I remarked that, having started in life with the traditional estimate of Jeffrey as the king of critics and so forth, I found his articles in the Edinburgh Review, when I hunted them out with infinite pains, thin and disappointing.

not a great teacher, far enough from that, | ment in the gamut of human passion nor a man of solid sense like Wordsworth, which could not be adequately expressed but his talk was lively and graphic, though, in prose. Browning's earliest works had when one came to consider it, it was not been loudly applauded by undiscerning in any remarkable degree instructive or people, but he was now heartily ashamed profitable. It was pleasant and titillating, of them, and hoped in the end to do someat any rate, like the odorous perfume of a thing altogether different from "Sordello" pastille aux milles fleurs. and Paracelsus." He had strong ambition and great confidence in himself, and was considering his future course just now. When he first met young Browning, he was a youth living with his parents, people of respectable position among the Dissenters, but not wealthy neither, and the little room in which he kept his books was in that sort of trim that showed he was the very apple of their eyes. He was about six-and-thirty at present, and a little time before had married Miss Barrett, the writer of various poems. She had long been confined to a sofa by spinal disease, and seemed destined to end there very speedily, but the ending was to be quite otherwise, as it proved. Browning made his way to her in a strange manner, and they fell mutually in love. She rose up from her sick-bed with recovered strength and agility, and was now, it was understood, tolerably well. They married and were living together in Italy, like the hero and heroine of a mediæval romance.

Yes, Carlyle replied, his speculations and cogitations in literature were meagre enough. His critical faculty was small, and he had no true insight into the nature of things; but the Edinburgh Review had been of use in its time, too; when a truth found it hard to get a hearing elsewhere, it was often heard there. At present the great review was considerably eclipsed, and the influence with which it started into life was quite gone.


I BEGGED him to tell me something of the author of a serial I had come across lately, called "Bells and Pomegranates," printed in painfully small type, on inferior paper, but in which I took great delight. There were ballads to make the heart beat fast, and one little tragedy, "The Blot in the 'Scutcheon," which, though not over disposed to what he called sentimentality, I could not read without tears. The heroine's excuse for the sin which left a blot in a 'scutcheon stainless for a thousand years, was, in the circumstances of the case, as touching a line as I could recall in English poetry:

I had no mother, and we were so young.

He said Robert Browning had a powerful intellect, and among the men engaged in literature in England just now was one of the few from whom it was possible to expect something. He was somewhat uncertain about his career, and he himself (Carlyle) had perhaps contributed to the trouble by assuring him that poetry was no longer a field where any true or worthy success could be won or deserved. If a man had anything to say entitled to the attention of rational creatures, all mortals would come to recognize after a little that there was a more effectual way of saying it than in metrical numbers. Poetry used to be regarded as the natural, and even the essential, language of feeling, but it was not at all so; there was not a senti

I asked him did he remember a little
poem of Coleridge's called, "The Sui-
cide's Argument;" it had the most aston-
ishing resemblance to one of Browning's
various styles, and in a smaller man would
suggest palpable imitation.
This was the poem:

Ere the birth of my life, if I wished it or no,
No question was asked me it could not be

If the life was the question, a thing sent to try,
And to live on be Yes; what can No be? to

[blocks in formation]

Browning was the stronger man of the two, and had no need to go marauding in that quarter.

I said I thought the stronger man would find it hard to match "Christabel," or "The Ancient Mariner," or to influence men's lives as they had been influenced by "The Friend," or "The Lay Sermon " in their day.

Not so, Carlyle said, whatever Coleridge had written was vague and purposeless, and when one came to consider it, intrinsically cowardly, and for the most part was quite forgotten in these times. He had reconciled himself to believe in the Church of England long after it had become a dream to him. For his part he had gone to hear Coleridge when he first came to London with a certain sort of interest, and he talked an entire evening, or lectured, for it was not talk, on whatever came uppermost in his mind. There were a number of ingenious flashes and pleasant illustrations in his discourse, but it led nowhere, and was essentially barren. When all was said, Coleridge was a poor; greedy, sensual creature, who could not keep from his laudanum bottle though he knew it would destroy him.

