself plain Mary Wollstonecraft, thus glorifying the disgrace. This increased fortitude had come about by discovering that she could still work and earn enough money to live on by proofreading and translations; and it seemed that she had a head full of ideas. There in her lonely lodgings at Blackfriars, in the third story back, she was writing "The Rights of Woman." The book in places shows heat and haste, and its fault is not that it leads people in the wrong direction, but that it leads them too far in the right direction--that is, further than a sin-stained and hypocritical world can follow.
When men deserve the ideal, it will be here. If mankind were honest and unselfish, then every proposition held out by Mary Wollstonecraft would hold true. Her book is a vindication, in one sense, of her own position--for at the last, all literature is a confession. But Mary Wollstonecraft's book is also a plea for faith in the Divinity that shapes humanity and "leads us on amid the encircling gloom."
It is moreover a protest against the theological idea that woman is the instrument of the Devil, who tempted man to his ruin. Very frank is the entire expression, all written by a Tess of the D'Urbervilles, a pure woman whom Fate had freed from the conventional, and who, wanting little and having nothing to lose, not even a reputation, was placed in a position where she could speak the truth.
Parts of the book seem trite enough to us at this day, since many of the things advocated have come about, and we accept them as if they always were. For instance, there is an argument in favor of women being employed as schoolteachers; then there is the plea for public schools and for co-education.
* * * * *
William and Mary first met in February, Seventeen Hundred Ninety-six. In this matter dates are authentic, for Godwin kept a diary for forty-eight years, in which he set down his acts, gave the titles of books he read, and named the distinguished people he met. This diary is nearly as valuable as that of Samuel Pepys, save that unfortunately it does not record the inconsequential and amplify the irrelevant, for it is the seemingly trivial that pictures character. Godwin's diary forms a continuous history of literary and artistic London.
William was not favorably impressed with Mary, the first time they met each other. Tom Paine was present, and Godwin wanted to hear him talk about America, and instead Mary insisted upon talking about Paris, and Tom preferred to listen to her rather than to talk himself.
"The drawing-room was not big enough for this precious pair," says Godwin, and passes on to minor themes, not realizing that destiny was waiting for him around the corner.
The next time they met, William liked Mary better, for he did most of the talking, and she listened. When we are pleased with ourselves we are pleased with others. "She has wondrous eyes, and they welled with tears as we conversed. She surely has suffered, for her soul is all alive," wrote Godwin.
The third time they met, she asked permission to quote from his book, "Political Justice," in her own book, "The Rights of Woman," upon which she was hard at work. They were getting quite well acquainted, and he was so impressed with her personality that he ceased to mention her in his diary.
Godwin's book had placed him upon the topmost turret of contemporary literary fame. Since the publication of the work he was fairly prosperous, although his temperament was of that gently procrastinating and gracious kind that buys peace with a faith in men and things. Mary had an eager, alert and enthusiastic way of approaching things that grew on the easy-going Godwin. Her animation was contagious.
The bold stand Mary had taken on the subject of marriage; her frankness and absolute honesty; her perfect willingness at all times to abide by the consequences of her mistakes, all pleased Godwin beyond words.
He told Coleridge that she was the greatest woman in England, and Coleridge looked her over with a philosopher's eye, and reported her favorably to Southey. In a letter to Cottle, Robert Southey says: "Of all the lions or literati I have seen here, Mary Imlay's countenance is the best, infinitely the best; the only fault in it is an expression somewhat similar to what the prints of Horne Tooke display--an expression indicating superiority; not haughtiness, not sarcasm, in Mary Imlay, but still it is unpleasant. Her eyes are light brown, and although the lid of one of them is affected by a little paralysis, they are the most meaning I ever saw. As for Godwin himself, he has large, noble eyes, and a nose--oh, a most abominable nose! Language is not vituperatious enough to describe the effect of its downward elongation." In mentioning the matter of Godwin's nose, it is perhaps well to remember that Southey merely gave a pretty good description of his own.
In August, Seventeen Hundred Ninety-six, Godwin borrowed fifty pounds from Thomas Wedgwood, son of Josiah Wedgwood of Etruria, which money was to tide Mary over a financial stress, and afford her the necessary leisure to complete "The Rights of Woman." The experience that Mary Wollstonecraft had in the publishing business, now enabled her to make favorable arrangements for the issue of her book. The radicalism of America and France had leavened England until there was quite a market for progressive literature. Twenty years later, the work would have been ignored in silence or censored out of existence, so zigzag is the path of progress.
As it was, the work sold so that in six months from the time it was put on sale, Mary had received upwards of two hundred pounds in royalties. Recognition and success are hygienic. Mrs. Blood, an erstwhile friend, saw Mary about this time, and wrote to an acquaintance: "I declare if she isn't getting handsome and knows it. She has well turned thirty and has a sprinkling of gray hair and a few wrinkles, but she is doing her best to retrieve her youth."
Mary had now quit Blackfriars for better quarters near Hyde Park. Her health was fully restored, and she moved in her own old circle of writers and thinkers.
At this time William and Mary were both well out of the kindergarten. He was forty and she was thirty-seven. Several years before, William had issued a sort of proclamation to the public, and a warning to women of the quest that bachelordom was his by choice, and that he was wedded to philosophy. Very young people are given to this habit of declaration, "I intend never to wed," and it seems that older heads are just as absurd as young ones. It is well to refrain from mentioning what we intend to do, or intend not to do, since we are all sailing under sealed orders and nothing is so apt to occur as the unexpected.
Towards the last of the year Seventeen Hundred Ninety-six, William was introducing Mary as his wife, and congratulations were in order. To them, mutual love constituted marriage, and when love died, marriage was at an end.
A sharp rebuke was printed about this time by Mary, evidently prompted by that pestiferous class of law-breakers who do not recognize that the opposites of things are alike, and that there is a difference between those who rise above law and those who burst through it. Said Mary, "Freedom without a sense of responsibility, is license, and license is a ship at sea without rudder or sail." That the careless, mentally slipshod, restless, and morally unsound should look upon her as one of them caused Mary more pain than the criticisms of the unco guid. It was this persistent pointing out by the crowd, as well as regard for the unborn, that caused William and Mary to go quietly in the month of March, Seventeen Hundred Ninety-seven, to Saint Pancras Church and be married all according to the laws of England.
Godwin wrote of the mating thus: "The partiality we conceived for each other was in that mode which I have always considered as the purest and most refined quality of love. It grew with equal advances in the minds of each. It would have been impossible for the most minute observer to have said who was before and who was after. One sex did not take the priority which long-established custom had awarded it, nor the other overstep that delicacy which is so severely imposed. I am not conscious that either part can assume to have been the principal agent in the affair. When, in the course of things, the disclosure came, there was nothing, in a manner, for either party to disclose to the other. There was no period of throes and resolute explanation attendant on the tale. It was friendship melting into love."
Mary was now happier than she had ever been before in her life. She wrote to a friend: "My bark has at last glided out upon the smooth waters. Married to a man whom I respect, revere and love, who understands my highest flights of fancy, and with whom complete companionship exists, my literary success assured, and the bugaboo of poverty at last removed, you can imagine how serene is my happiness." But this time of joy was to be short.
She died three months later, September Tenth, Seventeen Hundred Ninety-seven, leaving behind her a baby girl eleven days old.
This girl, grown to womanhood, was Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wife of Percy Bysshe Shelley, and without whom the name of Shelley would be to us unknown.
In writing of the mother who died in giving her birth, Mary Shelley says: "Mary Wollstonecraft was one of those rare beings who appear once, perhaps, in a generation, to gild humanity with a ray which no difference of opinion nor chance of circumstance can cloud. Her genius was undeniable. She had been bred in the hard school of adversity, and having experienced the sorrows entailed on the poor and oppressed, an earnest desire was kindled within her to diminish these sorrows.
"Her sound understanding, her intrepidity, her sensibility and eager sympathy, stamped all her writings with force and truth, and endowed them with a tender charm that enchants while it enlightens. Many years have passed since that beating heart has been laid in the cold, still grave, but no one who has ever seen her speaks of her without enthusiastic love and veneration. Was there discord among friends or relatives, she stood by the weaker party, and by her earnest appeals and kindliness awoke latent affection, and healed all wounds. Open as day to melting charity, with a heart brimming with generous affection, yearning for sympathy, helpful, hopeful and self-reliant, such was Mary Wollstonecraft." And here let us leave her.
DANTE AND BEATRICE
What should be said of him can not be said; By too great splendor is his name attended; To blame is easier those who him offended, Than reach the faintest glory round him shed. This man descended to the doomed and dead For our instruction; then to God ascended; Heaven opened wide to him its portals splendid, Who from his country's, closed against him, fled. Ungrateful land! To its own prejudice Nurse of his fortunes; and this showeth well, That the most perfect, most of grief shall see. Among a thousand proofs let one suffice, That as his exile hath no parallel, Ne'er walked the earth a greater man than he.
It was George Bernard Shaw who placed in the pillory of letters what he was pleased to call "The Disagreeable Girl."
And he has done the deed by a dry-plate, quick-shutter process in a way that surely lays him liable for criminal libel in society's assize.
I say society's assize advisedly, because it is only in society that the Disagreeable Girl plays a prominent part, assuming the center of the stage. Society, in the society sense, is built on vacuity, its favors being for those who reveal a fine capacity to waste and consume. Those who would write their names high on society's honor-roll need not be either useful or intelligent--they need only seem.
And this gives the Disagreeable Girl her opportunity. In the paper-box factory she would have to make good; Cluett, Coon and Company ask for results; the stage demands a modicum at least of intellect, in addition to shape; but society asks for nothing but pretense, and the palm is awarded to palaver.
But do not, if you please, imagine that the Disagreeable Girl does not wield an influence.
That is the very point: her influence is so far-reaching that George Bernard Shaw, giving cross-sections of life, in the form of dramas, can not write a play and leave her out.
She is ubiquitous, omniscient and omnipresent--is the Disagreeable Girl. She is a disappointment to her father, a humiliation to her mother, a pest to brothers and sisters, and when she finally marries, she saps the inspiration of her husband and often converts a proud and ambitious man into a weak and cowardly cur.
Only in society does the Disagreeable Girl shine: everywhere else she is an abject failure. The much-vaunted Gibson Girl is a kind of deluxe edition of Shaw's Disagreeable Girl. The Gibson Girl lolls, loafs, pouts, weeps, talks back, lies in wait, dreams, eats, drinks, sleeps and yawns. She rides in a coach in a red jacket, plays golf in a secondary sexual sweater, dawdles on a hotel veranda, and tum-tums on a piano, but you never hear of her doing a useful thing or saying a wise one. She reveals a beautiful capacity for avoiding all useful effort.
Gibson gilds the Disagreeable Girl. Shaw paints her as she is. In the "Doll's House" Henrik Ibsen has given us Nora Hebler, a Disagreeable Girl of mature age, who beyond a doubt first set George Bernard Shaw a-thinking. Then looking about, Shaw saw her at every turn in every stage of her moth-and-butterfly existence.
And the Disagreeable Girl being everywhere, Shaw, dealer in human character, can not write a play and leave her out, any more than Turner could paint a picture and leave man out, or Paul Veronese produce a canvas and omit the dog.
The Disagreeable Girl is a female of the genus homo persuasion, built around a digestive apparatus with marked marshmallow proclivities.
She is, moreover, pretty, pug-nosed, poetical, pert and pink; and at first glance to the unwary, she shows signs of gentleness and intelligence. Her age is anywhere from eighteen to twenty-eight. At twenty-eight she begins to evolve into something else, and her capacity for harm is largely curtailed, because by this time spirit has written itself in her form and features, and the grossness and animality which before were veiled are now becoming apparent. Habit writes itself on the face, and the body is an automatic recording-machine.
To have a beautiful old age, you must live a beautiful youth, for we ourselves are posterity and every man is his own ancestor. I am today what I am because I was yesterday what I was.
The Disagreeable Girl is always pretty--at least she has been told she is pretty, and she fully accepts the dictum. She has also been told she is clever, and she thinks she is. The actual fact is she is only "sassy."
The fine flaring-up of youth has set sex rampant, but she is not "immoral," except in her mind. She has caution to the verge of cowardice, and so she is "sans reproche." In public she pretends to be dainty; but alone, or with those for whose good opinion she does not care, she is gross, coarse and sensual in every feature of her life. She eats too much, does not exercise enough, and considers it amusing to let others wait upon her, and do for her the things she should do for herself. Her room is a jumble of disorder, a fantasy of dirty clothes, a sequinarium of unmentionables--that is, if the care of it is left to herself. The one gleam of hope for her lies in the fact that out of shame she will allow no visitor to enter the apartment if she can help it. Concrete selfishness is her chief mark. She avoids responsibility; sidesteps every duty that calls for honest effort; is secretive, untruthful, indolent, evasive and dishonest.
"What are you eating?" asks Nora Hebler's husband as she enters the room, not expecting to see him.
"Nothing," is the answer, and she hides the box of bonbons behind her, and presently backs out of the room.
I think Mr. Hebler had no business to ask her what she was eating: no man should ask any woman such a question--and really it was no difference anyway. But Nora is always on the defensive, and fabricates when it is necessary--and when it isn't, just through habit. She will hide a letter written by her grandmother, as quickly and deftly as if it were a missive from a guilty lover. The habit of her life is one of suspicion; for, being inwardly guilty herself, she suspects everybody, although it is quite likely that crime with her has never broken through thought into deed. Nora rifles her husband's pockets, reads his notebook, examines his letters, and when he goes on a trip she spends the day checking up his desk, for her soul delights in duplicate keys.
At times she lets drop hints of knowledge concerning little nothings that are none of hers, just to mystify folks. She does strange, annoying things, simply to see what others will do.
In degree, Nora's husband fixed the vice of finesse in her nature, for even a "good" woman accused parries by the use of trickery and wins her point by the artistry of the bagnio. Women and men are never really far apart anyway, and women are what men have made them.
We are all just getting rid of our shackles: listen closely anywhere, even among honest and intellectual people, if such there be, and you can detect the rattle of chains.
The Disagreeable Girl's mind and soul have not kept pace with her body. Yesterday she was a slave, sold in Circassian mart, and freedom to her is so new and strange that she does not know what to do with it.
The tragedy she works, according to George Bernard Shaw, is through the fact that very often good men, blinded by the glamour of sex, imagine they love the Disagreeable Girl, when what they love is their own ideal.
Nature is both a trickster and a humorist and sets the will of the species beyond the discernment of the individual. The picador has to blindfold his horse in order to get him into the bull-ring, and likewise Dan Cupid exploits the myopic to a purpose.
For aught we know, the lovely Beatrice of Dante was only a Disagreeable Girl clothed in a poet's fancy. Fortunate, indeed, was Dante that he never knew her well enough to get undeceived, and so walked through life in love with love, sensitive, saintly, sweetly sad and divinely happy in his melancholy.
* * * * *
There be simple folks and many, who think that the tragedy of love lies in its being unrequited.
The fact is, the only genuinely unhappy love--the only tragedy--is when love wears itself out.
Thus tragedy consists in having your illusions shattered.
The love-story of Dante lies in the realm of illusion and represents an eternal type of affection. It is the love of a poet--a Pygmalion who loves his own creation. It is the love that is lost, but the things we lose or give away are the things we keep. That for which we clutch we lose.
Love like that of Dante still exists everywhere, and will until the end of time. One-sided loves are classic and know neither age nor place; and to a degree--let the fact be stated softly and never hereafter be so much as whispered--all good men and women have at some time loved one-sidedly, the beloved being as unaware of the love as a star is of the astronomer who discovers it.
This kind of love, carried on discreetly, is on every hand, warming into life the divine germs of art, poetry and philosophy. Of it the world seldom hears. It creates no scandal, never is mentioned in court proceedings, nor is it featured by the newspapers. Indeed, the love of Dante would have been written in water, were it not for the fact that the poet took the world into his confidence, as all poets do--for literature is only confession.
Many who have written of Dante, like Boccaccio and Rossetti, have shown as rare a creative ability as some claim Dante revealed in creating his Beatrice.
"Paint me with the moles on," said Lincoln to the portrait-man. I'll show Dante with moles, wrinkles and the downward curve of the corners of his mouth, duly recording the fact that the corners of his mouth did not turn down always.
I think, somewhere, I have encouraged the idea of women marrying the second time, and I have also given tangible reasons. Let me now say as much for men.
The father of Dante married and raised a family of seven. On the death of his wife he sought consolation for his sorrow in the love of a lass by the name of Bella--her family-name is to us unknown. They were married, and had one child, and this child was Dante.
Dante, at times, had a way of mourning over the fact that his father and mother ever met, but the world has never especially sympathized in this regret. Dante was born in the year Twelve Hundred Sixty-five, in the city of Florence, which was then the artistic and intellectual capital of the world.
Dante seemed to think that the best in his nature was derived from his mother, who was a most gentle, sensitive and refined spirit. Such a woman married to a man old enough to be her father is not likely to be absurdly happy. This has been said before, but it will bear repeating. Yet disappointment has its compensation, since it drives the mind on to the ideal, and thus is a powerful stimulant for the imagination. Deprive us of our heritage here, and we will conjure forth castles in Spain--you can not place an injunction on that!
Dante was not born in a castle, nor yet in a house with portcullis and battlements.
Time was when towers and battlements on buildings were something more than mere architectural appendenda. They had a positive use. Towers and courtyards were only for the nobility, and signified that the owner was beyond the reach of law; he could lock himself in and fight off the world, the flesh and the devil, if he wished.
Dante's father lived in a house that had neither tower nor court that closed with iron gate. He was a lawyer, a hard-headed man who looked after estates, collected rents and gave advice to aristocratic nobodies for a consideration. He did not take snuff, for obvious reasons, but he was becomingly stout, carried a gold-headed cane or staff with a tassel on it, and struck this cane on the ground, coughing slightly, when about to give advice, as most really great lawyers do.
When little Durante--or Dante, as we call him--was nine years old, his father took him to a lawn fete held at the suburban home of Folco de Portinari, one of the lawyer's rich clients.
Now Signor Portinari in social station was beyond Alighieri the lawyer, and of course nobody for a moment suspected that the dark-skinned, half-scared little boy, clutching his father's forefinger as they walked, was going to write "The Divine Comedy." No one paid any particular attention to the father and child, as they strolled beneath the trees, rested on the benches, and were served chocolate and cheese-straws by the servants.
But on this occasion the boy caught a passing glimpse of Beatrice Portinari, the daughter of the host. The girl was just nine years old: the boy must have been told this by his father as he pointed out the fair one. The boy did not speak to her nor did she speak to him: this was quite out of the question, for they were on a totally different social plane.
Amid the dim lights of the flaming torches he saw her--just for an instant! The whole surroundings were strangely unreal, but well calculated to impress the youthful imagination, and out of it all the boy carried with him this vision of loveliness.
In his "New Life"--what an appropriate title for a love-story!--Dante tells of this first sight of the beloved somewhat thus: "Nine times already since my birth had the heaven of light returned to the selfsame point almost, as concerns its own revolution, when first the glorious lady of my mind was made manifest to my eyes, even she who was called Beatrice by many who knew not wherefore. She had already been in this life so long as that, within her time the starry heaven had moved toward the Eastern quarter one of the twelve parts of the degree; so that she appeared to me at the beginning of her ninth year, and I saw her almost at the end of my ninth year. Her dress on that day was of the most noble color, a subdued and goodly crimson, girdled and adorned in such sort as best suited her very tender age. At that moment, I say most truly that the spirit of life, which has its dwelling in the secretest chamber of my heart, began to tremble so violently that the least pulses of my body shook therewith; and in trembling it said these words: Here is a deity stronger than I who coming shall rule over me."
* * * * *
Nine was a sacred number with Dante. He was nine years old when he first saw his lady-love, and she too was nine, having not yet reached the age of indiscretion.
Nine years were to elapse before he was to speak to her. It is quite possible that he had caught glimpses of her in the interval, at church.
Churches have their uses as trysting-places for the unquenched spirit: vows are repeated there that have no witnesses and do not go into the register. There lovers meet in soul, and feed upon a glance, when heads are bowed in prayer. Love lends a deep religious air to the being, and when we are in love we love God. At other times we only fear Him.
I am told that there be young men and maidens fair who walk on air and live in paradise until Sunday comes again, all on account of a loving look into eyes that look love again, in the dim religious light while the music plays soft and low.
The lover watched his graceful maid As mid the virgin train she strayed, Nor knew her beauty's best attire Was woven still in the snow-white choir.
And where is the gray-bearded prophet who has yet been wise enough to tell us where love ends and religion begins! But in all these nine years Beatrice and Dante had never met. She had not heard his voice, nor he hers--only glances, or a hand lifted in a way that spoke tomes. He had developed into a dark, dashing youth, given to falconry, painting and music. He had worked with Cimabue, the father of Italian art, and had been chum of Giotto, to whom all cherubim and seraphim trace.
At that time people with money who wanted to educate their sons sent them out, at what seems to us a very tender age, to travel and tramp the earth alone. They were remittance-men who shifted from university to university, and took lessons in depravity, being educated by the boys.
Dean Pluntre says that there were universities in the Middle Ages at Padua, Bologna, Paris and Oxford carried on in a very desultory way by pious monks, where the boys were divided by nationalities, so as to afford a kind of police system--Italian, Spanish, French and English.
They caroused, occasionally fought, studied when they felt like it, and made love to married women--all girls being under lock and key for safe-keeping.
So there you get the evolution of the modern university: a mendicant monastery where boys were sent, in the hope that they might absorb a little of the religious spirit and a desire to know.
Finally, there were enough students so that they organized cliques, clubs and secret societies, and by a process of natural selection governed themselves, as well as visited punishment upon offenders.
Next, on account of a laxity of morals and an indifference to books, a military system of discipline was enforced: lights had to be out at ten o'clock, and a student caught off the grounds without leave was punished. The teacher was a vicarious soldier. At that time each school had a prison attached, of which the "carcer" at Heidelberg is the surviving type. Up to the Sixteenth Century, every university was a kind of castle or fort, and the students might at any time be compelled to do military duty. The college had its towers for fighting-men, its high walls, its fortressed fronts and iron gates. These gates and walls still survive in rudimentary form, and the sixteen-foot spiked steel fence at Harvard is the type of a condition that once was an actual necessity: the place was a law unto itself, paid no taxes, and at any time might be raided. Colleges yet pay no taxes and are also quasi-mendicant institutions.
It was not until well into the Sixteenth Century that requirements, examinations, system and discipline began to dawn upon the world. Before that, a student was a kind of troubadour, a cross between a monk and a crusader, a knight-errant of love and letters, and the moral code for him did not apply. An argument can be made for his chivalric tendencies, and his pretense for learning had its place, for affectation is better than indifference. The roistering student is not wholly bad.
Poetry and love-making were to the velvet-breeched youth the real business of life. Like knights in armor, he often wore the colors of a lady who merely smiled at him from a latticed window. If she dropped for him her glove or handkerchief, he was in the seventh heaven. As his intents were not honorable nor his purpose marriage, it made no difference whether the lady was married or single, young or old. Whether the love remained upon a Platonic and purely poetic basis depended, of course, entirely upon the lady and her watchful relatives. If the family were poor and the lover rich, these things might have a bearing. We hear of alliances in those days, not dishonorable, where the husband was complacent and looked upon it as a distinction to have worthy scions of greatness pay court to his wife. Such men were referred to as "fribblers" or "tame-cats." The woman was often much older than the alleged student, and this seems to have been no disadvantage, for charms o'erripe are oft alluring to a certain type of youth.
Such things now would lead to headlines in the daily papers and snapshots of all parties concerned, followed by divorce-court proceedings. Then, even among honorable husbands, the only move was to hire an extra Pinkerton duenna to attend the fair one, and to smile in satisfaction over the possession of a wife so much coveted--the joy of all ownership being largely the ability to excite envy.
College rowdyism, cane-rushes, duels, bloody Monday, the fag system and hazings are all surviving traditions of these so-called universities where people who had the price sent their sons into the pedagogic bull-pen.
As, for centuries, youths who were destined for the priesthood were the only ones educated, so the monks were the first teachers, and the monastery was the college.
In the Twelfth Century a college was merely a monkery that took in boarders, and learning was acquired by absorption.
No records were kept of the students--they simply paid a small fee, were given a badge and attended lectures when they got ready.
Some students stayed and studied for years, thinking the business of life was to cram with facts. Such bachelor grubbers with fixed incomes, like pensioners in a soldiers' home, old and gray, are now to be seen occasionally in European universities, sticklers for technicalities, hot after declensions, and happy when they close in on a new exception to a Greek verb, giving it no quarter. When they come to die, they leave earth with but a single regret: they have never been able fully to compass the ablative. But the rough-and-tumble student was the rule, with nose deep into stein, exaggerating little things into great, making woful ballad to his mistress' eyebrow.
Such was Milord Hamlet, to whom young Dante bears a strange resemblance.
A university like this, where the students governed themselves, and the duties of the faculty consisted largely in protecting the property, had its advantages. We will come back to self-government yet, but higher up in the scale. It was like a big country school, in a country town, where lessons in self-reliance are handed out with the bark on. The survival of the fittest prevails, and out of the mass emerges now and then a strong man who makes his mark upon the times.
Dante was back home in Florence from his sojourn abroad, a bit of a dandy no doubt, with a becoming dash and a touch of sophomoric boldness. He had not forgotten Beatrice Portinari: often had he thought of her, the princess of his dreams, and all the dames he had met had been measured with her as a standard.
She had been married about a year before to a rich banker, Simone de Bardi. This did not trouble Dante: she was too far removed from him to be an actual reality, and so he just waived her husband and dismissed him with a shrug. Beside that, young married women have a charm all their own; they are wiser than maidens, more companionable; innocence is not wholly commendable--at least, not to a university student.
And now face to face Dante and Beatrice meet. It is the first, the last, the only time they are to meet on earth. They meet. She is walking with two women friends, one on each side.
She is clothed in pure white--her friends in darker raiment. She looks like an angel of light. Dante and Beatrice are not expected to meet--there is no time for embarrassment. How did she know that young Dante Alighieri had returned--she must have been dreaming of him--thinking of him! There she stands right before him--tall, graceful, intellectual, smiling. Eyes look into eyes and flash recognition. The earth seems to swirl under Dante's feet. He uncovers his head and is about to sink to his knees, but she sustains him with a word of welcome and holds out the tips of her fingers for him to touch.
She is older now than he: she is married, and a married woman of eighteen may surely reassure a boy who is only eighteen! "We have missed you from the church and from our streets--you look well, Gentle Sir! Welcome back to our Florence! Good evening!"
The three women move on: Dante tries to, but stands rooted like one of those human trees he was afterward to see in Purgatory. He follows her with his eyes, and just once she looks back and smiles as the three women are lost in the throng.
But that chance, unexpected meeting, the salutation and the smile were to write themselves into the "Vita Nuova." Dante had indeed begun a New Life.
* * * * *
The City of Florence at this time was prosperous. The churches had their pagan holidays, fetes and festivals, and gaiety was the rule.
Out at Vallambrosa and Fiesole, where the leaves fall, there were Courts of Love where poets chanted their lays and singers sang. In all this life Dante took a prominent part, for while he was not of noble birth he was of noble bearing.
There were rival political parties then in Florence, and instead of settling their difficulties at the polls they had recourse to the cobblestone and club.
When the Guelfs routed the Ghibellines from the city, Dante served as a soldier, or was sworn in as a deputy sheriff, and did some valiant fighting for the Guelfs, for which privilege he was to pay when the Ghibellines came back.
Just what his every-day occupation was we are not sure, but as he was admitted a member of the Guild of Apothecaries we assume that he clerked in a drugstore, and often expressed himself thus: "Lady, I am all out of liverwort today, but I have something just as good!"--and he read her a few stanzas from the "Vita Nuova," which he had just written behind the screen at the prescription-counter.
In the year Twelve Hundred Eighty-five, Charles of Anjou, brother of Saint Louis, came to Florence, and Dante was appointed one of the committee to look after his entertainment.
Charles was a man of intelligence and discrimination, a lover of letters and art. He and Dante became fast friends, and it seems Dante became a kind of honorary member of his court.
Dante could paint a little, he played on the harp, and he also recited his own poems. His love of Beatrice de Bardi was an open secret--all Florence knew of it. He had sung her beauty, her art, her intelligence in a way that made both locally famous.
He had written a poem on the sixty chief belles of Florence, and in this list he had not placed Beatrice first, but ninth. Just why he did this, unless to emphasize his favorite number, we do not know. In any event it made more talk than if he had placed her first.
And once at church where he had followed Beatrice, he made eyes openly at another lady, to distract the attention of the observing public. The plan worked so well that Beatrice, seeing the flirtation, shortly afterward met Dante and cut him dead, or, to use his own phrase, "withheld her salutation."
This caused the young man such bitter pain that he wrote a veiled poem, explaining the actual facts. These facts were that out of his great love for Beatrice, in order to protect her good name, he had openly made love to another.
I said that the fact that Beatrice had declined to speak to Dante as they passed by had caused him bitter pain. This is true; but after a few days the matter took on a new light. If Beatrice was indifferent to him, why should she be displeased when he had made eyes at another? She evidently was jealous, and Dante was in a paradise of delight, or in purgatory, or both, according to the way the wind sat.
There is no reason to suppose that Dante and Beatrice ever met and talked things over. She was closely guarded, and evidently ran no risk of smirching her good name by associating with a troubadour student. He could sing songs about her--this she could not help--but beyond this there was nothing doing.
Only once after this did they come near meeting. It was at a wedding-party where Dante had gone evidently without an invitation. He inwardly debated whether he should remain to the feast or not, and the ayes had it. He was about to be seated at the table, when a sudden sense of first heat and then cold came over him and he grasped his chair for support. The light seemed blinding. He closed his eyes, and then opened them; and looking up, on the opposite side of the room he saw his Beatrice!
A friend seeing his agitation and thinking him ill, led him forth into the open air and there chafed his icy fingers asking, "What can it be--what is the matter?"
And Dante answered, "Of a surety I have set my feet on a point of life beyond which he must not pass who would return!"
Immediately thereafter--probably the next day--Dante began a poem, very carefully thought out, in celebration of the beauty and virtue of Beatrice. He had written but one stanza when he tells us that, "The Lord God of Justice called my most gracious Lady to Himself." And Beatrice was dead, aged twenty-five years.
Through her death Dante was indeed wedded to her memory. He calls her the bride of his soul.
* * * * *
We can not resign from life gracefully. Work has to be performed, even when calamity comes, and we stand by an open grave and ask old Job's question, "If a man die shall he live again?"
Dante felt sure that Beatrice must live again in all her loveliness. "Heaven had need of her," he cries in his grief. And then again, "She belonged not here, and so God took her to Himself." At first he was dumb with sorrow, and then tears came to his relief, and a little later he eased his soul through expression: he indited an open letter, a kind of poetic proclamation to the citizens of Florence, in which he rehearsed their loss and offered them consolation in the thought that they now had a guardian angel in Heaven.
The lover, like an artist or skilled workman, always exaggerates the importance of his passion, and links his love with the universal welfare of mankind.
And stay! after all he may be right--who knows! So a year passed away in sadness, with a few bad turnings into sensuality, followed by repenting in verse. It was the anniversary of her death, and Dante was outlining angels to illustrate his sonnets wherein he apotheosized Beatrice. And behold! as he day-dreamed of his Beatrice sweet consolation came in double form. First he saw a gentle lady who looked very much like the lady he lost. Lovers are always looking for resemblances--on the street, in churches, at the theater or the concert, in travel--looking always, ever looking for the face and form of the beloved. Strange resemblances are observed--persons are followed--the gait, height, attire, carriage of the head are noted, and hearts beat fast!
So Dante saw a lady who seemed to have the same dignity of carriage, a like nobility of feature, a look as luminous and a glance as telling as those of Beatrice. Evidently he paid court to her with so much success that he turned from her and recriminated himself for having his passion aroused by a counterfeit. She looked the part, but her feet were clay and so were heart and head, and Dante turned again to his ideal, Beatrice in Heaven.
And with the turning came the thought of Paradise! He would visit Beatrice in Heaven, and she would meet him at the gates and guide the way. The visit was to be one personally conducted.
Every great and beautiful thing was once an unuttered thought; and we know the time and almost the place where Dante conceived the idea of "The Divine Comedy."
The new Beatrice he had found was only a plaster-of-Paris cast of the original: Dante's mind recoiled from her to the genuine--that is, to the intangible--which proves that even commonplace women have their uses. At this time, while he was revolving the nebulous "Commedia" in his mind, he read Cicero's "Essay on Friendship," and dived deep into the philosophy of Epictetus and Plato. Then he printed a card in big letters and placed it on his table where he could see it continually: "Philosophy is the cure for love!"
But it wasn't--except for a few days when he wrote some stanzas directed to the world, declaring that his former poems referring to Beatrice pictured her merely as "Philosophy, the beautiful woman, daughter of the Great Emperor of the Universe." He declared that all of his odes to his gentle lady were odes to Philosophy, to which all wise men turn for consolation in time of trouble.
Nothing matters much--pish! It was the struggle of the poet and the good man, trying to convince himself that he travels fastest who travels alone.
Dante must have held the stern and placid pose of Plato, the confirmed bachelor, for a full week, then tears came and melted his artificial granite.
And as for Plato, the confirmed bachelor, legend has it that he was confirmed by a woman.
* * * * *
In the train of Boccaccio traveled a nephew of Dante who had his illustrious uncle's interesting history at his tongue's end. By this nephew we are told that the marriage of Dante and Gemma Donati, in Twelve Hundred and Ninety-two, when Dante was twenty-seven, was a little matter arranged by the friends of both parties. Dante was dreamy, melancholy and unreliable: marriage would sober his poetic debauch and cause him to settle down!
Ruskin, it will be remembered, was also looked after by the matchmakers in much the same way.
So Dante was married. Some say that his wife was the gentle lady who looked like Beatrice, but this is pure conjecture. Four children were born to them in seven years. One of these was named Beatrice, which seems to prove that the wife of Dante was aware of his great passion. One of the sons became a college professor, and wrote a commentary on "The Commedia," and also an unneeded defense of his father's character and motives in making love to a married lady.
Dante was a man of influence in the affairs of the city. He occupied civic offices of distinction, wrote addresses and occasionally poems, in which he glorified his friends and referred scathingly to his political adversaries.
Gemma must have been a woman of more than average brain and intelligence, for when her husband was banished from Florence by the successful Ghibellines, she kept her little family together, worked hard, educated her children, and it is said by Boccaccio lived honorably and indulged in no repining.
So far as we know, Dante sent no remittances home. He moved from one university to another, and accepted invitations from nobility to tarry at their castles. He dressed in melancholy black and read his poems to polite assemblies. Now and then he gave lectures. He was followed by spies, or thought he was, and now and then quarreled with his associates or host, and made due note of the fact, leaving the matter to be adjusted when he had time and wanted raw stock for his writings.
And all the time he mourned not for the loss of Gemma and his children, but for Beatrice. She it was who met him and Vergil at the gates of Paradise and guided them about the place, explaining its art, ethics and economics, and pointing out the notables.
Dante placed in Paradise all those who had befriended him most and praised his poems. People he did not like he deposited in Hell, for Dante was human. That is what Hell is for--a place to put people who disagree with us.
Milton was profoundly influenced by Dante, and in fact was very much like him, save that, though he had the felicity to be legally married three times, yet there is no sign of passionate love in his life. Henley says that without Dante we should have had no Milton, and how much Dante and Milton have influenced the popular conception of the Christian religion, no man can say. Even as conservative a man as Archdeacon Farrar, in one of his Clark lectures, said, "Our orthodox faith seems to trace a genesis to the genius of Dante, with Saint Paul and Jesus as secondary or contributing influences."
After five years' wandering, Dante was notified that he could return to Florence on making due apology to the reigning powers and walking in the procession of humble transgressors.
The letter he wrote in reply is still in existence. He scorned pardon, since he had been guilty of no offense, and he would return with honor or not at all.
This letter secured him a second indictment, wherein it was provided that he should be burned alive if he set foot inside the republic.
This sentence was not revoked until Fourteen Hundred Ninety-four, and as Dante had then been dead more than a hundred years, it was of small avail on earth. The plan, however, of pardoning dead men was so that their souls could be gotten out of Purgatory legally, the idea being that man's law and justice were closely woven with the Law of God, and that God punished offenses against the State, just as He would offenses against the Church. Hence it was necessary for the State and Church to quash their indictment before God could do the same.
People who think that governments and religious denominations are divine institutions will see the consistency and necessity of Lorenzo de Medici and Pope Alexander the Fourth combining and issuing a pardon in Dante's favor one hundred seventy years after his death. He surely had been in Purgatory long enough.
Dante died at Ravenna in Thirteen Hundred Twenty-one, aged fifty-six years. It seems that he had gone there to see his daughter, Beatrice, who was in a nunnery just outside the city walls. There his dust rests.
If it be true that much of modern Christianity traces to Dante, it is no less true that he is the father of modern literature. He is the first writer of worth to emerge out of that night of darkness called the Middle Ages.
His language is tender and full of sweet, gentle imagery. He knew the value of symbols, and his words often cast a purple shadow. His style is pliable, flexible, fluid, and he shows rare skill in suggesting a thing that it would be absurd to describe.
Dante was an artist in words, and in imagination a master. The history of literature can never be written and the name of Dante left out. And he, of all writers, both ancient and modern, most vividly portrays the truth that without human love, there would be no such thing as poetry.
JOHN STUART MILL AND HARRIET TAYLOR
To the beloved and deplored memory of her who was the inspirer, and in part the author, of all that is best in my writings--the friend and wife whose exalted sense of truth and right was my strongest incitement, and whose approbation was my chief reward--I dedicate this volume. Like all that I have written for many years, it belongs as much to her as to me; but the work as it stands has had, in a very insufficient degree, the inestimable advantage of her revision; some of the most important portions having been reserved for a more careful examination, which they are now destined never to receive. Were I but capable of interpreting to the world one-half the great thoughts and noble feelings which are buried in her grave, I should be the medium of a greater benefit to it, than is ever likely to arise from anything that I can write, unprompted and unassisted by her all but unrivaled wisdom.
--_Dedication to "On Liberty," by John Stuart Mill_
[Illustration: JOHN STUART MILL]
So this then is the love-story of John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor, who first met in the year Eighteen Hundred Thirty. He was twenty-five and a clerk in the East India House. She was twenty-three, and happily married to a man with a double chin.
They saw each other for the first time at Mrs. Taylor's house at a function given in honor of a Right Honorable Nobody from Essex. The Right Honorable has gone down into the dust of forgetfulness, his very name lost to us, like unto that of the man who fired the Alexandrian Library.
All we know is that he served as a pivotal point in the lives of two great people, and then passed on, unwittingly, into the obscurity from whence he came.
On this occasion the Right Honorable read an original paper on an Important Subject. Mrs. Taylor often gave receptions to eminent and learned personages, because her heart was a-hungered to know and to become, and she vainly thought that the society of learned people would satisfy her soul.
She was young. She was also impulsive, vivacious, ambitious. John Stuart Mill says she was rarely beautiful, but she wasn't. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. All things are comparative, and John Stuart Mill regarded Mrs. Taylor from the first night he saw her as the standard of feminine perfection. All women scaled down as they varied from her. As an actual fact, her features were rather plain, mouth and nose large, cheek-bones in evidence, and one eye was much more open than the other, and this gave people who did not especially like her, excuse for saying that her eyes were not mates. As for John Stuart Mill he used, at times, to refer to the wide-open orb as her "critical eye."
Yet these eyes were lustrous, direct and honest, and tokened the rare quality of mental concentration. Her head was square and long, and had corners. She carried the crown of her head high, and her chin in.
We need not dally with old Mr. Taylor here--for us he was only Mrs. Taylor's husband, a kind of useful marital appendendum. He was a merchant on 'Change, with interests in argosies that plied to Tripoli--successful, busy, absorbed, with a twinge of gout, and a habit of taking naps after dinner with a newspaper over his face. Moreover, he was an Oxford man, and this was his chief recommendation to the eighteen-year-old girl, when she married him four years before. But education to him was now only a reminiscence. He had sloughed the old Greek spirit as a bird molts its feathers, with this difference: that a bird molts its feathers because it is growing a better crop, while Mr. Taylor wasn't growing anything but a lust after "L. s. d."
Once in two years there was an excursion to Oxford to attend a reunion of a Greek-letter society, and perhaps twice in the winter certain ancient cronies came, drank musty ale, and smoked long clay pipes, and sang college songs in cracked falsetto.
Mrs. Taylor was ashamed of them--disappointed. Was this the college spirit of which she had read so much? The old cronies leered at her as she came in to light the candles--they leered at her; and the one seated next to her husband poked that fortunate gentleman in the ribs and congratulated him on his matrimonial estate.
Yet Mr. and Mrs. Taylor were happy, or reasonably so. He took much pride in her intellect, indulged her in all material things she wanted, and never thwarted her little ambitions to give functions to great men who came up from the provinces.
She organized a Literary Coterie, to meet every Saturday and study Mary Wollstonecraft's book on the "Rights of Woman."
