To-day as I was reading in the garden a waft of summer perfume -- some hidden link of association in what I read -- I know not what it may have been -- took me back to schoolboy holidays; I recovered with strange intensity that lightsome mood of long release from tasks, of going away to the seaside, which is one of childhood's blessings. I was in the train; no rushing express such as bears you great distances; the sober train which goes to no place of importance, which lets you see the white steam of the engine float and fall upon a meadow ere you pass. Thanks to a good and wise father, we youngsters saw nothing of seaside places where crowds assemble; I am speaking, too, of a time more than forty years ago, when it was still possible to find on the coasts of northern England, east or west, spots known only to those who loved the shore for its beauty and its solitude. At every station the train stopped; little stations, decked with beds of flowers, smelling warm in the sunshine; where countryfolk got in with baskets and talked in an unfamiliar dialect, an English which to us sounded almost like a foreign tongue. Then the first glimpse of the sea; the excitement of noting whether tide was high or low -- stretches of sand and weedy pools, or halcyon wavelets frothing at their furthest reach, under the sea-banks starred with convolvulus. Of a sudden, our station!
Ah, that taste of the brine on a child's lips! Nowadays I can take holiday when I will, and go whithersoever it pleases me; but that salt kiss of the sea air I shall never know again. My senses are dulled; I cannot get so near to nature; I have a sorry dread of her clouds, her winds, and must walk with tedious circumspection where once I ran and leaped exultingly. Were it possible but for one half-hour to plunge and bask in the sunny surf, to roll on the silvery sand-hills, to leap from rock to rock on shining sea-ferns, laughing if I slipped into the shallows among starfish and anemones! I am much older in body than in mind; I can but look at what I once enjoyed.
I have been spending a week in Somerset. The right June weather put me in the mind for rambling, and my thoughts turned to the Severn Sea. I went to Glastonbury and Wells, and on to Cheddar, and so to the shore of the Channel at Clevedon, remembering my holiday of fifteen years ago, and too often losing myself in a contrast of the man I was then and what I am now. Beautiful beyond all words of description that nook of oldest England; but that I feared the moist and misty winter climate, I should have chosen some spot below the Mendips for my home and resting-place. Unspeakable the charm to my ear of those old names; exquisite the quiet of those little towns, lost amid tilth and pasture, untouched as yet by the fury of modern life, their ancient sanctuaries guarded, as it were, by noble trees and hedges overrun with flowers. In all England there is no sweeter and more varied prospect than that from the hill of the Holy Thorn at Glastonbury; in all England there is no lovelier musing place than the leafy walk beside the Palace Moat at Wells. As I think of the golden hours I spent there, a passion to which I can give no name takes hold upon me; my heart trembles with an indefinable ecstasy.
There was a time of my life when I was consumed with a desire for foreign travel; an impatience of everything familiar fretted me through all the changing year. If I had not at length found the opportunity to escape, if I had not seen the landscape for which my soul longed, I think I must have moped to death. Few men, assuredly, have enjoyed such wanderings more than I, and few men revive them in memory with a richer delight or deeper longing. But -- whatever temptation comes to me in mellow autumn, when I think of the grape and of the olive -- I do not believe I shall ever again cross the sea. What remains to me of life and of energy is far too little for the enjoyment of all I know and all I wish to know of this dear island.
As a child I used to sleep in a room hung round with prints after English landscape painters -- those steel engravings so common half a century ago, which bore the legend, "From the picture in the Vernon Gallery." Far more than I knew at the time, these pictures impressed me; I gazed and gazed at them, with that fixed attention of a child which is half curiosity, half reverie, till every line of them was fixed in my mind; at this moment I see the black-and-white landscapes as if they were hanging on the wall before me, and I have often thought that this early training of the imagination -- for such it was -- has much to do with the passionate love of rural scenery which lurked within me even when I did not recognize it and which now for many a year has been one of the emotions directing my life. Perhaps, too, that early memory explains why I love a good black-and-white print even more than a good painting. And -- to draw yet another inference -- here may be a reason for the fact that through my youth and early manhood I found more pleasure in nature as represented by art than in nature herself. Even during that strange time when hardships and passions held me captive far from any glimpse of the flowering earth, I could be moved, and moved deeply, by a picture of the simplest rustic scene. At rare moments, when a happy chance led me into the National Gallery, I used to stand long before such pictures as "The Valley Farm," "The Cornfield," "Mousehold Heath." In the murk confusion of my heart these visions of the world of peace and beauty from which I was excluded -- to which, indeed, I hardly ever gave a thought -- touched me to deep emotion. But it did not need -- nor does it now -- the magic of a master to awake that mood in me. Let me but come upon the poorest little woodcut, the cheapest "process" illustration, representing a thatched cottage, a lane, a field, and I hear that music begin to murmur. It is a passion -- heaven be thanked -- that grows with my advancing years. The last thought of my brain as I lie dying will be that of sunshine upon an English meadow.
Sitting in my garden amid the evening scent of roses, I have read through Walton's Life of Hooker; could any place and time have been more appropriate? Almost within sight is the tower of Heavitree church -- Heavitree, which was Hooker's birthplace. In other parts of England, he must often have thought of these meadows falling to the green valley of the Exe, and of the sun setting behind the pines of Haldon. Hooker loved the country. Delightful to me and infinitely touching is that request of his to be transferred from London to a rural living -- "where I can see God's blessing spring out of the earth." And that glimpse of him where he was found tending sheep with a Horace in his hand. It was in rural solitudes that he conceived the rhythm of mighty prose. What music of the spheres sang to that poor, vixen-haunted, pimply-faced man!
The last few pages I read by the light of the full moon, that of afterglow having till then sufficed me. Oh, why has it not been granted me in all my long years of pen-labour to write something small and perfect, even as one of these lives of honest Izaak! Here is literature, look you -- not "literary work." Let me be thankful that I have the mind to enjoy it; not only to understand, but to savour, its great goodness.
It is Sunday morning, and above earth's beauty shines the purest, softest sky this summer has yet gladdened us withal. My window is thrown open; I see the sunny gleam upon garden leaves and flowers; I hear the birds whose wont it is to sing to me; ever and anon the martins that have their home beneath my eaves sweep past in silence. Church bells have begun to chime; I know the music of their voices, near and far.
There was a time when it delighted me to flash my satire on the English Sunday; I could see nothing but antiquated foolishness and modern hypocrisy in this weekly pause from labour and from bustle. Now I prize it as an inestimable boon, and dread every encroachment upon its restful stillness. Scoff as I might at "Sabbatarianism," was I not always glad when Sunday came? The hells of London churches and chapels are not soothing to the ear, but when I remember their sound -- even that of the most aggressively pharisaic conventicle, with its one dire clapper -- I find it associated with a sense of repose, of liberty. This day of the seven I granted to my better genius; work was put aside, and when heaven permitted, trouble forgotten.
When out of England I have always missed this Sunday quietude, this difference from ordinary days which seems to affect the very atmosphere. It is not enough that people should go to church, that shops should be closed and workyards silent; these holiday notes do not make a Sunday. Think as one may of its significance, our day of rest has a peculiar sanctity, felt, I imagine, in a more or less vague way, even by those who wish to see the village lads at cricket and theatres open in the town. The idea is surely as good a one as ever came to heavy-laden mortals; let one whole day in every week be removed from the common life of the world, lifted above common pleasures as above common cares. With all the abuses of fanaticism, this thought remained rich in blessings; Sunday has always brought large good to the generality, and to a chosen number has been the very life of the soul, however heretically some of them understood the words. If its ancient use perish from among us, so much the worse for our country. And perish no doubt it will; only here in rustic solitude can one forget the changes that have already made the day less sacred to multitudes. With it will vanish that habit of periodic calm, which even when it has become so largely void of conscious meaning is, one may safely say, the best spiritual boon ever bestowed upon a people. The most difficult of all things to attain, the most difficult of all to preserve, the supreme benediction of the noblest mind, this calm was once breathed over the whole land as often as sounded the last stroke of weekly toil; on Saturday at even began the quiet and the solace. With the decline of old faith, Sunday cannot but lose its sanction, and no loss among the innumerable that we are suffering will work so effectually for popular vulgarization. What hope is there of guarding the moral beauty of the day when the authority which set it apart is no longer recognized? -- Imagine a bank holiday once a week!
On Sunday I come down later than usual; I make a change of dress, for it is fitting that the day of spiritual rest should lay aside the livery of the laborious week. For me, indeed, there is no labour at any time, but nevertheless does Sunday bring me repose. I share in the common tranquillity; my thought escapes the workaday world more completely than on other days.