One of the products of his system, he added, after a pause, was Hartley Cole. ridge, whom he (Carlyle) had one day seen down in the country, and found the strangest ghost of a human creature, with eyes that gleamed like two rainbows over a ruined world. The poor fellow had fallen into worse habits than his father's, and was maintained by a few benevolent friends in a way that was altogether melancholy and humiliating. Some bookseller had got a book called "Biographia Borealis "out of him by locking him up, and only letting him out when his day's work was done. He died prematurely, as was to be expected of one who had forgotten his relation to everlasting laws, which cannot by any contrivance be ignored without worse befalling. His brother, he believed, had long ceased to do anything

for him. The brother was a Protestant priest; a smooth, sleek, sonorous fellow, who contrived to get on better in the world than his father or brother, for reasons which need not be inquired into. He had the management of some model High Church schools at Chelsea, and quacked away there, pouring out huge floods of the sort of rhetoric that class of persons deal in, which he tried to persuade himself he believed. These were about the entire outcome of the Coleridgian theory of human duties and responsibilities.

[blocks in formation]


And three firm friends, more sure than day and night,

Himself, his Maker, and the angel Death.*

Yes, he said there were bits of Coleridge fanciful and musical enough, but the theory and practice of his life as he lived it, and his doctrines as he practised them, was a result not pleasant to contemplate.

Reverting to Browning, I told him that I found it difficult to induce my friends to to whom I lent "Sordello," sent it back accept him at my estimate. One of them, with an inquiry, whether by any chance it might be the sacred book of the Irvingite If it had a meaning, as I had assured him, Church, written in their unknown tongue? was there any good reason why the prob and perplexing than the problems of lems of poetry should be more abstruse


of the Brownings, I asked him if he had At a later period (1854), speaking again read "Aurora Leigh." I found graphic social philosophy in it, and a style as easy character painting and charming bits of and flowing as the best talk of cultivated

Speaking of this little poem several years afterwards with Robert Browning, he pointed out a fact which had escaped me, that though in structure and character it is a sonnet, it might be technically denied that title, as it has a line more than the legitimate


people. What it wanted, I thought, was what her husband was strongest in, dramatic power. The feeble old Puseyite and the peasant girl, the woman of fashion and the woman of genius, spoke the same epigrammatic or axiomatic language. If it were reduced to half the length it would probably have twice the chance of living.

Carlyle said he had read little bits of "Aurora Leigh," in reviews chiefly, and did not discern anything in it which suggested the probability of its living beyond its little day. It furnished rather a beggarly account of this nineteenth century, with which one might guess future centuries would not concern themselves much. She went extensively into Fourierism and phalansteries, things likely to be altogether forgotten, and which would make the reading of the book a task as difficult to the next century as Spenser's historical allegories or Dryden's theological ones were just now. But she did not want a certain bright vivacity and keen womanly eye for the strange things transacted in the theatre of the world neither. If it was too big, that was not an uncommon fault of books just now. After a pause, he went on to say that he often reflected what an old Roman or a vigorous Norseman would make of modern sentimental poetry, or of such a windy phenomenon as Shelley.


which the company received this sally put Carleton on his guard; he looked round the table with his keen natural wit, divined the state of the case, and escaped the ambuscade. "Ah, my young friend," he said, "it would be well for Shelley if he could write a book like 'Sartor Resartus.""


I SPOKE of Savage Landor. Landor, he said, was a man of real capacity for literary work of some sort, but he had fallen into an extravagant method of stating his opinions, which made any serious acceptance of them altogether impossible. If he encountered anywhere an honest man doing his duty with decent constancy, he straightway announced that here was a phenomenal mortal, a new and authentic emanation of the Deity. This was a sort of talk to which silence was to be preferred. Landor had not come to discern the actual relation of things in the world, very far from it. But there was something honorable and elevated, too, in his view of the subject when one came to consider it. He was sincere as well as ardent and impetuous, and he was altogether persuaded for the time that the wild fancies he paraded before the world were actual verities. But the personal impression he left on those who casually encountered him was that of a wild creature with fierce eyes and boisterous attitudes, uttering prodigious exaggerations on every topic that turned up, followed by a guffaw that was not exhilarating; rather otherwise, indeed.

I said he dropped his paragons as abruptly as he took them up. The first edition of the "Imaginary Conversations" was dedicated to Bolivar and Sir Robert Wilson; to Bolivar because he accomplished a more memorable work than any man had ever brought to a termination in this universe, and to Wilson for prodigious military achievements and heroic personal virtues. John Forster told me that Landor erased these dedications because he had altered his mind about the men, and regarded Bolivar, in particular, as an impostor, erowned with laurels for winning battles at which he was not even present.