Occasionally, she sat in the visitors' gallery at Parliament, but always behind the screen. And constantly she wrote out her thoughts on the themes of the time. Her husband never regarded these things as proof that she was inwardly miserable, unsatisfied, and in spirit was roaming the universe seeking a panacea for soul-nostalgia; not he! Nor she.
And so she gave the function to the Right Honorable Nobody from Essex. And among thirty or forty other people was one John Stuart Mill, son of the eminent James Mill, historian and philosopher, also Head Examiner of the East India House. Mr. and Mrs. Taylor had made out the list of people between them, choosing those whom they thought had sufficient phosphorus so they would enjoy meeting a great theological meteoric personality from Essex.
Mr. Taylor had seen young Mr. Mill in the East India House, where young Mr. Mill made out invoices with big seals on them. Mr. Taylor had said to Mr. Mill that it was a fine day, to which proposition Mr. Mill agreed.
The Honorable James Mill was invited, too, but could not come, as he was President of the Land Tenure League, and a meeting was on for the same night.
Mr. Taylor introduced to the company the eminent visitor from Essex--they had been chums together at Oxford--and then Mr. Taylor withdrew into a quiet corner and enjoyed a nap as the manuscript was being read in sonorous orotund.
The subject was, "The Proper Sphere of Woman in the Social Cosmogony." By chance Mrs. Taylor and John Stuart Mill sat next to each other.
The speaker moved with stately tread through his firstly to his seventhly, and then proceeded to sum up. The argument was that of Saint Paul amplified, "Let woman learn in subjection"--"For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ is also the head of the Church"--"God made woman for a helpmeet to man," etc.
Mrs. Taylor looked at young Mr. Mill, and Mr. Mill looked at Mrs. Taylor. They were both thinking hard, and without a word spoken they agreed with each other on this, that the speaker had no message.
Young Mr. Mill noted that one of Mrs. Taylor's eyes was much wider open than the other, and that her head had corners. She seemed much beyond him in years and experience, although actually she was two years younger--a fact he did not then know.
"Does not a woman need a helpmeet, too?" she wrote on the fly-leaf of a book she held in her lap. And young Mr. Mill took the book and wrote beneath in a copper-plate East India hand, "I do not know what a woman needs; but I think the speaker needs a helpmeet."
And then Mrs. Taylor wrote: "All help must be mutual. No man can help a woman unless she helps him--the benefit of help lies as much in the giving as in the receiving."
After the function Mrs. Taylor asked Mr. Mill to call. It is quite likely that on this occasion she asked a good many of the other guests to call.
Mr. Mill called the next evening.
* * * * *
John Stuart Mill was not a university man. He was an intellectual cosset, and educated in a way that made the English pedagogues stand aghast. So, probably thousands of parents said, "Go to! we will educate our own children," and went at their boys in the same way that James Mill treated his son, but the world has produced only one John Stuart Mill.
Axtell, the trotter, in his day held both the two-year-old and the three-year-old record. He was driven in harness from the time he was weaned, and was given work that would have cocked most ankles and sent old horses over on their knees. But Axtell stood the test and grew strong.
Certain horsemen, seeing the success of Axtell, tried his driver's plan, and one millionaire I know ruined a thousand colts and never produced a single racehorse by following the plan upon which Axtell thrived.
The father of John Stuart Mill would now be considered one of England's great thinkers, had he not been so unfortunate as to be thrown completely into the shadow by his son. As it is, James Mill lives in history as the man who insisted that his baby three years old should be taught the Greek alphabet. When five years old, this baby spoke with an Attic accent, and corrected his elders who dropped the aspirate. With unconscious irony John Stuart Mill wrote in his "Autobiography," "I learned no Latin until my eighth year, at which time, however, I was familiar with 'Æsop's Fables,' most of the 'Anabasis,' the 'Memorabilia' of Xenophon, and the 'Lives of the Philosophers' by Diogenes Lærtius, part of Lucian, and the 'Ad Demonicum' and 'Ad Nicoclem' of Isocrates." Besides these he had also read all of Plato, Plutarch, Gibbon, Hume and Rollin, and was formulating in his mind a philosophy of history.
Whether these things "educated" the boy or not will always remain an unsettled question for debating-societies.
But that he learned and grew through constant association with his father there is no doubt. Wherever the father went, the boy trotted along, a pad in one hand and a pencil in the other, always making notes, always asking questions, and always answering propositions.
The long out-of-door walks doubtless saved him from death. He never had a childhood, and if he ever had a mother, the books are silent concerning her. He must have been an incubator baby, or else been found under a cabbage-leaf. James Mill treated his wife as if her office and opinions were too insignificant to consider seriously--she was only an unimportant incident in his life. James Mill was the typical beef-eating Englishman described by Taine.
According to Doctor Bain's most interesting little book on John Stuart Mill, the youth at nine was appointed to supervise the education of the rest of the family, "a position more pleasing to his vanity than helpful to his manners." That he was a beautiful prig at this time goes without saying.
The scaffolding of learning he mistook for the edifice, a fallacy borrowed from his father. At the age of fourteen he knew as much as his father, and acknowledged it. He was then sent to France to study the science of government under Sir Samuel Bentham.
His father's intent was that he should study law, and in his own mind was the strong conviction that he was set apart, and that his life was sacred to the service of humanity. A year at the study of law, and a more or less intimate association with barristers, relieved him of the hallucination that a lawyer's life is consecrated to justice and the rights of man--quips, quirks and quillets were not to his taste.
James Mill held the office of Chief Examiner in the East India House, at a salary equal to seven thousand five hundred dollars a year. The gifted son was now nineteen, and at work as a junior clerk under his father at twenty pounds a year. Before the year was up he was promoted, and when he was twenty-one his salary was one hundred pounds a year.
There are people who will say, "Of course his father pushed him along." But the fact that after his father's death he was promoted by the Directors to Head of the Office disposes of all suspicion of favoritism. The management of the East India Company was really a matter of statesmanship, and the direct, methodical and practical mind of Mill fitted him for the place.
Thomas Carlyle, writing to his wife in Scotland in the year Eighteen Hundred Thirty-one, said: "This young Mill, I fancy and hope, is a being one can love. A slender, rather tallish and elegant youth, with Roman-nosed face, earnestly smiling blue eyes, modest, remarkably gifted, great precision of utterance, calm--a distinctly able and amiable youth."
So now behold him at twenty-five, a student and scholarly recluse, delving all day in accounts and dispatches, grubbing in books at night, and walking an hour before sunrise in the park every morning. It was about then that he accepted the invitation of Mrs. Taylor to call.
I do not find that James Mill ever disputed the proposition that women have souls: he evidently considered the matter quite beyond argument--they hadn't. His son, at this time, was of a like opinion.
John Stuart Mill had not gone into society, and women to him were simply undeveloped men, to be treated kindly and indulgently. As mental companions, the idea was unthinkable. And love was entirely out of his orbit--all of his energies had been worked up into great thoughts. Doctor Bain says that at twenty-five John Stuart Mill was as ignorant of sex as a girl of ten.
He called on Mrs. Taylor because she had pleased him when she said, "The person who helps another gets as much out of the transaction as the one who is helped." This was a thought worth while. Perhaps Mrs. Taylor had borrowed the idea. But anyway it was something to repeat it. He revolved it over in his mind all day, off and on. "To help another is to help yourself. A helpmeet must grow by the exercise of being useful. Therefore, a woman grows as her husband grows--she can not stand if she puts forth intelligent effort. All help is mutual."
"One eye was wider than the other--her head had corners--she carried her chin in!"
John Stuart Mill wished the day would not drag so; after supper he would go and call on Mrs. Taylor, and ask her to explain what she meant by all help being mutual--it was a trifle paradoxical!
The Taylors were just finishing tea when young Mr. Mill called. They were surprised and delighted to see him. He was a bit abashed, and could not quite remember what it was he wanted to ask Mrs. Taylor, but he finally got around to something else just as good. Mrs. Taylor had written an article on the "Subjugation of Women"--would Mr. Mill take it home with him and read it, or would he like to hear her read a little of it now?
Mr. Mill's fine face revealed his delight at the prospect of being read to. So Mrs. Taylor read a little aloud to Mr. Mill, while Mr. Taylor took a much-needed nap in the corner.
In a few days Mr. Mill called to return Mrs. Taylor's manuscript and leave a little essay he himself had written on a similar theme. Mr. Taylor was greatly pleased at this fine friendship that had sprung up between his gifted wife and young Mr. Mill--Mrs. Taylor was so much improved in health, so much more buoyant! Thursday night soon became sacred at the Taylors' to Mr. Mill, and Sunday he always took dinner with them.
Goldwin Smith, a trifle grumpy, with a fine forgetfulness as to the saltness of time, says that young Mr. Mill had been kept such a recluse that when he met Mrs. Taylor he considered that he was the first man to discover the potency of sex, and that he thought his experience was unique in the history of mankind.
Perhaps love does make a fool of a man--I really can not say. If so, then John Stuart Mill never recovered his sanity. Suppose we let John speak for himself--I quote from his "Autobiography":
It was at the period of my mental progress which I have now reached that I formed the friendship which has been the honor and chief blessing of my existence, as well as the source of a great part of all that I have attempted to do, or hope to effect hereafter, for human improvement.
My first introduction to the lady who, after a friendship of twenty years, consented to become my wife, was in Eighteen Hundred Thirty, when I was in my twenty-fifth and she in her twenty-third year.
* * * * *
I very soon felt her to be the most admirable person I had ever known.
It is not to be supposed that she was, or that any one, at the age at which I first saw her, could be, all that she became afterwards. Least of all could this be true of her, with whom self-improvement, progress in the highest and in all senses, was a law of her nature; a necessity equally from the ardor with which she sought it, and from the spontaneous tendency of faculties which could not receive an impression or an experience without making it the source or occasion of an accession of wisdom.
* * * * *
In her, complete emancipation from every kind of superstition (including that which attributes a pretended perfection to the order of Nature and the universe) and an earnest protest against many things which are still part of the established constitution of society, resulted not from the intellect, but from strength, a noble and elevated feeling, and co-existent with a highly reverential nature. In general spiritual characteristics, as well as in temperament and organization, I have often compared her, as she was at that time, to Shelley: but in thought and intellect, Shelley, so far as his powers were developed in his short life, was but a child compared with what she ultimately became.
Alike in the highest regions of speculation and in the smaller practical concerns of daily life, her mind was the same perfect instrument, piercing to the heart and marrow of the matter, always seizing the essential idea or principle.
The same exactness and rapidity of operation, pervading as it did her sensitive as well as her mental qualities, would, with her gifts of feeling and imagination, have fitted her for a consummate artist, as her fiery and tender soul and her vigorous eloquence would certainly have made her a great orator. And her profound knowledge of human nature, and discernment and sagacity in practical life, would, in the times when such a career was open to women, have made her eminent among the rulers of mankind.
Her intellectual gifts did but minister to a moral character at once the noblest and the best balanced which I have ever met with in my life. Her unselfishness was not that of a taught system of duties, but of a heart which thoroughly identified itself with the feelings of others, and often went to excess in consideration for them by imaginatively investing their feelings with the intensity of her own.
The passion of justice might have been thought to be her strongest feeling, but for her boundless generosity, and a lovingness ever ready to pour itself forth upon any or all human beings who were capable of giving the smallest feelings in return. The rest of her moral characteristics were such as naturally accompany these qualities of mind and heart: the most genuine modesty combined with the loftiest pride; a simplicity and sincerity which were absolute towards all who were fit to receive them; the utmost scorn for whatever was mean and cowardly, and a burning indignation at everything brutal or tyrannical, faithless or dishonorable in conduct and character, while making the broadest distinction between "mala in se" and mere "mala prohibita"--between acts giving evidence of intrinsic badness in feeling and character, and those which are only violations of conventions either good or bad, violations which whether in themselves right or wrong are capable of being committed by persons in every other respect lovable and admirable.
To be admitted into any degree of mental intercourse with a being of these qualities could not but have a most beneficial influence on my development; though the effect was only gradual, and several years elapsed before her mental progress and mine went forward in the complete companionship they at last attained. The benefit I received was far greater than any which I could hope to give; though to her, who had at first reached her opinions by the moral intuition of a character of strong feeling, there was doubtless help as well as encouragement to be derived from one who had arrived at many of the same results by study and reasoning: and in the rapidity of her intellectual growth, her mental activity, which converted everything into knowledge, doubtless drew from me, as it did from other sources, many of its materials. What I owe, even intellectually, to her is, in its detail, almost infinite; of its general character a few words will give some, though a very imperfect, idea.
With those who, like the best and wisest of mankind, are dissatisfied with human life as it is, and whose feelings are wholly identified with its radical amendment, there are two main regions of thought. One is the region of ultimate aims--the constituent elements of the highest realizable ideal of human life.
The other is that of the immediately useful and practically attainable. In both these departments, I have acquired more from her teaching than from all other sources taken together. And, to say truth, it is in these two extremes principally, that real certainty lies. My own strength lay wholly in the uncertain and slippery intermediate region, that of theory, or moral and political science; respecting the conclusions of which, in any of the forms in which I have received or originated them, whether as political economy, analytic psychology, logic, philosophy or history, or anything else, it is not the least of my intellectual obligations to her that I have derived from her a wise skepticism, which, while it has not hindered me from following out the honest exercise of my thinking faculties to whatever conclusions might result from it, has put me on my guard against holding or announcing these conclusions with a degree of confidence which the nature of such speculations does not warrant, and has kept my mind not only open to admit, but prompt to welcome and eager to seek, even on the questions on which I have most meditated, any prospect of clearer perceptions and better evidence. I have often received praise, which in my own right I only partially deserve, for the greater practicality that is supposed to be found in my writings, compared with those of most thinkers who have been equally addicted to large generalizations. The writings in which this quality has been observed, were not the work of one mind, but of the fusion of two: one as eminently practical in its judgments and perceptions of things present, as it was high and bold in its anticipations for futurity.
* * * * *
The social functions at the Taylor home now became less frequent, and finally ceased. Women looked upon the friendship of John Stuart Mill and Mrs. Taylor with some resentment and a slight tinge of jealousy. Men lifted an eyebrow and called it "equivocal"--to use the phrase of Clement Shorter.
"The plan of having a husband and also a lover is not entirely without precedent," said Disraeli in mock apology, and took snuff solemnly. Meantime manuscripts were traveling back and forth between the East India House and the Taylors'.
John Stuart Mill was contributing essays to the magazines that made the thinkers think. He took a position opposed to his father, and maintained the vast importance of the sentiments and feelings in making up the sum of human lives. When Mill was mentioned, people asked which one.
The Carlyles, who at first were very proud of the acquaintanceship of Mill, dropped him. Then he dropped them. Years after, the genial Tammas, writing to his brother John, confirmed his opinion of Mill, "after Mill took up with that Taylor woman." Says Tammas: "You have lost nothing by missing the 'Autobiography' of Mill. I never read a more uninteresting book, nor should I say a sillier."
James Mill protested vehemently against his son visiting at the Taylors', and even threatened the young man with the loss of his position, but John Stuart made no answer. The days John did not see Harriet he wrote her a letter and she wrote him one.
To protect himself in his position, John now ceased to do any literary work or to write any personal letters at the office. While there he attended to business and nothing else. In the early morning he wrote or walked. Evenings he devoted to Mrs. Taylor; either writing to her or for her, or else seeing her. On Saturday afternoons they would usually go botanizing, for botany is purely a lovers' invention.
Old acquaintances who wanted to see Mill had to go to the East India House, and there they got just five minutes of his dignified presence. Doctor Bain complains, "I could no longer get him to walk with me in the park--he had reduced life to a system, and the old friends were shelved and pigeonholed."
When Mill was thirty his salary was raised to five hundred pounds a year. His father died the same year, and his brothers and sisters discarded him. His literary fame had grown, and he was editor of the London "Review." The pedantry of youth had disappeared--practical business had sobered him, and love had relieved him of his idolatry for books. Heart now meant more to him than art. His plea was for liberty, national and individual. The modesty, gentleness and dignity of the man made his presence felt wherever he went. A contemporary said: "His features were refined and regular--the nose straight and finely shaped, his lips thin and compressed--the face and body seemed to represent the inflexibility of the inner man. His whole aspect was one of high and noble achievement--invincible purpose, iron will, unflinching self-oblivion--a world's umpire!"
Mill felt that life was such a precious heritage that we should be jealous of every moment, so he shut himself in from every disturbing feature. All that he wrote he submitted to Mrs. Taylor--she corrected, amended, revised. She read for him, and spent long hours at the British Museum in research work, while he did the business of the East India Company.
When his "Logic" was published, in Eighteen Hundred Forty, he had known Mrs. Taylor nine years. That she had a considerable hand in this comprehensive work there is no doubt. The book placed Mill upon the very pinnacle of fame. John Morley declared him "England's foremost thinker," a title to which Gladstone added the weight of his endorsement, a thing we would hardly expect from an ardent churchman, since Mill was always an avowed freethinker, and once declared in Gladstone's presence, "I am one of the few men in England who have not abandoned their religious beliefs, because I never had any."
Justin McCarthy says in his reminiscences: "A wiser and more virtuous man than Mill I never knew nor expect to know; and yet I have had the good fortune to know many wise and virtuous men. I never knew any man of really great intellect, who carried less of the ways of ordinary greatness about him. There was an added charm to the very shyness of his manner when one remembers how fearless he was, if the occasion called for fortitude or courage."
After the publication of the "Logic," Mill was too big a man for the public to lose sight of.
He went his simple way, but to escape being pointed out, he kept from all crowds, and public functions were to him tabu.
When Mrs. Taylor gave birth to a baby girl, an obscure London newspaper printed, "A Malthusian Warning to the East India Company," which no doubt reflected a certain phase of public interest, but Mill continued his serene way undisturbed.
To this baby girl, Helen Taylor, Mill was always most devotedly attached. As she grew into childhood he taught her botany, and people who wanted a glimpse of Mill were advised to "look for him with a flaxen-haired little sprite of a girl any Saturday afternoon on Hampton Heath."
Mr. Taylor died in July, Eighteen Hundred Forty-nine, and in April, Eighteen Hundred Fifty-one, Mrs. Taylor and Mill were quietly married. The announcement of the marriage sent a spasm over literary England, and set the garrulous tongues a-wagging.
George Mill, a brother of John Stuart, with unconscious humor placed himself on record thus, "Mrs. Taylor was never to anybody else what she was to John." Bishop Spalding once wrote out this strange, solemn, emasculate proposition, "Mill's 'Autobiography' contains proof that a soul, with an infinite craving for God, not finding Him, will worship anything--a woman, a memory!"
This almost makes one think that the good Bishop was paraphrasing and reversing Voltaire's remark, "When a woman no longer finds herself acceptable to man she turns to God."
What the world thought of Mill's wife is not vital--what he thought of her, certainly was. I quote from the "Autobiography," which Edward Everett Hale calls "two lives in one--written by one of them":
Between the time of which I have now spoken, and the present, took place the most important events of my life.
The first of these was my marriage to the lady whose incomparable worth had made her friendship the greatest source to me both of happiness and of improvement. For seven and a half years that blessing was mine; for seven and a half only! I can say nothing which could describe, even in the faintest manner, what that loss was, and is. But because I know that she would have wished it, I endeavor to make the best of what life I have left, and to work on for her purposes with such diminished strength as can be derived from the thoughts of her, and communion with her memory.
When two persons have thoughts and speculations completely in common; when all subjects of intellectual and moral interests are discussed between them in daily life, and probed to much greater depths than are usually or conveniently sounded in writings intended for general readers; when they set out from the same principles, and arrive at their conclusions by processes pursued jointly, it is of little consequence, in respect to the question of originality, which of them holds the pen; the one who contributes the least to the composition may contribute most of the thought; the writings which result are the joint product of both, and it must often be impossible to disentangle their respective parts, and affirm that this belongs to one and that to the other. In this wide sense, not only during the years of our married life, but during many of the years of confidential friendship which preceded, all my published writings were as much her work as mine, her share in them constantly increasing as years advanced. But in certain cases, what belongs to her can be distinguished and specially identified. Over and above the general influence which her mind had over mine, the most valuable ideas and features in these joint productions (those which have been most fruitful of important results, and which have contributed most to the success and reputation of the works themselves) originated with her, were emanations from her mind, my part of them being no greater than in any of the thoughts which I found in previous writings, and made my own only by incorporating them with my own system of Thought. During the greater part of my literary life I have performed the office in relation to her, which from a rather early period I had considered as the most useful part that I was qualified to take in the domain of thought: that of an interpreter of original thinkers, and mediator between them and the public.
* * * * *
Thus prepared, it will easily be believed that when I came into close intellectual communion with a person of the most eminent faculties, whose genius, as it grew and unfolded itself in thought, continually struck out truths far in advance of me, but in which I could not, as I had done in those others, detect any mixture of error, the greatest part of my mental growth consisted in the assimilation of those truths, and the most valuable part of my intellectual work was in building the bridges and clearing the paths which connected them with my general system of thought.
The steps in my mental growth for which I was indebted to her were far from being those which a person wholly uninformed on the subject would probably suspect. It might be supposed, for instance, that my strong convictions on the complete equality in all legal, political social and domestic relations, which ought to exist between men and women, may have been adopted or learned from her. This was so far from being the fact that those convictions were among the earliest results of the application of my mind to political subjects, and the strength with which I held them was, as I believe, more than anything else, the originating cause of the interest she felt in me. What is true is, that, until I knew her, the opinion was in my mind, little more than an abstract principle. I saw no more reason why women should be held in legal subjection to other people, than why men should. I was certain that their interests required fully as much protection as those of men, and were quite as little likely to obtain it without an equal voice in making the laws by which they were to be bound. But that perception of the vast practical bearings of women's disabilities which found expression in the book on the "Subjection of Women" was acquired mainly through her teaching. But for her rare knowledge of human nature and comprehension of moral and social influences, though I doubtless should have held my present opinions, I should surely have had a very insufficient perception of the mode in which the consequences of the inferior position of women intertwine themselves with all the evils of existing society and with all the difficulties of human improvement. I am indeed painfully conscious of how much of her best thoughts on the subject I have failed to reproduce, and how greatly that little treatise falls short of what would have been if she had put on paper her entire mind on the question, or had lived to devise and improve, as she certainly would have done, my imperfect statement of the case.
The first of my books in which her share was conspicuous was the "Principles of Political Economy." The "System of Logic" owed little to her except in the minute matters of composition, in which respect my writings both great and small have largely benefited by her accurate and clear-sighted criticism. The chapter of the "Political Economy" which has had a greater influence on opinion than all the rest, that on "The Probable Future of the Laboring Classes," is entirely due to her: in the first draft of the book, that chapter did not exist.
She pointed out the need of a chapter, and the extreme imperfection of the book without it: she was the cause of my writing it; and the more general part of the chapter--the statement and discussion of the two opposite theories respecting the proper condition of the laboring classes--was wholly an exposition of her thoughts, often in words taken from her own lips.
The purely scientific part of the "Political Economy" I did not learn from her; but it was chiefly her influence that gave to the book that general tone by which it is distinguished from all previous expositions of "Political Economy" that had any pretension to being scientific, and which has made it so useful to conciliating minds which those previous expositions had repelled.
* * * * *
What was abstract and purely scientific was generally mine; the properly human element came from her: in all that concerned the application of philosophy to the exigencies of human society and progress, I was her pupil, alike in boldness of speculation and cautiousness of practical judgment. For, on the one hand, I was much more courageous and farsighted than without her I should have been, in anticipation of an order of things to come, in which many of the limited generalizations now so often confounded with universal principles will cease to be applicable. Those parts of my writings, and especially of the "Political Economy," which contemplate possibilities in the future such as, when affirmed by socialists, have in general been fiercely denied by political economists, would, but for her, either have been absent, or the suggestions would have been made much more timidly and in a more qualified form. But while she thus rendered me bolder in speculation on human affairs, her practical turn of mind, and her almost unerring estimate of practical obstacles, repressed in me all tendencies that were really visionary.
Her mind invested all ideas in a concrete shape, and formed itself a conception of how they would actually work: and her knowledge of the existing feelings and conduct of mankind was so seldom at fault, that the weak point in any unworkable suggestion seldom escaped her.
* * * * *
During the two years which immediately preceded the cessation of my official life, my wife and I were working together at the "Liberty." I had first planned and written it as a short essay in Eighteen Hundred Fifty-four. None of my writings have been either so carefully composed, or so sedulously corrected as this. After it had been written as usual, twice over, we kept it by us, bringing it out from time to time, and going through it "de novo," reading, weighing and criticizing every sentence. Its final revision was to have been a work of the winter of Eighteen Hundred Fifty-eight and Fifty-nine, the first after my retirement, which we had arranged to pass in the South of Europe. That hope and every other were frustrated by the most unexpected and bitter calamity of her death, at Avignon, on our way to Montpellier, from a sudden attack of pulmonary congestion.
Since then I have sought for such alleviation as my state admitted of, by the mode of life which most enabled me to feel her still near me. I bought a cottage as close as possible to the place where she is buried, and there her daughter (my fellow-sufferer and now my chief comfort) and I live constantly during a great portion of the year. My objects in life are solely those which were hers; my pursuits and occupations those in which she shared or sympathized--which are indissolubly associated with her. Her memory is to me a religion, and her approbation the standard by which, summing up as it does all worthiness, I endeavor to regulate my life.
After my irreparable loss, one of my earliest cares was to print and publish the treatise, so much of which was the work of her whom I had lost, and consecrate it to her memory. I have made no alterations or additions to it, nor shall I ever. Though it wants the last touch of her hand, no substitute for that touch shall ever be attempted by mine.
The "Liberty" was more directly and literally our joint production than anything else which bears my name, for there was not a sentence of it which was not several times gone through by us together, turned over in many ways, and carefully weeded of any faults, either in thought or expression, that we detected in it. It is in consequence of this that, although it never underwent her final revision, it far surpasses, as a mere specimen of composition, anything which has proceeded from me either before or since. With regard to the thoughts, it is difficult to identify any particular part or element as being more hers than all the rest. The whole mood of thinking, of which the book was the expression, was emphatically hers.
But I also was so thoroughly imbued with it that the same thoughts naturally occurred to us both. That I was thus penetrated with it, however, I owe in a great degree to her. There was a moment in my mental progress when I might easily have fallen into a tendency towards over-government, both social and political; as there was also a moment when, by reaction from a contrary excess, I might have become a less thorough radical and democrat than I am. In both these points as in many others, she benefited me as much by keeping me right where I was right, as by leading me to new truths, and ridding me of errors.
* * * * *
Mrs. Mill died suddenly, at Avignon, France, while on a journey with Mr. Mill. There she was buried.
The stricken husband and daughter rented a cottage in the village, to be near the grave of the beloved dead. They intended to remain only a few weeks, but after a year they concluded they could "never be content to go away and leave the spot consecrated by her death," unlike Robert Browning, who left Florence forever on the death of his wife, not having the inclination or the fortitude even to visit her grave.
Mill finally bought the Avignon cottage, refitted it, brought over from England all his books and intimate belongings, and Avignon was his home for fifteen years--the rest of his life.
Mill always referred to Helen Taylor as "my wife's daughter," and the daughter called him "Pater." The love between these two was most tender and beautiful. The man could surely never have survived the shock of his wife's death had it not been for Helen. She it was who fitted up the cottage, and went to England bringing over his books, manuscripts and papers, luring him on to live by many little devices of her ready wit. She built a portico all around the cottage, and in Winter this was enclosed in glass. Helen called it, "Father's semi-circumgyratory," and if he failed to pace this portico forty times backward and forward each forenoon, she would take him gently by the arm and firmly insist that he should fill the prescription. They resumed their studies of botany, and Helen organized classes which went with them on their little excursions.
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty-five, Mill was induced to stand for Parliament for Westminster. The move was made by London friends in the hope of winning him back to England. He agreed to the proposition on condition that he should not be called upon to canvass for votes or take any part in the campaign.
He was elected by a safe majority, and proved a power for good in the House of Commons. The Speaker once remarked, "The presence of Mr. Mill in this body I perceive has elevated the tone of debate." This sounds like the remark of Wendell Phillips when Dogmatism was hot on the heels of the Sage of Concord: "If Emerson goes to Hell, his presence there will surely change the climate."
Yet when Mill ran for re-election he was defeated, it having leaked out that he was an "infidel," since he upheld Charles Bradlaugh in his position that the affirmation of a man who does not believe in the Bible should be accepted as freely as the oath of one who does. In passing it is worth while to note that the courts of Christendom have now accepted the view of Bradlaugh and of Mill on this point.
The best resume of Mill's philosophy is to be found in Taine's "English Literature," a fact to which Mill himself attested.
The dedication of "On Liberty," printed as a preface to this "Little Journey," rivals in worth the wonderful little classic of Ernest Renan to his sister, Henriette.
Mill died at Avignon in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-three, his last days soothed by the tender ministrations of the daughter Helen. His body, according to his wish, was buried in his wife's grave, and so the dust of the lovers lies mingled.
PARNELL AND KITTY O'SHEA
For my own part I am confident as to the future of Ireland. Though the horizon may now seem cloudy, I believe her people will survive the present oppression, as they have survived many worse ones. Although our progress may be slow, it will be sure. The time will come when the people of England will admit once again that they have been mistaken and have been deceived: that they have been led astray as to the right way of governing a noble, a brave and an impulsive people.
--_Charles Stewart Parnell_
[Illustration: CHARLES STEWART PARNELL]
Two hundred fifty men own one-third of the acreage of Ireland.
Two-thirds of Ireland is owned by two thousand men. In every other civilized country will be found a large class of people known as peasant proprietors, people who own small farms or a few acres which they call home. In Ireland we find seven hundred thousand tenant-farmers, who with their families represent a population of more than three million people. These people depend upon the land for their subsistence, but they are tenants-at-will. Four-fifths of the landowners of Ireland live in England.
Lord Dufferin, late Governor-General of Canada, once said: "What is the spectacle presented to us by Ireland? It is that of millions of people, whose only occupation and dependence is agriculture, sinking their past and present and future on yearly tenancies. What is a yearly tenancy? Why, it means that the owner of the land, at the end of any year, can turn the people born on the land, off from the land, tear down their houses and leave them starving at the mercy of the storm. It means terms no Christian man would offer, and none but a madman would accept."
The rents are fixed in cash, being proportioned according to the assessable value of the property. So if a tenant improves the estate, his rent is increased, and thus actually a penalty is placed on permanent improvements.
The tenant has no voice in the matter of rent: he must accept. And usually the rents have been fixed at a figure that covers the entire produce of the land. Then the landlord's agent collected all he could, and indulgently allowed the rest to hang over the tenant's head as a guarantee of good behavior.
Mr. Gladstone said in Parliament, July the Tenth, Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine: "Forty-nine farmers out of fifty in Ireland are in arrears for rent, so it is legally possible to evict them at any time the landlord may so choose. And in the condition that now exists, an eviction is equal to a sentence of death."
At the time when Gladstone made his speech just quoted, a bill was up in the House of Commons called "The Relief of Distress Bill." Simple people might at once assume that this relief bill was for the relief of the starving peasantry, but this is a very hasty conclusion, ill-considered and quite absurd. The "Relief Bill" was for the relief of the English landlords who owned land in Ireland. So the landlords would not be actually compelled to levy on the last potato and waylay the remittances sent from America, the English Government proposed to loan money to the distressed landlords at three per cent, and this bill was passed without argument. And it was said that Lord Lansdowne, one of the poor landlords, turned a tidy penny by availing himself of the three-per-cent loan and letting the money out, straightway, at six per cent to such tenants as had a few pigs to offer as collateral.
The State of Iowa is nearly double the size of Ireland, and has, it is estimated, eleven times the productive capacity. A tithe of ten per cent on Iowa's corn crop would prevent, at any time, a famine in Ireland.
In Eighteen Hundred Seventy-nine, Illinois sent, through the agency of the Chicago Board of Trade, a shipload of wheat, corn and pork to starving Ireland. T. P. O'Connor, who took an active part in the distribution of these humane gifts, said on the floor of the House of Commons that more than one instance had come to his notice where the Irish peasants had availed themselves of flour and meal, but the pork given them was taken by the landlords' agents, "because many Irish families had never acquired a taste for meat, the pigs they raised being sold to pay the rent."
Just here, lest any tender-hearted reader be tempted to tears on behalf of the Irish tenantry, I will quote an Irishman, a vegetarian first by force and then by habit, George Bernard Shaw:
The person to pity is the landlord and his incompetent family, and not the peasantry. In Ireland, the absentee landlord is bitterly reproached for not administering his estate in person. It is pointed out, truly enough, that the absentee is a pure parasite upon the industry of his country. The indispensable minimum of attention to his estate is paid by the agent or solicitor, whose resistance to his purely parasitic activity is fortified by the fact that the estates belong most to the mortgagees, and that the nominal landlord is so ignorant of his own affairs that he can do nothing but send begging letters to his agent.
On these estates generations of peasants (and agents) live hard but bearable lives; whilst off them generations of ladies and gentlemen of good breeding and natural capacity are corrupted into drifters, wasters, drinkers, waiters-for-dead-men's-shoes, poor relations and social wreckage of all sorts, living aimless lives, and often dying squalid and tragic deaths.
* * * * *
In County Wicklow, Ireland, in Eighteen Hundred Forty-six, Charles Stewart Parnell was born. In that year there was starvation in Ireland. Thousands died from lack of food, just as they died in that other English possession, India, in Nineteen Hundred One. Famished babes, sucking at the withered breasts of dying mothers, were common sights on the public highways.
Iowa and Illinois had not then got a-going; the cable was to come, and the heart of Christian England was unpricked by public opinion. And all the time while famine was in progress, sheep, pigs and cattle were being shipped across the Channel to England. It was the famine of Eighteen Hundred Forty-six that started the immense tide of Irish immigration to America. And England fanned and favored this exodus, for it was very certain that there were too many mouths to feed in Ireland--half the number would not so jeopardize the beer and skittles of the landlords.
Parnell's father was a landed proprietor living in Ireland, but whose ancestors had originally come from England. The Parnell estate was not large, comparatively, but it was managed so as to give a very comfortable living for the landlord and his various tenants. The mother of young Parnell was Delia Stewart, an American girl, daughter of Admiral Stewart of the United States Navy.
In that dread year of Eighteen Hundred Forty-six, when the potato crop failed, the Parnells took no rent from their tenants; and Mrs. Parnell rode hundreds of miles in a jaunting-car, distributing food and clothing among the needy. Doubtless there were a great many other landlords and agents just as generous as the Parnells, filled with the same humane spirit; but the absentee landlords were for the most part heedless, ignorant, and indifferent to the true state of affairs.
Charles Parnell grew up a fine, studious, thoughtful boy. He prepared for college and took a turn of two years at Cambridge. He then returned to Ireland, because his help was needed in looking after the estate--hence he never secured his degree. But he had the fine, eager, receptive mind that gathers gear as it goes. His mother was an educated woman, and educated mothers have educated children.
That is a very wise scheme of child-education, the education of the mother, a plan which is indeed not yet fully accepted by civilization; but which will be as soon as we become enlightened.
From his mother's lips Charles learned the story of America's fight for independence, and the rights of man was a subject ingrained in his character.
* * * * *
Ireland is a country that has a climate as nearly perfect as we can imagine, and topographically, it is beautiful beyond compare. Yet here, among physical conditions which are most entrancing, existed a form of slavery not far removed from that which existed in the Southern States in Eighteen Hundred Sixty. It was a system inaugurated by men long dead, and which had become ossified upon both tenant and landlord (slave and slave-owner) by years of precedent, so neither party had the power to break the bonds.
In some ways it was worse than African slavery, for the material wants of the blacks were usually fairly well looked after. To be sure, the Irish could run away and not be brought back in chains; but in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-six, a bill was introduced in Parliament restricting Irish immigration, and forbidding any tenant who was in debt to a landlord leaving the country without the landlord's consent.
Had this bill not been bitterly opposed, the Irish people would have been subject to peonage equal to absolute slavery. As young Parnell grew he was filled with but one theme: how to better the condition of his people.
In arousing public sentiment against the bill, young Parnell found his oratorical wings.
Shortly after this he was elected to Parliament from County Meath. He was then twenty-seven years old. He had never shaved, and his full brown beard and serious, earnest, dignified manner, coupled with his six-foot-two physique, attracted instant attention. He wore a suit of gray, Irish homespun, but the requirements of Parliament demanded black with a chimney-pot hat--the hat being always religiously worn in session, except when the member addressed the Chair--and to these Piccadilly requirements Parnell gracefully adjusted himself.
Parnell seemed filled with the idea, from the days of his youth, that he had a mission--he was to lead his people out of captivity. This oneness of purpose made itself felt in the House of Commons from his first entrance. All parliamentary bodies are swayed by a few persons--the working members are the exception. The horse-racing and cockfighting contingent in the House of Commons is well represented; the blear eyes, the poddy pudge, the bulbous beak--all these are in evidence. If one man out of ten knows what is going on, it is well; and this is equally true of Washington, for our representatives do not always represent us.
Parnell, although a fledgling in years when he entered the House of Commons, quickly took the measure of the members, and conceived for them a fine scorn, which some say he exhibited in italics and upper case. This was charged up against him to be paid for later at usurious interest.
Precedent provided that he should not open his Irish mouth during the entire first session; but he made his presence felt from the first day he entered the House.
By a curious chance a Coercion Bill was up for discussion, there being always a few in stock. Some of the tenantry had refused to either pay or depart, and a move was on foot to use the English soldiery to evict the malcontents in a wholesale way.
Joseph Biggar had the floor and declared the bill was really a move to steal Irish children and sell them into perpetual peonage. Biggar was talking against time, and the House groaned. Biggar was a rich merchant from Ulster, and he was a big man, although without oratorical ability or literary gifts. His heart was right, but he lacked mental synthesis. He knew little of history, nothing of political economy, despised precedents, had a beautiful disdain for all rules, and for all things English he held the views of Fuzzy-Wuzzy, whose home is in the Sudan. However, Biggar was shrewd and practical, and had a business sense that most of the members absolutely lacked. And moreover he was entirely without fear. Usually his face was wreathed in cherubic smiles. He had the sweetly paternal look of Horace Greeley, in disposition was just as stubborn, and, like Horace, chewed tobacco.
The English opposed the Irish members, and Biggar reciprocated the sentiment. They opposed everything he did, and it came about that he made it his particular business to block the channel for them.
"Why are you here?" once exclaimed an exasperated member to Joseph Biggar.
"To rub you up, sir, to rub you up!" was the imperturbable reply. He shocked the House and succeeded in getting himself thoroughly hated by his constant reference to absentee landlords as "parasites" and "cannibals." And the fact that there were many absentee landlords in the House only urged him on to say things unseemly, irrelevant and often unprintable.
And so Biggar was making a speech on the first day that Parnell took his seat. Biggar was sparring for time, fighting off a vote on the Coercion Bill. He had spoken for four hours, mostly in a voice inaudible, and had read from the London Directory, the Public Reports and the Blue Book, and had at last fallen back on Doctor Johnson's Dictionary, when Parnell, in his simple honesty, interjected an explanation to dissolve a little of the Biggar mental calculi. Biggar, knowing Parnell, gave way, and Parnell rose to his feet. His finely modulated, low voice searched out the inmost corners of the room, and every sentence he spoke contained an argument. He was talking on the one theme he knew best. Members came in from the cloakrooms and the Chair forgot his mail--a man was speaking.
Gladstone happened to be present, and while not at the time sympathizing with the intent of Parnell, was yet enough attracted to the young man to say, "There is the future Irish leader: the man has a definite policy and a purpose that will be difficult to oppose."
In January, Eighteen Hundred Eighty, at the Academy of Music, Buffalo, New York, I attended the first meeting of the American Branch of the Irish Land League.
I was a cub reporter, with no definite ideas about Parnell or Irish affairs, and as at that time I had not been born again, I had a fine indifference for humanity across the sea. To send such a woolly proposition to report Parnell was the work of a cockney editor, born with a moral squint, within sound of Bow Bells. To him Irish agitators were wearisome persons, who boiled at low temperature, who talked much and long. All the Irish he knew worked on the section or drove drays.
At this meeting the first citizens of Buffalo gave the proceedings absent treatment. The men in evidence were mostly harmless: John J. McBride, Father Cronin, James Mooney, and a liberal mixture of Mc's and O's made up the rest; and as I listened to them I made remarks about "Galways" and men who ate the rind of watermelons and "threw the inside away."
Judge Clinton, of Buffalo, grandson of De Witt Clinton, had been inveigled into acting as chairman of the meeting, and I remember made a very forceful speech. He introduced Michael Davitt, noticeable for his one arm. All orators should have but one arm--the empty sleeve for an earnest orator being most effective. Davitt spoke well: he spoke like an aroused contractor to laborers who were demanding shorter hours and more pay.
Davitt introduced Parnell. I knew Davitt, but did not know Parnell. Before Parnell had spoken six words, I recognized and felt his superiority to any other man on the stage or in the audience. His speech was very deliberate, steady, sure, his voice not loud, but under perfect control. The dress, the action, the face of the man were regal. Afterwards I heard he was called the "Uncrowned King," and I also understood how certain Irish peasants thought of him as a Messiah. His plea was for a clear comprehension of the matter at issue, that it might be effectively dealt with, without heat, or fear, or haste. He carried a superb reserve and used no epithets. He showed how the landlords were born into their environment, just as the Irish peasantry were heirs to theirs. The speech was so full of sympathy and rich in reason, so convincing, so pathetic, so un-Irishlike, so charged with heart, and a heart for all humanity, even blind and stupid Englishmen, that everybody was captured, bound with green withes, by his quiet, convincing eloquence. The audience was melted into a whole, that soon forgot to applaud, but just listened breathlessly.