It is not easy to see how this house of mine can make to itself a Sunday quiet, for at all times it is well-nigh soundless; yet I find a difference. My housekeeper comes into the room with her Sunday smile; she is happier for the day, and the sight of her happiness gives me pleasure. She speaks, if possible, in a softer voice; she wears a garment which reminds me that there is only the lightest and cleanest housework to be done. She will go to church, morning and evening, and I know that she is better for it. During her absence I sometimes look into rooms which on other days I never enter; it is merely to gladden my eyes with the shining cleanliness, the perfect order I am sure to find in the good woman's domain. But for that spotless and sweet-smelling kitchen, what would it avail me to range my books and hang my pictures? All the tranquillity of my life depends upon the honest care of this woman who lives and works unseen. And I am sure that the money I pay her is the least part of her reward. She is such an old-fashioned person that the mere discharge of what she deems a duty is in itself an end to her, and the work of her hands in itself a satisfaction, a pride.
When a child, I was permitted to handle on Sunday certain books which could not be exposed to the more careless usage of common days; volumes finely illustrated, or the more handsome editions of familiar authors, or works which, merely by their bulk, demanded special care. Happily, these books were all of the higher rank in literature, and so there came to be established in my mind an association between the day of rest and names which are the greatest in verse and prose. Through my life this habit has remained with me; I have always wished to spend some part of the Sunday quiet with books which, at most times, it is fatally easy to leave aside, one's very knowledge and love of them serving as an excuse for their neglect in favour of print which has the attraction of newness. Homer and Virgil, Milton and Shakespeare; not many Sundays have gone by without my opening one or other of these Not many Sundays? Nay, that is to exaggerate, as one has the habit of doing. Let me say rather that on many a rest day I have found mind and opportunity for such reading. Nowadays mind and opportunity fail me never. I may take down my Homer or my Shakespeare when I choose, but it is still on Sunday that I feel it most becoming to seek the privilege of their companionship. For these great ones, crowned with immortality, do not respond to him who approaches them as though hurried by temporal care. There befits the garment of solemn leisure, the thought attuned to peace. I open the volume somewhat formally; is it not sacred, if the word have any meaning at all? And, as I read, no interruption can befall me. The note of a linnet, the humming of a bee, these are the sounds about my sanctuary. The page scarce rustles as it turns.
Of how many dwellings can it be said that no word of anger is ever heard beneath its roof, and that no unkindly feeling ever exists between the inmates? Most men's experience would seem to justify them in declaring that throughout the inhabited world no such house exists. I, knowing at all events of one, admit the possibility that there may be more; yet I feel that it is to hazard a conjecture; I cannot point with certainty to any other instance, nor in all my secular life (I speak as one who has quitted the world) could I have named a single example.
It is so difficult for human beings to live together; nay, it is so difficult for them to associate, however transitorily and even under the most favourable conditions, without some shadow of mutual offence. Consider the differences of task and of habit, the conflict of prejudices, the divergence of opinions (though that is probably the same thing), which quickly reveal themselves between any two persons brought into more than casual contact, and think how much self-subdual is implicit whenever, for more than an hour or two, they co-exist in seeming harmony. Man is not made for peaceful intercourse with his fellows; he is by nature self-assertive, commonly aggressive, always critical in a more or less hostile spirit of any characteristic which seems strange to him. That he is capable of profound affections merely modifies here and there his natural contentiousness and subdues its expression. Even love, in the largest and purest sense of the word, is no safeguard against perilous irritation and sensibilities inborn. And what were the durability of love without the powerful alliance of habit?
Suppose yourself endowed with such power of hearing that all the talk going on at any moment beneath the domestic roofs of any town became clearly audible to you; the dominant note would be that of moods, tempers, opinions at jar. Who but the most amiable dreamer can doubt it? This, mind you, is not the same thing as saying that angry emotion is the ruling force in human life; the facts of our civilization prove the contrary. Just because, and only because, the natural spirit of conflict finds such frequent scope does human society hold together, and, on the whole, present a pacific aspect. In the course of ages (one would like to know how many) man has attained a remarkable degree of self-control; dire experience has forced upon him the necessity of compromise, and habit has inclined him (the individual) to prefer a quiet, orderly life. But by instinct he is still a quarrelsome creature, and he gives vent to the impulse as far as it is compatible with his reasoned interests -- often, to be sure, without regard for that limit. The average man or woman is always at open discord with someone; the great majority could not live without oft-recurrent squabble. Speak in confidence with any one you like and get him to tell you how many cases of coldness, alienation, or downright enmity, between friends and kinsfolk, his memory registers; the number will be considerable, and what a vastly greater number of everyday "misunderstandings" may be thence inferred. Verbal contention is, of course, commoner among the poor and the vulgar than in the class of well-bred people living at their ease, but I doubt whether the lower ranks of society find personal association much more difficult than the refined minority above them. High cultivation may help to self-command, but it multiplies the chances of irritative contact. In mansion as in hovel, the strain of life is perpetually felt -- between the married, between parents and children, between relatives of every degree, between employers and employed. They debate, they dispute, they wrangle, they explode -- then nerves are relieved, and they are ready to begin over again. Quit the home and quarrelling is less obvious, but it goes on all about one. What proportion of the letters delivered any morning would be found to be written in displeasure, in petulance, in wrath? The postbag shrieks insults or bursts with suppressed malice. Is it not wonderful -- nay, is it not the marvel of marvels -- that human life has reached such a high point of public and private organization?
And gentle idealists utter their indignant wonder at the continuance of war! Why, it passes the wit of man to explain how it is that nations are ever at peace! For, if only by the rarest good fortune do individuals associate harmoniously, there would seem to be much less likelihood of mutual understanding and goodwill between the peoples of alien lands. As a matter of fact, no two nations are ever friendly; in the sense of truly liking each other; with the reciprocal criticism of countries there always mingles a sentiment of animosity. The original meaning of hostis is merely stranger, and a stranger who is likewise a foreigner will only by curious exception fail to stir antipathy in the average human being. Add to this that a great number of persons in every country find their delight and their business in exasperating international disrelish, and with what vestige of common sense can one feel surprise that war is ceaselessly talked of, often enough declared. In days gone by, distance and rarity of communication assured peace between many realms. Now that every country is in proximity to every other, what need is there to elaborate explanations of the distrust, the fear, the hatred, which are a perpetual theme of journalists and statesmen? By approximation, all countries have entered the sphere of natural quarrel. That they find plenty of things to quarrel about is no cause for astonishment. A hundred years hence there will be some possibility of perceiving whether international relations are likely to obey the law which has acted with such beneficence in the life of each civilized people; whether this country and that will be content to ease their tempers with bloodless squabbling, subduing the more violent promptings for the common good. Yet I suspect that a century is a very short time to allow for even justifiable surmise of such an outcome. If by any chance newspapers ceased to exist. . . .
Talk of war, and one gets involved in such utopian musings!
I have been reading one of those prognostic articles on international politics which every now and then appear in the reviews. Why I should so waste my time it would be hard to say; I suppose the fascination of disgust and fear gets the better of me in a moment's idleness. This writer, who is horribly perspicacious and vigorous, demonstrates the certainty of a great European war, and regards it with the peculiar satisfaction excited by such things in a certain order of mind. His phrases about "dire calamity" and so on mean nothing; the whole tenor of his writing proves that he represents, and consciously, one of the forces which go to bring war about; his part in the business is a fluent irresponsibility, which casts scorn on all who reluct at the "inevitable." Persistent prophecy is a familiar way of assuring the event.
But I will read no more such writing. This resolution I make and will keep. Why set my nerves quivering with rage, and spoil the calm of a whole day, when no good of any sort can come of it? What is it to me if nations fall a-slaughtering each other? Let the fools go to it! Why should they not please themselves? Peace, after all, is the aspiration of the few; so it always was and ever will be. But have done with the nauseous cant about "dire calamity." The leaders and the multitude hold no such view; either they see in war a direct and tangible profit, or they are driven to it, with heads down, by the brute that is in them. Let them rend and be rent; let them paddle in blood and viscera till -- if that would ever happen -- their stomachs turn. Let them blast the cornfield and the orchard, fire the home. For all that, there will yet be found some silent few, who go their way amid the still meadows, who bend to the flower and watch the sunset; and these alone are worth a thought.