I RECALLED an incident at one of our recent breakfasts in Dublin, the by-play of which had escaped him. He was speaking of Shelley, and declared he was a poor shrieking creature who had said or sung nothing worth a serious man being at the trouble of remembering. D. F. MacCarthy, a young poet, who was an enthusiastic Shelleyite, was in great wrath, but controlled himself out of respect for the laws of hospitality. William Carleton, who was present, took up Carlyle's dictum, and declared that this was what he had long been saying to these young men, but they would not listen to him. MacCarthy, who had great humor and readiness, and who was persuaded that Carleton had never taken the trouble to Yes, Carlyle replied, this was his method read either Shelley or Carlyle, looked at of procedure. He was not inflexible in him reproachfully a moment, and said, his opinions, but he was inflexible in his "Surely, Carleton, you would not dispar-determination to be right, which, when age Shelley's masterpiece, Sartor Resartus'?" The ripple of laughter with

D. F. MacCarthy, the translator of Calderon and
author of "The Early Days of Shelley," etc.
Author of "The Traits and Stories of the Irish

one came to consider it, was the more manful and honorable method.

I suggested that it was a serious deduction from the "Imaginary Conversations" that they had the dramatic form without the dramatic spirit. He made


Romans, Saxons, and Sandwich Islanders talk the same balanced periods, and approached the heart of a subject by the same slow Socratic method. And he sometimes destroyed the illusion of his work by putting sly sarcasms on Pitt or Byron, Napoleon or the Pope, into the mouths of Greeks and Romans, or of En-in common use in the country. It might glishmen of quite a different generation.

Yes, he said, even in the windy rollicking "Noctes" of Blackwood you met human beings whose sayings belonged to the speaker, and were not to be confounded one with another; but the "Conversations" were all more or less Landor. There were fine touches of character in his statesmen and poets which Wilson or Lockhart could not match, astonishing liveliness and vigor, too, and a far wider horizon of human interest.

I inquired whether literature was not merely his pastime, taken up by fits and starts?

He replied that Landor had been drawn into literature by ambition; he found it did not altogether succeed with him; his merits were far from being acknowledged by all mankind, which soured him in dealing with his fellow-creatures.

He fell into a pleasant gossip on trifling things, and suggested that going the whole hog was probably a phrase of Irish origin. Hog he found was a synonym in Ireland for a tenpenny piece when that coin was be assumed, without much improbability, that an Irishman who began to give his friend a treat in a frugal spirit gradually warmed to the business, and at length, in an explosion of hospitality, proclaimed his intention of magnanimously spending the entire coin. In this sense, going the whole hog had a plain significance; but in the other it was hopeless nonsense. I told him that I thought I had recently chanced on the explanation of another perplexing phrase, Hamlet's test of his own sanity that he knew a hawk from a handsaw. A plasterer who was working for me called to the boy in attendance to bring him his hawk, which it appears is the name of the sort of pallet on which a plasterer carries mortar. Knowing a hawk from a handsaw in this sense was a natural enough test of intelligence, like knowing a hatchet from a crowbar.

After a pause he went on. Landor, Was there any evidence, he inquired, when he was young, went to Italy, believe that the word was in use in the reign of ing that England was too base a place for Elizabeth? This was an indispensable a man of honor to dwell in; but he soon basis for my hypothesis. The hawk and came to discover that Italy was intrinsi- the heronshaw of falconry seemed a more cally a baser place. For the last ten years natural comparison in the mouth of a he lived near Bath, coming rarely to Lon-young prince than one taken from the tools don, which he professed to hate and de- of an artisan. Speaking of the significant spise. He had left his wife in Italy, giving|sayings of notable men, I happened to her all his income except a couple of hundred pounds to get him a daily beefsteak in England. She was not a wise or docile woman, and he could not live with her any longer. He was about to remove his children that they might be properly educated, a task for which he esteemed her in no way fit, but the eldest son snatched up a gun and declared that he had come to a time of life to form an opinion on this question, and by Ghe would shoot any one who attempted to separate his mother and her children – so Landor had to leave them where they


I inquired if his wife were the Ianthe to whom so many of his poems were addressed. Carlyle said he thought not; Ianthe was probably a young girl at Bath, whom Landor counted the model of all perfection, and whom he got a good deal rallied about in London, other people forming quite a different estimate of her gifts.