It was on this occasion that I heard the name of Henry George mentioned for the first time. Parnell quoted these words from "Progress and Poverty":
Man is a land-animal. A land-animal can not live without land. All that man produces comes from the land; all productive labor, in the final analysis, consists in working up land, or materials drawn from land, into such forms as fit them for the satisfaction of human wants and desires. Man's very body is drawn from the land. Children of the soil, we come from the land, and to the land we must return. Take away from man all that belongs to the land, and what have you but a disembodied spirit? Therefore, he who holds the land on which and from which another man must live is that man's master; and the man is his slave. The man who holds the land on which I must live, can command me to life or to death just as absolutely as though I were his chattel. Talk about abolishing slavery! We have not abolished slavery; we have only abolished one rude form of it--chattel slavery. There is a deeper and more insidious form, a more cursed form yet before us to abolish, in this industrial slavery that makes a man a virtual slave, while taunting him and mocking him in the name of freedom.
We hear only a few speeches in a lifetime, possibly a scant half-dozen--if you have heard that many you have done well. Wouldn't you have liked to hear Webster's reply to Hayne, Wendell Phillips at Faneuil Hall, Lincoln answering Douglas, or Ingersoll at the Soldiers' Reunion at Indianapolis?
* * * * *
Captain O'Shea was the son of an Irish landlord, living in England on a goodly allowance. He was a very fair specimen of the absentee. When obscurity belched him forth in the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty, he was a class D politician, who had evolved from soldiering through the ambitious efforts of his wife. He held a petty office in the Colonial Department, where the work was done by faithful clerks, grown gray in the service.
He was a man without either morals or ideals. Careful search fails to reveal a single remark he ever made worthy of record, or a solitary act that is not just as well forgotten.
Every City Hall has dozens of just such men, and all political capitals swarm with them. They are the sons of good families, and have to be taken care of--Remittance-Men, Astute Persons, Clever Nobodies, Good Fellows! They are more to be pitied than slaving peasants. God help the rich--the poor can work!
Work is a solace 'gainst self--a sanctuary and a refuge from the Devil, for Satan still finds mischief for idle hands to do. The Devil lies in wait for the idler; and the Devil is the idler, and every idler is a devil. Saintship consists in getting busy at some useful work.
When Katharine Wood, daughter of Sir Page Wood, became Mrs. O'Shea, she was yet in her teens. Her husband was twenty. Neither knew what they were doing, or where they were going.
Captain O'Shea in his shining uniform was a showy figure, and that his captaincy had been bought and paid for was a matter that troubled nobody. The pair was married, and when once tied by an ecclesiastic knot, they proceeded to get acquainted. A captain in the English Army who has a few good working sergeants is nothing and nobody. If he has enough money he can pay to get the work done, and the only disadvantage is that real soldiers scorn him, for soldiers take the measure of their officers, just as office-boys gauge the quality of the head clerk, or a salesman sizes a floorwalker. Nobody is deceived about anybody except for about an hour at a time.
When the time came for Captain O'Shea to drop out of the military service and become a civilian clerk in the Colonial Office, the army was glad. Non-comps are gleefully sloughed in the army, just as they are in a railroad-office or a department-store.
Yet Captain O'Shea was not such a bad person: had he been born poor and driven a dray, or been understudy to a grocer, he would very likely have evolved into a useful and inoffensive citizen. The tragedy all arose from that bitter joke which the stork is always playing: sending commonplace children to people of power.
And then we foolish mortals try to overawe Nature by a Law of Entail, which supplies the Aristophanes of Heaven and Gabriel many a quiet smile. The stork is certainly a bird that has no sense. Power that is earned is never ridiculous, but power in the hands of one who is strange to it is first funny, then fussy, and soon pathetic. Punk is a useful substance, and only serves as metaphor when it tries to pass for bronze.
So, then, behold Katharine O'Shea--handsome, wistful, winsome, vivacious and intelligent, with a brain as keen as that of Becky Sharp, yet as honest as Amelia--getting her husband transferred from the army to the civil list.
He was an Irishman, and his meager salary in the office had to be helped out with money wrung from Irish peasantry by landlords' agents. Captain O'Shea knew little about his estate, and was beautifully ignorant of its workings; but once he and his wife went over to Ireland, and the woman saw things the man did not and could not.
The Irish agitation was on, and the heart of the English girl went out to her brothers and sisters across the Channel. Marriage had tamed her, sobered her dreams, disillusioned her fancies. In her extremity she turned to humanity, as women turn to religion. In fact, humanity was to her a religion: her one thought was how to relieve and benefit Ireland--Ireland which supplied her that whereby she lived! She felt like a cannibal at the thought of living off the labor of these poor people.
She read and studied the Irish problem, and one day copied this passage from Henry George into her commonplace-book:
Ireland has never yet had a population which the natural resources of the country could not have maintained in ample comfort. At the period of her greatest population (Eighteen Hundred Forty to Eighteen Hundred Forty-five), Ireland contained more than eight millions of people. But a very large proportion of them managed merely to exist--lodging in miserable cabins, clothed in miserable rags, and with potatoes only as their staple food. When the potato-blight came, they died by thousands. But it was not the inability of the soil to support so large a population that compelled so many to live in this miserable way, and exposed them to starvation on the failure of a single root-crop. On the contrary, it was the same remorseless rapacity that robbed the Indian peasant of the fruits of his toil and left him to starve where Nature offered plenty. When her population was at its highest, Ireland was a food-exporting country. Even during the famine, grain, meat, butter and cheese were carted for exportation along roads lined with the starving, and past trenches into which the dead were piled. For these exports of food there was no return. It went not as an exchange, but as a tribute, to pay the rent of absentee landlords--a levy wrung from producers by those who in no wise contributed to the production.
Captain O'Shea was not at all interested. He had the brain of a blackbird, but not enough mind to oppose his wife. He just accepted life, and occasionally growled because more money did not come from this agent in Galway--that was all.
He still nominally belonged to the army, was a member of "The Canteen," a military club, played billiards in Winter and cricket in Summer, and if at long intervals he got plain drunk, it was a matter of patriotism done by way of celebrating a victory of English arms in the Congo, and therefore in the line of duty. Captain O'Shea never beat his wife, even in his cups, and the marriage was regarded as a happy one by the neighboring curate who occasionally looked in, and at times enjoyed a quiet mug with the Captain.
Mrs. O'Shea knew several of the Irish Members of Parliament; in fact, one of them was a cousin of her husband.
This cousin knew John Dillon and William O'Brien. Dillon and O'Brien knew Parnell, and belonged to his "advisory board."
Mrs. O'Shea was a member of Ruskin's Saint George Society, and had outlined a plan to sell the handicraft products made in the Irish homes, it being the desire of Ruskin to turn Irish peasantry gradually from a dependence on agriculture to the handicrafts. Mrs. O'Shea had a parlor sale in her own house, of laces, rugs and baskets made by the Irish cottagers.
John Dillon told Parnell of this. Parnell knew that such things were only palliative, but he sympathized with the effort, and when in June, Eighteen Hundred Eighty, he accepted an invitation to dine at the O'Shea's with half a dozen other notables, it was quite as a matter of course. How could he anticipate that he was making history!
Disappointment in marriage had made lines under the eyes of pretty Kitty O'Shea and strengthened her intellect.
Indifference and stupidity are great educators--they fill one with discontent and drive a person onward and upward to the ideal. A whetstone is dull, but it serves to sharpen Damascus blades.
Mrs. O'Shea's heart was in the Irish cause. Parnell listened at first indulgently--then he grew interested. The woman knew what she was talking about. She was the only woman he had ever seen who did, save his mother, whose house had once been searched by the constabulary for things Fenian. He listened, and then shook himself out of his melancholy.
Parnell was not a society man--he did not know women--all petty small talk was outside of his orbit. He regarded women as chatterers, children, undeveloped men. He looked at Kitty O'Shea and listened. She had coal-black, wavy hair, was small, petite, and full of nervous energy. She was not interested in Parnell; she was interested in his cause. They loved the same things. They looked at each other and talked. And then they sat silent and looked at each other, realizing that people who do not understand each other without talk, never can with. To remain silent in each other's presence is the test. Within a week Parnell called at the O'Shea's, with Dillon, and they drank tea out of tiny cups.
Parnell was thirty-four, and bachelors of thirty-four either do not know women at all, or else know them too well. Had Parnell been an expert specialist in femininity, he would never have gone to see Mrs. O'Shea the second time. She was an honest woman with a religious oneness of aim, and such are not the ladies for predaceous holluschickies.
Parnell went alone to call on Mrs. O'Shea--he wanted to consult with her about the Land League. By explaining his plans to her, he felt that he could get them more clearly impressed on his own mind. For he could trust her, and best of all, she understood--she understood!
* * * * *
About six months after this, London was convulsed with laughter at a joke too good to keep: One Captain O'Shea had challenged Charles Parnell, the Irish Leader, to a duel. Parnell accepted the challenge, but the fight was off, because Thomas Mayne had gone to O'Shea and told him he "would kick him the length of Rotten Row if he tried to harm or even opened his Galway yawp about Parnell."
O'Shea had a valise which he said he had found in his wife's room, and this valise belonged to Parnell! The English members talked of Parnell's aberration and carelessness concerning his luggage; and all hands agreed that O'Shea, whoever he was, was a fool--a hot-headed, egotistical rogue, trying to win fame for himself by challenging greatness.
"Suppose that Parnell kills him, it is no loss to the world; but if O'Shea kills Parnell, the Irish cause is lost," said John Dillon, who went to see O'Shea and told him to go after some pigmy his own size.
Sir Patrick O'Brien said to O'Shea, "You dress very well, Captain O'Shea, but you are not the correct thing."
As for London's upper circles, why, it certainly was a lapse for Parnell to leave his valise in the lady's room. Parnell the Puritan--Parnell the man who used no tobacco or strong drink, and never was known to slip a swear-word: Parnell the Irish Messiah! Ha, ha, ha!
As for the love-affair, all M.P.'s away from home without their families have them. You can do anything you choose, provided you do not talk about it, and you can talk about anything you choose, provided you do not do it. Promiscuity in London is a well-recognized fact, but a serious love-affair is quite a different thing. No one for a moment really believed that Parnell was so big a fool as to fall in love with one woman, and be true to her, and her alone--that was too absurd!
Captain O'Shea resigned his civil office and went back to his command. He was sent for service to India, where he remained for more than a year. When he returned to London, he did not go to Mrs. O'Shea's house, but took apartments downtown.
In the year Eighteen Hundred Eighty-six, political London was roused by the statement that Captain O'Shea was a candidate from Galway for the House of Commons, and was running under the protection of Parnell. To the knowing ones in London it looked like a clear bargain and sale. O'Shea had tried to harass Parnell; Parnell had warned O'Shea never to cross his path, and now the men had joined hands.
Parnell was in possession of O'Shea's wife, and O'Shea was going to Parliament with Parnell's help! O'Shea was a notoriously unfit man for a high public office, and Joseph Biggar and others openly denounced Parnell for putting forth such a creature. "He'll vote with the b'hoys, so what difference does it make?" said Sullivan. "The b'hoys," who vote as they are told, are in every legislative body. They are not so much to be feared as men with brains. Parnell went over to Ireland, and braved the mob by making speeches for O'Shea, and O'Shea was elected.
Parnell was evidently caught in a trap--he did the thing he had to do. His love for the woman was a consuming passion--her love for him was complete. Only death could part them. And besides, their hearts were in the Irish cause. To free Ireland was their constant prayer.
Scandal, until taken up by the newspapers, is only rumor. The newspapers seldom make charges until the matter gets into court--they fear the libel-laws--but when the court lends an excuse for giving "the news," the newspapers turn themselves loose like a pack of wolves upon a lame horse that has lost its way. And the reason the newspapers do this is because the people crave the savory morsel.
The newspapers are published by men in business, and the wares they carry are those in demand: mostly gossip, scandal and defamation. And humanity is of such a quality that it is not scandalized or shocked by facts, but by the recital of the facts in the courts or public prints.
* * * * *
The House of Commons, in Eighteen Hundred Ninety, was at last ready to grant Home Rule to Ireland.
A bill satisfactory to the majority was prepared, and Parnell and Gladstone, the two strongest men of their respective countries, stood together in perfect accord. Then it was, in that little interval of perfect peace, that there came the explosion. Captain O'Shea brought suit against his wife for divorce. The affair was planned not only to secure the divorce, but also to do it in the most sensational and salacious manner. The bill of complaint, a voluminous affair, was really an alleged biography of Charles Parnell, and placed his conduct in the most offensive light possible. It recited that for more than ten years Parnell and Mrs. O'Shea had lived together as man and wife; that they had traveled together on the Continent under an alias; that Parnell had shaved off his beard to escape identity; and that the only interval of virtue that had come to the guilty couple since they first met was when Parnell was in Kilmainham Jail. The intent of the complaint was plainly to arouse a storm of indignation against Parnell that would make progress for any measure he might advocate, quite out of the question. The landlords were so filled with laughter that they forgot to collect rent; and the tenants were so amazed and wroth at the fall of their leader that they cashed up--or didn't, as the case happened. Scandal filled the air; the newspapers issued extras, and ten million housewives called the news over back fences.
And now at this distance it is very plain that the fuse was laid and fired by some one beside Captain O'Shea. The woman who was once his wife, O'Shea had not seen for five years, and was quite content in the snug arrangements he had in the interval made for himself.
When the divorce was granted without opposition, Justin McCarthy wrote, "Charles Stewart Parnell is well hated throughout Great Britain, but Captain O'Shea is despised."
The question has often been asked, "Who snatched Home Rule from Ireland just as she reached for it?" Opinions are divided, and I might say merged by most Irish people, thus: O'Shea, Parnell, Gladstone, Katharine O'Shea.
Fifteen years have softened Irish sentiment toward Parnell, and anywhere from Blarney to Balleck you will get into dire difficulties if you hint ill of Parnell. Gladstone and O'Shea are still unforgiven. In Cork I once spoke to a priest of Kitty O'Shea, and with a little needless acerbity the man of God corrected me and said, "You mean Mrs. Katharine Parnell!" And I apologized.
The facts are that no one snatched Home Rule from Ireland. Ireland pushed it from her. Had Ireland stood by Charles Parnell when it came out that he loved, and had loved for ten years, a most noble, intellectual, honest and excellent woman, Parnell would have still been the Irish Leader--the Uncrowned King. Gladstone did not desert the Irish Cause until the Irish had deserted Parnell. Then Gladstone followed their example--and gladly. Since then Home Rule for Ireland has been a joke.
The most persistent defamer of Charles Parnell never accused the man of promiscuous conduct, nor of being selfish and sensual in his habit of life. He loved this one woman, and never loved another. And when a scurrilous reporter, hiding behind anonymity, published a story to the effect that Katharine O'Shea had had other love-affairs, the publisher, growing alarmed, came out the following day with a disclaimer, thus:
"If Mrs. O'Shea has had other irregular experiences, they are, so far, unknown to the public."
It was an ungracious retraction--but a retraction still--and caused a few Irish bricks to find the publishers plate glass.
The Irish lost Home Rule by allowing themselves to be stampeded. Their English friends, the enemy, playing upon their prejudices, they became drunk with hate, and then their shillalahs resounded a tattoo upon the head of their leader. Nations and people who turn upon their best friends are too common to catalog.
In the "Westminster Review" for January, Eighteen Hundred Ninety-one, Elizabeth Cady Stanton says: "The spectacle of a whole nation hounding one man, and determined to administer summary punishment, is pitiful at a time when those who love their fellowmen are asking for all the best moral appliances and conditions for the reformation of mankind. Force, either in the form of bodily infliction or of mental lashing, has been abandoned by the experienced as evil and ineffective in all its attributes. Acting on this principle, what right has a nation to turn its whole engine of denunciation upon a human being for the violation of a personal unsettled question of morals?"
A great, noble and unswerving love between a man and a woman, mentally mated, is an unusual affair. That the Irish people should repudiate, scorn and spurn a man and a woman who possessed such a love is a criticism on their intelligence that needs no comment. But the world is fast reaching a point where it realizes that honesty, purity of purpose, loyalty and steadfastness in love fit people for leadership, if anything does or can, and that from such a relationship spring justice, freedom, charity, generosity and the love that suffereth long and is kind. There is no freedom on earth or in any star for those who deny freedom to others.
The people who desire political Home Rule must first of all learn to rule their own spirits, and be willing to grant to individuals the right and privilege of Home Rule in the home where love alone rules.
* * * * *
From the time that O'Shea took his seat in Parliament, Parnell showed by his face and manner that he was a man with a rope tied to his foot. His health declined, he became apprehensive, nervous, and at times lost the perfect poise that had won for him the title of the "Uncrowned King." He had bargained with a man with whom no contract was sacred, and he was dealing with people as volatile and uncertain as Vesuvius.
"I have within my hand a Parliament for Ireland," said Parnell in a speech to a mob at Galway. "I have within my hand a Parliament for Ireland, and if you destroy me, you destroy Home Rule for Ireland!" And the Irish people destroyed Parnell. In this they had the assistance of Gladstone, who after years of bitter opposition to Parnell had finally been won over to Ireland's cause, not being able to disrupt it. When we can not down a strong man in fair fight, all is not lost--we can still join hands with him. When Captain O'Shea secured a divorce from his wife, naming Parnell as co-respondent, and Parnell practically pleaded guilty by making no defense, the rage against Parnell was so fierce that if he had appeared in Ireland, his life would have paid the forfeit.
Then, when in a few months he married the lady according to the Civil Code, but without Episcopal or Catholic sanction, the storm broke afresh, and a hypocritical world worked overtime trying to rival the Billingsgate Calendar. The newspapers employed watchers, who picketed the block where Parnell and his wife lived, and telegraphed to Christendom the time the lights were out, and whether Mr. Parnell appeared with a shamrock or a rose in his buttonhole. The facts that Mrs. Parnell wore her hair in curls, and smilingly hummed a tune as she walked to the corner, were construed into proof of brazen guilt and a desire to affront respectable society.
Gladstone was a strict Churchman, but he was also a man of the world. Parnell's offense was the offense committed by Lord Nelson, Lord Hastings, the Duke of Wellington, Sir Charles Dilke, Shakespeare, and most of those who had made the name and fame of England worldwide. Gladstone might have stood by Parnell and steadied the Nationalist Party until the storm of bigotry and prejudice abated; but he saw his chance to escape from a hopeless cause, and so he demanded the resignation of Parnell while the Irish were still rabid against the best friend they ever had. Feud and faction had discouraged Gladstone, and now was his chance to get out without either backing down or running away! By the stroke of a pen he killed the only man in Great Britain who rivaled him in power--the only Irishman worthy to rank with O'Connor and Grattan. It was an opportunity not to be lost--just to take the stand of virtue and lift up his hands in affected horror, instead of stretching out those hands to help a man whose sole offense was that he loved a woman with a love that counted not the cost, hesitated at no risk, and which eventually led not only to financial and political ruin, but to death itself.
Parnell died six months after his marriage, from nerve-wrack that had known no respite for ten years.
In half-apology for his turning upon Parnell, Gladstone once afterward said, "Home Rule for Ireland--what would she do with it anyway?" In this belief that Home Rule meant misrule, he may have been right. James Bryce, a sane and logical thinker, thought so, too. But this did not relieve Gladstone of the charge of owning a lumber-yard and putting up the price of plank when his friend fell overboard.
The ulster of virtue, put on and buttoned to the chin as an expedient move in times of social and political danger, is a garment still in vogue.
Says James Bryce:
To many Englishmen, the proposal to create an Irish Parliament seemed nothing more or less than a proposal to hand over to these men the government of Ireland, with all the opportunities thence arising to oppress the opposite party in Ireland and to worry England herself. It was all very well to urge that the tactics which the Nationalists had pursued when their object was to extort Home Rule would be dropped, because superfluous, when Home Rule had been granted; or to point out that an Irish Parliament would probably contain different men from those who had been sent to Westminster as Mr. Parnell's nominees. The internal condition of Ireland supplied more substantial grounds for alarm than English misrule.
Three-fourths of the people are Roman Catholics, one-fourth Protestants, and this Protestant fourth sub-divided into bodies not fond of one another, who have little community of sentiment. Besides the Scottish colony in Ulster, many English families have settled here and there through the country. They went further, and made the much bolder assumption that as such a Parliament would be chosen by electors, most of whom were Roman Catholics, it would be under the control of the Catholic priesthood, and hostile to Protestants. Thus they supposed that the grant of self-government to Ireland would mean the abandonment of the upper and wealthier class, the landlords and the Protestants, to the tender mercies of their enemies. The fact stood out that in Ireland two hostile factions had been contending for the last sixty years, and that the gift of self-government might enable one of them to tyrannize over the other. True, that party was the majority, and, according to the principles of democratic government, entitled therefore to prevail. The minority had the sympathy of the upper classes in England, because the minority contained the landlords. It had the sympathy of a large part of the middle class, because it contained the Protestants. There was another anticipation, another forecast of evils to follow, which told most of all upon English opinion. It was the notion that Home Rule was only a stage in the road to the complete separation of the two islands. Parnell's campaign diluted the greed of landlords, but Ireland, politically, is yet where she has been for two hundred years, governed by bureaucrats.
PETRARCH AND LAURA
As to Vaucluse, I well know the beauties of that charming valley, and ten years' residence is proof of my affection for the place. I have shown my love of it by the house which I built there. There I began my article "Africa," there I wrote the greater part of my epistles in prose and verse. At Vaucluse I conceived the first idea of giving an epitome of the Lives of Illustrious Men, and there I wrote my treatise on a Solitary Life, as well as that on religious retirement. It was there, also, that I sought to moderate my passion for Laura, which, alas, solitude only cherished. And so this lonely valley will be forever sacred to my recollections.
--_Journal of Petrarch_
"A literary reputation once attained can never be lost," says Balzac. This for the reason that we find it much easier to admit a man's greatness than to refute it. The safest and most solid reputations are those of writers nobody reads. As long as a man is read he is being weighed, and the verdict is uncertain, which remark, of course, does not apply to the books we read with our eyes shut.
Shakespeare's proud position today is possible only through the fact that he is not read.
We get our Shakespeare from "Bartlett's Quotations": and the statement made by the good old lady that Shakespeare used more quotations than any other man who ever lived is true, although she should have added that he used blessed few quotation-marks.
In all my life I never knew anybody, save one woman and a little girl, who read Shakespeare in the original. I know a deal of Shakespeare, although I never read one of his plays, and never could witness a Shakespearean performance without having the fidgets. All the Shakespeare I have, I caught from being exposed to people who have the microbe.
I never yet met any one who read Petrarch. But every so-called educated person is compelled to admit the genius of Petrarch.
We know the gentleman by sight; that is, we know the back of his books.
And then we know that he loved Laura--Petrarch and Laura!
We walk into Paradise in pairs--just as the toy animals go into a Noah's Ark. Shakespeare is coupled thus: Shakespeare and----
He wrote his sonnets to Her, exactly as did Dante, Petrarch and Rossetti. A sonnet is a house of life enclosing an ostermoor built for two.
Petrarch is one of the four great Italian poets, and his life is vital to us because all our modern literature traces a pedigree to him.
The Italian Renaissance is the dawn of civilization: the human soul emerging into wakefulness after its sleep of a thousand years.
The Dark Ages were dark because religion was supreme, and to keep it pure they had to subdue every one who doubted it or hoped to improve upon it. So wrangle, dispute, faction, feud, plot, exile, murder and Sherlock Holmes absorbed the energies of men and paralyzed spontaneity and all happy, useful effort. The priest caught us coming and going. We had to be christened when we were born and given extreme unction when we died, otherwise we could not die legally--hell was to pay, here and hereafter.
The only thing that finally banished fear and stopped the rage for vengeance, revenge and loot was Love. Not the love for God. No! Just the love of man and woman.
Passionate, romantic love! When the man had evolved to a point where he loved one woman with an absorbing love, the rosy light of dawn appeared in the East, the Dark Ages sank into oblivion, and Civilization kicked off the covers and cooed in the cradle.
Is it bad to love one woman with all the intensity that was formerly lavished on ten? Some people think so; some have always thought so--in the Dark Ages everybody thought so. Religion taught it: God was jealous. Marriage was an expediency. Dante, Petrarch and Shakespeare live only because they loved.
Literature, music, sculpture, painting, constitute art--not, however, all of art. And art is a secondary sexual manifestation. Beauty is the child of married minds, and Emerson says, "Beauty is the seal of approval that Nature sets upon Virtue."
So, if you please, love and virtue are one, and a lapse from virtue is a lapse from love. It is love that vitalizes the intellect to the creative point. So it will be found that men with the creative faculty have always been lovers. To give a list of the great artists that the world has seen would be to name a list of lovers.
The Italian Renaissance was the birth of Romantic Love. It was a new thing, and we have not gotten used to it yet. It is so new to men's natures that they do not always know how to manage it, and so it occasionally runs away with them and leaves them struggling in the ditch, from which they emerge sorry sights, or laughable, according to the view of the bystander and the extent of the disaster. And yet, in spite of mishaps, let the truth stand that those who travel fast and go far, go by Love's Parcel-Post, concerning which there is no limit to the size of the package.
Romantic Love was impossible at the time when men stole wives. When wife-stealing gave place to wife-buying, it was likewise out of the question. To win by performance of the intellect, the woman must have evolved to a point where she was able to approve and was sufficiently free to express delight in the lover's accomplishments. Instead of physical prowess she must be able to delight in brains. Petrarch paraded his poems exactly as a peacock does its feathers.
And so it will be seen that it was the advance in the mental status of woman that made possible the Italian Renaissance. The Greeks regarded a woman who had brains with grave suspicion.
The person who can not see that sex equality must come before we reach the millennium is too slow in spirit to read this book, and had better stop right here and get him to his last edition of the "Evening Garbage."
Lovers work for each other's approval, and so, through action and reaction, we get a spiritual chemical emulsion that, while starting with simple sex attraction, contains a gradually increasing percentage of phosphorus until we get a fusion of intellect: a man and a woman who think as one being.
* * * * *
For the benefit of people with a Petrarch bee and time to incinerate, I may as well explain that Professor Marsand, of the ancient and honorable University of Padua, has collected a "Petrarch Library," which consists of nine hundred separate and distinct volumes on the work and influence of Petrarch. This collection of books was sold to a French bibliophile for the tidy sum of forty thousand pounds, and is now in the Louvre.
I have not read all of these nine hundred books, else probably I should not know anything about Petrarch. It seems that for two hundred years after the death of the poet there was a Petrarch cult, and a storm of controversy filled the literary air.
The accounts of Petrarch's life up to the Eighteenth Century were very contradictory; there were even a few attempts to give him a supernatural parentage; and certain good men, as if to hold the balance true, denied that he had ever existed.
Petrarch was born in Thirteen Hundred Four, and the same edict that sent Dante into exile caught the father of Petrarch in its coils.
His father was a lawyer and politician, but on account of a political cyclone he became a soldier of fortune--an exile. The mother got permission to remain, and there she lived with their little brood at Incisa, a small village on the Arno, fourteen miles above Florence.
It is a fine thing to live near a large city, but you should not go there any more often than you can help. A city supplies inspiration, from a distance, but once mix up in it and become a part of it, and you are ironed out and subdued. The characters and tendencies of the majority of men who have done things were formed in the country. Read the lives of the men who lifted Athens, Rome, Venice, Amsterdam, Paris, London and New York out of the fog of the commonplace, and you will find, almost without exception, that they were outsiders. Transplanted weeds often evolve into the finest flowers.
And so my advice would be to any one about to engage in the genius business: Do not spend too much time in the selection of your parents, beyond making sure that they are not very successful. They had better be poor than very rich. They had better be ignorant than learned, especially if they realize they are learned. They had better be morally indifferent than spiritually smug. If their puritanism is carried to a point where it absolutely repels, it then has its beneficent use, teaching by antithesis. They had better be loose in their discipline than carry it so far that it makes the child exempt from coming to conclusions of his own. And as for parental love, it had better be spread out than lavished so freely that it stands between the child and the result of his own misdeeds.
In selecting environment, do not pick one too propitious, otherwise you will plant your roses in muck, when what they demand for exercise is a little difficulty in way of a few rocks to afford an anchor for roots. Genius grows only in an environment that does not fully satisfy, and the effort to better the environment and bring about better conditions is exactly the one thing that evolves genius.
Petrarch was never quite satisfied. To begin with, he was not satisfied with his father's name, which was Petracco. When our poet was fifteen he called himself Petrarch, probably with Plutarch in mind, "for the sake of euphony," he said. But the fact was that his wandering father had returned home, and the boy looking him over with a critical eye was not overpleased with the gentleman.
Then he became displeased with his mother for having contracted an intimacy with such a man. Hence the change of name--he belonged to neither of them. But as this was at adolescence, the unrest of the youth should not be taken too seriously.
The family had moved several times, living in half a dozen different towns and cities. They finally landed at Avignon, the papal capital.
Matters had mended the fortunes of Petracco, and the boy was induced to go to Montpelier and study law. The legend has it that the father, visiting the son a few months later, found on his desk a pile of books on rhetoric and poetry, and these the fond parent straightway flung into the fire. The boy entering the room about that time lifted such a protest that a "Vergil" and a "Cicero" were recovered from the flames, but the other books, including some good original manuscript, went up in smoke.
The mother of Petrarch died when our poet was twenty years of age. In about two years after, his father also passed away. Their loss did not crush him absolutely, for we find he was able to write a poem expressing a certain satisfaction on their souls being safely in Paradise.
At this time Petrarch had taken clerical orders and was established as assistant to the secretary of one of the cardinals. Up to his twentieth year Petrarch was self-willed, moody, and subject to fits of melancholy. He knew too much and saw things too clearly to be happy.
Four authors had fed his growing brain--Cicero, Seneca, Livy and Vergil. In these he reveled. "Always in my hand or hidden in my cloak I carried a book," he says, "and thoughts seem to me to be so much more than things that the passing world--the world of action and achievement--seemed to me to be an unworthy world, and the world of thought to be the true and real world. It will thus be seen that I was young and my mind unformed."
The boy was a student by nature--he had a hunger for books. He knew Latin as he did Italian, and was familiarizing himself with Greek. Learning was to him religion. Priests who were simply religious did not interest him. He had dallied in schools and monasteries at Montpelier, Pisa, Bologna, Rome, Venice and Avignon, moving from place to place, a dilettante of letters. At none of the places named had he really entered his name as a student. He was in a class by himself--he knew more than his teachers, and from his nineteenth year they usually acknowledged it. He was a handsome youth, proud, quiet, low-voiced, self-reliant. His form was tall and shapely, his face dark and oval, with almost perfect features, his eyes especially expressive and luminous.
Priests in high office welcomed him to their homes, and ladies of high degree sighed and made eyes at him as he passed, but they made eyes in vain.
He was wedded to literature. The assistance he gave to his clerical friends in preparing their sermons and addresses made his friendship desirable. The good men he helped, occasionally placed mysterious honorariums in his way which he pocketed with a silent prayer of gratitude to Providence.
A trifle more ambition, a modicum of selfishness, a dash of the worldly-wise, and his course would have been relieved of its curves, and he would have gravitated straight to the red hat. From this to being pope would have been but a step, for he was a king by nature.
But a pope must be a businessman, and a real, genuine king must draw his nightcap on over his crown every night or he'll not keep his crown very long.
Eternal vigilance is not only the price of liberty, but also of everything else. High positions must be fought for inch by inch, and held by a vigilance that never sleeps.
Petrarch would not pay the price of temporal power. His heart was in the diphthong and anapest. He doted on a well-turned sentence, while the thing that caught the eye of Boccaccio was a well-turned ankle.
It seems that Petrarch took that proud, cold position held by religious enthusiasts, and which young novitiates sincerely believe in, that when you have once entered the Church you are no longer subject to the frailties of the flesh, and that the natural appetites are left behind. This is all right when on parade, but there is an esoteric doctrine as well as an exoteric, which all wise men know, namely, that men are men, and women are women--God made them so--and that the tonsure and the veil are vain when Eros and Opportunity join hands.
* * * * *
No man has ever taken the public more into his confidence than Petrarch, not even Rousseau, who confessed more than was necessary, and probably more than was true.
Petrarch tells us that at twenty-two years of age he had descended from his high estate and been led into the prevailing follies of the court by more than one of the dames of high degree who flocked to Avignon, the seat of the Papal See. These women came from mixed motives: for their health, religious consolation, excitement.
Petrarch states his abhorrence for the overripe, idle and feverish female intent on confession. He had known her too well, and so not only did he flee from the "Western Babylon," as he calls Avignon, but often remained away at times for two whole weeks. Like Richard Le Gallienne, who has Omar say:
Think not that I have never tried your way To Heaven, you who pray and fast and pray, Once I denied myself both love and wine, Yea, wine and love--for a whole Summer day.
Much of this time Petrarch spent in repenting. He repined because he had fallen from the proud pedestal where he delighted to view himself, being both the spectator and the show.
In his twenty-second year he met James Colonna, of the noble and illustrious Colonna family, and a fine friendship sprang up between them. The nobleman was evidently a noble man indeed, with a heart and head to appreciate the genius of Petrarch, and the good commonsense to treat the poet as an equal.
Petrarch pays James Colonna a great tribute, referring to his moderation, his industry, his ability to wait on himself, his love for the out-of-doors. The friends used to take long walks together, and discuss Cicero and Vergil, seated on grassy banks by the wayside.
"Men must have the friendship of men, and a noble, highminded companion seems a necessity to prevent too much inward contemplation. It is better to tell your best to a friend, than to continually revolve it." Look out, not in--up, not down. Then Petrarch innocently adds, "I vowed I would not have anything to do with women, nor even in the social converse, but that my few friends should be sober, worthy and noble men of gravity."
No man is in such danger from strong drink as the man who has just sworn off. Petrarch with pious steps went regularly to early mass. By going to church early in the day he avoided the fashionable throng of females that attended later. Early in the morning one sees only fat market-women and fishwives.
On the Sixth of April, Thirteen Hundred Twenty-seven, at six o'clock in the morning, Petrarch knelt in the Church of Saint Clara at Avignon. The morning was foggy, and the dim candles that dotted the church gave out a fitful flare. As Petrarch knelt with bowed head he repeated his vow that his only companions should be men--men of intellect--and that the one woman to arrest his thoughts should be his mother in Heaven--peace be to her!
And then he raised his head to gaze at the chancel, so his vow should there be recorded. He tried to look at the chancel, but failed to see that far.
He could see only about ten feet ahead of him. What he saw was two braids of golden hair wound round a head like a crown of glory. It was a woman--a delicate, proud and marvelous personality--a woman! He thought her a vision, and he touched the cold floor with his hands to see if he were awake.
Petrarch began to speculate as to when she had entered the church. He concluded she had entered in spirit form and materialized there before him. He watched her, expecting any moment she would fade away into ethereal nothingness. He watched her. The fog of the cold church seemed to dissipate, the day grew brighter, a stray ray of light stole in and for an instant fell athwart the beautiful head of this wonderful woman.
Petrarch was now positive it was all a dream.
Just at that moment the woman rose, and with her companion stood erect. Petrarch noted the green mantle sprinkled with violets. He also made mental note of the slender neck, the low brow, the length of the head, compared with the height, the grace, the poise, the intellect, the soul! There he was on his knees--not adoring Deity, just Her! The rest of the congregation were standing. She turned and looked at him--a look of pity and reproof, tinged with amusement, but something in her wondrous eyes spoke of recognition--they had something in common!
She looked at him. Why did she turn and look at him? Don't ask me--how do I know!
Perhaps telepathy is a fact after all. It may be possible that man is a storage-battery--man the positive, woman the negative--I really can not say. Telepathy may be a fact--it may hinge on the strength of the batteries, and the condition of currents.
She turned and looked at him. He had disturbed her religious meditations--rung up the wrong number--she had turned and looked at him--a look of recognition--a look of pity, rebuke, amusement and recognition.
He rose and half-tiptoed, half-stumbled to the door, ashamed, chagrined, entranced. Ashamed because he had annoyed an Angel of Light, chagrined because he had lost his proud self-control and been unhorsed, entranced by the fact that the Angel of Light had recognized him.
Still they had never before met. To have seen this woman once would have been unforgetable--her glance had burned her brand into his soul. She had set her seal upon him--he was hers.
He guessed that she knew who he was--he was sure he did not know her name.
He lingered an instant at the church-door, crossed himself foolishly with holy water, then passed out into the early morning bustle of the streets.
The cool air fanned his face, and the gentle breeze caressed his hair. He put his hand to his brow.
He had left his hat--left it in the church. He turned to go back after it, but it came over him that another glance from those eyes would melt him though he were bronze. He would melt as if he had met God face to face, a thing even Moses dare not do and hope to live.
He stood in the church-door as if he were dazed. The verger came forward. "My hat, good Stephano, I left it just back of the fair lady." He handed the man a piece of silver and the verger disappeared. Petrarch was sure he could not find the lady--she was only a vision, a vision seen by him alone. He would see.
The verger came back with the hat.
"And the lady--you--you know her name?"
"Oh, she, the lovely lady with the golden hair? That is Laura, the wife of Hugh de Sade."
"Of course, of course!" said Petrarch, and reaching into a leather pocket that was suspended from his belt under his cloak he took out a handful of silver and gave it to the astonished verger, and passed out and down the street, walking nowhere, needlessly fast.
The verger followed Petrarch to the door and watching the tall retreating form muttered to himself, "He does not look like a man who cuts into the grape to excess--and so early in the morning, too!"
* * * * *
That was a foolish saying of Lord Byron, "Man's love is of man's life a thing apart; 'tis woman's whole existence." Does it not all depend upon the man and the woman? The extent and quality of a woman's love as compared with a man's have furnished the physiologists and psychologists a great field for much innocent speculation. And the whole question is still unsettled, as it should be, and is left to each new crop of poets to be used as raw stock, just as though no one had ever dreamed, meditated and speculated upon it before.
As for Petrarch and Laura, Laura's love was of her life apart, 'twas Petrarch's whole existence.
Laura was very safely married to a man several years her senior--a stern, hard-headed, unromantic lawyer, who was what the old ladies call "a good provider." He even provided a duenna, or chaperon of experience, one who knew all the subtle tricks of that base animal, man, and where Laura went there went the chaperon.
Petrarch once succeeded in slipping a purse of gold into the duenna's hands, and that worthy proved her fitness by keeping the purse, and increasing her watchfulness of her charge as the danger of the poet's passion increased. The duenna hinted that the sacrifice of her own virtue was not entirely out of the question, but Laura was her sacred charge. That is, the duenna could resist the temptations of Laura.
This passion of Petrarch for Laura very quickly became known and recognized. The duenna doubtless retailed it below-stairs, and the verger at the church also had his tale to tell. Love-stories allow us to live the lover's life vicariously, and so that which once dwelt in the flesh becomes a thought. Matchmakers are all living their lives over again in their minds.
But besides the gossips, Petrarch himself made no secret of his passion. Almost daily he sent Laura a poem. She could have refused the gentle missive if she had wished, but she did not wish.
Petrarch had raised her to a dizzy height. Wherever she went she was pointed out, and the attorney, her husband, hired another duenna to watch the first. This love of a youth for a married woman was at that time quite proper. The lady of the knight-errant might be one to whom he had never spoken.
Petrarch sang for Laura; but he sang more melodiously than any one had sung before, save Dante alone. His homage was the honorable homage of the cavalier.
Yet Hugh de Sade grew annoyed and sent a respectful request to Petrarch to omit it.
This brought another sonnet, distributed throughout the town, stating that Petrarch's love was as sacred as that of his love for the Madonna, and indeed, he addressed Laura as the Madonna.
Only at church did the lovers meet, or upon the street as they passed. Gossip was never allowed to evolve into scandal.
Bliss Carman tells in a lecture of a fair and frail young thing crying aloud to her mother in bitter plaint, "He loves me--yes, I know he loves me--but only for literary purposes!"
Love as a mental "Martini" is a well-known fact, but its cold, plotted concoction is a poison and not a stimulant. Petrarch's love for Laura was genuine and sincere; and that she fed and encouraged this love for twenty years, or to the day of her death, we know full well.
In Goethe's "Elective Affinities," the great German philosopher explains how a sublime passion can be preserved in all its purity on the Platonic plane for a long term of years. Laura was a married woman, wedded to a man she respected, but could not love. He ruled her--she was his property. She found it easier to accept his rule than to rebel. Had his treatment of her descended to brutality, she would have flown to her lover or else died. One critic says: "Laura must have been of a phlegmatic type, not of a fine or sensitive nature, and all of her wants were satisfied, her life protected and complete. The adoration of Petrarch was not a necessity to her--it came in as a pleasing diversion, a beautiful compliment, but something she could easily do without. Had she been a maid and been kept the prisoner that she was, the flame of love would have burned her heart out, and life for her would have been a fatal malady, just as it was for Simonetta."