In this hot weather I like to walk at times amid the full glow of the sun. Our island sun is never hot beyond endurance, and there is a magnificence in the triumph of high summer which exalts one's mind. Among streets it is hard to bear, yet even there, for those who have eyes to see it, the splendour of the sky lends beauty to things in themselves mean or hideous. I remember an August bank holiday, when, having for some reason to walk all across London, I unexpectedly found myself enjoying the strange desertion of great streets, and from that passed to surprise in the sense of something beautiful, a charm in the vulgar vista, in the dull architecture, which I had never known. Deep and clear-marked shadows, such as one only sees on a few days of summer, are in themselves very impressive, and become more so when they fall upon highways devoid of folk. I remember observing, as something new, the shape of familiar edifices, of spires, monuments. And when at length I sat down somewhere on the embankment, it was rather to gaze at leisure than to rest, for I felt no weariness, and the sun, still pouring upon me its noontide radiance, seemed to fill my veins with life.
That sense I shall never know again. For me nature has comforts, raptures, but no more invigoration. The sun keeps me alive, but cannot, as in the old days, renew my being. I would fain learn to enjoy without reflecting.
My walk in the golden hours leads me to a great horse-chestnut, whose root offers a convenient seat in the shadow of its foliage. At that resting-place I have no wide view before me, but what I see is enough -- a corner of waste land, over-flowered with poppies and charlock, on the edge of a field of corn. The brilliant red and yellow harmonize with the glory of the day. Near by, too, is a hedge covered with great white blooms of the bindweed. My eyes do not soon grow weary.
A little plant of which I am very fond is the restharrow. When the sun is hot upon it, the flower gives forth a strangely aromatic scent, very delightful to me. I know the cause of this peculiar pleasure. The restharrow sometimes grows in sandy ground above the seashore. In my childhood I have many a time lain in such a spot under the glowing sky, and though I scarce thought of it, perceived the odour of the little rose-pink flower when it touched my face. Now I have but to smell it, and those hours come back again. I see the shore of Cumberland, running north to St. Bee's Head; on the sea horizon a faint shape which is the Isle of Man; inland, the mountains, which for me at that time guarded a region of unknown wonder. Ah, how long ago!
I read much less than I used to do; I think much more. Yet what is the use of thought which can no longer serve to direct life? Better perhaps to read and read incessantly, losing one's futile self in the activity of other minds.
This summer I have taken up no new book, but have renewed my acquaintance with several old ones which I had not opened for many a year. One or two have been books such as mature men rarely read at all -- books which it is one's habit to "take as read"; to presume sufficiently known to speak of, but never to open. Thus, one day my hand fell upon the Anabasis, the little Oxford edition which I used at school, with its boyish sign-manual on the fly-leaf, its blots and underlinings and marginal scrawls. To my shame I possess no other edition; yet this is a book one would like to have in beautiful form. I opened it, I began to read -- a ghost of boyhood stirring in my heart -- and from chapter to chapter was led on, until after a few days I had read the whole.
I am glad this happened in the summer-time, I like to link childhood with these latter days, and no better way could I have found than this return to a school-book, which, even as a school-book, was my great delight.
By some trick of memory I always associate schoolboy work on the classics with a sense of warm and sunny days; rain and gloom and a chilly atmosphere must have been far the more frequent conditions, but these things are forgotten. My old Liddell and Scott still serves me, and if, in opening it, I bend close enough to catch the scent of the leaves, I am back again at that day of boyhood (noted on the fly-leaf by the hand of one long dead) when the book was new and I used it for the first time. It was a day of summer, and perhaps there fell upon the unfamiliar page, viewed with childish tremor, half apprehension and half delight, a mellow sunshine, which was to linger for ever in my mind.
But I am thinking of the Anabasis. Were this the sole book existing in Greek, it would be abundantly worth while to learn the language in order to read it. The Anabasis is an admirable work of art, unique in its combination of concise and rapid narrative with colour and picturesqueness. Herodotus wrote a prose epic, in which the author's personality is ever before us. Xenophon, with curiosity and love of adventure which mark him of the same race, but self-forgetful in the pursuit of a new artistic virtue, created the historical romance. What a world of wonders in this little book, all aglow with ambitions and conflicts, with marvels of strange lands; full of perils and rescues, fresh with the air of mountain and of sea! Think of it for a moment by the side of Caesar's Commentaries; not to compare things incomparable, but in order to appreciate the perfect art which shines through Xenophon's mastery of language, his brevity achieving a result so different from that of the like characteristic in the Roman writer. Caesar's conciseness comes of strength and pride; Xenophon's, of a vivid imagination. Many a single line of the Anabasis presents a picture which deeply stirs the emotions. A good instance occurs in the fourth book, where a delightful passage of unsurpassable narrative tells how the Greeks rewarded and dismissed a guide who had led them through dangerous country. The man himself was in peril of his life; laden with valuable things which the soldiers had given him in their gratitude, he turned to make his way through the hostile region. (As the evening came he went away from the night.) "When evening came he took leave of us, and went his way by night." To my mind, words of wonderful suggestiveness. You see the wild, eastern landscape upon which the sun has set. There are the Hellenes, safe for the moment on their long march, and there the mountain tribesman, the serviceable barbarian, going away, alone, with his tempting guerdon, into the hazards of the darkness.
Also in the fourth book, another picture moves one in another way. Among the Carduchian Hills two men were seized, and information was sought from them about the track to be followed. "One of them would say nothing, and kept silence in spite of every threat; so, in the presence of his companion, he was slain. Thereupon that other made known the man's reason for refusing to point out the way; in the direction the Greeks must take there dwelt a daughter of his, who was married."
It would not be easy to express more pathos than is conveyed in these few words. Xenophon himself, one may be sure, did not feel it quite as we do, but he preserved the incident for its own sake, and there, in a line or two, shines something of human love and sacrifice, significant for all time.
I sometimes think I will go and spend the sunny half of a twelvemonth in wandering about the British Isles. There is so much of beauty and interest that I have not seen, and I grudge to close my eyes on this beloved home of ours, leaving any corner of it unvisited. Often I wander in fancy over all the parts I know, and grow restless with desire at familiar names which bring no picture to memory. My array of county guide-books (they have always been irresistible to me on the stalls) sets me roaming; the only dull pages in them are those that treat of manufacturing towns. Yet I shall never start on that pilgrimage. I am too old, too fixed in habits. I dislike the railway; I dislike hotels. I should grow homesick for my library, my garden, the view from my windows. And then -- I have such a fear of dying anywhere but under my own roof.
As a rule, it is better to re-visit only in imagination the places which have greatly charmed us, or which, in the retrospect, seem to have done so. Seem to have charmed us, I say; for the memory we form, after a certain lapse of time, of places where we lingered often bears but a faint resemblance to the impression received at the time; what in truth may have been very moderate enjoyment, or enjoyment greatly disturbed by inner or outer circumstances, shows in the distance as a keen delight, or as deep, still happiness. On the other hand, if memory creates no illusion, and the name of a certain place is associated with one of the golden moments of life, it were rash to hope that another visit would repeat the experience of a bygone day. For it was not merely the sights that one beheld which were the cause of joy and peace; however lovely the spot, however gracious the sky, these things external would not have availed, but for contributory movements of mind and heart and blood, the essentials of the man as then he was.
Whilst I was reading this afternoon my thoughts strayed, and I found myself recalling a hillside in Suffolk, where after a long walk I rested drowsily one midsummer day twenty years ago. A great longing seized me; I was tempted to set off at once, and find again that spot under the high elm trees, where, as I smoked a delicious pipe, I heard about me the crack, crack, crack of broom-pods bursting in the glorious heat of the noontide sun. Had I acted upon the impulse, what chance was there of my enjoying such another hour as that which my memory cherished? No, no; it is not the place that I remember; it is the time of life, the circumstances, the mood, which at that moment fell so happily together. Can I dream that a pipe smoked on that same hillside, under the same glowing sky, would taste as it then did, or bring me the same solace? Would the turf be so soft beneath me? Would the great elm branches temper so delightfully the noontide rays beating upon them? And, when the hour of rest was over, should I spring to my feet as then I did, eager to put forth my strength again? No, no; what I remember is just one moment of my earlier life, linked by accident with that picture of the Suffolk landscape. The place no longer exists; it never existed save for me. For it is the mind which creates the world about us, and even though we stand side by side in the same meadow, my eyes will never see what is beheld by yours, my heart will never stir to the emotions with which yours is touched.
I awoke a little after four o'clock. There was sunlight upon the blind, that pure gold of the earliest beam which always makes me think of Dante's angels. I had slept unusually well, without a dream, and felt the blessing of rest through all my frame; my head was clear, my pulse beat temperately. And, when I had lain thus for a few minutes, asking myself what book I should reach from the shelf that hangs near my pillow, there came upon me a desire to rise and go forth into the early morning. On the moment, I bestirred myself. The drawing up of the blind, the opening of the window only increased my zeal, and I was soon in the garden, then out in the road, walling light-heartedly I cared not whither.