quote Lord Plunket's phrase: that to the unthinking history was only an old almanac. He said the phrase, if anybody cared to know, was not Lord Plunket's at all, but Jimmy Boswell's, who said to Johnston that somebody or other would reduce all history to the condition of an old almanac, a mere chronological series of events. I answered, laughing, that the currency of Jimmy Boswell's book in Ireland sixty years ago was an indispensable basis for any theory that called in question Plunket's originality. Speaking of the difficulties foreigners find in mastering colloquial English, he mentioned a blunder of Mazzini's, who called Scotch paupers "Scotch poors.' I told him a kindred story which a friend of mine, who visited Dr. Döllin. ger, brought home with him. "There is a prodigious multitude of infidels in Germany, I fear," said my friend. "Yes," replied the professor, “infidels are numerous, but there are a good many 'fidels ' also." He had been smoking all day, and

I suggested that one who suffered so much from sleeplessness and indigestion ought not to smoke, or at any rate to smoke so constantly. He replied that he probably did himself some slight injury, but not much. He had given up smoking for an entire year at the instance of a doctor, who assured him at a period when he suffered much that his only ailment was too much tobacco. At the end of the year he was walking one evening in the country, so weak that he was hardly able to crawl from tree to tree, when he suddenly determined that whatever was amiss with him that fellow at least did not understand it, and he returned to tobacco, and smoked since without let or hindrance. In latter days he had got in London a bunch of Repeal pipes, as they were called, which were by far the best he had ever met with; but he could not get a further supply in Dublin, though he had made careful inquiries. I laughingly assured him that these excellent Repeal pipes were strictly reserved for true believers, and I would get him a supply if he qualified in the ordinary manner.


From The London Quarterly Review.

THE Englishman who fixes his home in China is first amused, then irritated, but finally becomes callous to the absolute contrast to his own land, the perverse lefthandedness of all custom and idea. At last, when he has grown accustomed to this life behind the looking-glass, he discovers that within its own borders, too, China is a land of contrasts, that incompatibilities are constantly harmonized, and that things mutually exclusive co-exist. The Chinaman's mind is built in watertight compartments, and he finds no difficulty in believing things mutually inconsistent, and acting on them at the same time. China is at once the most aristocratic and the most democratic, the most literary and the most ignorant, the most materialistic and the most superstitious of nations, the best governed in the East and yet the harborer of great oppression and wrong. None can deny to its political constitution a certain adaptation to environment, which has secured enormous stability, and enabled it again and again to change dynasty and ruling race without materially affecting the people's every-day life. For all his conservatism, the fatalism

of the Oriental accepts the accomplished as the inevitable, makes the best of the change he has unavailingly opposed, and speedily makes it his own, so that the imperturbable in mass is ever tolerant of permutation of molecules. In mechanical language China is in neutral rather than stable equilibrium, a great push only rolls the compact mass to a new station where it remains as stable as before. It is not without interest to examine the influence of the national traits on the character and moral history of the ruling class in this great political machine.

[ocr errors]

The political theory of China has been handed down from the days of the sages, and a most excellent theory it is. The unit of morals is the cultivation and rectifying of the individual; from the individual to the household, from the household to the State, in ever-widening circles, the influence of the life of the "superior man is to spread. The volumes containing the lessons of morals and the science of government are the recognized classics, conned over and treasured up to-day word for word in the memory of every official in the land. Ancient China, possessing these maxims and rules, had next to invent a system for procuring men who would carry them out. Thus it came about that twelve hundred years ago there flashed on an emperor's mind the splendid idea that, in place of his own necessarily haphazard selection of men, there should be instituted an examination, and that he who showed most intimate knowledge of the golden themes of government would be the most likely to carry them into practice. Hence sprang the Civil Service examinations of China, the pioneer by more than a thousand years of the similar systems of the West.

A competitive system such as this is the heir of splendid hopes, which, with all faults of imperfection and abuse, are on the whole realized. The curriculum is too narrow; perpetual essay-writing according to set forms, perpetual balancing of the niceties of verbal distinction, perpetual straining after references to a stilted antiquity tend to produce, rather than an efficient official, a man polished ad unguem—especially in China, where a fingernail three inches long is the mark of elegance and refinement. Yet, on the whole, merit is undoubtedly recognized, and the ablest men are selected. Just as the narrow classical training in vogue in England during the last three centuries produced a race of statesmen who found it conclusive to clench an argument in the

« ElőzőTovább »