And so we find Goethe coldly reasoning that a great Platonic love is possible where the woman is married to a man who is endurable, and the man is wedded to a woman he can not get rid of. "Thus four persons are required to work the miracle," says Goethe, and glides off casually into another theme.
Laura was flattered by Petrarch's attentions: she became more attentive than ever to her religious obligations. She wore the dresses he liked best. In her hair or on her breast there always rested a laurel-leaf. She was nothing loath to being worshiped.
"You must not speak to me," she once whispered as they passed. And again she wrote on a slip of parchment, "Remember my good name and protect it."
A note like that would certainly rouse a lover's soul. It meant that she was his in heart, but her good name must be protected, so as not to start a scandal. The sin was in being found out.
A sonnet, extra warm, quickly followed.
Petrarch was full of unrest. His eyes burned with fever; he walked the streets in despair. Colonna seeing his distress, and knowing the reason of it, sought to divert him. He offered to secure him a bishopric, or some other high office, where his energies would be absorbed.
Petrarch would not accept office or responsibility. His heart was all bound up in Laura and literature.
Colonna, in order to get his friend away from Avignon, then had himself appointed Bishop of Lombes, and engaged Petrarch as his secretary. So the two friends started away for the new field, six hundred miles distant. They had a regular cavalcade of carriages and horsemen, for Colonna was a very rich man and everything was his for the asking. They traveled by a circuitous route, so as to visit many schools, monasteries and towns on the way. Everywhere honors were paid them.
The change of scene, meeting so many new people, and the excitement of making public addresses, revived the spirits of Petrarch. Slowly the intensity of his passion subsided. He began to think of something else beside his lady-love.
Petrarch kept a journal of his trip, which has been preserved for us in the form of letters. At one place on the route a most tragic circumstance came to his notice. It affected him so much that he wrote it out with many sorrowful comments. It seems a certain monk of decided literary and musical ability was employed by a nobleman to give music-lessons to his daughters. The inevitable happened.
Petrarch said it did not--that the monk was wrongfully accused. Anyway, the father of the girl, who was the magistrate of the district, ordered the monk to be sealed up in a cell and to remain there the rest of his life. The girl was sent to a nunnery, and the monk in a few weeks succeeded in killing himself, and his cell became his grave. This kind of punishment, carried out by the judge, who according to our ideas had no right to try the case, reveals the kind of "justice" that existed only a few hundred years ago.
The barbarity of the sentence came close home to Petrarch, and both he and the young bishop tell what they think of the Christianity that places a penalty on natural affection.
So they hastened away from the monastery where had lived the monk whose love cost him his life, on to their own field of labor.
Here Petrarch remained for two years. His health and spirits came back, but poetry had gone by the board. In Lombes there was no one who cared for poetry.
Petrarch congratulated himself on having mastered his passion. Laura had become but a speck on the distant horizon, a passing incident of his youth. But he sighed for Avignon. There was life and animation, music, literature, art, oratory and the society of great men. Besides he wanted to prove to his own satisfaction that he had mastered his love for Laura.
He would go back to Avignon.
He went back; he saw Laura; she saw him, and passing him with a swift glance of recognition moved on. At sight of her his knees became weak, his heart seemed to stop and he leaned against a pillar for support. That night he eased his soul with a sonnet.
To his great embarrassment he found he had not mastered his passion--it was now mastering him. He tells us all this at length, and he told it to Laura, too.
His health began to decline, and his physician advised that he move to the country. And so we find him taking a course of solitude as a cure for love. He moved to Vaucluse, a hamlet fifteen miles from the city. Some of the old-time biographies tried to show that Laura visited him there in his solitude, and that was the reason he lived there. It is now believed that such stories were written for the delectation of the Hearst Syndicate, and had no basis in fact. The only way Petrarch ever really met Laura was in imagination.
Boccaccio, a contemporary and friend of Petrarch, declared that Laura had no existence outside of the imagination of the poet. But Boccaccio was a poet with a roistering proclivity, and truth to such a one in a love-affair is out of the question. Lies and love, with a certain temperament, go hand in hand. Possibly the absurd position of modern civilization towards the love-emotions has much to do with this. We have held that in human love there was something essentially base and bad, and so whenever a man or a woman become involved in Cupid's meshes they are sudden and quick in swearing an alibi, no matter what the nature of the attachment may be.
Boccaccio had to defend himself continually from charges, which most people knew were true, and so by habit he grew to deny everything, not only for himself, but for his friends. The poet needs solitude and society, in right proportions of course.
Petrarch lived at Vaucluse for ten years, making occasional trips to various capitals. Of his solitary life he says:
Here at Vaucluse I make war upon my senses, and treat them as my enemies. My eyes, which have drawn me into a thousand difficulties, see no longer either gold or precious stones, or ivory, or purple; they behold nothing save the water, the firmament and the rocks. The only female who comes within their sight is a swarthy old woman, dry and parched as the Lybian deserts. My ears are no longer courted by those harmonious instruments and voices which have so transported my soul; they hear nothing but the lowing of the cattle, the bleating of the sheep, the warbling of the birds, and the murmurs of the river.
I keep silence from noon till night. There is no one to converse with; for the people, employed in spreading their nets, or tending their vines and orchards, are no great adepts at conversation. I often content myself with the dry bread of the fisherman, and even eat it with pleasure. Nay, I almost prefer it to white bread. This old fisherman, who is as hard as iron, earnestly remonstrates against my manner of life; and assures me that I can not long hold out. I am, on the contrary, convinced that it is easier to accustom one's self to a plain diet than to the luxuries of the feast. I am fond of the fish with which this stream abounds, and I sometimes amuse myself with spreading the nets. As to my dress, there is an entire change; you would take me for a laborer or a shepherd.
My mansion resembles that of Cato or Fabricius. My whole house-establishment consists of myself, my old fisherman and his wife, and a dog. My fisherman's cottage is near to mine; when I want him I call, when I no longer need him, he returns to his cottage. I have made two gardens that please me wonderfully. I do not think they are equaled in all the world. And I must confess to you a more than female weakness with which I am haunted. I am positively angry that there is anything so beautiful out of Italy.
One of these gardens is shady, formed for contemplation, and sacred to Apollo. It overhangs the source of the river, and is terminated by rocks, and by places accessible only to the birds. The other is nearer to my cottage, of an aspect less severe, and devoted to Bacchus; and, what is extremely singular, it is in the midst of a rapid river. The approach to it is over a bridge of rocks; and there is a natural grotto under the rocks, which gives them the appearance of a rustic bridge. Into this grotto the sun's rays never penetrate. I am confident that it much resembles the place where Cicero sometimes went to declaim. It invites to study. Hither I retreat during noontide hours; my mornings are engaged upon the hills, or in the garden sacred to Apollo. Here I would most willingly spend my days, were I not too near Avignon, and too far from Italy. For why should I conceal this weakness of my soul? I love Italy, and hate Avignon. The pestilential influence of this horrid place empoisons the pure air of Vaucluse, and will eventually compel me to quit my retirement.
* * * * *
The verdict of humanity seems to be that Laura was the most consummate coquette in history. She dressed to catch Petrarch's attention; wore the flowers he liked best; accepted his amorous poems without protest; placed herself in his way by running on the same schedule.
The "Standard Dictionary" makes some fine distinctions between flirtation, coquetry and coyness. Flirtation means to fascinate and leave the lover in doubt as to his fate--to lead him on and leave him in a maze. It does not imply that he does not have reason for hope. Flirtation is coyness refined to a system.
Coquetry is defined as an attempt to attract admiration and lead the lover up to the point of a matrimonial proposal and then reject him--a desire to gratify personal vanity. Coquettes are regarded as heartless, while flirts are often sincere creatures who adopt certain tactics for the sole purpose of bagging the game. That is, the flirt works to win, the coquette to reject. Coquetry is attention without intention. Flirtation is a race with the intention of being overtaken, and has in it the rudiments of that old idea that a woman must be captured. So we have a legend concerning those Sabine women, where one of them asks impatiently, "How soon does this attack begin?"
Laura was not a flirt. She was an honest wife and became the mother of ten children in her twenty years of married life. When Petrarch first saw her she had a babe at home a year old. In another year, this first babe became "the other baby," and was put on a bottle with its little pug-nose out of joint. There was always one on bread and milk, one on the bottle and one with nose under the shawl--and all the time the sonnets came fluttering adown the summer winds.
Laura was a cool-headed woman, shrewd and astute, with heart under perfect control, her feelings well upholstered by adipose. If she had been more of the woman she would have been less. Like the genuine coquette that she was, she received everything and gave nothing. She had a good digestion and no nerves to speak of.
Petrarch describes her in a thousand ways, but the picture is so retouched that the portrait is not clear or vivid. He dilates on her mental, moral, spiritual and physical qualities, according to his mood, and the flattery to her was never too fulsome. Possibly she was not fully aware before that she was such a paragon of virtue, but believing in the superior insight of Petrarch she said, "It must be so." Thus is flattery always acceptable, nor can it be overdone unless it be laid on with a trowel.
To flatter in rhythm and rhyme, with due regard for euphony and cadence, is always safe, and is totally different from bursting out upon a defenseless woman with buckets of adoration.
Laura evidently knew by intuition that her success in holding the love of Petrarch lay in never allowing him to come close enough to be disillusioned. She kept him at a distance and allowed him to do the dialogue. All she desired was to perform a solo upon his imagination.
Clothes play a most important part in Cupid's pranks. Though the little god himself goes naked, he never allows his votaries to follow suit. That story of Venus unadorned appearing from the sea is only a fairy-tale--such a sight would have made a lovelorn swain take to the woods, and would have been interesting only to the anatomist or a member of the life class. The wicket, the lattice, the lace curtain, the veil and mantilla, are all secondary sexual manifestations. In rural districts where honesty still prevails, the girls crochet a creation which they call a "fascinator," and I can summon witnesses to prove it is one.
Just why coquetry should be regarded as distinctly feminine I can not say. Laura has been severely criticized by certain puritan ladies with cold pedals, for luring Petrarch on in his hopeless passion. Yet he knew her condition of life, and being a man of sense in most ways he must have known that had she allowed his passion to follow its unobstructed course it would have wrecked the lives of both. He was a priest and was forbidden to marry; and while he could carry on an intrigue with a woman of inferior station and society would wink in innocency, it was different with a woman of quality--his very life might have paid the penalty, and she would have been hoisted high by the social petard.
Petrarch was no fool--he probably had enough confidence in Laura to know that she would play the part. I know a successful businessman in Saint Louis, an owner of monopolies, on the profits of which he plays at being a Socialist. This man knows that if he could succeed in bringing about the things he advocates it would work his ruin.
He elocutes to the gallery of his cosmic self, for the ego is a multi-masked rascal and plays I-Spy and leap-frog with himself the livelong day.
Had the love of Petrarch and Laura ever gone to the point of executive session, he would straightway have ceased to write about it, and literature would have been the loser.
It is not likely that either Petrarch or Laura reasoned things out thus far--we are all puppets upon the chess-board of Time, moved by the gods of Fate, and the fact that we know it proved for William Ellery Channing the soul of man. I am both the spectator and the play.
* * * * *
Laura died in her fortieth year of "the plague." Seven months after her death her husband paid her memory the compliment of taking a second wife, thus leaving us to assume that the first venture was a happy one, otherwise he would not have been in such haste to repeat it.
The second wife of Hugh de Sade never stirred the pool of ink from which Petrarch fished his murex up. He refers to this second wife once by indirection, thus: "The children of Laura are no longer motherless."
On the death of Laura the poet was overwhelmed with grief. But this paroxysm of pain soon gave way to a calm reflection, and he realized that she was still his as much as she ever was. Her death, too, stopped all flavor of scandal that was in the bond, and thus Petrarch stood better in the eyes of the world and in his own eyes than he did when gossip was imminent.
Petrarch expected to be immortalized by his epic poem "Africa," but it is not read today, even by scholars, except in fragments to see how deep are the barren sands of his thought.
The sonnets which he calls "fragments, written in the vulgar tongue," the Italian, are verses which have made him live. They are human documents inspired by the living, throbbing heart, and are vital in their feeling and expression. His "best" poems are fifteen times as voluminous as his love-poems; they were written in Latin and polished and corrected until the life was sandpapered out of them.
His love for Laura was an idyllic thing as artificial as a monk's life, and no more virtuous. It belongs to a romantic age where excess was atoned for by asceticism, and spasms of vice galled the kibe of negative virtue.
This love for Laura was largely a lust for the muse.
Fame was the god of Petrarch, and to this god he was forever faithful. He toiled unremittingly, slavishly, painfully, cruelly for fame--and he was rewarded, so far as fame can reward.
At Rome, on Easter Sunday in April, Thirteen Hundred Forty-one, with great ceremony, Petrarch was crowned with the laurel-wreath, reviving the ancient custom of thus honoring poets. Petrarch had been working hard to have this distinction shown him at Paris as well as at Rome, and the favorable response to his request at both places arrived on the same day. His heart longed for Rome.
All his life he worked both wisely, and otherwise, for the Holy See to be removed to that city of his dreams. Paris was second choice.
Petrarch had been cramming for exams for many months, and when he set out on his journey in February his heart beat high. He stopped at Naples to be examined by the aged King Robert as to his merit for the honor of the laurel, and "for three days I shook all my ignorance," is Petrarch's reference to the way he answered the questions asked him by the scholars of his time.
The King wanted to go on to Rome to the coronation, but he was too feeble in strength to do this, so he placed his own royal robe upon the young man and sent him to the ancient city of learning, where a three days' proceeding marked an epoch in the history of learning from which the Renaissance began. Petrarch closed the Preraphaelite period in letters.
While there is much in Petrarch's character that is vain and self-conscious, it must not be forgotten that there was also much that was true, tender, noble and excellent.
Petrarch was the founder of Humanism. He is the first man of modern times to make us realize that Cicero, Vergil, Horace, Quintilian and Seneca were real and actual men--men like ourselves. Before his time the entire classic world stood to us in the same light that the Bible characters did to most so-called educated people, say in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-five. Even yet there are people who stoutly maintain that Jesus was something different from a man, and that the relationship of God to Moses, Isaiah, Abraham, Elijah and Paul was totally different from God's attitude towards us.
Before Petrarch's time the entire mental fabric of Greece and Rome for us was steeped in myth, fable and superstition. Petrarch raised the status of man, and over and over again proclaimed the divinity of all humanity.
He realized his own worth, and made countless other men realize theirs. He wrote familiar letters to Homer, Sallust, Plato, Socrates and Seneca, addressing them as equals, and issued their replies. He showed the world that time is only an illusion, and that the men of Greece derived their life from the same source from whence ours is derived, and that in all respects they were men with like tastes, passions, aspirations and ambitions as ourselves.
He believed in the free, happy, spontaneous life of the individual; and again and again he affirms that the life of expression--the life of activity--is the only life. Our happiest moments are when we forget self in useful effort. He held that every man should sing, speak, paint or carve--this that he might taste the joys of self-expression. Constantly he affirms that this expression of our highest and best is Paradise. He combats the idea of Dante that Heaven and Hell are places or localities.
Yet Petrarch was profoundly influenced by Dante. He used the same metaphors, symbols and figures. As a word-artist, possibly he was not the equal of Dante, but as a man, an educated man, sane and useful, he far surpasses Dante. He met princes, popes and kings as equals. He was at home in every phase of society; his creations were greater than his poems; and as a diplomat, wise, discreet, sincere, loyal to his own, he was almost the equal of our own Doctor Franklin.
And always and forever he clung to his love for Laura. From his twenty-third year to his seventieth, he dedicated and wrote poems to Laura.
He sings her wit, her beauty, her grace, her subtle insight, her spiritual worth. The book compiled after his death entitled, "Poems on the Life and Death of Laura," forms a mine of love and allusion that served poets and lovers in good stead for three hundred years, and which has now been melted down and passed into the current coin of every tongue. It was his love-nature that made Petrarch sing, and it was his love-poems that make his name immortal. He expressed for us the undying, eternal dream of a love where the man and woman shall live together as one in their hopes, thoughts, deeds and desires; where they shall work for each other; live for each other; and through this blending of spirit, we will be able to forget the sordid present, the squalid here, the rankling now. By love's alchemy we will gild each hour and day, so it will be a time of joyous hope, and life will be a continual feast-day. And so through the desire and effort to express, we will reach the highest good, or paradise.
Petrarch did not live this ideal life of love and service--he only dreamed it. But his dream is a prophecy--all desire is a promise. We double our joys by sharing them, and the life for the Other Self seems a psychological need. Man is only in process of creation. We have not traveled far; we are only just learning to walk, and so we sometimes stumble and fall. But mankind is moving toward the light, and such is our faith now in the Divine Intelligence that we do not believe that in our hearts were planted aspirations and desires that are to work our undoing. The same God who created paradise devised the snake, and if the snake had something to do with driving the man and woman out of the Garden into a world of work, it was well. Difficulty, trial, hardship, obstacle, are all necessary factors in the evolution of souls.
A man alone is only half a man--he pines for his mate. When he reaches a certain degree of mentality he craves partnership. He wants to tell it to Her! When she reads she wants to read to Him. And when a man and a woman reach an altitude where they spiritualize their love, they are in no danger of wearing it out.
DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI AND ELIZABETH ELEANOR SIDDAL
Some ladies love the jewels in Love's zone, And gold-tipped darts he hath for painless play In idle, scornful hours he flings away; And some that listen to his lute's soft tone Do love to vaunt the silver praise their own; Some prize his blindfold sight; and there be they Who kissed the wings which brought him yesterday And thank his wings today that he is flown.
My lady only loves the heart of Love: Therefore Love's heart, my lady, hath for thee His bower of unimagined flower and tree. There kneels he now, and all a-hungered of Thine eyes gray-lit in shadowing hair above, Seals with thy mouth his immortality.
--_Dante Gabriel Rossetti_
[Illustration: DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI]
When an ambitious young man from the "provinces" signified his intention to Colonel Ingersoll of coming to Peoria and earning an honest livelihood, he was encouraged by the Bishop of Agnosticism with the assurance that he would find no competition.
Personally, speaking for my single self, I should say that no man is in so dangerous a position as he who has no competition in well-doing. Competition is not only the life of trade, but of everything else. There have been times when I have thought that I had no competition in truth-telling, and then to prevent complacency I entered into competition with myself and endeavored to outdo my record.
The natural concentration of business concerns in one line, in one locality, suggests the many advantages that accrue from attrition and propinquity. Everybody is stirred to increased endeavor; everybody knows the scheme which will not work, for elimination is a great factor in success; the knowledge that one has is the acquirement of all. Strong men must match themselves against strong men: good wrestlers will need only good wrestlers. And so in a match of wit rivals outclassed go unnoticed, and there is always an effort to go the adversary one better.
Our socialist comrades tell us that "emulation" is the better word, and that "competition" will have to go. The fact is that the thing itself will ever remain the same--what you call it matters little. We have, however, shifted the battle from the purely physical to the mental and psychic plane. But it is competition still, and the reason competition will remain is because it is beautiful, beneficent and right. It is the desire to excel. Lovers are always in competition with each other to see who can love most.
The best results are obtained where competition is the most free and most severe--read history. The orator speaks and the man who rises to reply had better have something to say. If your studio is next door to that of a great painter, you had better get you to your easel, and quickly, too.
The alternating current gives power: only an obstructed current gives either heat or light; all good things require difficulty. The Mutual Admiration Society is largely given up to criticism.
Wit is progressive. Cheap jokes go with cheap people; but when you are with those of subtle insight, who make close mental distinctions, you should muzzle your mood, if perchance you are a bumpkin.
Conversation with good people is progressive, and progressive inversely, usually, where only one sex is present. Excellent people feel the necessity of saying something better than has been said, otherwise silence is more becoming. He who launches a commonplace where high thoughts prevail is quickly labeled as one who is with the yesterdays that lighted fools adown their way to dusty death.
Genius has always come in groups, because groups produce the friction that generates light. Competition with fools is not bad--fools teach the imbecility of repeating their performances. A man learns from this one, and that; he lops off absurdity, strengthens here and bolsters there, until in his soul there grows up an ideal, which he materializes in stone or bronze, on canvas, by spoken word, or with the twenty-odd little symbols of Cadmus.
Greece had her group when the wit of Aristophanes sought to overtop the stately lines of Æschylus; Praxiteles outdid Ictinus; and wayside words uttered by Socrates were to outlast them all.
Rome had her group when all the arts sought to rival the silver speech of Cicero. One art never flourishes alone--they go together, each man doing the thing he can do best. All the arts are really one, and this one art is simply Expression--the expression of Mind speaking through its highest instrument, Man.
Happy is the child who is born into a family where there is a competition of ideas, and where the recurring theme is truth. This problem of education is not so very much of a problem after all. Educated people have educated children, and the best recipe for educating your child is this: Educate yourself.
* * * * *
The Rossettis were educated people: each was educated by all and all by each.
Individuality was never ironed out, for no two were alike, and between them all were constantly little skirmishes of wit, and any one who tacked a thesis on the door had to fight for it. Luther Burbank rightly says that children should not be taught religious dogma. The souls of the Rossettis were not water-logged by religious belief formulated by men with less insight and faith than they.
In this way they were free. And so we find the father and the mother, blessed by exile in the cause of liberty, living hard, plain lives, in clean yet dingy poverty, with never an endeavor to "shine" in society or to pass for anything different than what they were, and never in debt a penny to the haberdasher, the dressmaker, the milliner or the grocer. When they had no money to buy a thing they wanted, they went without it.
Just the religion of paying your way and being kind would be a pretty good sort of religion--don't you think so?
So now, behold this little Republic of Letters, father and mother and four children: Maria, Christina, Dante Gabriel and William Michael.
The father was a poet, musician and teacher. The mother was a housekeeper, adviser and critic, and supplied the necessary ballast of commonsense, without which the domestic dory would surely have turned turtle.
Once we hear this good mother saying, "I always had a passion for intellect, and my desire was that my husband and my children might be distinguished for intellect; but now I wish they had a little less intellect, so as to allow for a little more commonsense."
This not only proves that this mother of four very extraordinary and superior children had wit, but it also seems to show that even intellect has to be bought with a price.
I have read about all that has been written concerning Rossetti and the Preraphaelite Brotherhood by those with right and license to speak. And among all those who have set themselves down and dipped pen in ink, no one that I have found has emphasized the very patent truth that it was a woman who evolved the "Preraphaelite Idea," and first exemplified it in her life and housekeeping.
It was Frances Polidora Rossetti who supplied Emerson that fine phrase, "Plain living and high thinking." Of course, it might have been original also with Emerson, but probably it reached him via the Ruskin and Carlyle route.
Emerson also said, "A few plain rules suffice," but Mrs. Rossetti ten years before put it this way, "A few plain things suffice." She had a horror of debt which her husband did not fully share. She preferred cleanly poverty and honest sparsity to luxury on credit. In her household she had her way. Possibly it was making a virtue of necessity, but she did it so sincerely and gracefully that prenatally her children accepted the simplicity of their Preraphaelite home as its chief charm.
Without the Rossettis the Preraphaelite Brotherhood would never have existed. It will be remembered that the first protest of the Brotherhood was directed against "Wilton carpets, gaudy hangings, and ornate, strange and peculiar furniture."
Christina Rossetti once told William Morris that when she was but seven years old her mother and she congratulated themselves on the fact that all the furniture they had was built on straight and simple lines, that it might be easily cleaned with a damp cloth. They had no carpets, but they possessed one fine rug in the "other room" which was daily brought out to air and admire. The floors were finished in hard oil, and on the walls were simply the few pictures that they themselves produced, and the mother usually insisted on having only "one picture in a room at a time, so as to have time to study it."
So here we get the very quintessence of the entire philosophy of William Morris: a philosophy which, it has well been said, has tinted the entire housekeeping world.
In his magazine, called, somewhat ironically, "Good Words," Dickens ridiculed, reviled and berated the Preraphaelite Idea. Of course, Dickens didn't understand what the Rossettis were trying to express.
He called it pagan, anti-Christian, and the glorification of pauperism. Dickens was born in a debtor's prison--constructively--and he leaped from squalor into fussy opulence. He wrote for the rabble, and he who writes for the rabble has a ticket to Limbus one way. The Rossettis made their appeal to the Elect Few. Dickens was sired by Wilkins Micawber and dammed by Mrs. Nickleby. He wallowed in the cheap and tawdry, and the gospel of sterling simplicity was absolutely outside his orbit. Dickens knew no more about art than did the prosperous beefeater, who, being partial to the hard sound of the letter, asked Rossetti for a copy of "The Gurm," and thus supplied the Preraphaelites a title they thenceforth gleefully used.
But the abuse of Dickens had its advantages--it called the attention of Ruskin to the little group. Ruskin came, he saw, and was conquered. He sent forth such a ringing defense of the truths for which they stood that the thinking people of London stopped and listened. And this caused Holman Hunt to say, "Alas! I fear me we are getting respectable."
Ruskin's unstinted praise of this little band of artists was so great that he convinced even his wife of the truth of his view; and as we know, she fell in love with Millais, "the prize-taking cub," and they were married and lived happily ever after.
Ruskin and Morris were both born into rich families, where every luxury that wealth could buy was provided. Having much, they knew the worthlessness of things: they realized what Walter Pater has called "the poverty of riches." Dickens had only taken an imaginary correspondence course in luxury, and so Wilton carpets and marble mantels gave him a peace which religion could not lend. A Wilton carpet was to him a Christian prayer-rug.
The joy of discovery was Ruskin's: he found the Rossettis and gave them to the world. Ruskin was a professor at Oxford, and in his classes were two inseparables, William Morris and Burne-Jones. They became infected with the simplicity virus; and when Burne-Jones went up to London, which is down from Oxford, he sought out the man who had painted "The Girlhood of the Virgin," the picture Charles Dickens had advertised by declaring it to be "blasphemously idolatrous."
Burne-Jones was so delighted with Rossetti's work that he insisted upon Rossetti giving him lessons; and then he wrote such a glowing account of the Rossettis to his chum, William Morris, that Morris came up to see for himself whether these things were true.
Morris met the Rossettis, spent the evening at their home, and went back to Oxford filled with the idea of Utopia, and that the old world would not find rest until it accepted the dictum of Mrs. Rossetti, "A few plain things suffice."
It was a woman who brought about the Epoch.
* * * * *
The year Eighteen Hundred Fifty was certainly rich in gifts for Gabriel Rossetti. He was twenty-two, gifted, handsome, intellectual, the adored pet and pride of his mother and two sisters, and also the hero of the little art group to which he belonged. I am not sure but that the lavish love his friends had for him made him a bit smug and self-satisfied, for we hear of Ruskin saying, "Thank God he is young," which remark means all that you can read into it.
At this time Rossetti had written many poems, and at least one great one, "The Blessed Damozel." He had also painted at least one great picture, "The Girlhood of the Virgin," a canvas he vainly tried to sell for forty pounds, and which later was to be bought by the nation for the tidy sum of eight hundred guineas, and now can not be bought for any price--but which, nevertheless, may be seen by all, on the walls of the National Gallery.
But four numbers of "The Germ" had been printed, and then the venture had sunk into the realm of things that were, weighted with a debt of one hundred twenty pounds. Of the fifty-one contributions to "The Germ" twenty-six had been by the Rossettis. Dante Gabriel, always a bit superstitious, felt sure that the gods were trying to turn him from literature to art, but Christina felt no comfort in the failure.
Then came the championship of Ruskin, and this gave much courage to the little group. Doubtless none knew they stood for so much until they had themselves explained to themselves by Ruskin.
Then best of all came Burne-Jones and Morris, adding their faith to the common fund and proving by cash purchases that their admiration was genuine.
Rossetti's poem, "The Blessed Damozel," was without doubt inspired by Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee," but with this difference, that while Rossetti carried the sorrow clear to Paradise, Poe was content to leave his sorrow on earth.
Being a painter of pictures as well as picturing things by means of words, Rossetti had constantly in his mind some one who might pose for the Damozel. She must be stately, sober, serious, tall, and possess "a wondrous length of limb." Her features must be strong, individual, and she must have personality rather than beauty.
A pretty woman would, of course, never, never do. Where was such a model woman to be found?
Christina wrote a beautiful sonnet about this Ideal Woman. Here it is:
One face looks out from all his canvases; One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans: We found her hidden just behind those screens, That mirror gave back all her loveliness. A queen in opal or in ruby dress, A nameless girl in freshest Summer-greens, A saint, an angel--every canvas means The one same meaning, neither more nor less. He feeds upon her face by day and night, And she with true, kind eyes looks back on him, Fair as the moon and joyful as the light: Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim; Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright; Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.
Dante Gabriel was becoming moody, dreamy and melancholy; but not quite so melancholy as he thought he was, since the divine joy was his of expressing his melancholy in art. People submerged in melancholy are not creative.
Rossetti was quite sure that Nature had never made as lovely a woman as he could imagine, and his drawings almost proved it. But being a man he never gave up the quest.
One day, Walter Deverell, one of the Brotherhood, came into Rossetti's studio and proceeded to stand on his head and then jump over the furniture. After being reprimanded, and then interrogated as to reasons, he told what he was dying to tell--that is, "I have found her!" Her name was Elizabeth Eleanor Siddal, and she was an assistant to a milliner and dressmaker in Oxford Street. She was seventeen years old, five feet eight inches high, and weighed one hundred twenty pounds. Her hair was of a marvelous, coppery, low tone, and her features were those of Sappho. None of the assembled Brotherhood had ever seen Sappho, but they had their ideas about her. Whether the dressmaker's wonderful assistant had intellect and soul did not trouble the young man. Dante Gabriel, the Nestor of the group, twenty-two and wise, was not to be swept off his feet by the young and impressible enthusiasm of Deverell, aged nineteen.
He sneezed and calmly continued his work at the easel, merely making inward note of the location of the shop where the "find" was located.
Two hours later, Rossetti, perceiving himself alone, laid aside his brushes and palette, put on his hat, and walked rapidly toward Oxford Street. He located the shop, straggled past it, first on one side of the street, then on the other, and finally boldly entered on a fictitious errand.
Miss Siddal was there. He stared at her; she looked at him in half-disdain. Suddenly his knees grew weak: he turned and fled.
Deverell boldly stalked the quarry the next day in company with his mother, who was a customer of the shop. He failed to get an interview. A little later, the mother went back alone, and put the matter before Miss Siddal in a purely business light.
Elizabeth Eleanor was from a very poor family.
Her father was an auctioneer who had lost his voice, and she was glad to increase the meager pay she was receiving by posing for the artists. She was already a model, setting off bonnets and gowns, and her first idea was that they wanted her for fashion-plates. Mrs. Deverell did not disabuse her of this idea.
And so she posed for the class at Rossetti's studio, duly gowned as angels are supposed to be draped and dressed in Paradise.
Mrs. Deverell was present to give assurance, and all went well. The young woman was dignified, proud, with a fine but untrained mind. As to her knowledge of literature, she explained that she had read Tennyson's poems because she had found them on some sheets of paper that were wrapped around a pat of butter she had bought to take home to her mother.
Her general mood was one of silent good-nature, flavored with a dash of pride, and an innocent curiosity to know how the picture was getting along. It has been said that people who talk but little are quiet either because they are too full for utterance, or because they have nothing to utter. Miss Siddal was reserved, because she realized that she could never talk as picturesquely as she could look. People who know their limitations are in the line of evolution. The girl was eager and anxious to learn, and Rossetti set about to educate her. In the operation he found himself loving her with a mad devotion.
The other members of the Brotherhood respected this very frank devotion and did not enter into competition with it, as they surely would have done had it been merely admiration. They did not even make gentle fun of it--it was too serious a matter with Rossetti: it was to him a religion, and was to remain so to the day of his death. Within a week after their meeting, "The House of Life" began to find form. He wrote to her and for her, and always and forever she was his model. The color of her hair got into his brush, and her features were enshrined in his heart.
He called her "Guggums" or "Gug." Occasionally, he showed impatience if any one by even the lifting of an eyebrow seemed to doubt the divinity of the Guggums.
There was no time for ardent wooing on his part, no vacillation nor coyness on hers. He loved her with an absorbing passion--loved her for her wonderful physical beauty, and what she may have lacked in mind he was able to make good.
And she accepted his love as if it were her due, and as if it had always been hers. She was not agitated under the burning impetus; no, she just calmly and placidly accepted it as a matter of course.
It will hardly do to say that she was indifferent, but Burne-Jones was led by Miss Siddal's beautiful calm to say, "Love is never mutual--one loves and the other consents to be loved."
The family of Rossetti, his mother and sisters, must have known how much of the ideal was in his passion. Mentally, Miss Siddal was not on their plane; but the joy of Dante Gabriel was their joy, and so they never opposed the inevitable. He, however, acknowledged Christina's mental superiority by somewhat imperiously demanding that Christina should converse with Miss Siddal on "great themes."
Ruskin has added his endorsement to Miss Siddal's worth by calling her "a glorious creature."
Dante Gabriel's own descriptions of Elizabeth Eleanor are too much retouched to be accurate; but William Rossetti, who viewed her with a critical eye, describes her as "tall, finely formed, with lofty neck; regular, yet uncommon, features; greenish-blue, unsparkling eyes; large, perfect eyelids; brilliant complexion, and a lavish wealth of dark molten-gold hair."
In the diary of Madox Brown for October Sixth, Eighteen Hundred Fifty-four, is this: "Called on Dante Rossetti. Saw Miss Siddal, looking thinner and more death-like, and more beautiful and more ragged than ever; a real artist, a woman without parallel for many a long year. Gabriel as usual diffuse and inconsequent in his work. Drawing wonderful and lovely Guggums one after another, each one a fresh charm, each one stamped with immortality, and his picture never advancing. However, he is at the wall and I am to get him a white calf and a cart to paint here; would he but study the Golden One a little more. Poor Gabriello!"
In Elizabeth Eleanor's manner there was a morbid languor and dreaminess, put on, some said, for her lover like a Greek gown, and surely encouraged by him and pictured in his Dantesque creations.
Always and forever for him she was the Beata Beatrix. His days were consumed in writing poems to her or painting her, and if they were separated for a single day he wrote her a letter, and demanded that she should write one in return, to which we once hear of her gently demurring. She, however, took lessons in drawing, and often while posing would work with her pencil and paper.
Ruskin was so pleased with her work that he offered to buy everything she did, and finally a bargain was struck and he paid her one hundred pounds a year and took everything she drew.
Possibly this does not so much prove the worth of her work as the generosity of Ruskin. The dressmaker's shop had been able to get along without its lovely model, and art had been the gainer. At one time a slight cloud appeared on the horizon: another "find" had been located. Rossetti saw her at the theater, ascertained her name and called on her the next day and asked for sittings. Her name was Miss Burden. She was very much like Miss Siddal, only her face was pale and her hair wavy and black. She was statuesque, picturesque, of good family, and had a wondrous poise. Rossetti straightway sent for William Morris to come and admire her. William Morris came, and married her in what Rossetti resentfully called "an unbecoming and insufficiently short space of time."
For some months there was a marked coldness between Morris and Rossetti, but if Miss Siddal was ever disturbed by the advent of Miss Burden we do not know it. Whistler has said that it was Mrs. Morris who gave immortality to the Preraphaelites by supplying them stained-glass attitudes. She posed as Saint Michael, Gabriel, and Saint John the Beloved, and did service for the types that required a little more sturdiness than Miss Siddal could supply.
The Burne-Jones dream-women are very largely composite studies of Miss Siddal and Mrs. Morris; as for Rossetti, he painted their portraits before he saw them, and loved them on sight because they looked like his Ideal.
* * * * *
After Dante Gabriel and Elizabeth Eleanor had been engaged for more than five years--that is, in the year Eighteen Hundred Fifty-five--Madox Brown asked Rossetti this very obvious question: "Why do you not marry her?" One reason was that Rossetti was afraid if he married her he would lose her. He doted on her, fed on her, still wrote sonnets just for her, and counted the hours when they parted until he could see her again. Miss Siddal was not quite firm enough in moral and mental fiber to cut out her own career. She deferred constantly to her lover, adopted his likes and dislikes, and went partners with him even in his prejudices. They dwelt in Bohemia, which is a good place to camp, but a very poor place in which to settle down.
The precarious ways of Bohemia do not make for length of days. Miss Siddal seemed to fall into a decline, her spirits lost their buoyancy, she grew nervous when required to pose for several hours at a time. Rossetti scraped together all his funds and sent her on a trip alone through France. She fell sick there, and we hear of Rossetti working like mad on a canvas, so as to sell the picture and send her money.
When she returned, a good deal of her old-time beauty seemed to have vanished: the fine disdain, that noble touch of scorn, was gone--and Rossetti wrote a sonnet declaring her more beautiful than ever. Ruskin thought he saw the hectic flush of death upon her cheek.
[Illustration: ELIZABETH E. SIDDAL]
Sorrow, love, ill-health, poverty, tamed her spirit, and Swinburne telling of her, years after, speaks of "her matchless loveliness, courage, endurance, humor and sweetness--too dear and sacred to be profaned by any attempt at expression."
Rossetti writing to Allingham says: "It seems to me when I look at her working, or too ill to work, and think of how many without one tithe of her genius or greatness of spirit have granted them abundant health and opportunity to labor through the little they can or will do, while perhaps her soul is never to bloom, nor her bright hair to fade; but after hardly escaping from degradation and corruption, all she might have been must sink again unprofitably in that dark house where she was born. How truly she may say, 'No man cared for my soul.' I do not mean to make myself an exception, for how long have I known her, and not thought of this till so late--perhaps too late."
In Rossetti's love for this beautiful human lily there was something very selfish, the selfishness of the artist who sacrifices everything and everybody, even himself, to get the work done.
Rossetti's love for Miss Siddal was sincere in its insincerity. The art impulse was supreme in him and love was secondary. The nine years' engagement, with the uncertain, vacillating, forgetful, absent-minded habits of erratic genius to deal with, wore out the life of this beautiful creature.
The mother-instinct in her had been denied: Nature had been set at naught, and art enthroned. When the physician told Rossetti that the lovely lily was to fade and die, he straightway abruptly married her, swearing he would nurse her back to life. He then gave her the "home" they had so long talked of; three little rooms, one all hung with her own drawings and none other. He petted her, invited in the folks she liked best, gave little entertainments, and both declared that never were they so happy.
She suffered much from neuralgia, and the laudanum taken to relieve the pain had grown into a necessity.
On the Tenth of February, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two, she dined with her husband and Mr. Swinburne at a nearby hotel. Rossetti then accompanied her to their home, and leaving her there went alone to give his weekly lecture at the Working Men's College. When he returned in two hours, he found her unconscious from an overdose of laudanum. She never regained consciousness, breathing her last but a few short hours later.
* * * * *
The grief of Rossetti on the death of his wife was pitiable. His friends feared for his sanity, and had he not been closely watched it is quite possible that one grave would have held the lovers. He reproached himself for neglecting her. He cursed art and literature for having seduced him away from her, and thus allowed her to grope her way alone. He prophesied what she might have been had he only devoted himself to her as a teacher, and by encouragement allowed her soul to bloom and blossom. "I should have worked through her hand and brain," he cried.
He gathered all the poems he had written to her, including "The House of Life," and tying them up with one of the ribbons she had worn, placed the precious package by stealth in her coffin, close to the cold heart that had forever stopped pulsing. And so the poems were buried with the woman who had inspired them.
Was it vanity that prompted Rossetti after seven years to have the body exhumed and recover the poems that they might be given to the world? I do not think so, else all men who print the things they write are inspired by vanity. Rossetti was simply unfortunate in being placed before the public in a moment of spiritual undress. Everybody is ridiculous and preposterous every day, only the public does not see it, and therefore the acts are not ridiculous and preposterous. The conduct of the lovers is always absurd to the onlooker, but the onlooker has no business to look on--he is a false note in a beautiful symphony, and should be eliminated.
Rossetti in the transport of his grief, filled with bitter regret, and with a welling heart for one who had done so much for him, gave into her keeping, as if she were just going on a journey, the finest of his possessions. It was no sacrifice--the poems were hers.
At such a time do you think a man is revolving in his mind business arrangements with Barabbas?
The years passed, and Rossetti again began to write--for God is good.
The grief that can express itself is well diluted; in fact, grief often is a beneficent stimulus of the ganglionic cells. The sorrow that is dumb before men, and which, if it ever cries aloud, seeks first the sanctity of solitude, is the only sorrow to which Christ in pity turns his eye or lends his ear.
The paroxysms of grief had given way to calm reflection. The river of his love was just as deep, but the current was not so turbulent. Expression came bringing balm and myrrh. And so on the advice of his friends, endorsed by his own promptings, the grave was opened and the package of poems recovered.
It was an act that does not bear the close scrutiny of the unknowing mob. And I do not wonder at the fierce hate that sprang up in the breast of Rossetti when a hounding penny-a-liner in London sought to picture the stealthy, ghoul-like digging in a grave at midnight, and the recovery of what he called "a literary bauble." As if the man's vanity had gotten the better of his love, or as if he had changed his mind! Men who know, know that Rossetti had not changed his mind--he had only changed his mood.