How long is it since I went forth at the hour 6f summer sunrise? It is one of the greatest pleasures, physical and mental, that any man in moderate health can grant himself; yet hardly once in a year do mood and circumstance combine to put it within one's reach. The habit of lying in bed hours after broad daylight is strange enough, if one thinks of it; a habit entirely evil; one of the most foolish changes made by modern system in the healthier life of the old time. But that my energies are not equal to such great innovation, I would begin going to bed at sunset and rising with the beam of day; ten to one, it would vastly improve my health, and undoubtedly it would add to the pleasures of my existence.
When travelling, I have now and then watched the sunrise, and always with an exaltation unlike anything produced in me by other aspects of nature. I remember daybreak on the Mediterranean; the shapes of islands growing in hue after hue of tenderest light, until they floated amid a sea of glory. And among the mountains -- that crowning height, one moment a cold pallor, the next soft-glowing under the touch of the rosy-fingered goddess. These are the things I shall never see again; things, indeed, so perfect in memory that I should dread to blur them by a newer experience. My senses are so much duller; they do not show me what once they did.
How far away is that schoolboy time, when I found a pleasure in getting up and escaping from the dormitory whilst all the others were still asleep. My purpose was innocent enough; I got up early only to do my lessons. I can see the long school-room, lighted by the early sun; I can smell the schoolroom odour -- a blend of books and slates and wall maps and I know not what. It was a mental peculiarity of mine that at five o'clock in the morning I could apply myself with gusto to mathematics, a subject loathsome to me at any other time of the day. Opening the book at some section which was wont to scare me, I used to say to myself: "Come now, I'm going to tackle this this morning! If other boys can understand it, why shouldn't I?" And in a measure, I succeeded. In a measure only; there was always a limit at which my powers failed me, strive as I would.
In my garret days it was seldom that I rose early: with the exception of one year -- or the greater part of a twelve-month -- during which I was regularly up at half-past five, for a special reason. I had undertaken to "coach" a man for the London matriculation; he was in business, and the only time he could conveniently give to his studies was before breakfast. I, just then, had my lodgings near Hampstead Road; my pupil lived at Knightsbridge; I engaged to be with him every morning at half-past six, and the walk, at a brisk pace, took me just about an hour. At that time I saw no severity in the arrangement, and I was delighted to earn the modest fee which enabled me to write all day long without fear of hunger; but one inconvenience attached to it. I had no watch, and my only means of knowing the time was to hear the striking of a clock in the neighbourhood. As a rule, I awoke just when I should have done; the clock struck five, and up I sprang. But occasionally -- and this when the mornings had grown dark -- my punctual habit failed me; I would hear the clock chime some fraction of the hour, and could not know whether I had awoke too soon or slept too long. The horror of unpunctuality, which has always been a craze with me, made it impossible to lie waiting; more than once I dressed and went out into the street to discover as best I could what time it was, and one such expedition, I well remember, took place between two and three o'clock on a morning of foggy rain.
It happened now and then that, on reaching the house at Knightsbridge, I was informed that Mr. ---- felt too tired to rise. This concerned me little, for it meant no deduction of fee; I had the two hours' walk, and was all the better for it. Then the appetite with which I sat down to breakfast, whether I had done my coaching or not! Bread and butter and coffee -- such coffee! -- made the meal, and I ate like a navvy. I was in magnificent spirits. All the way home I had been thinking of my days work, and the morning brain, clarified and whipped to vigour by that brisk exercise, by that wholesome hunger, wrought its best. The last mouthful swallowed, I was seated at my writing-table; aye, and there I sat for seven or eight hours, with a short munching interval, working as only few men worked in all London, with pleasure, zeal, hope. . . .
Yes, yes, those were the good days. They did not last long; before and after them were cares, miseries, endurance multiform. I have always felt grateful to Mr. ---- of Knightsbridge; he gave me a year of health, and almost of peace.
A whole day's walk yesterday with no plan; just a long ramble of hour after hour, entirely enjoyable. It ended at Topsham, where I sat on the little churchyard terrace and watched the evening tide come up the broad estuary. I have a great liking for Topsham and that churchyard, overlooking what is not quite sea, yet more than river, is one of the most restful spots I know. Of course, the association with old Chaucer, who speaks of Topsham sailors, helps my mood. I came home very tired; but I am not yet decrepit, and for that I must be thankful.
The unspeakable blessedness of having a home! Much as my imagination has dwelt upon it for thirty years, I never knew how deep and exquisite a joy could lie in the assurance that one is at home forever. Again and again I come back upon this thought; nothing but death can oust me from my abiding place. And death I would fain learn to regard as a friend, who will but intensify the peace I now relish.
When one is at home, how one's affections grow about everything in the neighbourhood! I always thought with fondness of this corner of Devon, but what was that compared with the love which now strengthens in me day by day! Beginning with my house, every stick and stone of it is dear to me as my heart's blood; I find myself laying an affectionate hand on the door-post, giving a pat as I go by to the garden gate. Every tree and shrub in the garden is my beloved friend; I touch them, when need is, very tenderly, as though carelessness might pain, or roughness injure them. If I pull up a weed in the walk, I look at it with a certain sadness before throwing it away; it belongs to my home.
And all the country round about. These villages, how delightful are their names to my ear! I find myself reading with interest all the local news in the Exeter paper. Not that I care about the people; with barely one or two exceptions, the people are nothing to me, and the less I see of them the better I am pleased. But the places grow ever more dear to me. I like to know of anything that has happened at Heavitree, or Brampford Speke, or Newton St. Cyres. I begin to pride myself on knowing every road and lane, every bridle path and footway for miles about. I like to learn the names of farms and of fields. And all this because here is my abiding place, because I am home forever.
It seems to me that the very clouds that pass above my house are more interesting and beautiful than clouds elsewhere.
And to think that at one time I called myself a socialist, communist, anything you like of the revolutionary kind! Not for long, to be sure, and I suspect that there was always something in me that scoffed when my lips uttered such things. Why, no man living has a more profound sense of property than I; no man ever lived, who was, in every fibre, more vehemently an individualist.
In this high summer-tide, I remember with a strange feeling that there are people who of their free choice spend day and night in cities, who throng to the gabble of drawing-rooms, make festival in public eating-houses, sweat in the glare of the theatre. They call it life; they call it enjoyment. Why, so it is for them; they are so made. The folly is mine to wonder that they fulfil their destiny.
But with what deep and quiet thanksgiving do I remind myself that never shall I mingle with that well-millinered and -tailored herd! Happily I never saw much of them. Certain occasions I recall when a supposed necessity took me into their dismal precincts; a sick buzzing in the brain, a languor as of exhausted limbs comes upon me with the memory. The relief with which I stepped out into the street again when all was over! Dear to me then was poverty, which for the moment seemed to make me a free man. Dear to me was the labour at my desk, which by comparison enabled me to respect myself.
Never again shall I shake hands with man or woman who is not in truth my friend. Never again shall I go to see acquaintances with whom I have no acquaintance. All men my brothers? Nay, thank heaven, that they are not! I will do harm if I can help it to no one; I will wish good to all; but I will make no pretence of personal kindliness where, in the nature of things, it cannot be felt. I have grimaced a smile and pattered unmeaning words to many a person whom I despised or from whom in heart I shrank; I did so because I had not courage to do otherwise. For a man conscious of such weakness, the best is to live apart from the world. Brave Samuel Johnson! One such truth-teller is worth all the moralists and preachers who ever laboured to humanize mankind. Had he withdrawn into solitude, it would have been a national loss. Everyone of his blunt, fearless words had more value than a whole evangel on the lips of a timidly good man. It is thus that the commonalty, however well clad, should be treated. So seldom does the fool or the ruffian in broadcloth hear his just designation; so seldom is the man found who has a right to address him by it. By the bandying of insults we profit nothing; there can be no useful rebuke which is exposed to a tu quoque. But, as the world is, an honest and wise man should have a rough tongue. Let him speak and spare not!
Vituperation of the English climate is foolish. A better climate does not exist -- for healthy people; and it is always as regards the average native in sound health that a climate must be judged. Invalids have no right whatever to talk petulantly of the natural changes of the sky; nature has not them in view; let them (if they can) seek exceptional conditions for their exceptional state, leaving behind them many a million of sound, hearty men and women who take the seasons as they come, and profit by each in turn. In its freedom from extremes, in its common clemency, even in its caprice, which at the worst time holds out hope, our island weather compares well with that of other lands. Who enjoys the fine day of spring, summer, autumn, or winter so much as an Englishman? His perpetual talk of the weather is testimony to his keen relish for most of what it offers him; in lands of blue monotony, even as where climatic conditions are plainly evil, such talk does not go on. So, granting that we have bad days not a few, that the east wind takes us by the throat, that the mists get at our joints, that the sun hides his glory too often and too long, it is plain that the result of all comes to good, that it engenders a mood of zest under the most various aspects of heaven, keeps an edge on our appetite for open-air life.