The suggestion that gentlemen poets about to deposit poems in the coffins of their lady-loves should have copies of the originals carefully made before so doing, was scandalous. However, when this was followed up with the idea that Rossetti should, after exhuming the poems, have copies made and place these back in the coffin, and that the performance of midnight digging was nothing less than petit larceny from a dead woman, witnessed by the Blessed Damozel leaning over the bar of Heaven--in all this we get an offense in literature and good taste which in Kentucky or Arizona would surely have cost the penny-a-liner his life.
If these poems had not been recovered, the world would have lost "The House of Life," a sonnet series second not even to the "Sonnets From the Portuguese," and the immortal sonnets of Shakespeare.
The way Rossetti kept the clothing and all the little nothings that had once belonged to his wife revealed the depths of love--or the foolishness of it, all depending upon your point of view. Mrs. Millais tells of calling at Rossetti's house in Cheyne Walk in Eighteen Hundred Seventy, nearly ten years after the death of Elizabeth Eleanor, and having occasion to hang her wraps in a wardrobe, perceived the dresses that had once belonged to Mrs. Rossetti hanging there on the same hooks with Rossetti's raiment. Rossetti made apology for the seeming confusion and said, "You see, if I did not find traces of her all over the house I should surely die."
A year after the death of his wife Rossetti painted the wonderful "Beata Beatrix," a portrait of Beatrice sitting in a balcony overlooking Florence. The beautiful eyes filled with ache, dream and expectation are closed as if in a transport of calm delight. An hourglass is at hand and a dove is just dropping a poppy, the flower of sleep and death, into her open hands. Of course the picture is a portrait of the dear, dead wife, and so in all the pictures thereafter painted by Dante Gabriel for the twenty years that he lived, you perceive that while he had various models, in them all he traced resemblances to this first, last and only passion of his life.
* * * * *
In William Sharp's fine little book, "A Record and a Study," I find this:
As to the personality of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, a great deal has been written since his death, and it is now widely known that he was a man who exercised an almost irresistible charm over those with whom he was brought in contact. His manner could be peculiarly winning, especially with those much younger than himself, and his voice was alike notable for its sonorous beauty and for the magnetic quality that made the ear alert when the speaker was engaged in conversation, recitation or reading. I have heard him read, some of them over and over again, all the poems in the "Ballads and Sonnets," and especially in such productions as "The Cloud Confines" was his voice as stirring as a trumpet-note; but where he excelled was in some of the pathetic portions of "The Vita Nuova" or the terrible and sonorous passages of "L'Inferno," when the music of the Italian language found full expression indeed. His conversational powers I am unable adequately to describe, for during the four or five years of my intimacy with him he suffered too much to be a brilliant talker, but again and again I have seen instances of that marvelous gift that made him at one time a Sydney Smith in wit and a Coleridge in eloquence.
In appearance he was, if anything, rather above middle height, and, especially latterly, somewhat stout; his forehead was of splendid proportions, recalling instantaneously the Stratford bust of Shakespeare; and his gray-blue eyes were clear and piercing, and characterized by that rapid, penetrative gaze so noticeable in Emerson.
He seemed always to me an unmistakable Englishman, yet the Italian element frequently was recognizable; as far as his own opinion was concerned, he was wholly English. Possessing a thorough knowledge of French and Italian, he was the fortunate appreciator of many great works in their native tongue, and his sympathies in religion, as in literature, were truly catholic. To meet him even once was to be the better for it ever after; those who obtained his friendship can not well say all it meant and means to them; but they know they are not again in the least likely to meet with such another as Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
In Walter Hamilton's book, "Æsthetic England," is this bit of most vivid prose:
Naturally the sale of Rossetti's effects attracted a large number of persons to the gloomy, old-fashioned residence in Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, and many of the articles sold went for prices very far in excess of their intrinsic value, the total sum realized being over three thousand pounds. But during the sale of the books, on that fine July afternoon, in the dingy study hung round with the lovely but melancholy faces of Proserpine and Pandora, despite the noise of the throng and the witticisms of the auctioneer, a sad feeling of desecration must have crept over many of those who were present at the dispersion of the household goods and gods of that man who so hated the vulgar crowd. Gazing through the open windows they could see the tall trees waving their heads in a sorrowful sort of way in the summer breeze, throwing their shifty shadows over the neglected grass-grown paths, once the haunt of the stately peacocks, whose medieval beauty had such a strange fascination for Rossetti, and whose feathers are now the accepted favors of his apostles and admirers. And so their gaze would wander back again to that mysterious face upon the wall, that face as some say the grandest in the world, a lovely one in truth, with its wistful, woful, passionate eyes, its sweet, sad mouth with the full red lips; a face that seemed to say the sad old lines:
'Tis better to have loved and lost, Than never to have loved at all.
And then would come the monotonous cry of the auctioneer to disturb the reverie, and call one back to the matter-of-fact world which Dante Gabriel Rossetti, painter and poet, has left forever--Going!--Going!--Gone!
BALZAC AND MADAME HANSKA
A thought entered my heart, such as God sends to make us willing to bear our griefs. I resolved to instruct and raise this corner of the earth, as a teacher brings up a child. Do not call it benevolence; my motive was the need I felt to distract my mind. I wanted to spend the remainder of my days in some arduous enterprise.
The changes to be introduced into this region, which Nature has made so rich and man made so poor, would occupy my whole life; they attracted me by the very difficulty of bringing them about. I wished to be a friend to the poor, expecting nothing in return. I allowed myself no illusions, either as to the character of the country people or the obstacles which hinder those who attempt to ameliorate both men and things. I made no idyls about my poor; I took them for what they were.
--_Balzac in "The Country Doctor"_
Balzac was born in the year Seventeen Hundred Ninety-nine. The father of Balzac, by a not unusual coincidence, also bore the name of Balzac. And yet there was only one Balzac. This happy father was an officer in the commissary department of Napoleon's army, and so never had an opportunity to win the bauble reputation at the cannon's mouth, nor show his quality in the imminent deadly breach. He died through an earnest but futile effort, filled with the fear of failure, to so regulate his physical life that repair would exactly equal waste, and thus live on earth forever.
The mother of our great man was a beauty and an heiress. Her husband was twenty-five years her senior. She ever regarded herself as one robbed of her birthright, and landed at high tide upon a barren and desert domestic isle. Honore, her first child, was born before she was twenty. Napoleon was at that time playing skittles with all Europe, and the woman whom Fate robbed of her romance worshiped at the shrine of the Corsican, because every good woman has to worship something or somebody. She saw Napoleon on several occasions, and once he kissed his hand to her when she stood in a balcony and he was riding through the street. And there their intimacy ended, a fact much regretted in print by her gifted son years afterward.
Six years of Balzac's life, from his sixth to his thirteenth year, were spent in a monastery school, a place where fond parents were relieved by holy men of their parental responsibilities, for a consideration.
Not once in the six years' time was the boy allowed to go home or to visit his parents. Once a year, at Easter, his mother came to see him and expressed regret at the backward state of his mind.
Balzac's education was gotten in spite of his teachers, and by setting at naught the minute and painstaking plans of his mother. This mother lived her life a partial invalid, whimsical, querulous, religious overmuch, always fearing a fatal collapse; in this disappointed, for she finally died peacefully of old age, going to bed and forgetting to waken. She was long to survive her son, and realize his greatness only after he was gone, getting the facts from the daily papers, which seems to prove that the newspaper does have a mission.
Possibly the admiration of Balzac's mother for the little Corporal had its purpose in God's great economy. In any event her son had some of the Corsican's characteristics.
In the big brain of Balzac there was room for many emotions. The man had sympathy plus, and an imagination that could live every life, feel every pang of pain, know every throb of joy, die every death. In stature he was short, stout, square of shoulder and deep of chest. He had a columnar neck and carried his head with the poise of a man born to command.
The scholar's stoop and the abiding melancholy of the supposed man of genius were conspicuous by their absence. His smile was infectious, and he was always ready to romp and play. "He has never grown up: he is just a child," once said his mother in sad complaint, after her son had well passed his fortieth milestone.
The leading traits in the life of Balzac were his ability to abandon himself to the task in hand, his infinite good-nature, his capacity for frolic and fun, and his passion to be famous and to be loved.
Napoleon never took things very seriously. It will be remembered that even at Saint Helena, when in the mood, he played jokes on his guards, and never forgot his good old habit of stopping the affairs of State to pinch the ears of any pretty miss, be she princess or chambermaid, who traveled without an escort.
Upon a statuette of Napoleon, Balzac in his youth once wrote this: "What he began with the sword I will finish with the pen."
Only once did Balzac see Napoleon, probably at that last review at the Carrousel, and he describes the scene thus in one of his novels: "At last, at last! there he was, surrounded with so much love, enthusiasm, devotion, prayer--for whom the sun had driven every cloud from the sky. He sat motionless on his horse, six feet in advance of the dazzling escort that followed him. An old grenadier cried: 'My God, yes, it was always so--under fire at Wagram--among the dead in the Moskowa he was quiet as a lamb, yes, that is he!' Napoleon rode that little white mare, so gentle and under such perfect control. Let others ride plunging chargers and waste their energy and the strength of their mount in pirouettes for the admiration of the bystanders--Napoleon and his little white horse were always quiet when all around there was confusion. And the hand that ruled the Empire stroked the mane of the little white mare, so docile that a girl of ten would have been at home on her back. That is he--under fire at Wagram, with shells bursting all around--he strokes the mane of his quiet horse--that is he!"
And right here may be a good place to quote that other tribute to the Corsican, by a man who was best qualified to give it--the Iron Duke Wellington: "It is very true that I have said that I considered Napoleon's presence in the field equal to forty thousand men in the balance."
* * * * *
As Balzac emerged out of boyhood into man's estate he seemed to have just one woman friend, and this was his grandmother. He didn't seem to care for much more. With her he played cards, and she used to allow him to win small sums of money. With this money he bought books--always books.
He had great physical strength, but was beautifully awkward. The only time he ever attempted to dance he slipped and fell, to the great amusement of the company. He fled without asking the dancing-master to refund his tuition.
He was morbidly afraid of young women, and as fear and hate are one, he hated women, "because they had no ideas," he said. His head was stuffed with facts, and his one amusement was attending the free lectures at the Sorbonne. Here he immersed himself with data about every conceivable subject, made infinite notebooks, and sought vainly for some one with whom he could talk it all over.
In the absence of a wise companion with whom he could converse, he undertook the education of his brother Henry, who was not exactly a prodigy and could not get along at school. Great people are teachers through necessity, for it is only in explaining the matter to another that we make it clear to ourselves. Not finding enough to do in teaching his brother, Balzac advertised to tutor boys who were backward in their studies.
His first response came from Madame De Berney, who had a boy whom the teachers could not control.
That is the way: we buy our tickets to one place and Fate puts us off at another! "Put me off at Buffalo," we say, and in the morning we find ourselves on the platform at Rochester.
Madame De Berney was the mother of nine, and she was just twenty-two years older than Balzac. The son she wished to have tutored was weak in body and not strong in mind. He was in his twentieth year, within a year of the same age as Balzac.
Balzac made a companion of the youth, treating him as an equal; and by his bubbling good-nature and eager, hungry desire to know, inspired his pupil with somewhat of his own enthusiasm.
And in winning the pupil, of course he caught the sympathetic interest of the mother. No love-affair had ever come to Balzac--women had no minds: all they could do was to dance!
Madame De Berney was old enough to put Balzac at his ease. She it was who discovered him--no De Berney, no Balzac. And on this point the historians and critics are all agreed.
Madame De Berney was a gentle, intelligent, sympathetic and pathetic figure. She was no idle woman, warm on the eternal quest. She was a home-body intent on caring for her household.
Her husband was many years her senior, and at the time Balzac appeared upon the scene, De Berney, had he been consistent, would have passed off; but he did not, for paralytics are like threatened people--good life-insurance risks.
A woman of forty-two is not old--bless my soul! I'll leave it to any woman of that age.
And Balzac at twenty was as old as he was at forty-two: a little more so perhaps, for as the years passed he grew less dogmatic and confident. At twenty we are likely to have full faith in our own infallibility.
Madame De Berney was the daughter of a musician in the court of Marie Antoinette. In fact, the queen had stood as her godmother and she had grown up surrounded by material luxury and a mental wilderness, for be it known that members of royal households, like the families of millionaires, are likely to be densely ignorant, being hedged in, shielded, sheltered and protected from the actual world that educates and evolves.
Madame De Berney had been married at the age of sixteen by the busy matchmakers, and her life was one of plain marital serfdom. Her material wants were supplied, but economic freedom had not been hers, for she was supposed to account to her husband for every sou. Marriage is often actual slavery, and it was such for Madame De Berney, until De Berney got on pretty good terms with locomotor ataxia and placed his foot on one spot when he meant to put it on another.
Portraits of Madame De Berney show her to be tall, slender, winsome, with sloping shoulders, beautiful neck, and black, melancholy curls drooping over her temples, making one think of Elizabeth Barrett Browning. In the presence of such a woman, one would naturally lower his voice. Half-mourning was to her most becoming. Madame De Berney was receptive and sympathetic and had gotten a goodly insight into literature. She had positive likes and dislikes in an art way. There were a few books she had read and reread until they had become a part of her being. At forty-two a woman is either a drudge, a fool or a saint. Intellect shines out and glows then if it ever does. From forty to sixty should be a woman's mental harvest-time. Youth and youth's ambitions and desires are in abeyance. If Fate has been kind she has been disillusioned, and if Destiny has used her for a doormat, no matter.
The silly woman is one who has always had her own way, and is intent on conquest as Chronos appropriates her charms and gives bulk for beauty.
The drudge is only a drudge, and her compensation lies in the fact that she seldom knows it.
Madame De Berney had been disillusioned, and intellectual desire was glowing with a steady, mellow light. She wanted to know and to be. And shooting through space comes Balzac, a vagrant comet, and their orbits being the same, their masses unite and continue in one course, bowled by the Infinite.
The leading impulse in the life of Balzac was to express: to tell the things he knew and the things he imagined. To express was the one gratification which made life worth living. And so he told Madame De Berney's son, and then Madame came into the class and he told her. We talk to the sympathetic and receptive: to those who are masters of the fine art of listening.
Soon the lessons were too advanced for the son to follow, and so Balzac told it all to Madame. She listened, smiled indulgently, sighed. They walked in the park and along country lanes and byways; the young tutor talked and talked, and laughed and laughed.
Balzac's brain was teeming with ideas, a mass and jumble of thoughts, ideas, plans and emotions. "Write it out," said Madame--in partial self-defense, no doubt. "Write it out!"
And so Balzac began to write poetry, plays, essays, stories. And everything he wrote he read to her. As soon as he had written something he hastened to hunt up "La Dilecta," as he called her.
Their minds fused in an idea--they blended in thought. He loved her, not knowing when he began or how. His tumultuous nature poured itself out to her, all without reason.
She became a need to him. He wrote her letters in the morning and at night. They dined together, walked, talked, rowed and read.
She ransacked libraries for him. She sold his product to publishers. They collaborated in writing, but he had the physical strength that she had not, so he usually fished the story out of the ink-bottle and presented it to her.
He began to be sought after. Fame appeared on the horizon. Critics rose and thundered. Balzac defied all rules, walked over the grammar, defiled the well of classic French. He invented phrases, paraphrased greatness, coined words. He worked the slide, glide, the ellipse--any way to express the thought. He forged a strange and wondrous style--a language made up of all the slang of the street, combined with the terminologies of the laboratory, law, medicine and science. He was an ignoramus.
But still the public read what he wrote and clamored for more, because the man expressed humanity--he knew men and women.
Balzac was the first writer to discover that every human life is intensely interesting; not merely the heroic and the romantic.
Every life is a struggle; and the fact that the battles are usually bloodless, and the romance a dream, makes it no less real.
Balzac proved that the extraordinary and sensational were not necessary to literature. And just as the dewdrop on the petal is a divine manifestation, and every blade of grass is a miracle, and the three speckled eggs in an English sparrow's nest constitute an immaculate conception, so every human life, with its hopes, aspirations, dream, defeats and successes, is a drama, joyous with comedy, rich in melodrama and also dark and somber as can be woven from the warp and woof of mystery and death.
Balzac wrote a dozen books or more a year. Of course he quarreled with Barabbas, and lawsuits followed, where both sides were right and both sides were wrong. Balzac hadn't the time to look after business details. He would sign away his birthright for a month's peace, forgetful of the day of reckoning. He supported his mother and brothers and sisters, loaned money to everybody, borrowed from La Dilecta when the bailiffs got too pressing, and all the time turned out copy religiously. He practised the eight-hour-a-day clause, but worked in double shifts, from two A.M. to ten A.M., and then from noon until eight o'clock at night. Then for a month he would relax and devote himself to La Dilecta. She was his one friend, his confidante, his comrade, his mother, his sweetheart.
No woman was ever loved more devotedly, but the passionate intensity of the man's nature must have been a sore tax at times on her time and strength. A younger woman could not have known his needs, nor ministered to him mentally. He was absorbed in his work and in his love, and these were to him one.
He had won renown, for had he not called down on his head the attacks of the envious? His manuscripts were in demand.
Balzac was thirty years of age; Madame De Berney was fifty-two. The sun for him had not reached noon, but for her the shadows were lengthening toward the East. She decided that she must win--he should never forsake her!
He had not tired of her, nor she of him. But she knew that when he was forty she would be sixty: he at the height of his power and she an old woman. They could never grow old together and go down the hill of life hand in hand.
So Madame De Berney with splendid heroism took the initiative. She told Balzac what was in her mind, all the time trying to be playful, as we always do when tragedy is tugging at our hearts. Soon she would be a drag upon him, and before that day came it was better they should separate. He declined to listen, swore she could not break the bond; and the scene from being playful became furious. Then it settled down, calmed, and closed as lovers' quarrels usually do and should.
The subject came up again the next week and with a like result. Finally Madame De Berney resorted to heroic treatment. She locked herself in her rooms, and gave orders to the butler that Monsieur Balzac should not be allowed to enter the house, and that to him she was not at home.
"You shall not see me grow old and totter, my body wither and fail, my mind decline. We part now and part forever, our friendship sacred, unsullied, and at its height. Good-by, Balzac, and good-by forever!"
Balzac was dumb with rage, then tears came to his relief, and he cried as a child cries for its mother. The first paroxysm passed, anger took the place of grief: he found time to realize that perhaps there were other women besides La Dilecta--possibly there were other Dilectas. She had struck a blow at his pride--the only blow, in fact, he ever received.
Among Balzac's various correspondents--for successful men always get letters from sympathetic unknowns--was one Madame Hanska, in far-off Poland. From her letters she seemed intelligent, witty, sympathetic. He would turn to her in his distress, to Madame Hanska--where was that last letter from her? And did he not have her picture somewhere: let us see, let us see!
And as for Madame De Berney: when she gave liberty to Balzac it was at the expense of her own life. "If I could only forget, if I could only forget!" she said. And so she lingered on for four years, and then sank into that forgetfulness which men call death.
* * * * *
Balzac wrote of her as "Madame Hanska," and to her husband he referred as "Monsieur Hanski," a distinction that was made by the author as inference that Monsieur Hanska was encroaching on some one else's domain, with designs on the pickle-jar of another.
The Hanskas belonged to the Russian nobility and lived on an immense estate in Ukraine, surrounded only by illiterate peasants. It was another beautiful case of mismating: a man of forty who had gone the pace marrying a girl of seventeen to educate her and reform himself.
Madame Hanska must have been a beauty in her youth--dark, dashing, positive, saucy. She had enough will so that she never became a drudge nor did she languish and fade. She was twenty-eight years old when she first appeared in the field of our vision--twenty-eight, and becomingly stout.
She had literary ambitions and had time to exercise them. Accidentally, a volume of Balzac's "Scenes From a Private Life" had fallen in her way. She glanced at it, and read a little here and there; then she read it through. Balzac's consummate ease and indifference of style caught her. She wanted to write just like Balzac. She was not exactly a writer--she only had literary eczema. She sat down and wrote Balzac a letter, sharply criticizing him for his satirical views of women.
It is a somewhat curious fact that when strangers write to authors, about nine times out of ten it is to find fault. The person who is thoroughly pleased does not take the trouble to say so, but the offended one sits himself down and takes pen in hand. However, this is not wholly uncomplimentary, since it proves at least two things: that the author is being read, and that he is making an impression. Said old Doctor Johnson to the aspiring poet, "Sir, I'll praise your book, but damn me if I'll read it."
Unread books are constantly being praised, but the book that is warmly denounced is making an impression.
Madame Hanska in her far-off solitude had read "Scenes From a Private Life," paragraph by paragraph, and in certain places had seen her soul laid bare. Very naively, in her letter to Balzac, in her criticism she acknowledged the fact that the author had touched an exposed nerve, and this helped to take the sting out of her condemnation. She signed herself "The Stranger," but gave an address where to reply.
Balzac wrote the stranger a slapdash of a letter, as he was always doing, and forgot the incident.
Long letters came from Madame; they were glanced at, but never read. But Madame Hanska, living in exile, had opened up a new vein of ore for herself. She was in communication with a powerful, creative intellect. She sent to a Paris bookseller an order for everything written by Balzac. She read, reread, marked and interlined. Balzac seemed to be writing for her. She kept a daily journal of her thoughts and jottings and this she sent to Balzac.
He neglected to acknowledge the parcel, and she wrote begging he would insert a personal in a certain Paris paper, to which she was a subscriber, so she would know that he was alive and well.
He complied with the unusual request, and it seemed to both of them as if they were getting acquainted. To the woman, especially, it was a half-forbidden joy: a clandestine correspondence with a single gentleman! It had all the sweet, divine flavor of a sin. So she probably repeated the joy by confessing it to the priest, for the lady was a good Catholic. Next she sent Balzac her miniature, and even this he did not acknowledge, being too busy, or too indifferent, or both.
It was about this time that Madame De Berney plunged a stiletto into his pride. And the gaze of Balzac turned towards Poland, and he began to write letters to the imprisoned chatelaine, pouring out his soul to her. His heart was full of sorrow. To ease the pain he traveled for six months through Southern France and Italy, but care rode on the crupper.
He was trying to forget. Occasionally, he met beautiful women and endeavored to become interested in them, and in several instances nearly succeeded.
Madame Hanska's letters now were becoming more and more intimate. She described her domestic affairs, and told of her hopes, ideals and plans.
Balzac had his pockets full of these letters, and once in an incautious moment showed them to Madame Carraud, a worthy woman to whom he was paying transient court. Madame Carraud wrote an ardent love-letter to Madame Hanska, breathing the most intense passion, and signed Balzac's name to the missive. It was a very feminine practical joke. Balzac was told about it--after the letter was mailed. He was at first furious, and then faint with fear.
Madame Hanska was delighted with the letter, yet mystified to think that Balzac should use a secretary in writing a love-letter. And Balzac wrote back that he had written the letter with his left hand, and that was doubtless the reason it seemed a different penmanship. At one stage of their evolution, lovers are often great liars, but at this time Balzac was only playing at love. He could not forget Madame De Berney, dying there alone in her locked room.
Upon every great love are stamped the words, "Not Transferable." Gradually, however, Balzac succeeded in making a partial transfer, or a transfer belief, of his affections. He wrote to Madame Hanska: "I tremble as I write you: will this be only a new bitterness? Will the skies for me ever again grow bright? I love you, my Unknown, and this strange thing is the natural effect of an empty and unhappy life, only filled with ideas."
The man had two immense desires--to be famous and to be loved. Madame Hanska had intellect, literary appreciation, imagination, and a great capacity for affection. She came into Balzac's life at the psychological moment, and he reached out and clung to her as a drowning man clings to a spar. And to the end of his life, let it be said, never did Balzac waver in his love and allegiance.
* * * * *
In the Spring of Eighteen Hundred Thirty-three, the Hanskas arranged for a visit to Switzerland, with Neufchatel as the special place in view. To travel at that time was a great undertaking--especially if you were rich. It is a great disadvantage to be rich: jewels, furniture, servants, horses--they own you, all: to take them or to leave them--which?
Madame Hanska wrote to Balzac saying the trip was under discussion.
That it was being seriously considered.
It had been decided upon.
Necessarily postponed two weeks to prepare to get ready to go.
The start would take place at a certain day and hour.
In the meantime Balzac had decided on a trip also, and the objective point was Neufchatel.
Balzac had to explain it all to somebody--it was just like a play! So he wrote to his sister. Monsieur Hanska was being utilized for a divine purpose, just as Destiny makes use of folks and treats them as chessmen upon the board of Time.
Madame Hanska was exquisitely beautiful, superbly witty, divinely wise and enormously rich: Balzac said so. In their letters they had already sworn eternal fealty; now they were to see each other face to face. All this Balzac wrote to his sister, just like a sophomore.
The Madame had purchased millinery; Balzac banked on his brain and his books.
The Hanskas arrived on the scene of the encounter first; this was stipulated. The Madame was to have a full week of preparation.
Balzac came one day ahead of time--a curious thing for him to do, as he used to explain away his failing by saying he was born a day late and never caught up. At the hotel where it was arranged he should locate was a letter saying he should meet his fate on the Twenty-sixth of September, two days later, between one and four in the afternoon, on the Promenade du Faubourg. Being a married woman she could not just say what hour she could get away. She would have with her a maid, and in her hand would be one of Balzac's novels. They were to meet quite casually, just as if they had always known each other--childhood acquaintances. They would shake hands and then discuss the Balzacian novel: the maid would be dismissed; and the next day Balzac would call at their villa to pay his respects to her husband.
But how to kill time for two days! Balzac was in a fever of unrest. That afternoon he strolled along the Faubourg looking at every passing face, intent on finding a beautiful woman with a Balzac novel in her hand.
Balzac had not demanded anatomical specifications--he had just assumed that "The Stranger" must be quite like Madame De Berney, only twenty years younger, and twenty times more beautiful. La Dilecta was tall and graceful: it was possible that Madame Hanska was scarcely as tall, or that is to say, being more round and better developed, she would not appear so tall.
The encounter was not scheduled for two days yet to come, but Balzac was looking over the ground hoping to get the sun to his back. When lo! here was a lady with a Balzac novel in her hand, and the book held at an angle of sixty-two degrees.
Balzac gasped for breath as the woman came forward and held out her hand. She wasn't handsome, but she certainly was pretty, even though her nose was retrousse, which is French for pug. Her hair was raven-black, her eyes sparkling, her lips red and her complexion fresh and bright.
But ye gods! she was short, damnably short, and in ten years she would be fat, damnably fat!
Balzac's own personal appearance never troubled him, save on the matter of height--or, rather, the lack of it. His one manifestation of vanity was that he wore high heels.
Balzac had concealed from the stranger his lack of height: it made no difference to Madame De Berney. Why should it to the Hanska--it was none of her affair, anyway, Mon Dieu! And now he felt as Ananias did when he kept back part of the price.
Madame was evidently disappointed. Balzac was very careless in attire, his shirt open at the collar, and on the back of his head was a student's cap. He wasn't a gentleman! Madame was laying the whip to her imagination, trying to be at ease, her red lips dry and her eyes growing bloodshot.
The servant was dismissed--it was like throwing over sand ballast from a balloon. Things grew less tense.
They looked at each other and laughed. "Let's make the best of it," said Balzac. Then they kissed there under the trees and he held her hands. They understood each other. They laughed together, and all disappointment was dissipated in the laugh. They understood each other.
Balzac wrote home to his sister that night about the meeting, and described the promenade as "a waddle Du Faubourg--a duck and a goose out for the air." He insisted, however, that Madame was very pretty, very wise and very rich.
The next day Balzac called at the villa and met Monsieur Hanska, and evidently won that gentleman's good-will at once. Balzac made him laugh, exorcising his megrims. Then Balzac played cards with him and obligingly lost. Hanska insisted that the great author should come back to dinner. Balzac agreed with him absolutely in politics, and as token of their friendship Monsieur Hanska presented Monsieur Balzac a gigantic inkstand.
Things were moving along smoothly, when two letters dispatched to Madame by Balzac were placed in the hands of Monsieur Hanska by a servant who evidently lacked the psychic instinct. An hour later, Balzac appeared in person, and when frigidly shown the letters explained that it was all a joke--that the letters were literature, to be used in a book, and were sent to Madame for her inspection, delectation and divertisement.
The very extravagance of the missives saved the day. Monsieur Hanska could not possibly believe that any one could love his wife in this intense fashion--he never had. People only get love-crazy in books.
Everybody laughed, and Monsieur Hanska ordered the waiter to bring in bottles of the juice of the grape, and all went as merry as a marriage-bell.
Five days of paradise, and the Hanskas went one way and Balzac went another. He was up before daylight the morning they were to go, pacing the Faubourg in the hope of catching just one more look at the object of his passion. But his quest was in vain--he took the diligence back to Paris, and duly arrived, tired and sore in body, but with a heart for work. Madame Hanska understood him--was that not enough?
* * * * *
After that first meeting in Switzerland, every event in Balzac's life had Madame Hanska in mind. The feminine intellect was an absolute necessity to him. After a hard day's work, he eased down to earth by writing to "The Stranger" a letter, playful, pathetic, philosophical: just an outpouring of the heart of a tired man--letters like those Swift wrote to Stella. He called it "resting my head in your lap."
It is quite possible that there is a little picturesque exaggeration in these letters, and that Balzac was not quite so lonely all the time as he was when he wrote to her. He compares her with the women he meets, always to her advantage, of course, and in his letters he constantly uses extracts from her letters, with phrases and peculiar words which she had discovered for him. For instance, in one place he calls a publisher a "rosbif ambulant," which phrase Madame Hanska had applied to a certain Englishman she once met in Saint Petersburg.
The letters of Madame Hanska to Balzac were given to the flames by his own hand a few years before his death, "being too sacred for the world"; but his letters to her have been preserved and published, except such parts as were too intimate for the public to appreciate properly.
The "Droll Stories" were written and published just before Balzac met Madame Hanska. He was much troubled as to what she would think of them, and tried for a time to keep the book out of her hands. Finally, however, he decided on a grandstand play. He had one of the books sumptuously bound, and this volume he inscribed to Monsieur Hanska and sent it with a message to the effect that it was a book for men only, and it was written merely as a study of certain phases of human nature, and to show the progress of the French language.
Of course, a book written for men only is bound to be read by every woman who can place her pretty hands upon it. And so the "Droll Stories" were carefully read by Madame, and the explanation accepted that they were merely a study in antique French, and illustrated one chapter in "The Human Comedy." As for Monsieur Hanska, he, being not quite so scientific as his gifted wife, read the stories for a different reason, and enjoyed them so much that they served him as a mine from which he lifted his original stuff.
The conception of "The Human Comedy," or a series of books that would run the entire gamut of human experience and picture every possible phase of human emotion, was the idea of Madame Hanska. In the year Eighteen Hundred Thirty-two she had written him: "No writer who has ever lived has possessed so wide a sympathy as you. Some picture courts and kings; others reveal to us beggars, peasants and those who struggle for bread; still others give charming views of children; while all men and women in love write love-stories; but you know every possible condition that can come to a human soul, and so you seem the only person who ever has written or could write the complete 'Human Comedy' in which every type of man, woman or child who ever lived shall have his part."
No wonder Balzac loved Madame Hanska--what writer would not love a woman who could place him on such a pedestal! Every writer has moments when he doubts his power, and so this assurance from Some One seems a necessity to one who is to do a great and sustained work. Balzac, he of the child-mind, needed the constant assurance that he was going forward in the right direction.
Balzac seized upon the phrase, "The Human Comedy," just as he seized upon anything which he could weave into the fabric he was constructing. And so finally came his formal announcement that he was to write the entire life of man, and picture every possible aspect of humanity, in a hundred books to be known as "La Comedie Humaine." It was a conception as great and daring as the plan of Pliny to write out all human knowledge, or the ambition of Newton as shown in the "Principia," or the works of Baron von Humboldt as revealed in the "Cosmos," or the idea of Herbert Spencer as bodied forth in the "Synthetic Philosophy."
* * * * *
All the time Balzac was looking forward to when he and Madame Hanska would next meet, or back to the meeting that had just taken place. Each year, for a few short, sweet days, they met in Switzerland or at some appointed place in Italy or France. Sometimes Monsieur Hanska was there and sometimes not. That worthy gentleman always seemed to feel a certain gratification in the thought that his wife was so attractive to the great author of the "Droll Stories," the only Balzac book he had really ever read.
That he did not even guess their true relation is very probable; he knew that his wife was something of a writer, and he was satisfied when he was told that she was helping Balzac in his literary undertakings. That he was not compelled to read the joint production, and pass judgment on it, gave him so much pleasure that he never followed up the clue.
On January Fifth, Eighteen Hundred Forty-two, Balzac received from Madame Hanska an envelope lined with ominous black: a mourning-envelope. He seized it with joy--placed it to his lips and then pressed it to his heart. Monsieur Hanska was dead--dead--very dead--he had vacated the preserve--gone--flown--departed, dead!
Balzac sat down and wrote a sham letter of condolence to the bereaved widow, and asked permission to go at once and console her. Had it been De Berney he would have gone, but with Madame Hanska he had first to obtain permission.
So he waited for her reply.
Her answer was strangely cold: Madame was in sore distress--children sick, peasants dissatisfied, business complications and so forth.
Balzac had always supposed that Monsieur Hanska was the one impediment that stood in the way of the full, complete and divine mating. Probably Madame thought so, too, until the time arrived, and then she discovered that she had gotten used to having her lover at a distance. She was thus able to manage him. But to live with him all the time--ye gods, was it possible!
The Madame had so long managed her marital craft in storm and stress, holding the bark steadily in the eye of the wind, that now the calm had come she did not know what to do, and Balzac in his gay-painted galley could not even paddle alongside.
She begged for time to settle her affairs. In three months they met in Switzerland. Madame was in deep mourning, and Balzac, not to be outdone, had an absurdly large and very black band on his hat. With Madame was her daughter, a fine young woman of twenty, whom the mother always now kept close to her, for prudential reasons. The daughter must have been pretty good quality, for she called Balzac, "My Fat Papa," and Balzac threatens Madame that he will run away with the daughter if the marriage is not arranged, and quickly too.
But Madame will not wed--not yet--she is afraid that marriage will dissolve her beautiful dream. In the meantime, she advances Balzac a large amount of money, several hundred thousand francs, to show her sincerity, and the money Balzac is to use in furnishing a house in Paris, where they will live as soon as they are married.
Balzac buys a snug little house and furnishes it with costly carved furniture, bronzes, rugs and old masters.
He waits patiently, or not, according to his mood, amid his beautiful treasures. And still Madame would not relinquish the sweet joys of widowhood.
In a year Madame Hanska arrives with her daughter. They are delighted with the house, and remain for a month, when pressing business in Poland calls them hence. Balzac accompanies them a hundred miles, and then goes back home to his "Human Comedy."
The years pass very much as they did when Monsieur Hanska was alive, only they miss that gentleman, having nobody now but the public to bamboozle, and the public having properly sized up the situation has become very apathetic--busy looking for morsels more highly spiced. Who in the world cares about what stout, middle-aged widows do, anyway!
* * * * *
Occasionally, in letters to Madame Hanska, Balzac referred to Madame De Berney. This seems to have caused Madame Hanska once to say, "Why do you so often refer to ancient history and tell me of that motherly body who once acted as your nurse, comparing me with her?"
To this Balzac replies: "I apologize for comparing you with Madame De Berney--she was what she was, and you are what you are. Great souls are always individual--Madame De Berney was a great and lofty spirit, and no one can ever take her place. I apologize for comparing you with her."
Madame De Berney led Balzac; Madame Hanska ruled him. Madame Hanska was one who alternately beckoned and pursued. Without her Balzac could not have gone on. She held him true to his literary course, and without her he must surely have fallen a victim of arrested energy. She demanded a daily accounting from the mill of his mind. She supplied both goad and greens.
And more than that she sapped his life-forces and robbed him of his red corpuscles; so that, before he was fifty, he was old, worn-out, undone, with an excess of lime in his bones.
Literary creation makes a terrific tax on vitality. Ideas do not flow until the pulse goes above eighty, and this means the rapid breaking down of tissue. The man who writes two hours daily, and writes well, can not do much else. He is like the racehorse--do not expect the record-breaker to pull a plow all day, and go fast heats in the evening. Balzac was the most tremendous worker in a literary way the world has ever seen. He doubtless made mistakes in his life's course, but the wonder is, that he did not make more. He was constantly absorbed in what Theophile Gautier has called "the Balzac Universe," looking after the characters he had created, seeing to it that they acted consistently, pulling the wires, supplying them conversation, dialogue, plot and counterplot, and amid all this bustle and confusion bringing out a perfect story. And still sanely to do the work of the workaday world was a miracle indeed! The man had the strength of Hercules, but even physical strength has its penalty--it seduces one to over-exertion. The midnight brain is a bad thing to cultivate, especially when reinforced with much coffee. Balzac was growing stout; physical exercise was difficult. Dark lines were growing under his eyes. In his letters to Madame Hanska he tells how he is taking treatment from the doctor, and that he suffers from asthma and aneurism of the heart.
His eyes are failing him so he can not see to write by lamplight.
Madame Hanska now becomes alarmed. She thinks she can win him back to life. She begs him to come to Poland at once, and they will be married.
Balzac at once begins the journey to the Hanska country home. The excitement and change of scene evidently benefited him. Great plans were being made for the future.
The wedding occurred on March Fourteenth, Eighteen Hundred Fifty.
Balzac was a sick man. The couple arrived back in Paris, with Balzac leaning heavily on his wife's arm. Chaos thundered in his ears; his brain reeled with vertigo; dazzling lights appeared in the darkness; and in the sunshine he saw only confused darkness.
Balzac died August Seventeenth, Eighteen Hundred Fifty, aged fifty-one, and Pere-la-Chaise tells the rest.
Said Victor Hugo:
The candle scarcely illumined the magnificent Pourbus, the magnificent Holbein, on the walls. The bust of marble was like the ghost of the man who was to die. I asked to see Monsieur De Balzac. We crossed a corridor and mounted a staircase crowded with vases, statues and enamels. Another corridor--I saw a door that was open. I heard a sinister noise--a rough and loud breathing. I was in Balzac's bedchamber. The bed was in the middle of the room: Balzac, supported on it, as best he might be, by pillows and cushions taken from the sofa. I saw his profile, which was like that of Napoleon. An old sick-nurse and a servant of the house stood on either side of the bed. I lifted the counterpane and took the hand of Balzac. The nurse said to me, "He will die about dawn."
His death has smitten Paris. Some months ago he came back into France. Feeling that he was dying, he wished to see again his native land--as on the eve of a long journey, one goes to one's mother to kiss her. Sometimes, in the presence of the dead--when the dead are illustrious--one feels, with especial distinctness, the heavenly destiny of that Intelligence which is called Man. It passes over the Earth to suffer and be purified.
FENELON AND MADAME GUYON
Some time before the marriage of my daughter, I had become acquainted with the Abbe Fenelon, and the family into which she had entered being among his friends, I had the opportunity of seeing him there many times. We had conversations on the subject of the inner life, in which he offered many objections to me. I answered him with my usual simplicity. He gave me opportunity to thoroughly explain to him my experiences. The difficulties he offered, only served to make clear to him the root of my sentiments; therefore no one has been better able to understand them than he. This it is which, in the sequel, has served for the foundation of the persecution raised against him, as his answers to the Bishop of Meaux have made known to all persons who have read them without prejudice.
--_Autobiography of Madame Guyon_
I have been reading the "Autobiography of Madame Guyon." All books that live are autobiographies, for the reason that no writer is interesting save as he writes about himself. All literature is a confession; there is only one kind of ink, and it is red. Some say the autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is the most interesting book written by an American. It surely has one mark of greatness--indiscretion. It tells of things inconsequential, irrelevant and absurd: for instance, the purchase of a penny-loaf by a moon-faced youth with outgrown trousers, who walked up Market Street, in the city of Philadelphia, munching his loaf, and who saw a girl sitting in a doorway, laughing at him.
What has that to do with literature? Everything, for literature is a human document, and the fact that he of the moon-face got even with the girl who laughed at him by going back and marrying her gives us a picture not soon forgotten.
Everybody is entertaining when he writes about himself, because he is discussing a subject in which he is vitally interested--whether he understands the theme is another thing. The fact that Madame Guyon did not understand her theme does not detract from the interest in her book: it rather adds to it--she is so intensely prejudiced. Franklin was the very king of humorists, and in humor Madame Guyon was a pauper.
There is not a smile in the whole big book from cover to cover--not a smile, save those the reader brings to bear.
Madame Guyon lays bare her heart, but she does it by indirection. In this book she keeps her left hand well informed of what her right hand is doing. Her multi-masked ego tells things she must have known, but which she didn't know she knew, otherwise she would not have told us. We get the truth by reading between the lines. The miracle is that this book should have passed for a work of deep religious significance, and served as a textbook for religious novitiates for three centuries.
Madame Guyon was a woman of intellect, damned with a dower of beauty; sensitive, alert, possessing an impetuous nature that endeavored to find its gratification in religion. Born into a rich family, and marrying a rich man, unkind Fate gave her time for introspection, and her mind became morbid through lack of employment for her hands.
Work would have directed her emotions to a point where they would have been useful, but for the lack of which she was feverish, querulous, impulsive--always looking for offense, and of course finding it. Her pride was colossal, and the fact that it found form in humility must have made her a sore trial to her friends.
The confessional seems a natural need of humanity; however, when an introspective hypochondriac acquires the confessional habit, she is a pest to a good priest and likely to be a prey to a bad one.
A woman in this condition of mind confesses sins she never committed, and she may commit sins of which she is unaware.
The highly emotional, unappreciated, misunderstood woman, noisily bearing her cross alone, is a type well known to the pathologist. In modern times when she visits a dentist's office the doctor hastily summons his assistant; like unto the Prince of Pilsen, who, in the presence of the strenuous widow, seizes his friend convulsively and groans: "Don't leave me--don't leave me! I am up against it."
This type of woman is never commonplace--she is the victim of her qualities; and these qualities in the case of Madame Guyon were high ambition, great intellect, impelling passion, self-reliance. Had she been less of a woman she would have been more.
She thinks mostly of herself, and intense selfishness is apparent even in her humility. The tragedy of her life lay in that she had a surplus of time and a plethora of money, and these paved the way for introspection and fatty enlargement of the ego. Let her tell her own story:
My God: Since you wish me to write a life so worthless and extraordinary as mine, and the omissions I made in the former have appeared to you too considerable to leave it in that state, I wish with all my heart, in order to obey you, to do what you desire of me.
I was born, according to some accounts, on Easter Even, Thirteenth of April--although my baptism was not until the Twenty-fourth of May--in the year Sixteen Hundred Forty-eight, of a father and mother who made profession of very great piety, particularly my father, who had inherited it from his ancestors; for one might count, from a very long time, almost as many saints in his family as there were persons who composed it.
I was born, then, not at the full time, for my mother had such a terrible fright that she brought me into the world in the eighth month, when it is said to be almost impossible to live.
I no sooner received life than I was on the point of losing it, and dying without baptism.
My life was only a tissue of ills. At two and a half years, I was placed at the Ursulines, where I remained some time. Afterwards they took me away. My mother, who did not much love girls, neglected me and abandoned me too much to the care of women who neglected me also: yet you, O my God, protected me, for accidents were incessantly happening to me, occasioned by my extreme vivacity; I fell. A number of accidents happened to me which I omit for brevity.
I was then four years old, when Madame the Duchess of Montbason came to the Benedictines. As she had much friendship for my father, she asked him to place me in that House when she would be there, because I was a great diversion to her. I was always with her, for she much loved the exterior God had given me. I do not remember to have committed any considerable faults in that house. I saw there only good examples, and as my natural disposition was toward good, I followed it when I found nobody to turn me aside from it. I loved to hear talk about God, to be at church, and to be dressed as a nun. One day I imagined that the terror they put me into of Hell was only to intimidate me because I was very bright, and I had a little archness to which they gave the name of cleverness.
I wished to go to confession without saying anything to any one, but as I was very small, the mistress of the boarders carried me to confession and remained with me. They listened to me. She was astonished to hear that I first accused myself of having thoughts against the faith, and the confessor beginning to laugh, asked me what they were. I told him that I had up to now been in doubt about Hell: that I had imagined my mistress spoke to me of it only to make me good, but I no longer doubted. After my confession I felt an indescribable fervor, and even one time I experienced a desire to endure martyrdom.
I can not help here noting the fault mothers commit who, under pretext of devotion or occupation, neglect to keep their daughters with them; for it is not credible that my mother, so virtuous as she was, would have thus left me, if she had thought there was any harm in it.
I must also condemn those unjust preferences that they show for one child over another, which produce division and the ruin of families, while equality unites the hearts and entertains charity. Why can not fathers and mothers understand, and all persons who wish to guide youth, the evil they do, when they neglect the guidance of the children, when they lose sight of them for a long time and do not employ them?
* * * * *
You know, O my Love, that the fear of your chastisement has never made much impression either on my intellect or upon my heart. Fear of having offended you caused all my grief, and this was such that it seemed to me, though there should be neither Paradise nor Hell, I should always have had the same fear of displeasing you. You know that even after my faults your caresses were a thousand times more insupportable than your rigors, and I would have a thousand times chosen Hell rather than displease you.
O God, it was then not for you alone I used to behave well, since I ceased to do so because they no longer had any consideration for me.
If I had known how to make use of the crucifying conduct that you maintained over me, I should have made good progress, and, far from going astray, that would have made me return to you.
I was jealous of my brother, for on every occasion I remarked the difference my mother made between him and me. However, he behaved always right, and I always wrong. My mother's servant-maids paid their court by caressing my brother and ill-treating me.
It is true I was bad, for I had fallen back into my former defects of telling lies and getting in a passion; with all these defects I nevertheless willingly gave alms, and I much loved the poor. I assiduously prayed to you, O my God, and I took pleasure in hearing you well spoken of. I do not doubt you will be astonished, Sir, by such resistance, and by so long a course of inconstancy; so many graces, so much ingratitude; but the sequel will astonish you still more, when you shall see this manner of acting grow stronger with my age, and that reason, far from correcting so irrational a procedure, has served only to give more force and more scope to my sins.
It seemed, O my God, that you doubled your graces as my ingratitude increased. There went on in me what goes on in the siege of towns. You were besieging my heart, and I thought only of defending it against your attacks. I put up fortifications to that miserable place, redoubling each day my iniquities to hinder you from taking it.
When it seemed you were about to be victorious over this ungrateful heart, I made a cross-battery; I put up barriers to arrest your bounties and to hinder the course of your graces. It required nothing less than you to break them down, O my divine Love, who by your sacred fire were more powerful than even death, to which my sins have so often reduced me.
My father, seeing that I was grown, placed me for Lent with the Ursulines, in order that I should have my first communion at Easter, when I should complete eleven years of age. He placed me in the hands of his daughter, my very dear sister, who redoubled her cares that I might perform this action with all possible preparation. I thought only, O my God, of giving myself to you once for all.
I often felt the combat between my good inclinations and my evil habits. I even performed some penance. As I was almost always with my sister, and the boarders of the grown class with whom I was, although I was very far from their age, were very reasonable, I became very reasonable with them.
It was surely a murder to bring me up ill, for I had a natural disposition much inclined to good, and I loved good things.
We subsequently came to Paris, where my vanity increased. Nothing was spared to bring me out. I paraded a vain beauty; I thirsted to exhibit myself and to flaunt my pride. I wished to make myself loved without loving anybody. I was sought for by many persons who seemed good matches for me; but you, O my God, who would not consent to my ruin, did not permit things to succeed.
My father discovered difficulties that you yourself made spring up for my salvation. For if I had married those persons, I should have been extremely exposed, and my vanity would have had opportunity for displaying itself. There was a person who sought me in marriage for some years, whom my father for family reasons had always refused.
His manners were a little distasteful to my vanity, yet the fear they had I should leave the country, and the great wealth of this gentleman, led my father, in spite of all his own objections and those of my mother, to accept him for me. It was done without my being told, on the vigil of Saint Francis de Sales, on the Twenty-eighth of January, Sixteen Hundred Sixty-four, and they even made me sign the articles of marriage without telling me what they were.
Although I was well pleased to be married, because I imagined thereby I should have full liberty, and that I should be delivered from the ill-treatment of my mother, which doubtless I brought on myself by want of docility, you, however, O my God, had quite other views, and the state in which I found myself afterwards frustrated my hopes, as I shall hereafter tell. Although I was well pleased to be married, I nevertheless continued all the time of my engagement, and even long after my marriage, in extreme confusion.
I did not see my betrothed till two or three days before the marriage. I caused masses to be said all the time I was engaged, to know your will, O my God, for I desired to do it at least in that. Oh, goodness of my God, to suffer me at that time, and to permit me to pray with as much boldness as if I had been one of your friends!--I who had treated you as if your greatest enemy!
The joy at this marriage was universal in our town, and in this rejoicing I was the only person sad. I could neither laugh like the others, nor even eat, so oppressed was my heart. I know not the cause of my sadness; but, my God, it was as if a presentiment you were giving me of what should befall me.
Hardly was I married when the recollection of my desire to be a nun came to overwhelm me.
All those who came to compliment me the day after my marriage could not help rallying me because I wept bitterly, and I said to them, "Alas! I had once so desired to be a nun; why am I now married; and by what fatality is this happened to me?"
I was no sooner at home with my new husband than I clearly saw that it would be for me a house of sorrow. I was obliged to change my conduct, for their manner of living was very different from that in my father's house. My mother-in-law, who had been long time a widow, thought only of saving, while in my father's house we lived in an exceedingly noble manner. Everything was showy and everything on a liberal scale, and all my husband and mother-in-law called extravagance, and I called respectability, was observed there.
I was very much surprised at this change, and the more so as my vanity would rather have increased than cut down expenditure. I was fifteen years of age--in my sixteenth year--when I was married.
My astonishment greatly increased when I saw that I must give up what I had with so much trouble acquired. At my father's house we had to live with much refinement, learn to speak correctly. All I said was there applauded and made much of. Here I was not listened to, except to be contradicted and to be blamed. If I spoke well they said it was to read them a lesson. If any one came and a subject was under discussion, while my father used to make me speak, here, if I wished to express my opinion, they said it was to dispute, and they ignominiously silenced me, and from morning to night they chided me. They led my husband to do the same, and he was only too well disposed for it.
I should have a difficulty in writing these sort of things to you, which can not be done without wounding charity, if you had not forbidden me to omit anything, and if you had not thus absolutely commanded me to explain everything, and give all particulars. One thing I ask, before going further, which is, not to regard things from the side of the creature, for this would make persons appear more faulty than they were; for my mother-in-law was virtuous and my husband was religious and had no vice.
My mother-in-law conceived such a hostility to me that, in order to annoy me, she made me do the most humiliating things; for her temper was so extraordinary, from not having conquered it in her youth, that she could not live with any one. I was thus made the victim of her tempers.
Her whole occupation was continually to thwart me, and she inspired her son with the same sentiments.
They insisted that persons far beneath me should take precedence, in order to annoy me. My mother, who was very sensitive on the point of honor, could not endure this; and when she learned it from others--for I never said anything of it--she found fault with me, thinking I did it from not knowing how to maintain my rank, that I had no spirit, and a thousand other things of this kind.
I dared not tell how I was situated, but I was dying of vexation, and what increased it still more was the recollection of the persons who had sought me in marriage, the difference of their temper and their manner of acting, the love and esteem they had for me, and their gentleness and politeness: this was very hard for me to bear.
My mother-in-law incessantly spoke to me disparagingly of my father and my mother, and I never went to see them but I had to endure this disagreeable talk on my return. On the other hand, my mother complained of me that she did not see me often enough--she said I did not love her.
What increased still more my crosses was that my mother related to my mother-in-law the trouble I had given her in my childhood, so that the moment I spoke they reproached me with this, and told me I was a wicked character.
My husband wished me to remain all day in the room of my mother-in-law, without being allowed to go to my own apartment; I had not therefore a moment for seclusion or breathing a little.
She spoke disparagingly of me to every one, hoping thereby to diminish the esteem and affection each had for me, so that she put insults upon me in the presence of the best society. She discovered the secret of extinguishing the vivacity of my mind and making me become quite dull, so that I could no more be recognized. Those who had seen me before used to say: "What! is that the person who passed for being clever? She does not say two words. It is a pretty picture."
For crown of affliction I had a maid they had given me, who was quite in their interest. She kept me in sight like a duenna, and strangely ill-treated me.
When I went out, the valets had orders to give an account of all I did. It was then that I commenced to eat the bread of tears. If I was at table they did things to me that covered me with confusion.
I had no one with whom to share my grief. I wished to tell something of it to my mother, and that caused me so many new crosses that I resolved to have no other confidante of my vexations than myself. It was not through harshness that my husband treated me so, but from his hasty and violent temper; for he loved me even passionately. What my mother-in-law was continually telling him irritated him.
Such was my married life, rather that of a slave than of a free person. To increase my disgrace I discovered, four months after my marriage, that my husband was gouty. This disease caused me many real crosses both without and within. That year he twice had gout six weeks at a time, and it again seized him shortly after, much more severely. At last he became so indisposed that he did not leave his room, nor often even his bed, which he ordinarily kept many months.
I believe that, but for his mother and that maid of whom I have spoken, I should have been very happy with him; for as to hastiness, there is hardly a man who has not plenty of it, and it is the duty of a reasonable woman to put up with it quietly without increasing it by sharp answers. You made use of all these things, O my God, for my salvation.
I became pregnant with my first child. During this time I was greatly petted as far as the body went, and my crosses were in some degree less severe thereby.
I was so indisposed that I would have excited the compassion of the most indifferent. Moreover, they had such a great wish to have children, that they were very apprehensive lest I should miscarry.
Yet towards the end they were less considerate to me, and once, when my mother-in-law had treated me in a very shocking manner, I was so malicious as to feign a colic in order to alarm them in my turn; because so anxious were they to have children, for my husband was the only son, and my mother-in-law was rich, could have heirs through him alone.
* * * * *
This first confinement greatly improved my appearance, and in consequence made me more vain, for although I would not have been willing to add art to Nature, yet I was very complaisant to myself.
I was glad to be looked at, and, far from avoiding occasions for it, I went to promenades; rarely however, and when I was in the streets, I took off my mask from vanity, and my gloves to show my hands. Could there be greater silliness? When I had thus been carried away, which happened often enough, I wept inconsolably; but that did not correct me. I also sometimes went to a ball, where I displayed my vanity in dancing.
I did not curl my hair, or very little, I did not even put anything on my face, yet I was not the less vain of it; I very seldom looked in the looking-glass, in order not to encourage my vanity, and I made a practise of reading books of devotion, such as the "Imitation of Jesus Christ" and the works of Saint Francis de Sales, while my hair was being combed, so that as I read aloud the servants profited by it. Moreover, I let myself be dressed as they wished, remaining as they arranged me--a thing which saves trouble and material for vanity.
I do not know how things were, but people always admired me, and the feelings of my vanity reawakened in everything. If on certain days I wished to look to better advantage, I failed, and the more I neglected myself the better I looked. It was a great stone of stumbling for me. How many times, O my God, have I gone to churches less to pray to you than to be seen there! Other women who were jealous of me maintained that I painted, and said so to my confessor, who reproved me for it, although I assured him to the contrary.
I often spoke to my own advantage, and I exalted myself with pride while lowering others. I sometimes still told lies, though I used all my effort to free myself from this vice.
I never spoke to a man alone, and never took one to my carriage unless my husband was there. I never gave my hand without precaution, and I never went into the carriages of men. In short, there was no possible measure I did not observe to avoid any ground for my being talked of.
* * * * *
So much precaution had I, O my God! for a vain point of honor, and I had so little of true honor, which is not to displease you. I went so far in this, and my self-love was so great, that if I had failed in any rule of politeness, I could not sleep at night. Every one wished to contribute to my diversion, and the outside life was only too agreeable for me; but as to indoors, vexation had so depressed my husband that each day I had to put up with something new, and that very often.
Sometimes he threatened to throw the supper out of the window, and I told him it would be very unfair to me--I had a good appetite.
* * * * *
It will be seen, from these frank outpourings of the heart, that Madame Guyon was suffering from an overwrought sex-nature.
Steeped in superstition, hypersthenia, God to her was a man--her lover.
Her one thought was to do His will. God is her ideal of all that is strong, powerful and farseeing. In her imagination she continually communicates with this all-powerful man. She calls Him "My Love," and occasionally forgetting herself addresses him as "Sir." She evades her husband, and deceives that worthy gentleman into believing she is asleep when she is all the time secretly praying to God. She goes to confession in a kimono. She gets up at daylight to go to mass, and this mass to her heated imagination is a tryst, and the fact that she can go to mass and get back safely and find her husband still sleeping adds the sweets of secrecy to her passion. In love the illicit seems the normal.
Her children are nothing to her, compared to this love, the ratio of a woman's love for her children having a direct relationship to the mother's love for their father. Madame Guyon's regard for her husband is covered by the word "duty," but to deceive the man never occurs to her as a fault. She prides herself on being an honest wife.
[Illustration: MADAME GUYON]
Of course her children turn from her, because she has turned from them. She thinks their ingratitude is a trial and a cross sent to her by God, just as she regards her husband's gout as a calamity for herself, never seemingly thinking of how it affects the gentleman himself. Simple people might say the gout was his affair, not hers, but she does not view it so. In her perverted selfness, all things have relationship to her own ego, and so she is in continual trouble, like a girl whose love is being opposed by parents and kinsmen.
A woman in love is the most unreasonable of all created things--next to a man. Reason is actually beyond a lover's orbit. This woman has lost the focus of truth, and all things are out of perspective. Every object is twisted and distorted by the one thought that fills her life. Lovers are fools, but Nature makes them so.
Here is a woman whose elective affinity is a being of her own creation--an airy, fairy fiction of the mind. When a living man appears upon the scene who in degree approximates her ideal of gentleness, strength and truth, how long, think you, will the citadel of her heart withstand the siege? Or will it be necessary for him to lay siege to her heart at all? Will she not straightway throw the silken net of her personality over him--this personality she affects to despise--and take him captive hand and foot? We shall see:
It was after this, my husband, having some relief from his continual illness, wished to go to Orleans, and thence to Touraine. On this journey my vanity triumphed, to disappear forever.
I received many visits and much applause. My God, how clearly I can see the folly of men, who let themselves be caught by vain beauty! I hated passion, but, according to the external man, I could not hate that in me which called me into life, although, according to the interior man, I ardently desired to be delivered from it. O my God, you know how this continued combat of Nature and of Grace made me suffer. Nature was pleased at public approbation, and Grace made it feared. I felt myself torn asunder and as if separated from myself; for I very well felt the injury this universal esteem did me. What augmented it was the virtue they believed united with my youth and my appearance. O my God, they did not know that all the virtue was in you alone, and in your protection, and all the weakness in me.
I told the confessors of my trouble, because I had not my neck entirely covered, although I was much better than the other women of my age. They assured me that I was dressed very modestly, and that there was no harm. My internal director told me quite the contrary, but I had not the strength to follow him, and to dress myself, at my age, in a manner that would appear extraordinary.
Besides, the vanity I had, furnished me with pretexts which appeared to me the justest possible. Oh, if confessors knew the injury they cause women by these soft complaisances, and the evil it produces, they would show a greater severity; for if I had found a single confessor who had told me there was harm in being as I was, I would not have continued in it a single moment; but my vanity taking the part of the confessors, made me think they were right and my troubles were fanciful.
That maid of whom I spoke became every day more arrogant, and as the Devil stirred her up to torment me, when she saw that her outcries did not annoy me, she thought if she could hinder me from communicating she would cause me the greatest of all annoyances. She was quite right, O Divine Spouse of pure souls, since the only satisfaction of my life was to receive you and to honor you. I suffered a species of languor when I was some days without receiving you. When I was unable, I contented myself with keeping some hours near you, and, in order to have liberty for it, I applied myself to perpetual adoration.
This maid knew my affection for the Holy Sacrament, before which, when I could freely, I passed many hours on my knees.
She took care to watch every day she thought I communicated. She came to tell my mother-in-law and my husband, who wanted nothing more to get into a rage with me. There were reprimands which continued the whole day.
If any word of justification escaped me, or any vexation at what they said to me, it was ground enough for their saying that I committed sacrilege, and crying out against devotion.
If I answered nothing, that increased their bitterness. They said the most stinging things possible to me. If I fell ill, which happened often enough, they took the opportunity to come and wrangle with me in my bed, saying it was my communions and my prayers made me ill--as if to receive you, O true Source of all good, could cause any ill!
As it was with difficulty I ordinarily had any time for praying, in order not to disobey my husband, who was unwilling I should rise from bed before seven o'clock, I bethought me I had only to kneel upon my bed.
I could not go to mass without the permission of my husband, for we were very distant from all kind of churches; and as ordinarily he only allowed me on festivals and Sundays, I could not communicate but on those days, however desirous I might be for it; unless some priest came to a chapel, which was a quarter of a league from our house, and let us know of it. As the carriage could not be brought out from the courtyard without being heard, I could not elude him. I made an arrangement with the guardian of the Recolets, who was a very holy man.
He pretended to go to say mass for somebody else, and sent a monk to inform me. It had to be in the early morning, that my husband might not know of it, and, although I had trouble in walking, I went a quarter of a league on foot, because I dared not have the horses put to the carriage for fear of awaking my husband. O my God, what a desire did you not give me to receive you! and although my weariness was extreme, all that was nothing to me. You performed miracles, O my Lord, in order to further my desires; for besides that, ordinarily on the days I went to hear mass, my husband woke later, and thus I returned before his awaking: how many times have I set out from the house in such threatening weather that the maid I took with me said it would be out of the question for me to go on foot, I should be soaked with rain. I answered her with my usual confidence, "God will assist us"; and did I not arrive, O my Lord, without being wetted? No sooner was I in the chapel than the rain fell in torrents. The mass was no sooner finished than the rain ceased entirely, and gave me time to return to the house, where, immediately upon my arrival, it recommenced with greater violence.
* * * * *
The cross I felt most was to see my son revolt against me. I could not see him without dying in grief. When I was in my room with any of my friends, he was sent to listen to what I said; and as the child saw it pleased them, he invented a hundred things to go and tell them. What caused me the most pain was the loss of this child, with whom I had taken extreme trouble. If I surprised him in a lie, which often happened, I dared not reprove him. He told me, "My grandmother says you are a greater liar than I!"
* * * * *
It was eight or nine months after I had the smallpox that Father La Combe passed by the place of my residence. He came to the house, bringing me a letter from Father La Mothe, who asked me to see him, as he was a friend of his. I had much hesitation whether I should see him, because I feared new acquaintances. However, the fear of offending Father La Mothe led me to do it. This conversation, which was short, made him desire to see me once more. I felt the same wish on my side; for I believed he loved God, and I wished everybody to love Him. God had already made use of me to win three monks. The eagerness he had to see me again led him to come to our country-house, which was only a half-league from the town. Providence made use of a little accident that happened, to give me the means of speaking to him; for as my husband, who greatly enjoyed his cleverness, was conversing with him, he felt ill, and having gone into the garden, my husband told me go look for him lest anything might have occurred. I went there. This Father said that he had remarked a concentration and such an extraordinary presence of God on my countenance, that he said to himself, "I have never seen a woman like that"; and this was what made him desire to see me again. We conversed a little, and you permitted, O my God, that I said to him things which opened to him the way of the interior. God bestowed upon him so much grace, through this miserable channel, that he has since declared to me he went away changed into another man.
I preserved a root of esteem for him, for it appeared to me that he would be God's; but I was very far from foreseeing that I should ever go to a place where he would be.
* * * * *
Some time after my arrival at Gex, the Bishop of Geneva came to see us. I spoke to him with the impetuosity of the spirit that guided me. He was so convinced of the spirit of God in me that he could not refrain from saying so. He was even affected, and touched by it opened his heart to me about what God desired of him, and how he had been turned aside from fidelity and grace; for he is a good prelate, and it is the greatest pity in the world that he is so weak in allowing himself to be led by others. When I have spoken to him, he always entered into what I said, acknowledging that what I said had the character of truth; and this could not be otherwise, since it was the spirit of truth that made me speak to him, without which I was only a stupid creature; but as soon as the people who wished to rule him and could not endure any good that did not come from themselves, spoke to him, he allowed himself to be influenced against the truth.
It is this weakness, joined to some others, which has hindered him from doing all the good in his diocese that otherwise he would have done. After I had spoken to him, he told me that he had it in mind to give me as director Father La Combe; that he was a man enlightened of God, who understood well the ways of the spirit, and had a singular gift for calming souls--these are his own words--that he had even told him, the Bishop, many things regarding himself, which he knew to be very true, since he felt in himself what the Father said to him.
I had great joy that the Bishop of Geneva gave him to me as director, seeing that thereby the external authority was joined to the grace which seemed already to have given him to me by that union and effusion of supernatural grace.
As I was very weak, I could not raise myself in bed without falling into a faint; and I could not remain in bed. The Sisters neglected me utterly, particularly the one in charge of the housekeeping, who did not give me what was necessary for my life. I had not a shilling to provide for myself, for I had reserved nothing, and the Sisters received all the money which came to me from France--a very large sum. Thus I had the advantage of practising a little poverty, and being in want with those to whom I had given everything.
They wrote to Father La Combe to come and take my confession. He very charitably walked all night, although he had eight long leagues; but he used always to travel so, imitating in this, as in everything else, our Lord Jesus Christ.
As soon as he entered the house, without my knowing it, my pains were alleviated. And when he came into my room and blessed me, with his hands on my head, I was perfectly cured, and I evacuated all the water, so that I was able to go to the mass. The doctors were so surprised that they did not know how to account for my cure; for being Protestants, they were unable to recognize a miracle. They said it was madness, that my sickness was in the imagination, and a hundred absurdities, such as might be expected from people otherwise vexed by the knowledge that we had come to withdraw from error those who were willing.
A violent cough, however, remained, and those Sisters of themselves told me to go to my daughter, and take milk for a fortnight, after which I might return. As soon as I set out, Father La Combe, who was returning and was in the same boat, said to me, "Let your cough cease."
It at once stopped, and although a furious gale came down upon the lake which made me vomit, I coughed no more at all. This storm became so violent that the waves were on the point of capsizing the boat. Father La Combe made the sign of the cross over the waves, and although the billows became more disturbed, they no longer came near, but broke more than a foot distant from the boat--a fact noticed by the boatmen and those in the boat, who looked upon him as a saint. Thus I arrived at Thonon at the Ursulines, perfectly cured; so instead of adopting remedies as I had proposed, I entered on a retreat which I kept up for twelve days.
One of the Sisters I had brought, who was a very beautiful girl, became connected with an ecclesiastic who had authority in this place. He inspired her from the first with an aversion to me, judging well that, if she had confidence in me, I would not advise her to allow his frequent visits.
She undertook a retreat. I begged her not to enter on it until I was there; for it was the time I was making my own. This ecclesiastic was very glad to let her make it, in order to get entirely into her confidence, for it would have served as a pretext for his frequent visits. The Bishop of Geneva had assigned Father La Combe as director of our House without my asking, so that it came purely from God. I then begged this girl, as Father La Combe was to conduct the retreat, she would wait for him. As I was already commencing to get an influence over her mind, she yielded to me against her own inclination, which was willing enough to make it under that ecclesiastic. I began to speak to her of prayer, and to cause her to offer it. Our Lord therein gave her such blessing that this girl, in other respects very discreet, gave herself to God in earnest and with all her heart. The retreat completed the victory. Now as she apparently recognized that to connect herself with that ecclesiastic was something imperfect, she was more reserved. This much displeased the worthy ecclesiastic, and embittered him against Father La Combe and me, and this was the source of all the persecutions that befell me. The noise in my room ceased when that commenced. This ecclesiastic, who heard confession in the House, no longer regarded me with a good eye.
He began secretly to speak of me with scorn. I knew it, but said nothing to him, and did not for that cease confessing to him. There came to see him a certain monk who hated Father La Combe in consequence of his regularity. They formed an alliance, and decided that they must drive me out of the House, and make themselves masters of it. They set in motion for this purpose all the means they could find. The ecclesiastic, seeing himself supported, no longer kept any bounds. They said that I was stupid, that I had a silly air. They could judge of my mind only by my air, for I hardly spoke to them. This went so far that they made a sermon out of my confession, and it circulated through the whole diocese. They said that some people were so frightfully proud that, in place of confessing gross sins, they confessed only peccadillos; then they gave a detail, word for word, of everything I had confessed.
I am willing to believe that this worthy priest was accustomed only to the confessions of peasants, for the faults of a person in the state which I was, astonished him; and made him regard what were really faults in me, as fanciful; for otherwise assuredly he would not have acted in such a manner. I still accused myself, however, of a sin of my past life, but this did not content him, and I knew he made a great commotion because I did not accuse myself of more notable sins. I wrote to Father La Combe to know if I could confess past sins as present, in order to satisfy this worthy man. He told me, no, and that I should take great care not to confess them except as passed, and that in confession the utmost sincerity was needed.
A few days after my arrival at Gex by night I saw in a dream (but a mysterious dream, for I perfectly well distinguished it) Father La Combe fixed on a cross of extraordinary height. He was naked in the way our Lord is pictured. I saw an amazing crowd who covered me with confusion and cast upon me the ignominy of his punishment. It seemed he suffered more pain than I, but I more reproaches than he. This surprised me the more, because, having seen him only once, I could not imagine what it meant. But I have indeed seen it accomplished. At the same time I saw him thus fixed to the cross, these words were impressed on me: "I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered"; and these others, "I have specially prayed for thee, Peter, that thy faith shall fail not--Satan has desired to sift thee."
Up to that time the Bishop of Geneva had shown me much esteem and kindness, and therefore this man cleverly took him off his guard. He urged upon the prelate that, in order to make certain of me for that House, he ought to compel me to give up to it the little money I had reserved for myself, and to bind me by making me Superior. He knew well that I would never bind myself there, and that, my vocation being elsewhere, I could never give my capital to that House, where I had come only as a visitor; and that I would not be Superior, as I had many times already declared; and that even should I bind myself, it would only be on the condition that this should not be. I believe, indeed, that this objection to be Superior was a remnant of the selfhood, colored with humility. The Bishop of Geneva did not in the least penetrate the intentions of that ecclesiastic, who was called in the country the little Bishop, because of the ascendancy he had acquired over the mind of the Bishop of Geneva. He thought it was through affection for me, and zeal for this House, that this man desired to bind me to it; consequently, he at once fell in with the proposal, resolving to carry it through at whatever price.
The ecclesiastic, seeing he had so well succeeded, no longer kept any bonds as regarded me. He commenced by stopping the letters I wrote to Father La Combe.
Father La Combe none the less went to Annecy, where he found the Bishop much prejudiced and embittered.
He said to him, "My Father, it is absolutely necessary to bind that lady to give what she has to the House of Gex, and to become the Superior."
"My Lord," answered Father La Combe, "you know what she has herself told you of her vocation both at Paris and in this country, and therefore I do not believe she will consent to bind herself. It is not likely that, having given up everything in the hope of going to Geneva, she should bind herself elsewhere, and thus render it impossible for her to accomplish God's designs for her. She has offered to remain with these good Sisters as a lodger. If they desire to keep her in that capacity she will remain with them; if not, she is resolved to withdraw into some convent until God shall dispose of her otherwise." The Bishop answered, "My Father, I know all that, but at the same time I know she is obedient, and if you so order her, she will surely do it."
"It is for this reason, my lord, because she is obedient, that one should be extremely cautious in the commands one gives her," answered the Father.
This ecclesiastic and his friend went through all the places where Father La Combe had held his mission, to decry him and to speak against him so violently that a woman was afraid to say her "Pater" because, she said, she had learned it from him. They made a fearful scandal through the whole country; for the day after my arrival at the Ursulines of Thonon, he set out in the morning to preach lenten sermons at the Valley of Aosta. He came to say adieu to me, and at the same time told me he would go to Rome, and probably would not return, that his superiors might keep him there, that he was sorry to leave me in a strange country without help, and persecuted by every one. Did not that trouble me? I said to him; "My Father, I am not troubled at it. I use the creatures for God, and by His order; through His mercy I get on very well without them.
"I am quite content never to see you again, if such be His will, and to remain under persecution."
For me, there was hardly a day passed that they did not put upon me new insults, and make attacks quite unexpected. The New Catholics, on the report of the Bishop, the ecclesiastic, and the Sisters of Gex, stirred up against me all people of piety. I was not much affected by that. If I had been at all, it would have been because everything was thrown upon Father La Combe, although he was absent; and they made use even of his absence, to destroy all the good he had done in the country by his missions and sermons, which was very great. The Devil gained much in this business. I could not, however, pity this good Father, remarking herein the conducting of God, who desired to annihilate him.
At the commencement I committed faults by a too great anxiety and eagerness to justify him, conceiving it simple justice. I did not the same for myself, for I did not justify myself; but our Lord made me understand I should do for the Father what I did for myself, and allow him to be destroyed and annihilated; for thereby he would derive a far greater glory than he had done from all his reputation.
After Father La Combe arrived, he came to see me, and wrote to the Bishop to know if he approved of my making use of him, and confessing to him as I had done before. The Bishop sent me word to do so, and thus I did it in all possible submissiveness.
In his absence I always confessed to the confessor of the House. The first thing he said to me was that all his lights were deceptions, and that I might return. I did not know why he said this. He added that he could not see an opening to anything, and therefore it was not probable God had anything for me to do in that country. These words were the first greeting he gave me.
When Father La Combe proposed me to return, I felt some slight repugnance in the senses, which did not last long. The soul can not but allow herself to be led by obedience, not that she regards obedience as a virtue, but it is that she can not be otherwise, nor wish to do otherwise; she allows herself to be drawn along without knowing why or how, as a person who should allow himself to be carried along by the current of a rapid river. She can not apprehend deception, nor even make a reflection thereon. Formerly it was by self-surrender; but in her present state it is without even knowing or understanding what she does, like a child whom its mother might hold over the waves of a disturbed sea, and who fears nothing, because it neither sees nor knows the danger; or like a madman who casts himself into the sea without fear of destroying himself. It is not that exactly, for to cast one's self is an "own" action, which here the soul is without. She finds herself there, and she sleeps in the vessel without dreading the danger. It was a long time since any means of support had been sent me. Untroubled and without any anxiety for the future, unable to fear poverty and famine, I saw myself stripped of everything, unprovided for and without papers.
My daughter recovered her health. I must tell how this happened. She had smallpox and the purples. They brought a doctor from Geneva, who gave her up in despair. They made Father La Combe come in to take her confession; he gave her his blessing, and at the same instant the smallpox and the purples disappeared, and the fever left her. The doctor, though a Protestant, offered to give a certificate of miracle.
But although my daughter was restored, my crosses were not lessened, owing to her bad education. The persecutions on the part of the New Catholics continued, and became even more violent, without my ceasing on that account to do them all the good I could. What caused me some pain was that the mistress of my daughter came often to converse with me. I saw so much imperfection in these conversations, although spiritual, that I could not avoid making it known to her; and as this hurt her, I was weak enough to be pained at paining her, and to continue out of mere complacency things which I saw to be very imperfect.
Father La Combe introduced order in many things regarding my daughter; but the mistress was so hurt that the friendship she had for me changed into coolness and distance. However, she had grace, she readily got over it; but her natural character carried her away.
* * * * *
Father La Combe was a very great preacher. His style was peculiarly his own.
Various accounts come to us of his power in swaying his audience. The man was tall, thin, ascetic and of remarkably handsome presence. His speech was slow, deliberate, kindly, courteous, and most effective. He disarmed criticism, from his first word. His voice was not loud nor deep, and he had that peculiar oratorical power which by pause and poise compels the audience to come to him. Madame Guyon relates that when he began to speak it was in a tone scarcely audible, and the audience leaned forward and listened with breathless interest. Occasionally, during his sermon, he would pause and kneel in silent prayer, and often by his pauses--his very silences--he would reach a degree of eloquence that would sway his hearers to tears.
The man had intellect, great spirituality, and moreover was a great actor, which latter fact need not be stated to his discredit--he used his personality to press home the truth he wished to impart.
The powers at Rome, realizing Father La Combe's ability as a preacher, refused to allow him a regular parish, but employed him in moving about from place to place conducting retreats. We would now call him a traveling evangelist. Monasteries and nunneries are very human institutions, and quibble, strife, jealousy, bickering, faction and feud play an important part in their daily routine.
To keep down the cliques and prevent disintegration, the close inspection of visiting prelates is necessary. Father La Combe, by his gentle, saintly manner, his golden speech, was everywhere a power for good.
Madame Guyon came under the sway of Father La Combe's eloquence. She felt the deep, abiding strength of his character. He was the first genuine man she had ever met, and in degree he filled her ideal. She sought him in confession, and the quality of her confession must surely have made an impression on him. Spirituality and sex are closely akin. Oratory and a well-sexed nature go together.
Father La Combe was a man. Madame Guyon was a woman.
Both were persons of high intellect, great purity of purpose, and sincerity of intent. But neither knew that piety is a by-product of sex.
They met to discuss religious themes: she wished to advise with him as to her spiritual estate. He treated her as a daughter--kissed her forehead when they parted, blessed her with laying on of hands.
Their relationship became mystic, symbolic, solemn, and filled with a deep religious awe; she had dreams where Father La Combe appeared to her--afterward she could not tell whether the dream was a vision or a reality. When they met in reality, she construed it into a dream. God was leading them, they said. They lived in God--and in each other.
Father La Combe went his way, bidding her a tender farewell--parting forever. In a few weeks Madame would appear at one of his retreats with a written consent from the Bishop.
She followed him to his home in Gex, and then to Geneva. She entered a convent and worked as a menial so as to be near him. The Bishop made Father La Combe her official adviser, so as to lend authority to their relationship.
All would have been well, had not the ardor and intensity of Madame Guyon's nature attracted the attention and then the jealousy of various monks and nuns. A woman of Madame Guyon's nature is content with nothing less than ownership and complete possession. She even went so far as to announce herself as mother-by-grace to Father La Combe.
This meant that God had sanctified their relationship, so she was his actual mother, all brought about by a miracle no less peculiar and wonderful than the story of the bread and wine. Through this miracle of motherhood she thought she must be near him always, care for him, "mother" him, drudge for him, slave for him, share his poverty and pain.
Such abject devotion is both beautiful and pathetic. That it bordered on insanity, there is no doubt. Father La Combe accepted the "motherhood" as sent by God, but later distrusted it and tried to send Madame Guyon away.
She accepted this new cross as a part of her purification. She suffered intensely, and so did he. It was a relationship divinely human, and they were trying to prove to themselves and to others that it was something else, for at that time people did not believe in the divinity of human love.
Rumors became rife, charges were brought and proved. The Church is now, and always has been, very lenient in its treatment of erring priests. In fact, those in authority take the lofty ground that a priest, like a king, can do no wrong, and that sins of the flesh are impossible to one divinely anointed. And as for the woman, she is merely guilty of indiscretion at the worst.
Madame Guyon's indiscretion took the form of religious ecstasy, and she claimed that the innermost living God was guiding her footsteps into a life of "Pure Love," or constant, divine adoration. Charges of "false doctrine" were brought against her, and Father La Combe was duly cautioned to have nothing to do with Madame Guyon in any way. For a time he assumed a harshness he did not feel, and ordered her back to her home to remain with her kinsmen: that he had a communication from God saying this was His will.
Madame started to obey, but fell ill to the point of death, and Father La Combe was sent for to come and take her last confession and bestow the rite of extreme unction. He came, a miracle was performed and Madame got well.
The relationship was too apparent to waive or overlook--scandal filled the air. Nuns and monks were quitting their religious devotions to talk about it.
Common, little, plain preachers might have their favorites, but Father La Combe and Madame Guyon were in the world's eye. The churchly authorities became alarmed at the influence exerted by Father La Combe and Madame Guyon. Their doctrine of "Quietism," or constant, pure love, was liable to create a schism. What the Church wants is fixity, security and obedience. At that time in France the civil authorities and the Church worked together. The "lettre de cachet" was utilized, and Father La Combe was landed suddenly and safely in the Bastile. We have gotten so used to liberty that we can hardly realize that only a hundred years ago, men were arrested without warrant, no charge having been made against them, tried in secret and disposed of as if they were already dead.
Father La Combe never regained his liberty. His mind reeled under his misfortunes and he died insane.
Madame Guyon was banished to a nunnery, which was a bastile arranged for ladies. For two years she was kept under lock and key. The authorities, however, relaxed their severities, not realizing that she was really more dangerous than Father La Combe.
Priests are apt to deal gently with beautiful women. From her prison Madame Guyon managed to get a letter to Fenelon, Bishop of Cambray. She asked for a hearing and that her case be passed upon by a tribunal. Fenelon referred the letter to Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux, recommending that the woman be given a hearing and judgment rendered as to the extent of her heresy. By a singular fatality Bossuet appointed Fenelon as chairman or chief inquisitor of the committee to investigate the vagaries and conduct of the Madame.
Bossuet, himself, became interested in the woman. He went to see her in prison, and her beauty, her intellect, her devotion, appealed to him.
Bossuet was an orator, the greatest in France at that time. His only rival was Fenelon, but the style and manner of the men were so different that they really played off against each other as foils.
Bossuet was vehement, powerful--what we would call "Western." Fenelon was suave, gentle, and won by an appeal to the highest and best in the hearts of his hearers. Father La Combe and Fenelon were very much alike, only Father La Combe had occupied a local position, while that of Fenelon was national. Fenelon was a diplomat, an author, an orator.
Madame Guyon's autobiography reveals the fact that Bossuet was enough interested in her case to have her removed to a nunnery near where he lived, and there he often called upon her. He read to her from his own writings, instead of analyzing hers, which proves priests to be simply men at the last. Bossuet needed the feminine mind to bolster his own, but Madame and he did not mix. In her autobiography she hesitates about actually condemning Bossuet, but describes him as short and fat, so it looks as if she were human, too, since what repelled her were his physical characteristics.
When a woman describes a man she always begins by telling how he looks.