I, of course, am one of the weaklings who in grumbling at the weather merely invite compassion. July this year is clouded and windy, very cheerless even here in Devon; I fret and shiver and mutter to myself something about southern skies. Pshaw! Were I the average man of my years, I should be striding over Haldon, caring not a jot for the heavy sky, finding a score of compensations for the lack of sun. Can I not have patience? Do I not know that some morning the east will open like a bursting bud into warmth and splendour, and the azure depths above will have only the more solace for my starved anatomy because of this protracted disappointment?
I have been at the seaside -- enjoying it, yes, but in what a doddering, senile sort of way! Is it I who used to drink the strong wind like wine, who ran exultingly along the wet sands and leaped from rock to rock, barefoot, on the slippery seaweed, who breasted the swelling breaker, and shouted with joy as it buried me in gleaming foam? At the seaside I knew no such thing as bad weather; there were but changes of eager mood and full-blooded life. Now if the breeze blow too roughly, if there come a pelting shower, I must look for shelter, and sit with my cloak about me. It is but a new reminder that I do best to stay at home, travelling only in reminiscence.
At Weymouth I enjoyed a hearty laugh, one of the good things not easy to get after middle age. There was a notice of steamboats which ply along the coast, steamboats recommended to the public as being "replete with lavatories and a ladies saloon." Think how many people read this without a chuckle!
In the last ten years I have seen a good deal of English inns in many parts of the country, and it astonishes me to find how bad they are. Only once or twice have I chanced upon an inn (or, if you like, hotel) where I enjoyed any sort of comfort. More often than not even the beds are unsatisfactory -- either pretentiously huge and choked with drapery, or hard and thinly accoutred. Furnishing is uniformly hideous, and there is either no attempt at ornament (the safest thing) or a villainous taste thrusts itself upon one at every turn. The meals in general are coarse and poor in quality, and served with gross slovenliness.
I have often heard it said that the touring cyclist has caused the revival of wayside inns. It may be so, but the touring cyclist seems to be very easily satisfied. Unless we are greatly deceived by the old writers, an English inn used to be a delightful resort, abounding in comfort, and supplied with the best of food; a place, too, where one was sure of welcome at once hearty and courteous. The inns of to-day, in country towns and villages, are not in that good old sense inns at all; they are merely public houses. The landlord's chief interest is the sale of liquor. Under his roof you may, if you choose, eat and sleep, but what you are expected to do is to drink. Yet, even for drinking, there is no decent accommodation. You will find what is called a bar-parlour, a stuffy and dirty room with crazy chairs, where only the sodden dram-gulper could imagine himself at ease. Should you wish to write a letter, only the worst pen and the vilest ink is forthcoming; this even in the "commercial room" of many an inn which seems to depend upon the custom of travelling tradesmen. Indeed, this whole business of innkeeping is incredibly mismanaged. Most of all does the common ineptitude or brutality enrage one when it has possession of an old and picturesque house, such as reminds you of the best tradition, a house which might be made as comfortable as house can be, a place of rest and mirth.
At a public house you expect public-house manners, and nothing better will meet you at most of the so-called inns or hotels. It surprises me to think in how few instances I have found even the pretence of civility. As a rule, the landlord and landlady are either contemptuously superior or borishly familiar; the waiters and chambermaids do their work with an indifference which only softens to a condescending interest at the moment of your departure, when, if the tip be thought insufficient, a sneer or a muttered insult speeds you on your way. One inn I remember, where, having to go in and out two or three times in a morning, I always found the front door blocked by the portly forms of two women, the landlady and the barmaid, who stood there chatting and surveying the street. Coming from within the house, I had to call out a request for passage; it was granted with all deliberation, and with not a syllable of apology. This was the best "hotel" in a Sussex market town.
And the food. Here, beyond doubt, there is grave degeneracy. It is impossible to suppose that the old travellers by coach were contented with entertainment such as one gets nowadays at the table of a country hotel. The cooking is wont to be wretched; the quality of the meat and vegetables worse than mediocre. What! Shall one ask in vain at an English inn for an honest chop or steak? Again and again has my appetite been frustrated with an offer of mere sinew and scrag. At a hotel where the charge for lunch was five shillings, I have been sickened with pulpy potatoes and stringy cabbage. The very joint -- ribs or sirloin, leg or shoulder -- is commonly a poor, underfed, sapless thing, scorched in an oven; and as for the round of beef, it has as good as disappeared -- probably because it asks too much skill in the salting. Then again one's breakfast bacon; what intolerable stuff, smelling of saltpetre, has been set before me when I paid the price of the best smoked Wiltshire! It would be mere indulgence of the spirit of grumbling to talk about poisonous tea and washy coffee; everyone knows that these drinks cannot be had at public tables; but what if there be real reason for discontent with one's pint of ale? Often, still, that draught from the local brewery is sound and invigorating, but there are grievous exceptions, and no doubt the tendency is here, as in other things -- a falling off, a carelessness, if not a calculating dishonesty. I foresee the day when Englishmen will have forgotten how to brew beer; when one's only safety will lie in the draught imported from Munich.
I was taking a meal once at a London restaurant -- not one of the great eating-places to which men most resort, but a small establishment on the same model in a quiet neighbourhood -- when there entered, and sat down at the next table, a young man of the working class, whose dress betokened holiday. A glance told me that be felt anything but at ease; his mind misgave him as he looked about the long room and at the table before him; and when a waiter came to offer him the card, he stared blankly in sheepish confusion. Some strange windfall, no doubt, bad emboldened him to enter for the first time such a place as this, and now that he was here, he heartily wished himself out in the street again. However, aided by the waiter's suggestions, he gave an order for a beef-steak and vegetables. When the dish was served, the poor fellow simply could not make a start upon it; he was embarrassed by the display of knives and forks, by the arrangement of the dishes, by the sauce bottles and the cruet-stand, above all, no doubt, by the assembly of people not of his class, and the unwonted experience of being waited upon by a man with a long shirt front. He grew red; he made the clumsiest and most futile efforts to transport the meat to his plate; food was there before him, but like a very Tantalus, he was forbidden to enjoy it. Observing with all discretion, I at length saw him pull out his pocket handkerchief, spread it on the table, and with a sudden effort, fork the meat off the dish into this receptacle. The waiter, aware by this time of the customer's difficulty, came up and spoke a word to him. Abashed into anger, the young man roughly asked what he had to pay. It ended in the waiter's bringing a newspaper, wherein he helped to wrap up meat and vegetables. Money was flung down, and the victim of a mistaken ambition hurriedly departed to satisfy his hunger amid less unfamiliar surroundings.
It was a striking and unpleasant illustration of social differences. Could such a thing happen in any country but England? I doubt it. The sufferer was of decent appearance, and with ordinary self-command, might have taken his meal in the restaurant like any one else, quite unnoticed. But he belonged to a class which among all classes in the world is distinguished by native clownishness and by unpliability to novel circumstance. The English lower ranks had need be marked by certain peculiar virtues to atone for their deficiencies in other respects.
It is easy to understand that common judgment of foreigners regarding the English people. Go about in England as a stranger, travel by rail, live at hotels, see nothing but the broadly public aspect of things and the impression left upon you will be one of hard egoism, of gruffness and sullenness; in a word, of everything that contrasts most strongly with the ideal of social and civic life. And yet, as a matter of fact, no nation possesses in so high a degree the social and civic virtues. The unsociable Englishman, quotha? Why, what country in the world can show such multifarious, vigorous and cordial co-operation in all ranks, but especially, of course, among the intelligent for ends which concern the common good? Unsociable! Why, go where you will in England you can hardly find a man -- nowadays, indeed, scarce an educated woman -- who does not belong to some alliance, for study or sport, for municipal or national benefit, and who will not be seen in leisure time doing his best as a social being. Take the so-called sleepy market-town; it is bubbling with all manner of associated activities, and these of the quite voluntary kind, forms of zealously united effort such as are never dreamed of in the countries supposed to be eminently "social." Sociability does not consist in a readiness to talk at large with the first comer. It is not dependent upon natural grace and suavity; it is compatible, indeed, with thoroughly awkward and all but brutal manners. The English have never (at all events, for some two centuries past) inclined to the purely ceremonial or mirthful forms of sociability; but as regards every prime interest of the community -- health and comfort, well-being of body and of soul -- their social instinct is supreme.