Madame Guyon says: "The Bishop of Meaux wished me to change my name, so that, as he said, it should not be known I was in his diocese, and that people should not torment him on my account. The project was the finest in the world, if he could have kept a secret; but he told everybody he saw that I was in such a convent, under such a name. Immediately, from all sides, anonymous libels against me were sent to the Mother Superior and the nuns."
With Fenelon, it was very different. Her heart went out to him: he was the greatest man she had ever seen--greater even than Father La Combe.
Fenelon's first interview with Madame Guyon was simply in an official way, but her interest in him was very personal. This is evidenced from her brief, but very fervent, mention of the incident:
Having been visited by the Abbe de Fenelon, I was suddenly with extreme force and sweetness interested for him. It seemed to me our Lord united him to me very intimately, more so than any one else. It appeared to me that, as it were, a spiritual filiation took place between him and me. The next day, I had the opportunity of seeing him again. I felt interiorly this first interview did not satisfy him: that he did not relish me. I experienced a something which made me long to pour my heart into his; but I found nothing to correspond, and this made me suffer much. In the night I suffered extremely about him.
In the morning I saw him. We remained for some time in silence, and the cloud cleared off a little; but it was not yet as I wished it.
I suffered for eight whole days, after which I found myself united to him without obstacle, and from that time I find the union increasing in a pure and ineffable manner. It seems to me that my soul has a perfect rapport with his, and those words of David regarding Jonathan, that "his soul clave to that of David," appeared to me suitable for this union. Our Lord has made me understand the great designs He has for this person, and how dear he is to Him.
The justice of God causes suffering from time to time for certain souls until their entire purification. As soon as they have arrived where God wishes them, one suffers no longer for anything for them; and the union which had been often covered with clouds is cleared up in such a manner that it becomes like a very pure atmosphere, penetrated everywhere, without distinction, by the light of the sun. As Fenelon was given to me, in a more intimate manner than any other, what I have suffered, what I am suffering, and what I shall suffer for him, surpasses anything that can be told. The least partition between him and me, between him and God, is like a little dirt in the eye, which causes it an extreme pain, and which would not inconvenience any other part of the body where it might be put. What I suffer for him is very different from what I suffer for others; but I am unable to discover the cause, unless it be God has united me to him more intimately than to any other, and that God has greater designs for him than for the others.
Fenelon the ascetic, he of the subtle intellect and high spiritual quality, had never met a woman on an absolute equality. Madame Guyon's religious fervor disarmed him. He saw her often, that he might comprehend the nature of her mission.
In the official investigation that followed, he naturally found himself the defender of her doctrines. She was condemned by the court, but Fenelon put in a minority report of explanation. The nature of the man was to defend the accused person; this was evidenced by his defense of the Huguenots, when he lifted up his voice for their liberty at a time when religious liberty was unknown. His words might have been the words of Thomas Jefferson, to whom Fenelon bore a strange resemblance in feature. Says Fenelon: "The right to be wrong in matters of religious belief must be accorded, otherwise we produce hypocrites instead of persons with an enlightened belief that is fully their own. If truth be mighty and God all-powerful, His children need not fear that disaster will follow freedom of thought."
After Madame Guyon was condemned she was allowed to go on suspended sentence, with a caution that silence was to be the price of her liberty, for before this she had attracted to herself, even in prison, congregations of several hundred to whom she preached, and among whom she distributed her writings.
The earnest, the sincere, the spiritual Fenelon never suspected where this friendship was to lead. Even when Madame Guyon slipped into his simple, little household as a servant under an assumed name, he was inwardly guileless. This proud woman with the domineering personality now wore wooden shoes and the garb of a scullion. She scrubbed the floors, did laundry-work, cooked, even worked in the garden looking after the vegetables and the flowers, that she might be near him.
Fenelon accepted this servile devotion, regarding it as a part of the woman's penance for sins done in the past. Most certainly love is blind, at least myopic, for Fenelon of the strong and subtle mind could not see that service for the beloved is the highest joy, and the more menial the service the better. Madame sought to deceive herself by making her person unsightly to her lord, and so she wore coarse and ragged dresses, calloused her hands, and allowed the sun to tan and freckle her face.
Of course then the inevitable happened: the intimacy slipped off into the most divine of human loves--or the most human of divine loves, if you prefer to express it so.
To prevent the scandal, the other servants were sent away. Nothing can be kept secret except for a day.
A person of Madame Guyon's worth could not be lost or secreted. For Fenelon to defend her and then secrete her was unpardonable to the arrogant Bossuet.
Fenelon had now to defend himself. How much of political rivalry as well as ecclesiastic has been made by the favor of women, who shall say!
Of her intimate relationship with Fenelon, Madame Guyon says nothing. The bond was of too sacred a nature to discuss, and here her frankness falters, as it should. She does not even defend it.
Fenelon and Madame Guyon were plotting against the Church and State--how very natural! The Madame was fifty; Fenelon was forty-seven--they certainly were old enough to know better, but they did not.
They parted of their own accord, solemnly and in tearful prayer, for parting is such sweet sorrow. And then, in a few weeks, they met again to consult as to the future.
Soon Bossuet stepped in and induced the Vatican to do for them what they could not do alone. Fenelon was stripped of his official robes, reduced to the rank of a parish priest, and sent to minister to an obscure and stricken church in the south of France. The country was battle-scarred, and poverty, ignorance and want stalked through the streets of the little village. Here Fenelon lived, as did the exiled Copernicus, forbidden to travel more than six miles from his church, or to speak to any but his own flock. Here he gave his life as a teacher of children, a nurse, a doctor and a spiritual guide to a people almost devoid of spirituality.
Madame Guyon was sent to a nunnery, where she was actually a prisoner, working as a menial. Fenelon and Madame Guyon never met again, but once a month they sent each other a love-letter on spiritual themes in which love wrote between the lines. Time had tamed the passions of Madame Guyon, otherwise no convent-walls would have been high enough to keep her captive. Sweet, sad memories fed her declining days, and within a few weeks of her death she declared that her life had been a success, "for I have been loved by Fenelon, the greatest and most saintly man of his time."
And as for the Abbe Fenelon, the verdict of the world seems to be that he was ruined by Madame Guyon; but if he ever thought so, no sign of recrimination ever escaped his lips.
FERDINAND LASSALLE AND HELENE VON DONNIGES
FERDINAND LASSALLE PRINCE YANKO RACOWITZA HERR VON DONNIGES KARL MARX DOCTOR HAENLE JACQUES HELENE VON DONNIGES FRAU VON DONNIGES FRAU HOLTHOFF HILDA VON DONNIGES Servants, maids, butler, landlord, ladies and gentlemen.
A wise man has said that there is a difference between fact and truth. He has also told us that things may be true and still not be so. The truth as to the love-story of Ferdinand Lassalle and Helene von Donniges can only be told by adhering strictly to the facts. Facts are not only stubborn things, but often very inconvenient; yet in this instance the simple facts fall easily into dramatic form, and the only way to tell the story seems to be to let it tell itself. Dramas are made up of incidents that have happened to somebody sometime, but in no instance that I ever heard of have all the situations pictured in a play happened to the persons who played the parts. The business of the playwright is selection and rejection, and usually the dramatic situations revealed have been culled from very many lives over a long course of years. Here the author need but reveal the tangled skein woven by Fate, Meddling Parents, Pride, Prejudice, Caprice, Ambition, Passion. In other words it is human nature in a tornado, and human nature is a vagrant ship, with a spurious chart, an uncertain compass, a drunken pilot, a mutinous crew and a crazy captain.
The moral seems to be that the tragedy of existence lies in interposing that newly discovered thing called intellect into the delicate affairs of life, instead of having faith in God, and moving serenely with the eternal tide.
Moses struck the rock, and the waters gushed forth; but if Moses had found a spring in the desert and then toiled mightily to smother it with a mountain of arid sand, I doubt me much whether the name of Moses would now live as one of the saviors of the world.
Parties with an eczema for management would do well to butt their heads three times against the wall and take note that the wall falls not. Then and then only are they safe from Megalocephalia. There are temptations in life that require all of one's will to succumb to; and he who resists not the current of his being, nor attempts to dam the fountain of life for another, shall be crowned with bay and be fed on ambrosia in Elysium.
* * * * *
_Scene:_ Parlors of Herr and Frau Holthoff at their home in Berlin.
[An informal conference of the leading members of the Allied Workingmen's Clubs. Present various ladies and gentlemen, some seated, others standing, talking.]
_Enter DOCTOR HAENLE_
HERR HOLTHOFF. Hello, Comrade Haenle! I am very glad to see you here.
DOCTOR HAENLE. Not more glad than I am to be here.
[They shake hands cordially, all around.]
HERR HOLTHOFF. [_To his wife_] My dear, you see Doctor Haenle has come--I win my bet!
DOCTOR HAENLE. I hope you two have not been gambling!
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Yes, Doctor, we made a bet, and I am delighted to lose!
DOCTOR HAENLE. You mystify me!
HERR HOLTHOFF. Well, the fact is that Madame had a dream in which you played a part; she thought you had been--what is that word, my dear?
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Expatriated.
HERR HOLTHOFF. Yes, expatriated--sent out of the country for the country's good.
DOCTOR HAENLE. It would be a great compliment!
HERR HOLTHOFF. Very true; you could then join our own Richard Wagner in Switzerland!
DOCTOR HAENLE. Could I but write such songs as he does, I would relish the fate!
FRAU HOLTHOFF. But the people who sent him into exile never guessed that they were giving him the leisure to write immortal music.
DOCTOR HAENLE. People who persecute other people never know what they do.
HERR HOLTHOFF. It isn't so bad to be persecuted, but it is a terrible thing to persecute.
DOCTOR HAENLE. It is often a good thing for the persecuted, provided he can spare the time--how does that strike you, Herr Marx?
KARL MARX. I fully agree in the sentiment. There seems to be an Eternal Spirit of Wisdom that guides man and things, and this Spirit cares only for the end.
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Nature's solicitude is for the race, not the individual.
KARL MARX. Exactly so!
HERR HOLTHOFF. Get that in your forthcoming book, Brother Marx, and give credit to the Madame.
KARL MARX. I surely will. Most of my original thoughts I get from my friends.
HERR HOLTHOFF. You may not be so grateful when the book is published.
KARL MARX. You mean I may sing the Pilgrims' Chorus with Richard across the border?
HERR HOLTHOFF. Yes; the government is growing very sensitive.
DOCTOR HAENLE. Which has nothing to do with the publication of _Das Kapital_--eh, Herr Marx?
KARL MARX. Not the slightest. The book will live, regardless of the fate of the author.
FRAU HOLTHOFF. You do not seem very sanguine of immediate success of the workingmen's party!
KARL MARX. We will succeed when the ditches are even full of our dead--then progress can pass.
FRAU HOLTHOFF. And that time has not come?
KARL MARX. I hope we are great enough not to deceive ourselves. We work for truth: whether this truth will be accepted by the many this year, or next, or the next century, we can not say, but that should not deter us from our best endeavors.
HELENE VON DONNIGES. [_Golden-haired, enthusiastic, needlessly pink and gorgeously twenty_] Men fight for a thing and lose, and the men they fought fight for the same thing under another name, and win! [_All turn and listen_] Life is in the fight, not the achievement. Oh, I think it would be glorious to suffer, to be misunderstood, and fail; and yet know in our hearts that we were right--absolutely right--and that the wisdom of the ages will endorse our acts and on the tombs of some of us carve the word "Savior"!
KARL MARX. Grand, magnificent! That sounds just like Lassalle.
HELENE. There; that is the third time I have been told I talk just like Lassalle--a person I have never seen.
DOCTOR HAENLE. Then you have something to live for.
HELENE. Perhaps, but I echo no man. When one speaks from one's heart it is not complimentary to have people suavely smile and say, "Goethe," "Voltaire," "Shakespeare," "Rousseau," "Lassalle"!
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Just see the company in which she places our Ferdinand!
HELENE. [_Wearily_] Oh, I am not trying to compliment Lassalle. The fact is, I dislike the man. His literary style is explosive; about all he seems to do is to paraphrase dear Karl Marx. Besides, he is a Jew----
KARL MARX. Gently--I am a Jew!
HELENE. But you are different. Lassalle is aggressive, pushing, grasping--he has ego plus, and [_With relaxing tension_] all I want to say is that I am aweary of being accused of quoting Lassalle--that I do not know Lassalle, and what is more, I----
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Oh, you'll talk differently when you see him!
HELENE. But surely you, too, do not make genius exempt from the moral code?
DOCTOR HAENLE. Oh, some one has been telling you about Madame Hatzfeldt----
HELENE. I know the undisputed facts.
KARL MARX. Which are that at nineteen years of age Ferdinand Lassalle became the legal counsel for Madame Hatzfeldt; that he fought her case through the courts for nine years; that he lost three times and finally won.
HELENE. And then became a member of the Madame's household.
KARL MARX. If so, with the Madame's permission.
HELENE. [_Sarcastically_] Certainly.
FRAU HOLTHOFF. That thirty years' difference in their ages ought to absolve him.
DOCTOR HAENLE. To say nothing of the fee he received!
KARL MARX. The fee?
DOCTOR HAENLE. One hundred thousand thalers.
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Capital; also, _Das Kapital_!
KARL MARX. I have made a note of it. A lawyer gets a single fee of one hundred thousand thalers--this under the competitive system--a hundred years of labor for the average workingman!
FRAU HOLTHOFF. A lawyer at nineteen--studying on one case, knowing its every aspect and phase, pursuing the case for nine years, and opposed by six of the ablest, oldest and most influential legal lights in Germany, and gaining a complete victory!
KARL MARX. I've heard of successful authors of a single book, but I never before heard of a great lawyer with but one case!
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Oh, Lassalle has had many cases offered him, but he refused them all so as to devote himself to the People _versus_ Entailed Nobility.
KARL MARX. You mean Entrenched Alleged Royalty.
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Yes. I accept the correction--and this case he will win, just as he did the other.
HELENE. You had better say his body will go to fill up the sunken roadway!
DOCTOR HAENLE. Good! that was your idea of success a few moments ago.
HELENE. I see--more of Lassalle.
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Oh, you two were just made for each other!
DOCTOR HAENLE. You both have the fire, the dash, the enthusiasm, the personality, the beautiful unreasonableness, the----
HELENE. Go on!
KARL MARX. He is the greatest orator in Europe!
FRAU HOLTHOFF. And the handsomest man!
DOCTOR HAENLE. You shall see!
HELENE. Shall I?
DOCTOR HAENLE. You certainly shall. Indeed, Lassalle may be here this evening. He spoke in Dresden last night, and was to leave at once, after the address. His train was due--let me see--[_consults watch_] half an hour ago. I told him if he came to drive straight here.
HELENE. [_Slightly agitated_] I must go--I promised papa I would be home at ten.
KARL MARX. And your papa would never allow you to stay out after ten, any more than he would forgive you if he knew you visited with people who harbored Ferdinand Lassalle?
HELENE. My father is a busy man--a Monarchist of course--and he has no time for the New Thought.
DOCTOR HAENLE. He leaves that to you?
HELENE. Yes, he indulges me--he says the New Thought does him no harm and amuses me! See if my carriage is waiting, please. Thank you----
[Frau Holthoff starts to help Helene on with her wraps. Knocking is heard at the door. Herr Holthoff goes into the hall to answer knock.]
HERR HOLTHOFF. [_Outside_] Well, well, Ferdinand the First, Ferdinand himself!
[Commotion--all move toward door]
_Enter HERR HOLTHOFF with LASSALLE_
[Lassalle is tall, slender, nervous, active, intelligent, commanding. All shake hands, and he and Karl Marx embrace and kiss each other on the cheek. Helene stares, slips down behind the sofa, and seated on an ottoman reads intently with her nose in a book. The rest talk and move toward the center of the stage, gathering around Lassalle, who affectionately half-embraces all--with remarks from everybody: "How well you look!" "And the news from Dresden!" "Did the police molest you?" "Was it a big audience?" etc. Lassalle seats himself on sofa with back to Helene, who is immediately behind him.]
LASSALLE. We will win when fifty-one per cent of the voters declare themselves. You see Nature never intended that ninety per cent of the people should slave for the other ten per cent. The world must see that we all should work--that to succeed we must work for each other. We have thought that educated men should not work, and that men who work should not be educated. We have congested work and congested education and congested wealth. The good things of the world are for all, and if there were an even distribution there would be no want, no wretchedness. The rich for the most part waste and destroy, and of course the many have to toil in order to make good this waste. When we can convince fifty-one per cent of the people that righteousness is only a form of self-preservation, that mankind is an organism and that we are all parts of the whole, the battle will be won. [_Rises and paces the floor, still talking_] I spoke last night to five thousand people, and the way they listened and applauded and applauded and listened, revealed how hungry the people are for truth. The hope of the world lies in the middle class--the rich are as ignorant as the poverty-stricken. A way must be devised to reach the rich--I can do it. Inaction, idleness, that is the curse. Life is fluid, and only running water is pure. Stagnation is death. Turbulent Rome was healthy, but quiescent Rome was soft, feverish, morbid, pathological. Now, take Hamlet--what man ever had more opportunities? Heir to the throne--beauty, power, youth, intellect--all were his! What wrecked him? Why, inaction; he sat down to muse, instead of being up and doing. He wrangled, dawdled, dreamed, followed soothsayers, and consulted mediums until his mind was mush----
HELENE. [_Rising quickly_] Mad from the beginning!
[Lassalle and the two men to whom he was talking jump, turn, stare.]
HELENE. Mad from the beginning, I say!
[The two friends at once quit Lassalle and move off arm in arm talking, leaving Lassalle and Helene eyeing each other across the sofa. Her eyes flash defiance; he relaxes, smiles, paying no attention to her contradiction concerning Hamlet. He kneels on the sofa and leans toward her.]
LASSALLE. Ah, this is how you look! This is you! Yes, yes, it is as I thought. It is all right!
FRAU HOLTHOFF. [_Bustling forward_] Oh, I forgot you had not met--allow me to introduce----
LASSALLE. [_Waving the Frau away, walks around the sofa taking Helene by the arm_] What is the necessity of introducing us! People who know each other do not have to be introduced. You know who I am, and you are Brunhilde, the Red Fox.
[Leads her around and seats her on the sofa and takes his place beside her, with one arm along the back of the sofa. Helene leans toward him, and flicks an imaginary particle of dust from his coat-collar.]
HELENE. You were talking about your success in Dresden!
[Lassalle proceeds to talk to her most earnestly. She listens, nods approval, sighs, and clasps her hands. The others in the room gather at opposite sides of the room and talk, but with eyes furtively turned now and then toward the couple, who are lost to the world, interested but in each other, and the great themes they are discussing.]
LASSALLE. I knew we must meet. Fate decreed it so. You are the Goddess of the Morning and I am the Sun-God.
HELENE. You are sure then about your divinity?
LASSALLE. Yes, through a belief in yours.
HELENE. I knew I would meet you. I felt that I must, in order to get you out of my mind. I am betrothed, you know----
LASSALLE. I know--to me, from the foundation of the world.
HELENE. I am betrothed to Prince Yanko Racowitza. You never heard of him, of course. He is out of your class, because he is good, and gentle, and kind, and of noble blood. And you are a demagogue, and a demigod, and a Jew, and a Mephisto! I told Yanko I would not wed him until I saw you. He has been trying to meet you, to introduce us.
LASSALLE. That you might be disillusioned!
HELENE. Precisely so.
LASSALLE. How interesting! And how superfluous in your fairy prince.
HELENE. He is an extraordinary man, for he said I should see you and him both, see you together and take my choice.
LASSALLE. Good! He is a Christian, and does as he would be done by. I am a Christianized Jew, and I will bejew all Christendom. Your prince is a useless appendenda, and I would kill him, were it not that I am opposed to duelling. I fought one duel--or did not fight it, I should say. I faced my man, he fired and missed. I threw my pistol into the bushes and held out my hand to the late enemy. He reeled toward me and fell into my arms, pierced by his emotions. He is now my friend. Had I killed him, the vexed question between us would still be unsettled. I believe in brain, not brawn--soul, not sense. Let us meet your prince, and when he sees you and me together, he will know we are one, and dare not withhold his blessing which we do not need. He shall be our page. Win people and use them, I say--use them! You and I working together can win and use humanity for humanity's good. We talk with the same phrases. You say, "Two wishes make a will"--so do I. We read the same books, are fed at the same springs. Our souls blend together; great thoughts are children, born of married minds----
HELENE. My carriage is at the door--I surely must go!
LASSALLE. I'll order your coachman to go home; we will walk.
[Strides to the door, and gives the order and in an instant returns, picks up Helene's wraps and proceeds affectionately to help her on with overshoes, cloak and hat.]
LASSALLE. The fact is that life lies in mutual service--any other course is merely existence. Those who do most for others enjoy most. Well, good-night, dear Karl Marx, [_Shakes hands_] and you, Doctor Haenle--what would life be to me without you! Good-night, Herr Holthoff and dear Frau Holthoff!
[Kisses the Frau's hand. Helene helps him on with overcoat and hands him his hat. They disappear through the right entrance, arm in arm, faces turned toward each other, talking earnestly. As they go through the door, Lassalle lifts his hat to the company and says, "Good-night, everybody." Those on the stage turn and stare at one another in amazement. Doctor Haenle breaks the silence with a laugh.]
DOCTOR HAENLE. Well, well, well!
HERR HOLTHOFF. She is carried off on the back of a centaur.
KARL MARX. A whirlwind wooing!
FRAU HOLTHOFF. Affinities!
* * * * *
_Scene:_ Hotel veranda in the Swiss Mountains.
[Present: Herr Holthoff, Frau Holthoff, Doctor Haenle, Lassalle and Helene, seated or walking about and talking leisurely. Surroundings beautiful and an air of peace pervades the place.]
DOCTOR HAENLE. These early Fall days are the finest of the year in the mountains.
HELENE. Yes: for then the guests have mostly gone.
LASSALLE. Just as the church is never quite so sacred as when the priest is not there!
FRAU HOLTHOFF. You mean the priest and congregation?
LASSALLE. Certainly, they go together. A priest apart from his people is simply a man.
HELENE. Ferdinand loves the Church!
LASSALLE. You should say a church, my lady fair!
HELENE. Yes, a church--this is the fourth time we have met. Two of the other times were in a church.
LASSALLE. [_Ecstatically_] Yes, in the dim, cool, religious light of a church, vacant save for us two--I should say for us one!
HELENE. We just sat and said the lover's litany--"Love like ours can never die."
HERR HOLTHOFF. Well, love and religion are one at the last.
LASSALLE. They were one once, and neither will be right until they are one again.
HELENE. A creed is made up of ossified metaphors--lover's metaphors.
DOCTOR HAENLE. Good, and every one can believe a creed if you allow him to place his own interpretation on it!
LASSALLE. That is what we will do in the Co-operative Commonwealth.
DOCTOR HAENLE. Which reminds me that Bismarck, who loves you almost as well as we do, declares that you are a Monarchist, not a Socialist, the difference being that you believe in the House of Lassalle and he in the House of Hohenzollern.
LASSALLE. Which means, I suppose, that I will be king of the Co-operative Commonwealth?
HELENE. You will be if I have my way.
DOCTOR HAENLE. Heresy and sedition! The woman who loves a man confuses him with God, and regards him as one divinely appointed to rule.
HELENE. I can not deny it if I would.
FRAU HOLTHOFF. And yet tomorrow you and Lassalle part!
HELENE. Only for a time.
LASSALLE. For how long, no man can say; that is why I have urged that we should be married here and now. A notary can be gotten from the village in an hour--you, dear comrades, shall be the witnesses.
HELENE. It is only my love that makes me hesitate. The future of Ferdinand Lassalle, and the future of Socialism must not be jeopardized!
DOCTOR HAENLE. Jeopardized?
LASSALLE. Jeopardized by love?
HELENE. The world would regard a marriage here as an elopement. My father would be furious. Who are we that we should run away to wed, as if I were a schoolgirl and Lassalle a grocer's clerk! Lassalle is the king of men. He convinces them by his logic, by his presence, by his enthusiasm----
HERR HOLTHOFF. He has convinced you in any event.
HELENE. And he can and will convince the world!
DOCTOR HAENLE. I believe he will.
HELENE. And when he wins my parents he will secure an influence that will help usher in the Better Day. Besides----
HELENE. [_Laughing_] I am engaged to marry Prince Racowitza!
LASSALLE. [_Smiling_] True, I forgot. But when he sees the Goddess of the Dawn and the Socialistic Sun-God together, he will give them his blessing and renounce all claims.
HELENE. Exactly so.
DOCTOR HAENLE. Which is certainly better than to snip him off without first tying the ligature.
FRAU HOLTHOFF. This whole situation is really amusing when one takes a cool look at it. Here is Helene betrothed to Prince Racowitza, who is intelligent, kind, amiable, good, unobjectionable. And because society demands that a girl shall marry somebody, she accepts the situation, and until Lassalle, the vagrant planet, came shooting through space, this girl of aspiration and ambition would have actually wedded the unobjectionable man and herself become unobjectionable to please her unobjectionable parents.
HERR HOLTHOFF. That is a plain, judicial statement of the case, made by the wife of a fairly good man.
LASSALLE. Error set in motion continues indefinitely, all according to the physical law of inertia. The customs of society continue, and are always regarded by the many as perfect--in fact, divine. This continues until some one called a demagogue and a fanatic suggests a change. This talk of change causes a little wobble in the velocity of the error, but it still spins forward and crushes and mangles all who get in the way. That is what you call orthodoxy--the subjection of the many. The men, run over and mangled, are spoken of as "dangerous."
HERR HOLTHOFF. Which reminds me that when people say a man is dangerous, they simply mean that his ideas are new to them.
LASSALLE. [_Seating himself at a table opposite Helene_] You hear, my Goddess of the Dawn, Helene, that dangerous ideas are simply new ideas?
HELENE. Yes, I heard it and I have said it.
LASSALLE. Because I have said it.
HELENE. Undoubtedly, which is reason enough.
LASSALLE. Can you make your father believe that?
HELENE. I intend to try and I expect to succeed.
[All slip away and leave Helene and Lassalle alone. As the conversation grows earnest, he holds her hands across the table, just as the lovers do in a Gibson picture.]
LASSALLE. And you still think this better than that we should proclaim the republic tomorrow, and have our dear friends go down and inform the world that we are man and wife?
HELENE. Listen: The desire of my life is to be your wife. No ceremony can make us more completely one than we are now. My soul is intertwined with yours. All that remains is, how shall we announce the truth to the world? Shall we do it by the tongue of scandal? That is not necessary. Doctor Haenle can take you to call on my father. I will be there--we will meet incidentally. You are irresistible to men, as well as to women. My father will study you. You will allow him to talk--you will agree with him. After he has said all he has to say, you will talk, and he will gradually agree with you. My parents will become accustomed to your presence--they will see that you are a gentleman. Prince Racowitza will be there, and he will not have to be told the truth--he will see it. He will be obedient to my wishes. He admires me, and you----
LASSALLE. I love you.
HELENE. You love me--the world seems tame. I am simply yours.
LASSALLE. I realize it, and so, like your little prince, I am obedient--an obedient rebel!
HELENE. A rebel?
LASSALLE. I say it, but very gently. I can win your parents and the prince, quite as well if introduced to them as your husband, as if we faced each other in their presence and pretended--a nice word, that--pretended we had never met. There, I am done. I am now your page--your slave.
HELENE. [_Disturbed and slightly nettled_] Then grant me a small favor.
LASSALLE. Even if it be the half of my kingdom.
HELENE. Let me see a picture of Madame Hatzfeldt!
HELENE. Madame Hatzfeldt.
LASSALLE. [_Coloring and confused_] Oh, surely, I will--I will find one for you and send it by mail.
HELENE. Perhaps you have one in your pocketbook?
LASSALLE. Oh, that is so; possibly I have!
[Takes pocketbook out of breast-pocket of his coat, fumbles and finds a small, square photograph, which he passes over to Helene, who studies his face and then the photograph.]
HELENE. [_Looking at picture_] She has intellect!
LASSALLE. [_Trying to laugh_] She was born in Eighteen Hundred Eight--I call her Gran'ma!
HELENE. Is she handsome?
LASSALLE. Oh, twenty years ago she was.
HELENE. Twenty years ago she was a woman in distress?
HELENE. And women in distress are very alluring to gallant and adventurous young men.
LASSALLE. It was twenty years ago, I say.
HELENE. And now you are--are friends?
LASSALLE. We are friends!
HELENE. [_Archly_] Shall I win her before we are married, or after?
HELENE. As you say.
LASSALLE. We are both needlessly humble, I take it!
[Smiles and gently takes her hand.]
HELENE. [_Smiles back_] We understand each other.
LASSALLE. And to be understood is paradise.
HELENE. We have been in paradise eight days.
LASSALLE. And now we go out into the world----
HELENE. To meet at my father's house.
LASSALLE. At the day and hour next week that you shall name.
HELENE. Even so.
[They hold hands, look into each other's eyes wistfully and solemnly. Both rise and walk off the stage in opposite directions. Lassalle hesitates, stops and looks back at her as if he expected she would turn and command him to go with her. She does not command him, and he goes off the stage alone, slowly and with a dejected air, which for him is unusual.]
* * * * *
_Scene:_ A bedroom in the Metropolitan Hotel, Berlin.
[Lassalle in shirt-sleeves, putting on his collar before the mirror. Jacques standing by, brushing his coat.]
LASSALLE. [_Wrestling with unruly collar-button_] Yes; that is the coat. A long, plain, priestly coat. [_Gaily, half to himself and half to valet_] You see, I am going on a delicate errand, and I must not fail----
JACQUES. They say you never fail in anything.
LASSALLE. Which is not saying that I might not fail in the future.
LASSALLE. Now, today I am going to call on a man who hates me--who totally misunderstands me--and my task is to convince him, without mentioning the subject, that I am a gentleman. In fact--[_A knock at the door_] In fact--answer that, please, Jacques--to convince him that a man may be earnest and honest in his efforts for human betterment, and that----
JACQUES. [_To porter at door_] The master, Herr Lassalle, is dressing. I will give him her card.
PORTER. She says she knows him, and demands admittance. She will give neither her name nor her card.
JACQUES. Herr Lassalle can not receive her here--patience--I will tell him, and he will see her in half an hour in the parlor!
[Pauses breathlessly on the threshold, then pushes past the porter. The valet confronts her with arms outstretched to stay her entering.]
HELENE. Ferdinand--I--I am here!
[Lassalle turns and stares, surprised, overcome, joyous--seizes the valet by the shoulder and pushes him out of the door, bowling over the porter who blocks the entrance. Lassalle and Helene face each other. He is about to take her in his arms; she backs away.]
HELENE. Not yet, dear, not yet!
[She sinks into a chair in great confusion, struggling for breath.]
LASSALLE. [_Leaning over her tenderly_] Tell me what has happened!
HELENE. The worst.
LASSALLE. You mean----
HELENE. That I told my father and mother!
LASSALLE. And they----
HELENE. Renounced me, cursed me--called me vile names--threatened me! They said you are a---- [_Trying to laugh_]
LASSALLE. A Jew and a demagogue!
HELENE. Would to God they had used terms so mild.
LASSALLE. Did they attack my honor--my personal character?
HELENE. Why ask me? What they said is nothing. They are furious, blind with rage--I escaped to save my life--and--I am here.
LASSALLE. [_Coolly, taking his seat in a chair opposite her_] Yes, you are here, that is irrefutable. You are here. Now we must consider the situation and then decide on what to do. First, let me ask you how you came to mention me to them.
HELENE. Is it necessary that we should enter into details? Pardon me, I am so sick with fear and humiliation. When I reached home I found the whole household joyous over the news of my sister's betrothal to Count Kayserling. They are to be married in June. I thought it a good time to tell my own joy. You see, I hesitated about your coming to our home in a false position--you and I meeting as if we had never met. I told my sister first. She was grieved, but satisfied since it was my will. She kissed me in blessing. I am an honest woman, Ferdinand--that is, I want to be honest. I scorn a lie--my prayer is to leave every prevarication behind. So I told my mother of you--knowing of course there would be a storm, but never guessing the violence of it. She called in my father and cried, "Your daughter has been debauched by a Jew!" I resented the insult and tried to explain. I upheld you--my father seized the bread-knife from the table and brandished it over me, trying to make me swear never to see you. I refused--he choked me and called me a harlot. To save my life I promised never again to see you. Their violence abated, and when their vigilance relaxed, I escaped and came here--here!
[Holds out her arms toward him; and cowers into her seat as she sees he does not respond.]
LASSALLE. Yes, you are here.
HELENE. Do you not see?--I have come to you.
LASSALLE. [_Musingly_] I see!
HELENE. Yes, and in doing this I have burned my bridges. I can never go back--I have broken my promise with them--for you. They are no longer my parents. The Paris Express goes in half an hour----
LASSALLE. You studied the time-table?
HELENE. [_Trying to smile_] Yes, I calculated the time. To be caught here is death to me, and prison to you. In this town my father is supreme--the law is construed as he devises--safety for us lies in flight!
LASSALLE. But my belongings!
HELENE. Your valet can attend to them.
LASSALLE. And I run away, flee?
HELENE. [_Trying to be gay_] Yes, with me.
LASSALLE. [_Exasperatingly cool_] It would be the first time I ever ran away from danger.
HELENE. If you remain here you may never have another chance.
LASSALLE. You mean that your father or that little prince, Yanko, may do me violence?
HELENE. No one can tell what my father may do in his present state of mind.
LASSALLE. Then I will remain and see.
HELENE. [_In agony_] We are wasting time. Do you understand that as soon as my absence is discovered, they will hunt for me--even now the police may be notified!
LASSALLE. Let cowards and criminals run--we have done nothing of which we need be ashamed.
HELENE. Surely not--but what more can I say! Oh, Ferdinand, my Ferdinand!
LASSALLE. Listen to me----
[Knocking is heard at the door. She involuntarily moves toward him for protection. He enfolds her in his arms just an instant. More knocking and louder. Lassalle tenderly puts her away from him and goes to the door, opens it. The landlord stands there with the porter behind him.]
LANDLORD. [_Entering_] You will pardon me, Herr Lassalle--but the mother and sister of the Fraulein are in the parlor below. They had spies follow her--it is all a misunderstanding, I know. But the young lady should--you will pardon me, both--should not be here with you. She will have to go. I declared to her mother that she was not here; the porter told her otherwise. The police are at the entrance, and you understand I can not afford to have a scene. Will the Fraulein be so good as to go below and meet her mother?
HELENE. My mother! I have no mother.
LANDLORD. You will excuse me if I insist.
[Lassalle starts toward the landlord as if he would throttle him. Then bethinks himself and smiles.]
LASSALLE. Certainly, kind sir, she will go, and I will go with her. We will excuse you now!
[Puts hands on shoulder and half-pushes landlord out of the door. Closes door.]
HELENE. [_In terror_] What shall I do?
LASSALLE. Do? Why, there is only one thing to do--meet your mother and sister. I will go, too. [_Adjusts his collar and puts on his vest and coat_] There, I am ready--we go!
HELENE. You do not know them. It is death.
LASSALLE. Nonsense! Have I not addressed a mob and won? Do you trust me?
[Kisses her on the forehead, and putting his arm around her, leads her to the door.]
HELENE. [_In agony, striving to be calm_] I--I trust you. To whom can I turn!
* * * * *
_Scene:_ The Hotel-Parlor.
[Hilda, sister of Helene, hanging dejectedly out of window. Frau Von Donniges standing statue-like in the center of room. Two hotel porters making pretense of dusting furniture.]
_Enter LASSALLE with HELENE on his arm._
LASSALLE. [_To Helene_] Courage, my dear, courage!
[Bows to Frau Von Donniges, who is unconscious of his presence. Lassalle and Helene hesitate and look at each other nervously. Helene clutches Lassalle's arm to keep from falling--they both move slowly around the statuesque Frau. The Frau suddenly perceives them, turns and glares.]
FRAU VON DONNIGES. Away with that man--I will not allow him to remain in this room!
LASSALLE. [_Bowing, with hand on heart_] Surely, Madame, you do not know me. Will you not allow me to speak--to explain!
FRAU VON DONNIGES. Away, I say--out of my sight! Begone, you craven coward--you thief!
[These are new epithets to Lassalle. He is used to being called a Jew, a fanatic, a dangerous demagogue--something half-complimentary. But there is no alloy in "coward," "thief." He looks at Helene as if to receive reassurance that he hears aright.]
HELENE. Come--you see it is as I told you--reason in her is dead. Let us go.
LASSALLE. [_Loosening Helene's hold upon his arm and stepping toward the Frau_] Madame, you have availed yourself of a woman's privilege, and used language toward me which men never use toward each other unless they court death. I say no more to you, preferring now to speak to your husband.
FRAU VON DONNIGES. Yes, you speak to my husband--and he will give you what you deserve.
LASSALLE. [_Changing his tactics_] Your husband is a gentleman, I trust. And you--are the mother of the lady I love, so I will resent nothing you say. You speak only in a passion, and not from your heart. I resent nothing.
FRAU VON DONNIGES. A man spotted with every vice says he loves my daughter! Your love is pollution. My ears are closed to you--you may stand and grimace and insult me, but I hear you not. Go!
LASSALLE. Very well, I will go and see Helene's father. Men may dislike each other--they may be enemies, but they do not spit on each other. If they fight, they fight courteously. I will see Helene's father--he will at least hear me.
FRAU VON DONNIGES. You enter his house, and the servants will throw your vile body into the street.
LASSALLE. I have written him that I will call.
FRAU VON DONNIGES. Your letter was cast into the garbage unopened.
LASSALLE. [_Stung_] It may be possible, Madame, for you to wear out my patience.
FRAU VON DONNIGES. You have already succeeded in wearing out mine.
HELENE. [_In agony--wringing her hands_] Hopeless, Ferdinand, you see it is hopeless!
LASSALLE. [_Aside to Helene_] Her outbreak will pass in a moment.
FRAU VON DONNIGES. You have ruined the reputation of my family--stolen my child. You, who are known over an empire for your dealings with women!
HELENE. [_Joining in the fray, in shrill excitement_] False! He did not steal me--I went to him unasked. You who call yourself my mother, how dare you traduce me so, you who bore me! I fled from you to save my life--to escape your tortures, you killed my love. I am Lassalle's, because I love him. He understands me--you do not. When you abuse him, you abuse me. When you trample on him, you trample on me. I now choose life with him in preference to perdition with you. I follow him, I am his, I glory in him. Now!
[Helene turns to Lassalle in triumph, believing of course that after she has just avowed herself, they will stand together--he and she.]
LASSALLE. [_Calmly_] Well spoken, Helene, and now tell me, will you make a sacrifice--a temporary sacrifice for me?
HELENE. [_Looking straight at him in absolute faith_] Yes, command me!
LASSALLE. Go home, with your--mother!
HELENE. Anything but that.
LASSALLE. Yes, that is what I ask.
HELENE. [_Writhing in awful pain_] You will not ask of me the impossible.
LASSALLE. No, but this you can do. Your going will soften them. We will win them. Go with them. Do this for me. I leave you here.
[Backs away, and goes out bowing low and very calm. Helene sinks into a chair, crushed in spirit, wrenched, mangled.]
HILDA VON DONNIGES. [_Comes forward, and caresses the drooping head of her sister_] Bear up, Helene, my sister! We are your friends, our home is yours, no matter what you have done--we forgive it all. Our home is still yours. Bear up--he is gone--now come with us. [_Helene merely moans_]
FRAU VON DONNIGES. [_In Amazonian flush of success_] No more of this foolishness--no more of it, I say! He is gone; I knew he could not withstand my plain-spoken truths. He could not look me in the eye. You heard me, Hilda; he could not answer--he dare not. Come, Helene!
[Shakes her by the shoulder. Commotion is heard outside.]
LANDLORD. [_Entering by backing into the room, striving by tongue and hands to calm some one outside_] Be calm, kind sir! I am innocent in this matter. The ladies are here--here in the parlor. The man is gone--he never was here. In fact, he left before he came--be calm--I keep a respectable house. The police will raid the place, I fear. Be calm and I will explain all!
HERR VON DONNIGES. [_Purple with rage, big, prosperous--brandishing cudgel_] The Jew--show me the Jew who seduced my daughter! Show him to me, I say! That corrupt scum of society--the man who broke into my house and stole my daughter. [_Waves his cane and smites the air_] Where is that infidel Jew!
FRAU VON DONNIGES. Now, do not be a fool--I sent the Jew on his way. It was not necessary that you should follow. I can take care of this little matter.
HERR VON DONNIGES. Oh, so you protect her, do you? You side with her? You are a party to her undoing! And has the Jew seduced you, too? Where is he, I say? You seem to be deaf. This man who has ruined my home--he is the man I want, not your apologies. The girl is my daughter, I say! [_Suddenly sees Helene crouching in a chair, her face between her knees_] Oh, so you are here, my pretty miss--you who brought ruin on your father's house.
[Puts one foot against chair and overturns it. Kicks at prostrate form of Helene. Then seizing her by the hair, drags her across the room, striking her face with his open hands. The mother, daughter and landlord try to restrain his fury.]
LANDLORD. You will kill her!
FRAU VON DONNIGES. She has brought it on herself! But stop--it is enough.
HERR VON DONNIGES. [_Half-frightened at his own violence, reaching into his pocket brings out purse and throws it at feet of landlord_] Not a word about this!