Yet it is so difficult to reconcile this indisputable fact with that other fact, no less obvious, that your common Englishman seems to have no geniality. From the one point of view I admire and laud my fellow countryman; from the other I heartily dislike him and wish to see as little of him as possible. One is wont to think of the English as a genial folk. Have they lost in this respect? Has the century of science and money-making sensibly affected the national character? I think always of my experience at the English inn, where it is impossible not to feel a brutal indifference to the humane features of life; where food is bolted without attention, liquor swallowed out of mere habit, where even good-natured accost is a thing so rare as to be remarkable.
Two things have to be borne in mind: the extraordinary difference of demeanour which exists between the refined and the vulgar English, and the natural difficulty of an Englishman in revealing his true self save under the most favourable circumstances.
So striking is the difference of manner between class and class that the hasty observer might well imagine a corresponding and radical difference of mind and character. In Russia, I suppose, the social extremities are seen to be pretty far apart, but with that possible exception, I should think no European country can show such a gap as yawns to the eye between the English gentleman and the English boor. The boor, of course, is the multitude; the boor impresses himself upon the traveller. When relieved from his presence, one can be just to him; one can remember that his virtues -- though elementary and strictly in need of direction -- are the same, to a great extent, as those of the well-bred man. He does not represent -- though seeming to do so -- a nation apart. To understand this multitude you must get below its insufferable manners, and learn that very fine civic qualities can consist with a personal bearing almost wholly repellent.
Then, as to the dogged reserve of the educated man, why, I have only to look into myself. I, it is true, am not quite a representative Englishman; my self-consciousness, my meditative habit of mind rather dim my national and social characteristics; but set me among a few specimens of the multitude, and am I not at once aware of that instinctive antipathy, that shrinking into myself, that something like unto scorn of which the Englishman is accused by foreigners who casually meet him? Peculiar to me is the effort to overcome this first impulse -- an effort which often enough succeeds. If I know myself at all, I am not an ungenial man; and yet I am quite sure that many people who have known me casually would say that my fault is a lack of geniality. To show my true self, I must be in the right mood and the right circumstances -- which, after all, is merely as much as saying that I am decidedly English.
On my breakfast table there is a pot of honey. Not the manufactured stuff sold under that name in shops, but honey of the hive, brought to me by a neighbouring cottager whose bees often hum in my garden. It gives, I confess, more pleasure to my eye than to my palate; but I like to taste of it because it is honey.
There is as much difference, said Johnson, between a lettered and an unlettered man as between the living and the dead; and, in a way, it was no extravagance. Think merely how one's view of common things is affected by literary association. What were honey to me if I knew nothing of Hymettus and Hybla? -- if my mind had no stores of poetry, no memories of romance? Suppose me town-pent, the name might bring with it some pleasantness of rustic odour; but of what poor significance even that, if the country were to me mere grass and corn and vegetables, as to the man who has never read nor wished to read. For the poet is indeed a maker: above the world of sense, trodden by hidebound humanity, he builds that world of his own whereto is summoned the unfettered spirit. Why does it delight me to see the bat flitting at dusk before my window, or to hear the hoot of the owl when all the ways are dark? I might regard the bat with disgust, and the owl either with vague superstition or not heed it at all. But these have their place in the poet's world, and carry me above this idle present.
I once passed a night in a little market town where I had arrived tired and went to bed early. I slept forthwith, but was presently awakened by I knew not what; in the darkness there sounded a sort of music, and as my brain cleared, I was aware of the soft chiming of church bells. Why, what hour could it be? I struck a light and looked at my watch. Midnight. Then a glow came over me. "We have heard the chimes at midnight, Master Shallow!" Never till then had I heard them. And the town in which I slept was Evesham, but a few miles from Stratford-on-Avon. What if those midnight bells had been to me but as any other, and I had reviled them for breaking my sleep? -- Johnson did not much exaggerate.
It is the second jubilee. Bonfires blaze upon the hills, making one think of the watchman on Agamemnon's citadel. (It were more germane to the matter to think of Queen Elizabeth and the Armada.) Though wishing the uproar happily over, I can see the good in it as well as another man. English monarchy, as we know it, is a triumph of English common sense. Grant that men cannot do without an overlord; how to make that overlordship consist with the largest practical measure of national and individual liberty? We, at all events, have for a time solved the question. For a time only, of course; but consider the history of Europe, and our jubilation is perhaps justified.
For sixty years has the British Republic held on its way under one president. It is wide of the mark to object that other republics, which change their president more frequently, support the semblance of overlordship at considerably less cost to the people. Britons are minded for the present that the head of their state shall be called King or Queen; the name is pleasant to them; it corresponds to a popular sentiment, vaguely understood, but still operative, which is called loyalty. The majority thinking thus, and the system being found to work more than tolerably well, what purpose could be served by an attempt at novas res? The nation is content to pay the price; it is the nation's affair. Moreover, who can feel the least assurance that a change to one of the common forms of Republicanism would be for the general advantage? Do we find that countries which have made the experiment are so very much better off than our own in point of stable, quiet government and of national welfare? The theorist scoffs at forms which have survived their meaning, at privilege which will bear no examination, at compromises which sound ludicrous, at submissions which seem contemptible; but let him put forward his practical scheme for making all men rational, consistent, just. Englishmen, I imagine, are not endowed with these qualities in any extraordinary degree. Their strength, politically speaking, lies in a recognition of expediency, complemented by respect for the established fact. One of the facts particularly clear to them is the suitability to their minds, their tempers, their habits, of a system of polity which has been established by the slow effort of generations within this sea-girt realm. They have nothing to do with ideals: they never trouble themselves to think about the rights of man. If you talk to them (long enough) about the rights of the shopman, or the ploughman, or the cat's-meat-man, they will lend ear, and when the facts of any such case have been examined, they will find a way of dealing with them. This characteristic of theirs they call common sense. To them, all things considered, it has been of vast service; one may even say that the rest of the world has profited by it not a little. That uncommon sense might now and then have stood them even in better stead is nothing to the point. The Englishman deals with things as they are, and first and foremost accepts his own being.
This jubilee declares a legitimate triumph of the average man. Look back for threescore years, and who shall affect to doubt that the time has been marked by many improvements in the material life of the English people? Often have they been at loggerheads among themselves, but they have never flown at each other's throats, and from every grave dispute has resulted some substantial gain. They are a cleaner people and a more sober; in every class there is a diminution of brutality; education -- stand for what it may -- has notably extended; certain forms of tyranny have been abolished; certain forms of suffering, due to heedlessness or ignorance, have been abated. True, these are mere details; whether they indicate a solid advance in civilization cannot yet be determined. But assuredly the average Briton has cause to jubilate; for the progressive features of the epoch are such as he can understand and approve, whereas the doubt which may be cast upon its ethical complexion is for him either non-existent or unintelligible. So let cressets flare into the night from all the hills! It is no purchased exultation, no servile flattery. The People acclaims itself, yet not without genuine gratitude and affection towards the representative of its glory and its power. The constitutional compact has been well preserved. Review the record of kingdoms, and say how often it has come to pass that sovereign and people rejoiced together over bloodless victories.
At an inn in the north I once heard three men talking at their breakfast on the question of diet. They agreed that most people ate too much meat, and one of them went so far as to declare that, for his part, he rather preferred vegetables and fruit. "Why," he said, "will you believe me that I sometimes make a breakfast of apples?" This announcement was received in silence; evidently the two listeners didn't quite know what to think of it. Thereupon the speaker, in rather a blustering tone, cried out, "Yes, I can make a very good breakfast on two or three pounds of apples."
Wasn't it amusing? And wasn't it characteristic? This honest Briton had gone too far in frankness. 'Tis all very well to like vegetables and fruits up to a certain point; but to breakfast on apples! His companions' silence proved that they were just a little ashamed of him; his confession savoured of poverty or meanness; to right himself in their opinion, nothing better occurred to the man than to protest that he ate apples, yes, but not merely one or two; he ate them largely, by the pound! I laughed at the fellow, but I thoroughly understood him; so would every Englishman; for at the root of our being is a hatred of parsimony. This manifests itself in all sorts of ludicrous or contemptible forms, but no less is it the source of our finest qualities. An Englishman desires, above all, to live largely; on that account he not only dreads, but hates and despises, poverty. His virtues are those of the free-handed and warm-hearted opulent man; his weaknesses come of the sense of inferiority (intensely painful and humiliating) which attaches in his mind to one who cannot spend and give; his vices, for the most part, originate in loss of self-respect due to loss of secure position.