LANDLORD. Trust me--you will tell of it first!
HERR VON DONNIGES. Is there a carriage at the door?
HERR VON DONNIGES. If any one asks, tell them my daughter is insane--a maniac--and a little force was necessary--you understand?
LANDLORD. I understand.
HERR VON DONNIGES. Here, we must carry her out.
[Tears down curtains from windows and rolls Helene in the curtains.]
LANDLORD. You must pay for those!
HERR VON DONNIGES. Name the amount!
LANDLORD. Why, they cost me----
HERR VON DONNIGES. Never mind. Charge them to the Jew. Here, help carry her--this daughter who has ruined me!
LANDLORD. You act like a man who might do the task of ruining yourself.
[Helene starts to rise. Her father fells her to the floor with the flat of his hand. Seizes her and with the help of the mother and landlord carries her out. Exit, with Hilda following behind, mildly wringing her hands.]
HILDA VON DONNIGES. Oh, why did she bring this disgrace upon us?
* * * * *
_Scene:_ Room in house of Herr Von Donniges.
[Furnishings are rich and old-fashioned, as becomes the house of a collector of revenue. Helene pacing the room talking to maidservant, who sits quietly sewing.]
HELENE. It is only a week since I saw Lassalle--only a week. Yet my poor head says it is a year, and my heart says a lifetime. For six days my father kept me locked in that little room in the tower, where not even you were allowed to enter. The butler silently pushed food in at the door and as silently went away. Once each day at exactly noon my father came and solemnly asked, "Do you renounce Lassalle?" and I as solemnly answered, "I will yet be the wife of Lassalle." But since yesterday, when I wrote the letter at their dictation to Lassalle telling him that he was free, and that I was soon to marry Prince Yanko Racowitza, I feel a load lifted from my heart. How queer! Perhaps it is because I am relieved of the pressure of my parents and have been given my freedom!
MAID. Not quite freedom; for see--there is a guard pacing back and forth at the door!
[Guard is seen through the window pacing his beat.]
HELENE. Oh, freedom is only comparative--but now you are with me. I needed some one to whom I could talk. Yet I did not renounce Lassalle until he failed to rescue me--he did not even answer my letter----
MAID. Possibly he did not receive it!
HELENE. But you bribed the porter!
MAID. True; but some one may have paid him more!
HELENE. Listen, do you still think it possible that Lassalle has not forgotten me?
MAID. Not only possible, but probable. A man of his intellect would guess that the letter you wrote was forced from you.
HELENE. A lawyer surely would understand that for things done _in terrorem_ one is not responsible. Now see what I am doing--yesterday I hoped never again to see Lassalle, and now I am planning and praying he will come to me.
MAID. Your heart is with Lassalle.
HELENE. It seems so.
MAID. Then God will bring it about, and you shall be united.
SERVANT. Prince Racowitza!
_Enter PRINCE RACOWITZA_
[The Prince is small, dark, dapper, unobjectionable. He is much agitated. Helene holds out her hand to him in a friendly, but non-committal, discreet way. Maid starts to go.]
PRINCE. [_To maid_] Do not leave the room--I have serious news, and your mistress may need your services when I tell her what I have to say!
HELENE. [_Relieved by the thought that the Prince is about to renounce all claims to one so caught in the web of scandal_] You will remain with me, Elizabeth; I may need you. And now, Prince Yanko--I am steeled [_tries to smile_]--give me the worst. [_The Prince making passes in the air, tierce and thrust with his cane at an imaginary foe_] I say, dear Prince, tell me the worst--I think I can bear it. [_Helene is almost amused by the sight of the semi-comic opera-bouffe prince_] Tell me the worst!
PRINCE. Lassalle has challenged your father!
HELENE. [_Blanching_] Lassalle has challenged my father!
PRINCE. To the death. [_Aiming with his cane at a piece of statuary in the corner_] One, two, three--fire!
HELENE. It is not so. Lassalle is opposed to the code on principle.
PRINCE. There are no principles in time of war! Are you ready, gentlemen--One, two, three!
HELENE. [_Contemptuously_] Why do you not fight him?
PRINCE. Is there no way, gentlemen, by which this unfortunate affair can be arranged? If not----
HELENE. You did not hear me!
PRINCE. Oh, yes, I heard you, and I am to fight him at sunrise. Your father turned the challenge over to me!
HELENE. To you?
PRINCE. And your father has fled to Paris--it is a serious thing to be a party to a duel in Germany--a sure-enough duel!
HELENE. But you are not a swordsman, nor have you ever shot a pistol--you told me so once.
PRINCE. But I have been practising at the shooting-gallery for two hours. The keeper there says I am a wonderful shot--I hit a plaster-of-Paris rabbit seven times in succession!
[Helene is excited; her thought is that Lassalle, being a sure shot and a brave man, will surely kill the Prince. This will eliminate one factor in the tangle. Lassalle having killed his man will have to flee--the Government only tolerates him now. And she will flee with him--her father in Paris, the Prince dead, exile for Lassalle--the way lubricated by the gods--good.]
HELENE. [_Excitedly_] Yes, fight him, kill him!
PRINCE. I will fight him at sunrise--at once after the meeting, I will drive directly here. If I am unhurt, we will fly--you and I--for Paris to meet your father. If I am wounded, the carriage will come with the horses walking; if I am dead, the horses will be on a run; if I am unharmed, the horses will simply trot and----
HELENE. [_Who knows that Lassalle will kill the Prince, hysterically_] Will trot--good! And now good-by, good-by!
[Kisses him explosively and backs him out of the door.]
HELENE. [_In ecstasy_] Lassalle will kill him!
MAID. I am afraid he will.
HELENE. And this will make us free, free!
MAID. It will exile you.
HELENE. And since this home is a prison, exile would be paradise.
* * * * *
_Scene:_ Same as Act Five. Time, one day later.
[Very early in the morning. Helene and maid in traveling costume, small valises and rugs rolled and strapped, on center-table.]
HELENE. You gave my letter to Doctor Haenle himself, into his own hands!
MAID. Into his own hands.
HELENE. Then there was no mistake. I told Lassalle I would meet him at the station at seven o'clock--only half an hour yet to spare! We will catch the Switzerland Express. Lassalle will have to go--this affair means exile for him--but for us to be exiled together will be Heaven. Now this is a pivotal point--we must be calm.
MAID. Surely you are calm.
HELENE. Yet I did not sleep a moment all the night.
MAID. Probably Lassalle did not either.
HELENE. Did you hear a carriage?
MAID. [_Peering out of window_] Only a wagon.
MAID. I hear the sound of horses!
MAID. They are running!
HELENE. My God; yes, they come closer--they are running! Oh, thank Heaven, thank Heaven, the Prince is dead--I am both sorry and glad.
MAID. There, they are turning this way--there, the carriage stops at the door!
HELENE. Dead--the Prince is dead. Now in the excitement that will follow the carrying in of the body, we will escape--we can walk to the station in ten minutes--that gives us ten minutes to spare. Here, you take the rug and this valise, I will take the other. We will find a street porter at the corner, or a carriage. Do not open the door until I tell you!
[Door bursts open and Prince Yanko half-tumbles in.]
PRINCE. I am unharmed--congratulate me--I am unharmed!
[Opens arms to embrace Helene, who backs away.]
HELENE. And Lassalle--Lassalle--where is Lassalle?
PRINCE. He is dead--I killed him!
HELENE. You killed Lassalle--the greatest man in Europe--you killed him!
PRINCE. He fell at the first fire--congratulate me!
HELENE. You lie! Lassalle is not dead. Away! Away! I scorn you--loathe you--away--the sight of you burns my eyeballs--the murderer of Lassalle--away!
[Helene crouches in a corner. Prince stands stiff, amazed. The man, with valises in one hand and rug in shawl-strap, looks on with lack-luster eye, frozen by indecision.]
* * * * *
_Note._--Helene von Donniges married Prince Racowitza three weeks after the death of Lassalle. The Prince died two years later. Princess Helene committed suicide at Munich, March Twenty-six, Nineteen Hundred Twelve, aged sixty-seven years. These facts are of such a dull slaty-gray and so lacking in dramatic interest that they are omitted from the play.
LORD NELSON AND LADY HAMILTON
The last moments which Nelson passed at Merton were employed in praying over his little daughter as she lay sleeping. A portrait of Lady Hamilton hung in his cabin; and no Catholic ever beheld the picture of his patron saint with more devout reverence. The undisguised and romantic passion with which he regarded it amounted almost to superstition; and when the portrait was now taken down, in clearing for action, he desired the men who removed it to "take care of his guardian angel." In this manner he frequently spoke of it, as if he believed there was a virtue in the image. He wore a miniature of her also next to his heart.
[Illustration: LORD NELSON]
Robert Southey, poet laureate, and conservative Churchman, wrote the life of Nelson, wrote it on stolen time--sandwiched in between essays and epics. And now behold it is the one effort of Robert Southey that perennially survives, and is religiously read--his one great claim to literary immortality.
Murray, the original Barabbas, got together six magazine essays on Lord Nelson, and certain specific memoranda from Lady Hamilton and Lord Nelson's sisters, and sent the bundle with a check for one hundred pounds to Southey, asking him to write the "Life," and have it ready inside of six weeks, or return the check and papers by bearer.
Southey needed the money: he had his own family to support, and also that of Coleridge, who was philosophizing in Germany. Southey needed the money! Had the check not been sent in advance, Southey would have declined the commission. Southey began the work in distaste, warmed to it, got the right focus on his subject, used the wife of Coleridge as 'prentice talent, and making twice as big a book as he had expected, completed it in just six weeks.
Other men might have written lives of Lord Nelson, but they did not; and all who write on Lord Nelson now, paraphrase Southey.
And thus are great literary reputations won on a fluke.
* * * * *
Horatio Nelson, born in Seventeen Hundred Fifty-eight, was one of a brood of nine children, left motherless when the lad was nine years of age. His father was a clergyman, and passing rich on forty pounds a year. It was the dying wish of the mother that one of the children should be adopted by her brother, Captain Suckling, of the Navy.
This captain was a grandnephew of Sir John Suckling the poet, and one of the great men of the family--himself acknowledging it. Captain Suckling promised the stricken woman that her wish should be respected. Three years went by and he made no move. Horatio, then twelve years of age, hearing that "The Raisonnable," his uncle's ship, had just anchored in the Medway, wrote the gallant captain, reminding him of the obligation and suggesting himself as a candidate.
The captain replied to the boy's father that the idea of sending the smallest and sickliest of the family to rough it at sea was a foolish idea; but if it was the father's wish, why send the youngster along, and in the very first action a cannon-ball might take off the boy's head, which would simplify the situation.
This was an acceptance, although ungracious, and our young lad was duly put aboard the stage, penniless, with a big basket of lunch, ticketed for tidewater. There a kind-hearted waterman rowed the boy out to the ship and put him aboard, where he wandered on the deck for two days, too timid to make himself known, before being discovered, and then came near being put ashore as a stowaway. It seems that the captain had made no mention to any one on the ship that his nevy was expected, and, in fact, had probably forgotten the matter himself.
And so Horatio Nelson, slim, slight, slender, fair-haired and hollow-eyed, was made cabin-boy, with orders to wait on table, wash dishes and "tidy up things." And he set such a pace in tidying up the captain's cabin that that worthy officer once remarked, "Dammittall, he isn't half as bad as he might be."
Finally, Horatio was given the tiller when a boat was sent ashore. He became an expert in steering, and was made coxswain of the captain's launch. He learned the Channel in low tide from Chatham to the Tower, making a map of it on his own account. He had a scent for rocks and shoals, and knew how to avoid them--for good pilots are born, not made.
A motherless boy with a discouraged father is very fortunate. If he ever succeeds, he knows it must be through his own exertions. The truth is pressed home upon him that there is nothing in the universe to help him but himself--a great lesson to learn.
Young Nelson soon saw that his uncle's patronage, no matter how well intentioned, could not help him beyond making him coxswain of the longboat. And anyway, if he was promoted, he wanted it to be on account of merit, and not relationship. So he got himself transferred to another boat that was about to sail for the West Indies, and took the rough service that falls to the lot of a jack-tar. His quickness in obeying orders, his alertness and ability to climb, his scorn of danger, going to the yardarm to adjust a tangled rope in a storm, or fastening the pennant to the mainmast in less time than anybody else on board ship could perform the task, made him a marked man. He did the difficult thing, the unpleasant task, with an amount of good-cheer that placed him in a class by himself. He had no competition. Success was in his blood--his silent, sober ways, intent only on doing his duty, made his services sought after when a captain was fitting out a dangerous undertaking.
Nelson made a trip to the Arctic, and came back second mate at nineteen. He went to the Barbadoes and returned lieutenant. He was a lieutenant-commander at twenty, and at twenty-one was given charge of a shipyard. Shortly after, he was made master of a schoolship, his business being to give boys their first lessons in seamanship. His methods here differed from those then in vogue. When a new boy, agitated and nervous, was ordered to climb, Nelson, noticing the lad's fear, would say, "Now, lads, I am with you and it is a race to the crow's-nest." And with a whoop he would make the start, allowing the nervous boy to outstrip him. Then once at the top, he would shout: "Now isn't this glorious! Why, there is no danger, except when you think danger. A monkey up a tree is safer than a monkey on the ground; and a sailor on the yard is happier than a sailor on the deck--hurrah!"
Admiral Hood said that, if Nelson had wished it, he could have become the greatest teacher of boys that England ever saw.
At twenty-three Nelson was made a captain and placed in charge of the "Albemarle." He was sent to the North Sea to spend the winter along the coast of Denmark. A local prince of Denmark has described a business errand made aboard the "Albemarle." Says the Dane: "On asking for the captain of the ship, I was shown a boy in a captain's uniform, the youngest man to look upon I ever saw holding a like position. His face was gaunt and yellow, his chest flat, and his legs absurdly thin. But on talking with him I saw he was a man born to command, and when he showed me the ship and pointed out the cannon, saying, 'These are for use if necessity demands,' there was a gleam in his blue eyes that backed his words."
Before he was twenty-six years old Nelson had fought pirates, savages, Spaniards, French, and even crossed the ocean to reason with Americans, having been sent to New York on a delicate diplomatic errand. On this trip he spent some weeks at Quebec, where he met a lady fair who engrossed his attention and time to such a degree that his officers feared for his sanity. This was his first love-affair, and he took it seriously.
It was time for the "Albemarle" to sail, when its little captain was seen making his way rapidly up the hill. He was given stern chase by the second officer and on being overhauled explained that he was going back to lay his heart and fortune at the feet of the lady. The friend explained that, it being but seven o'clock in the morning, the charmer probably could not be seen, and so the captain in his spangles and lace was gotten on board ship and the anchor hoisted. Once at sea, salt water and distance seemed to effect a cure.
In Nelson's character was a peculiar trace of trust and innocence. Send your boys to sea and the sailors will educate them, is a safe maxim. But Nelson was an exception, for even in his boyhood he had held little converse with his mates, and in the frolics on shore he took no part. Physically he was too weak to meet them on a level, and so he pitted his brain against their brawn. He studied and grubbed at his books while they gambled, caroused and "saw the town."
When he was in command of the schoolship, the second officer taunted him about his insignificant size. His answer was: "Sir, the pistol makes all men of equal size--to your place! And consider yourself fined ten days' pay."
In buying supplies he refused to sign vouchers unless the precise goods were delivered and the price was right. On being told that this was very foolish, and that a captain was entitled to a quiet commission on all purchases, he began an investigation on his own account and found that it was the rule that naval and army supplies cost the government on an average twenty-five per cent more than they were worth, and that the names of laborers once placed on the payroll remained there for eternity. In his zeal the young captain made a definite statement and brought charges, showing where the government was being robbed of vast sums. On reaching London he was called before the Board of Admiralty and duly cautioned to mind his own affairs.
His third act of indiscretion was his marriage in the Island of Nevis to Mrs. Frances Woolward Nesbit, a widow with one child. Widows often fall easy prey to predatory sailormen, and sometimes sailormen fall easy prey to widows. The widow was "unobjectionable," to use the words of Southey, and versed in all the polite dissipation of a prosperous slave-mart capital. Nelson looked upon all English-speaking women as angels of light and models of sympathy, insight and self-sacrifice.
Time disillusioned him; and he settled down into the firm belief that a woman was only a child--whimsical, selfish, idle, intent on gauds, jewels and chucks under the chin from specimens of the genus homo--any man--but to be tolerated and gently looked after for the good of the race. He took his wife to England and left her at his father's parsonage and sailed away for the Mediterranean to fight his country's battles.
Among other errands he had dispatches to Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy at the Court of Naples. Sir William had never met Nelson; but he was so impressed at his first meeting with the little man, that he told his wife afterwards that if she had no objection he was going to invite Captain Nelson to their home. Lady Hamilton had no objection, although a sea-captain was hardly in their class. "But," argued Sir William, "this captain is different; on talking to him and noting his sober, silent, earnest way, I concluded that the world would yet ring with the name of Nelson. He fights his enemy for laying his ship alongside and grappling him to the death."
So a room was set apart in the Hamilton household for Captain Nelson. The next day the captain wrote home to his wife that Lady Hamilton was young, amiable, witty and took an active part in the diplomatic business of the court. Nelson at this time was thirty-five years old; Lady Hamilton was three years younger.
Nelson remained only a few days in Naples, but long enough to impress himself upon the King and all the court as a man of extraordinary quality.
Sorrow and disappointment had made him a fatalist--he looked the part. Admiral Hood at this time said: "Nelson is the only absolutely invincible fighter in the navy. I only fear his recklessness, because he never counts the cost."
It was to be five years before Nelson met the Hamiltons again.
* * * * *
The man who writes the life of Lady Hamilton and tells the simple facts places his reputation for truth in jeopardy.
Emma Lyon was the daughter of a day-laborer. In her babyhood her home was Hawarden, "the luster of fame of which town is equally divided between a man and a woman," once said Disraeli, with a solemn sidelong glance at William Ewart Gladstone.
At Hawarden, Lyon the obscure, known to us for but one thing, died, and if his body was buried in the Hawarden churchyard, Destiny failed to mark the spot. The widow worked at menial tasks in the homes of the local gentry, and the child was fed with scraps that fell from the rich man's table--a condition that grew into a habit.
When Emma was thirteen years old, she had learned to read, and could "print"; that is, she could write a letter, a feat her mother never learned to do.
At this time the girl waited on table and acted as nurse-maid in the family of Sir Thomas Hawarden. Doubtless she learned by listening, and absorbed knowledge because she had the capacity. When Sir Thomas moved up to London, which is down from Hawarden, the sprightly little girl was taken along.
Her dresses were a little above her shoe-tops, but she lowered the skirt on her own account, very shortly.
Country girls of immature age, comely to look upon, had better keep close at home. The city devours such, and infamy and death for them lie in wait. But here was an exception--Emma Lyon was a child of the hedgerows, and her innocence was only in her appearance. She must have been at that time like the child of the gypsy beggar told of by Smollett, that was purchased for two pounds by an admiring gent, who made a bet with his friends that he could replace her rags with silks and fine linen, and in six weeks introduce her at court, as to the manner born, a credit to her sex. All worked well for a time, when one day, alas, under great provocation, the girl sloughed her ladylike manners, and took on the glossary of the road and camp.
Emma Lyon at fifteen, having graduated as a scullion, went to work for a shopkeeper, as a servant and general helper. It was soon found that as a saleswoman she was worth much more than as a cook. A caller asked her where she was educated, and she explained that it was at the expense of the Earl of Halifax, and that she was his ward.
The Earl fortunately was dead and could not deny the report. Sir Harry Featherston, hearing about the titled girl, or at least of the girl mentioned with titled people, rescued her from the shopkeeper and sent her to his country seat, that she might have the advantages of the best society.
Her beauty and quiet good sense seemed to back up the legend that she was the natural child of the Earl of Halifax; and as the subject seemed to be a painful one to the child herself, it was discussed only in whispers. The girl learned to ride horseback remarkably well, and at a fete appeared as Joan of Arc, armed cap-a-pie, riding a snow-white stallion. Romney, the portrait-painter, spending a week-end with Sir Henry, was struck with the picturesque beauty of the child and painted her as Diana. Romney was impressed with the plastic beauty of the girl, her downcast eyes, her silent ways, her responsive manner, and he begged Sir Harry to allow her to go to London and sit for another picture.
Now Sir Harry was a married man, senior warden of his church, and as the girl was bringing him a trifle more fame than he deserved, he consented.
Romney writing to a friend, under date of June Nineteenth, Seventeen Hundred Eighty-one, says:
"At present, and the greater part of the summer, I shall be engaged in painting pictures from the Divine Lady. I can not give her any other name, for I think her superior to all womankind.
"I have two pictures to paint of her for the Prince of Wales. She says she must see you before she leaves England, which will be in the beginning of September. She asked me if you would not write my life. I told her you had begun it; then, she said, she hoped you would have much to say of her in the life, as she prided herself upon being my model.
"I dedicate my time to this charming lady; there is a prospect of her leaving town with Sir William, for two or three weeks. They are very much hurried at present, as everything is going on for their speedy marriage, and all the world following her, and talking of her, so that if she has not more good sense than vanity, her brain must be turned. The pictures I have begun of Joan of Arc, a Magdalen, and a Bacchante for the Prince of Wales; and another I am to begin as a companion to the Bacchante. I am also to paint her as Constance for the Shakespeare Gallery."
* * * * *
Twenty-three pictures of Emma Lyon painted by Romney are now in existence. England at that time was experiencing a tidal wave of genius, and Romney and his beautiful model rode in on the crest of the wave, with Sir Joshua, the Herschels, Edmund Burke, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Doctor Johnson, Goldsmith, Horace Walpole and various others of equal note caught in amber, all of them, by the busy Boswell.
Besides those who did things worth while, there were others who buzzed, dallied, and simply seemed and thought they lived. Among this class who were famous for doing nothing was Beau Nash, the pride of the pump-room. Next in note, but more moderately colored, was Sir Charles Greville, man of polite education, a typical courtier, with a leaning toward music and the arts, which gave his character a flavor of culture that the others did not possess.
The fair Emma was giving the Romney studio a trifle more fame than the domestic peace of the portrait-painter demanded, and when Sir Charles Greville, sitting for his portrait, became acquainted with the beautiful model, Romney saw his opportunity to escape the inevitable crash. So Sir Charles, the man of culture, the patron of the picturesque, the devotee of beauty, undertook the further education of Emma as an ethnological experiment.
He employed a competent teacher to give her lessons in voice culture, to the end that she should neither screech nor purr. Sir Charles himself read to her from the poets and she committed to memory Pope's "Essay on Man," and a whole speech by Robert Walpole, which she recited at a banquet at Strawberry Hill, to the immense surprise, not to mention delight, of Horace Walpole.
Sir Charles also hired a costumer by the month to study the physiological landscape and prepare raiment of extremely rich, but somber, hues, so that the divine lady would outclass in both modesty and aplomb the fairest daughters of Albion.
About this time, Emma became known as "Lady Harte," it being discovered that Burke's Peerage contained information that the Hartes were kinsmen of the Earl of Halifax, and also that the Hartes had moved to America. The testimony of contemporary expert porchers seems to show that Sir Charles Greville spent upwards of five thousand pounds a year upon the education of his ward. This was continued for several years, when a reversal in the income of Sir Charles made retrenchment desirable, if not absolutely necessary. And as good fortune would have it, about this time Sir William Hamilton, British Envoy to the Neapolitan Court, was home on a little visit.
He was introduced to Lady Harte by his nephew, Sir Charles Greville, and at once perceived and appreciated the wonderful natural as well as acquired gifts of the lady.
Lady Harte was interviewed as to her possibly becoming Lady Hamilton, all as duly provided by the laws of Great Britain and the Church of England; and it being ascertained that Lady Harte was willing, and also that she was not a sister of the deceased Lady Hamilton, Sir William and Emma were duly married.
At Naples, Lady Hamilton at once became very popular. She had a splendid presence, was a ready talker, knew the subtle art of listening, took a sympathetic interest in her husband's work, and when necessary could entertain their friends by a song, recitation or a speech. Her relationship with Sir William was beyond reproach--she was by his side wherever he went, and her early education in the practical workaday affairs of the world served her in good stead.
Southey feels called upon to criticize Lady Hamilton, but he also offers as apology for the errors of her early life, the fact of her vagabond childhood, and says her immorality was more unmoral than vicious, and that her loyalty to Sir William was beautiful and beyond cavil.
Sir William Hamilton represented the British nation at Naples for thirty-six years. He was a diplomat of the old school--gracious, refined, dignified, with a bias for Art.
Among other good things done for his country was the collecting of a vast treasure of bronzes gotten from Pompeii and Herculaneum. This collection was sold by Sir William, through the agency of his wife, to the British nation for the sum of seven thousand pounds. There was a great scandal about the purchase at the time, and the transaction was pointed out to prove the absolutely selfish and grasping qualities of Lady Hamilton, the costly and curious vases being referred to in the House of Commons as "junk."
Time, however, has given a proper focus to the matter, and this collection of beautiful things made by people dead these two thousand years is now known to be absolutely priceless, almost as much so as the Elgin Marbles, taken from the Parthenon at Athens and which now repose in the British Museum, the chief attraction of the place.
There were many visitors of note being constantly entertained at the Embassy of Naples. Among others was the Bishop of Derry, the man who enjoyed the distinction of being both a bishop and an infidel. When he made oath in the courts of alleged justice he always crossed his fingers, put his tongue in his cheek and winked at the notary.
The infidelic prelate has added his testimony to the excellence of the character of Lady Hamilton, and once swore on the book in which he did not believe, that if Sir William should die he would wed his widow. To which the lady replied, "Provided, of course, the widow was willing!" The temperature suddenly dropping below thirty-two Fahrenheit, the bishop moved on.
And along about this time the "Agamemnon" sailed into the beautiful bay of Naples, and Captain Nelson made an official call upon the envoy.
It was at dinner that night that Sir William remarked to Lady Emma: "My dear, that captain of the 'Agamemnon' is a most remarkable man. I believe I will invite him here to our home." And the lady, generous, kind, gentle, answered, "Why certainly, invite him here--a little rest from the sea he will enjoy."
[Illustration: LADY HAMILTON]
* * * * *
From Seventeen Hundred Ninety-three to Seventeen Hundred Ninety-eight, Nelson made history and made it rapidly.
For three years of this time he was in constant pursuit of the enemy, with no respite from danger night or day. When a ship mutinied, Nelson was placed in charge of it if he was within call; and the result was that he always won the absolute love and devotion of his men. He had a dignity which forbade him making himself cheap, but yet he got close to living hearts. "The enemy are there," he once said to a sullen crew, "and I depend upon you to follow me over the side when we annihilate the distance that separates our ships. You shall accept no danger that I do not accept--no hardship shall be yours that shall not be mine. I need no promises from you that you will do your duty--I know you will. You believe in me and I in you--we are Englishmen, fighting our country's battles, and so to your work, my men, to your work!" The mutinous spirit melted away, for the men knew that if Nelson fought with them it would be for the privilege of getting at the enemy first. No officer ever carried out sterner discipline, and none was more implicitly obeyed. But the obedience came more through love than fear.
Nelson lost an eye in battle, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-five. A few months after, in a fierce engagement, the admiral signaled, "Stop firing." Nelson's attention was called to the signal, and his reply was, "I am short one eye, and the other isn't much good, and I accept no signals I can not see: lay alongside of that ship and sink her."
Nelson was advanced step by step and became admiral of the fleet. At the battle of Santa Cruz, Nelson led a night attack on the town in small boats. The night was dark and stormy, and the force expected to get in under the forts without being discovered. The alarm was given, however, and the forts opened up a terrific fire. Nelson was standing in the prow of a small boat, and fell, his arm shattered at the elbow. He insisted on going forward and taking command, even though his sword-arm was useless. Loss of blood, however, soon made him desist, and he was transferred to another boat which was sent back loaded with wounded. The sailors rowed to the nearest anchored ship, her lights out and four miles from shore. On pulling up under the lee of the ship, Nelson saw that it was the corvette "Seahorse"; and he ordered the men to row to the "Agamemnon" a mile away, saying, "Captain Freemantle's wife is aboard of that ship and we are in no condition to call on ladies." Arriving at the "Agamemnon," the surgeons were already busy caring for the wounded. Seeing their commander, the surgeons rushed to his assistance. He ordered them back, declaring he would take his place and await his turn in line, and this he did.
When it came his turn, the surgeons saw that it was a comminuted fracture of the elbow, with the whole right hand reduced to a pulp, and that amputation was the only thing. There were no anesthetics, and at daylight, on the deck where there was air and light, Nelson watched the surgeons sever the worthless arm.
As they bandaged the stump, he dictated a report of the battle to his secretary; but after writing for ten minutes, the poor secretary fell limp in a faint, and Nelson ordered one of the surgeons to complete taking the dictation. This official report contained no mention of the calamity that had befallen the commander, he regarding the loss of an arm as merely an incident.
In six months' time he had met and defeated all the ships of Napoleon that could be located. When he returned to England, an ovation met him such as never before had been given to a sailorman. He was "Sir Horatio," although he complained that, "They began to call me Lord Nelson, even before I had gotten used to having my ears tickled by the sound of Sir."
He was made Knight of the Bath, given a pension of a thousand pounds a year, and so many medals pinned upon his breast that "he walked with a limp," a local writer said. The limp, however, was from undiscovered lead, and this, with one eye, one arm and a naturally slender and gaunt figure, gave him a peculiarly pathetic appearance.
The actions of his wife at this time in pressing herself on society and in her endeavors to make of him a public show were the unhappy ending of a series of marital misunderstandings which led him to part with her, placing his entire pension at her disposal.
Trouble in the East soon demanded a firm hand, and Nelson sailed away to meet the emergency. This time he was in pursuit of a concentrated fleet, with Napoleon on board. It was Nelson's hope and expectation to capture Napoleon; if he had, none would have been so fortunate as the Little Corporal himself. It would have saved him the disgrace of failure, a soldier of fortune seized by accident after a series of successes that dazzled the world, and then captured by a sea-fighter on the water as great as he himself was on land. But alas! Napoleon was to escape, which he did by a flight where wind and tide seemed to answer his prayer.
But Nelson crushed his navy. The story of the battle has been told in chapters that form a book, so no attempt to repeat the account need here be made. Let it suffice that sixteen English ships grappled to the death for three days with twenty-one French ships, with the result that the French fleet, save four ships, were sunk, burned or captured. "It was not a victory," said Nelson; "it was a conquest." The French commodore, Casabianca, was killed on board of his ship "Orient," and his son, a lad of ten, stood on the burning deck till all but him had fled, and supplied the subject for a poem that thrilled our boyish hearts and causes us to sigh, even yet.
The four ships that escaped would probably never have gotten away had Nelson not been wounded by flying splinters which tore open his scalp. The torn skin hung down over his one good eye, blinding him absolutely; and the blood flowed over his face in jets, making him unrecognizable. He was carried to the surgeons' table; there was a hurried, anxious moment, and a shout of joy went up that could have been heard a mile when it was found that he had suffered only a flesh-wound. The flap was sewed back in place, his head bandaged, and in half an hour he was on deck looking anxiously for fleeing Frenchmen. When the news of the victory reached England, Nelson was made a baron and his pension increased to two thousand pounds a year for life. England loved him, France feared him, and Italy, Egypt and Turkey celebrated him as their savior. The elder Pitt said in the House of Commons, "The name of Nelson will be known as long as government exists and history is read."
And Nelson, the battle won, himself wounded, exhausted through months of intense nervous strain, his frail body maimed and covered with scars, again sailed into the Bay of Naples.
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Nelson had saved Naples from falling a prey to the French, and the city now rang with the shouts of welcome and gratitude.
The Hamiltons went out in a small boat and boarded the "Vanguard." Nelson came forward to greet them as they climbed over the side. The great fighter was leaning heavily upon a sailor who half-supported him. It is probably true, as stated by her enemies, that at sight of the Admiral, Lady Hamilton burst into tears, and taking him in her arms kissed him tenderly.
Nelson was taken to the home of the embassy. The battle won, the strain upon his frail physique had its way; his brain reeled with fever; the echoes of the guns still thundered in his ears; and in his half-delirium his tongue gave orders and anxiously asked after the welfare of the fleet. He was put to bed and Lady Hamilton cared for him as she might have cared for a sick child. She allowed no hired servant to enter his room, and for several weeks she and Sir William were his only attendants. Gradually health returned, and Nelson had an opportunity to repay in part his friends, by helping them quell a riot that threatened the safety of the city.
The months passed, and the only peace and calm that had been Nelson's in his entire life was now his. Nelson was forty years of age; Lady Hamilton was thirty-seven; Sir William was seventy-one. The inevitable happened--the most natural and the most beautiful thing in the world. Love came into the life of Nelson--the first, last and only love of his life. And he loved with all the abandon and oneness of his nature. Sir William was aware of the bond that had grown up between his beautiful wife and Lord Nelson, and he respected it, and gave it his blessing, realizing that he himself belonged to another generation and had but a few years to live at best, and in this he fastened to himself with hoops of steel their affection for him.
In the year Eighteen Hundred, when the Hamiltons started for England, Nelson accompanied them in their tour across the Continent, and great honors were everywhere paid him.
Arriving in London he made his home with them. There was no time for idleness, for the Home Office demanded his services daily for consultation and advice, for the Corsican was still at large: very much at large.
In two years Sir William died--passed peacefully away, attended and ministered to by Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton.
Two years more were to pass, and the services of a sea-fighter of the Nelson caliber were required. Napoleon had gotten together another navy, and having combined with Spain they had a fleet that outclassed that of England.
Only one man in England could, with any assurance of success, fight this superior foe on the water. Nelson fought ships as an expert plays chess. He had reduced the game to a science; if the enemy made this move, he made that. He knew how to lure a hostile fleet and have it pursue him to the ground he had selected, and then he knew how to cut it in half and whip it piecemeal. His fighting was consummate strategy, combined with a seeming recklessness that gave a courage to the troops which made them invincible.
English society forgives anything but honesty and truth, and the name of Nelson had been spit upon because of his love for Lady Hamilton. But now danger was at the door and England wanted a man.
Nelson hesitated, but Lady Hamilton said: "Go--yes, go this once--your country calls and only you can do this task. The work done, come home to me, and the rest shall be yours that you so richly deserve. Go and my love shall follow you!"
That night Nelson started for Portsmouth, and in four days was on the coast of Spain.
For the next two years and a half he was in the center and was one of the controlling spirits of the vast military and naval drama which found its closing scene in Trafalgar Bay--years which, to Nelson, in spite of the arduous duties of his command, constituted the most severe and peaceful period of his troubled career.
The Battle of Trafalgar was fought October Twenty-first, Eighteen Hundred Five. At daylight Nelson hoisted the signal, "England expects every man to do his duty," gave the order to close in and the game of death began. Each side had made a move. Nelson retired to his cabin and wrote this codicil to his will:
October Twenty-first, Eighteen Hundred Five.
In sight of the combined fleets of France and Spain, distance about ten miles.
Whereas the eminent services of Emma Hamilton, widow of the Right Honorable Sir William Hamilton, have been of the very greatest service to my king and country, to my knowledge, without ever receiving any reward from either our king or country.
First: That she obtained the King of Spain's letter, in Seventeen Hundred Ninety-six to his brother, the King of Naples, acquainting him of his intention to declare war against England: from which letter the ministry sent out orders to the then Sir John Jervis to strike a stroke, if the opportunity offered, against either the arsenals of Spain or her fleets. That these were not done is not the fault of Lady Hamilton: the opportunity might have been offered.
Secondly: The British fleet under my command could never have returned the second time to Egypt, had not Lady Hamilton's influence with the Queen of Naples caused a letter to be written to the Governor of Syracuse, that he was to encourage the fleet being supplied with every thing, should they put into any port in Sicily. We put into Syracuse, and received every supply; went to Egypt and destroyed the French fleet. Could I have rewarded these services, I would not now call upon my country; but as that has not been in my power, I leave Emma, Lady Hamilton, therefore, a legacy to my king and country, that they will give her an ample provision to maintain her rank in life.
I also leave to the beneficence of my country, my daughter, Horatia Nelson Thompson; and I desire she will use in future the name of Nelson only.
These are the only favors I ask of my king and country, at this moment when I am going to fight their battle. May God bless my king and country, and all those I hold dear!
Witness--Henry Blackwood T. M. Hardy
Nelson ordered the "Temeraire," the fighting "Temeraire"--the ship of which Ruskin was to write the finest piece of prose-poetry ever penned--to lead the charge, then saw to it that the order could not be carried out, for the "Victory" led.
By noon Nelson had gotten several men into the king-row. Three of the enemy's ships had struck, two were on fire, and four were making a desperate endeavor to escape the fate that Nelson had prepared for them.
At one o'clock, Nelson's own ship, the "Victory," had grappled with the "Redoubtable" and was chained fast to her. Nelson's men had shot the hull of the "Redoubtable" full of holes and once set fire to her. Then, thinking the vessel had struck, since her gunners had ceased their work, Nelson ordered his own men to cease firing and extinguish the flames on the craft of the enemy.
Just at this time a musket-ball, fired from the yards of the "Redoubtable," struck Nelson on the shoulder and passed down through the vertebræ. He fell upon the deck, exclaiming to Captain Hardy who was near, "They have done for me now, Hardy--my back is broken."
He was carried below, but the gush of blood into the lungs told the tale: Nelson was dying. He sent for Hardy, but before the captain could be found the hurrahing on the deck told that the "Redoubtable" had surrendered. A gleam of joy came into the one blue eye of the dying man and he said, "I would like to live one hour just to know that my plans were right--we must capture or destroy twenty of them."
Hardy came and held the hand of his friend. "Kiss me, Hardy--I am dying--tell Lady Hamilton that my last words were of her--good by!" and he covered his face and the stars on his breast with a handkerchief, so that his men might not recognize the dead form of their chief as they hurried by at their work.
Nelson was dead--but Trafalgar was won.
* * * * *
Lady Hamilton was unfortunate in having her history written only by her enemies--written with goose-quills. Taine says: "The so-called best society in England is notoriously corrupt and frigidly pious. It places a premium on hypocrisy, a penalty on honesty, and having no virtues of its own, it cries shrilly about virtue--as if there were but one, and that negative." Nelson in his innocence did not know English society, otherwise he would not have commended Lady Hamilton to the gratitude of the English. It was a little like commending her to a pack of wolves. The sum of ten thousand pounds was voted to each of Nelson's sisters, but not a penny to Lady Hamilton, "my wife before the eyes of God," as he himself expressed it.
Fortunately, an annuity of four hundred pounds had been arranged for Horatia, the daughter of Lord Nelson and Lady Hamilton, and this saved Lady Hamilton and her child from absolute want. As it was, Lady Hamilton was arrested on a charge of debt, imprisoned, and practically driven out of England, although the sisters of Lord Nelson believed in her, and respected her to the last. Lady Hamilton died in France in Eighteen Hundred Thirteen.
Her daughter, Horatia Nelson, became a strong, excellent and beautiful woman, passing away in Eighteen Hundred Eighty-one. She married the Reverend Philip Ward, of Teventer, Kent, and raised a family of nine children. One of her sons moved to America and made his mark upon the stage, and also in letters. The American branch spell the name "Warde." In England several of the grandchildren of Lord Nelson have made the name of "Ward" illustrious in art and literature.
Mrs. Ward wrote a life of her mother, but a publisher was never found for the book, and the manuscript was lost or destroyed. Some extracts from it, however, were published in the London "Athenæum" in Eighteen Hundred Seventy-seven, and the picture of Lady Hamilton there presented was that of a woman of great natural endowments: a welling heart of love; great motherly qualities, high intellect and aspiration, caught in the web of unkind condition in her youth, but growing out of this and developing a character which made her the rightful mate of Nelson, the invincible, Nelson, the incorruptible, against whose loyalty and honesty not even his enemies ever said a word, save that he fell a victim to his love, his love for one woman.
Loveless, unloved and unlovable Tammas the Titan, from Ecclefechan, writing in spleen says: "Nelson's unhappy affair with a saucy jade of a wench has supplied the world more gabble than all his victories." And possibly the affair in question was quite as important for good as the battles won. The world might do without war, but I make the hazard it could not long survive if men and women ceased to love and mate. However, I may be wrong.
People whose souls are made of dawnstuff and starshine may make mistakes, but God will not judge them by these alone. But for the love of Lady Hamilton Nelson would probably never have lived to fight Trafalgar--one of the pivotal battles of the world.
Nelson saved England from the fell clutch of the Corsican, and Lady Hamilton saved Nelson from insanity and death. Nelson knew how to do three great things--how to fight, how to love, how to die.
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SO HERE ENDETH "LITTLE JOURNEYS TO THE HOMES OF GREAT LOVERS," BEING VOLUME THIRTEEN OF THE SERIES, AS WRITTEN BY ELBERT HUBBARD: EDITED AND ARRANGED BY FRED BANN; BORDERS AND INITIALS BY ROYCROFT ARTISTS, AND PRODUCED BY THE ROYCROFTERS, AT THEIR SHOPS, WHICH ARE IN EAST AURORA, ERIE COUNTY, NEW YORK, MCMXXII.