For a nation of this temper, the movement towards democracy is fraught with peculiar dangers. Profoundly aristocratic in his sympathies, the Englishman has always seen in the patrician class not merely a social, but a moral, superiority; the man of blue blood was to him a living representative of those potencies and virtues which made his ideal of the worthy life. Very significant is the cordial alliance from old time between nobles and people; free, proud homage on one side answering to gallant championship on the other; both classes working together in the cause of liberty. However great the sacrifices of the common folk for the maintenance of aristocratic power and splendour, they were gladly made; this was the Englishman's religion, his inborn pietas; in the depths of the dullest soul moved a perception of the ethic meaning attached to lordship. Your Lord was the privileged being endowed by descent with generous instincts, and possessed of means to show them forth in act. A poor noble was a contradiction in terms; if such a person existed, he could only be spoken of with wondering sadness, as though he were the victim of some freak of nature. The Lord was Honourable, Right Honourable; his acts, his words virtually constituted the code of honour whereby the nation lived.
In a new world beyond the ocean there grew up a new race, a scion of England, which shaped its life without regard to the principle of hereditary lordship; and in course of time this triumphant republic began to shake the ideals of the mother land. Its civilization, spite of superficial resemblances, is not English; let him who will think it superior; all one cares to say is that it has already shown in a broad picture the natural tendencies of English blood when emancipated from the old cult. Easy to understand that some there are who see nothing but evil in the influence of that vast commonwealth. If it has done us good, assuredly the fact is not yet demonstrable. In old England, democracy is a thing so alien to our traditions and rooted sentiment that the line of its progress seems hitherto a mere track of ruin. In the very word is something from which we shrink; it seems to signify nothing less than a national apostasy, a denial of the faith in which we won our glory. The democratic Englishman is, by the laws of his own nature, in parlous case; he has lost the ideal by which he guided his rude, prodigal, domineering instincts; in place of the Right Honourable, born to noble things, he has set up the mere plebs, born, more likely than not, for all manner of baseness. And, amid all his show of loud self-confidence, the man is haunted with misgiving.
The task before us is no light one. Can we, whilst losing the class, retain the idea it embodied? Can we English, ever so subject to the material, liberate ourselves from that old association, yet guard its meaning in the sphere of spiritual life? Can we, with eyes which have ceased to look reverently on worn-out symbols, learn to select from among the grey-coated multitude, and place in reverence even higher him who "holds his patent of nobility straight from Almighty God"? Upon that depends the future of England. In days gone by, our very snob bore testimony after his fashion to our scorn of meanness; he at all events imagined himself to be imitating those who were incapable of a sordid transaction, of a plebeian compliance. But the snob, one notes, is in the way of degeneracy; he has new exemplars; he speaks a ruder language. Him, be sure, in one form or another we shall have always with us, and to observe his habits is to note the tenor of the time. If he have at the back of his dim mind no living ideal which lends his foolishness a generous significance, then indeed -- videant consules.
A visit from N----. He stayed with me two days, and I wish he could have stayed a third. (Beyond the third day, I am not sure that any man would be wholly welcome. My strength will bear but a certain amount of conversation, even the pleasantest, and before long I desire solitude, which is rest.)
The mere sight of N ----, to say nothing of his talk, did me good. If appearances can ever be trusted, there are few men who get more enjoyment out of life. His hardships were never excessive; they did not affect his health or touch his spirits; probably he is in every way a better man for having -- as he says -- "gone through the mill." His recollection of the time when he had to work hard for a five-pound note, and was not always sure of getting it, obviously lends gusto to his present state of ease. I persuaded him to talk about his successes and to give me a glimpse of their meaning in solid cash. Last midsummer day, his receipts for the twelvemonth were more than two thousand pounds. Nothing wonderful, of course, bearing in mind what some men are making by their pen; but very good for a writer who does not address the baser throng. Two thousand pounds in a year! I gazed at him with wonder and admiration.
I have known very few prosperous men of letters; N---- represents for me the best and brightest side of literary success. Say what one will after a lifetime of disillusion, the author who earns largely by honest and capable work is among the few enviable mortals. Think of N----'s existence. No other man could do what he is doing, and he does it with ease. Two, or at most three, hours' work a day-and that by no means everyday -- suffices to him. Like all who write, he has his unfruitful times, his mental worries, his disappointments, but these bear no proportion to the hours of happy and effective labour. Every time I see him he looks in better health, for of late years he has taken much more exercise, and he is often travelling. He is happy in his wife and children; the thought of all the comforts and pleasures he is able to give them must be a constant joy to him; were he to die, his family is safe from want. He has friends and acquaintances as many as he desires; congenial folk gather at his table; he is welcome in pleasant houses near and far; his praise is upon the lips of all whose praise is worth having. With all this, he has the good sense to avoid manifest dangers; he has not abandoned his privacy, and he seems to he in no danger of being spoilt by good fortune. His work is more to him than a means of earning money; he talks about a book he has in hand almost as freshly and keenly as in the old days, when his annual income was barely a couple of hundred. I note, too, that his leisure is not swamped with the publications of the day; he reads as many old books as new, and keeps many of his early enthusiasms.
He is one of the men I heartily like. That he greatly cares for me I do not suppose, but this has nothing to do with the matter; enough that he likes my society well enough to make a special journey down into Devon. I represent to him, of course, the days gone by, and for their sake he will always feel an interest in me. Being ten years my junior, he must naturally regard me as an old buffer; I notice, indeed, that he is just a little too deferential at moments. He feels a certain respect for some of my work, but thinks, I am sure, that I ceased writing none too soon -- which is very true. If I had not been such a lucky fellow -- if at this moment I were still toiling for bread -- it is probable that he and I would see each other very seldom; for N ---- has delicacy, and would shrink from bringing his high-spirited affluence face to face with Grub Street squalor and gloom; whilst I, on the other hand, should hate to think that he kept up my acquaintance from a sense of decency. As it is we are very good friends, quite unembarrassed, and -- for a couple of days -- really enjoy the sight and hearing of each other. That I am able to give him a comfortable bedroom, and set before him an eatable dinner, flatters my pride. If I chose at any time to accept his hearty invitation, I can do so without moral twinges.
Two thousand pounds! If, at N----'s age, I had achieved that income, what would have been the result upon me? Nothing but good, I know; but what form would the good have taken? Should I have become a social man, a giver of dinners, a member of clubs? Or should I merely have begun, ten years sooner, the life I am living now? That is more likely.
In my twenties I used to say to myself: what a splendid thing it will be when I am the possessor of a thousand pounds! Well, I have never possessed that sum-- never anything like it-and now never shall. Yet it was not an extravagant ambition, methinks, however primitive.
As we sat in the garden dusk, the scent of our pipes mingling with that of roses, N---- said to me in a laughing tone: "Come now, tell me how you felt when you first heard of your legacy?" And I could not tell him; I had nothing to say; no vivid recollection of the moment would come back to me. I am afraid N---- thought he had been indiscreet, for he passed quickly to another subject. Thinking it over now, I see, of course, that it would be impossible to put into words the feeling of that supreme moment of life. It was not joy that possessed me; I did not exult; I did not lose control of myself in any way. But I remember drawing one or two deep sighs, as if all at once relieved of some distressing burden or constraint. Only some hours after did I begin to feel any kind of agitation. That night I did not close my eyes; the night after I slept longer and more soundly than I remember to have done for a score of years. Once or twice in the first week I had a hysterical feeling; I scarce kept myself from shedding tears. And the strange thing is that it seems to have happened so long ago; I seem to have been a free man for many a twelvemonth, instead of only for two. Indeed, that is what I have often thought about forms of true happiness; the brief are quite as satisfying as those that last long. I wanted before my death to enjoy liberty from care, and repose in a place I love. That was granted me; and, had I known it only for one whole year, the sum of my enjoyment would have been no whit less than if I live to savour it for a decade.
The honest fellow who comes to dig in my garden is puzzled to account for my peculiarities; I often catch a look of wondering speculation in his eye when it turns upon me. It is all because I will not let him lay out flower-beds in the usual way, and make the bit of ground in front of the house really neat and ornamental. At first he put it down to meanness, but he knows by now that that cannot be the explanation. That I really prefer a garden so poor and plain that every cottager would be ashamed of it, he cannot bring himself to believe, and of course I have long since given up trying to explain myself. The good man probably concludes that too many books and the habit of solitude have somewhat affected what he would call my "reasons."
The only garden flowers I care for are the quite old-fashioned roses, sunflowers, hollyhocks, lilies and so on, and these I like to see growing as much as possible as if they were wild. Trim and symmetrical beds are my abhorrence, and most of the flowers which are put into them -- hybrids with some grotesque name -- Jonesia, Snooksia -- hurt my eyes. On the other hand, a garden is a garden, and I would not try to introduce into it the flowers which are my solace in lanes and fields. Foxgloves, for instance -- it would pain me to see them thus transplanted.
I think of foxgloves, for it is the moment of their glory. Yesterday I went to the lane which I visit every year at this time, the deep, rutty cart-track, descending between banks covered with giant fronds of the polypodium, and overhung with wych elm and hazel, to that cool, grassy nook where the noble flowers hang on stems all but of my own height. Nowhere have I seen finer foxgloves. I suppose they rejoice me so because of early memories -- to a child it is the most impressive of wild flowers; I would walk miles any day to see a fine cluster. As I would to see the shining of purple loosestrife by the water edge, or white lilies floating upon the still depth.
But the gardener and I understand each other as soon as we go to the back of the house and get among the vegetables. On that ground he finds me perfectly sane. And indeed I am not sure that the kitchen garden does not give me more pleasure than the domain of flowers. Every morning I step round before breakfast to see how things are "coming on." It is happiness to note the swelling of pods, the healthy vigour of potato plants, aye, even the shooting up of radishes and cress. This year I have a grove of Jerusalem artichokes; they are seven or eight feet high, and I seem to get vigour as I look at the stems which are all but trunks, at the great beautiful leaves. Delightful, too, are the scarlet runners, which have to be propped again and again, or they would break down under the abundance of their yield. It is a treat to me to go among them with a basket, gathering; I feel as though nature herself showed kindness to me in giving me such abundant food. How fresh and wholesome are the odours -- especially if a shower has fallen not long ago!
I have some magnificent carrots this year -- straight, clean, tapering, the colour a joy to look upon.
For two things do my thoughts turn now and then to London. I should like to hear the long note of a master's violin, or the faultless cadence of an exquisite voice, and I should like to see pictures. Music and painting have always meant much to me; here I can enjoy them only in memory.
Of course there is the discomfort of concert hall and exhibition-rooms. My pleasure in the finest music would be greatly spoiled by having to sit amid a crowd, with some idiot audible on right hand or left, and the show of pictures would give me a headache in the first quarter of an hour. Non sum qualis eram when I waited several hours at the gallery door to hear Patti, and knew not a moment's fatigue to the end of the concert; or when, at the Academy, I was astonished to find that it was four o'clock, and I had forgotten food since breakfast. The truth is, I do not much enjoy anything nowadays which I cannot enjoy alone. It sounds morose; I imagine the comment of good people if they overheard such a confession. Ought I, in truth, to be ashamed of it?
I always read the newspaper articles on exhibitions of pictures, and with most pleasure when the pictures are landscapes. The mere names of paintings often gladden me for a whole day -- those names which bring before the mind a bit of seashore, a riverside, a glimpse of moorland, or of woods. However feeble his criticism, the journalist generally writes with appreciation of these subjects; his descriptions carry me away to all sorts of places which I shall never see again with the bodily eye, and I thank him for his unconscious magic. Much better this, after all, than really going to London and seeing the pictures themselves. They would not disappoint me; I love and honour even the least of English landscape painters; but I should try to see too many at once, and fall back into my old mood of tired grumbling at the conditions of modern life. For a year or two I have grumbled little -- all the better for me.
Of late I have been wishing for music. An odd chance gratified my desire.
I had to go into Exeter yesterday. I got there about sunset, transacted my business, and turned to walk home again through the warm twilight. In Southernhay, as I was passing a house of which the ground-floor windows stood open, there sounded the notes of a piano -- chords touched by a skilful hand. I checked my step, hoping, and in a minute or two the musician began to play that nocturne of Chopin which I love best -- I don't know how to name it. My heart leaped. There I stood in the thickening dusk, the glorious sounds floating about me; and I trembled with very ecstasy of enjoyment. When silence came, I waited in the hope of another piece, but nothing followed, and so I went my way.
It is well for me that I cannot hear music when I will; assuredly I should not have such intense pleasure as comes to me now and then by haphazard. As I walked on, forgetting all about the distance and reaching home before I knew I was half way there, I felt gratitude to my unknown benefactor -- a state of mind I have often experienced in the days long gone by. It happened at times -- not in my barest days, but in those of decent poverty -- that someone in the house where I lodged played the piano -- and how it rejoiced me when this came to pass! I say "played the piano" -- a phrase that covers much. For my own part, I was very tolerant; anything that could by the largest interpretation be called music, I welcomed and was thankful for; even "five-finger exercises I found, at moments, better than nothing. For it was when I was labouring at my desk that the notes of the instrument were grateful and helpful to me. Some men, I believe, would have been driven frantic under the circumstances; to me anything like a musical sound always came as a godsend; it tuned my thoughts; it made the words flow. Even the street organs put me in a happy mood; I owe many a page to them -- written when I should else have been sunk in bilious gloom.
More than once, too, when I was walking London streets by night, penniless and miserable, music from an open window has stayed my step, even as yesterday. Very well can I remember such a moment in Eaton Square one night when I was going back to Chelsea, tired, hungry, racked by frustrate passions. I had tramped miles and miles in the hope of wearying myself so that I could sleep and forget. Then came the piano notes -- I saw that there was festival in the house -- and for an hour or so I revelled as none of the bidden guests could possibly be doing. And when I reached my poor lodgings, I was no longer envious nor mad with desires, but as I fell asleep I thanked the unknown mortal who had played for me and given me peace.
To-day I have read The Tempest. It is perhaps the play that I love best, and because I seem to myself to know it so well, I commonly pass it over in opening the book. Yet, as always in regard to Shakespeare, having read it once more, I find that my knowledge was less complete than I supposed. So it would be, live as long as one might; so it would ever be, whilst one had strength to turn the pages and a mind left to read them.
I like to believe that this was the poet's last work, that he wrote it in his home at Stratford, walking day by day in the fields which had taught his boyhood to love rural England. It is ripe fruit of the supreme imagination, perfect craft of the master hand. For a man whose life's business it has been to study the English tongue, what joy can equal that of marking the happy ease wherewith Shakespeare surpasses, in mere command of words, every achievement of those even who, apart from him, are great? I could fancy that in The Tempest he wrought with a peculiar consciousness of this power, smiling as the word of inimitable felicity, the phrase of incomparable cadence, was whispered to him by the Ariel that was his genius. He seems to sport with language, to amuse himself with new discovery of its resources. From king to beggar, men of every rank and every order of mind have spoken with his lips; he has uttered the lore of fairlyland; now it pleases him to create a being neither man nor fairy, a something between brute and human nature, and to endow its purposes with words. These words, how they smack of the moist and spawning earth, of the life of creatures that cannot rise above the soil! We do not think of it enough; we stint our wonder because we fall short in appreciation. A miracle is worked before us, and we scarce give heed; it has become familiar to our minds as any other of nature's marvels, which we rarely pause to reflect upon.
The Tempest contains the noblest meditative passage in all the plays; that which embodies Shakespeare's final view of life, and is the inevitable quotation of all who would sum the teachings of philosophy. It contains his most exquisite lyrics, his tenderest love passages, and one glimpse of fairyland which -- I cannot but think -- outshines the utmost beauty of A Midsummer Night's Dream: Prospero's farewell to the "elves of hills, brooks, standing lakes, and groves." Again a miracle; these are things which cannot be staled by repetition. Come to them often as you will, they are ever fresh as though new minted from the brain of the poet. Being perfect, they can never droop under that satiety which arises from the perception of fault; their virtue can never be so entirely savoured as to leave no pungency of gusto for the next approach.
Among the many reasons which make me glad to have been born in England, one of the first is that I read Shakespeare in my mother tongue. If I try to imagine myself as one who cannot know him face to face, who hears him only speaking from afar, and that in accents which only through the labouring intelligence can touch the living soul, there comes upon me a sense of chill discouragement, of dreary deprivation. I am wont to think that I can read Homer, and assuredly, if any man enjoys him, it is I; but can I for a moment dream that Homer yields me all his music, that his word is to me as to him who walked by the Hellenic shore when Hellas lived? I know that there reaches me across the vast of time no more than a faint and broken echo; I know that it would be fainter still, but for its blending with those memories of youth which are as a glimmer of the world's primeval glory. Let every land have joy of its poet; for the poet is the land itself, all its greatness and its sweetness, all that incommunicable heritage for which men live and die. As I close the book, love and reverence possess me. Whether does my full heart turn to the great enchanter, or to the island upon which he has laid his spell? I know not. I cannot think of them apart. In the love and reverence awakened by that voice of voices, Shakespeare and England are but one.
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