Oldalképek
PDF
ePub

matched by the mere flint weapons of prose. It flashes, but only because it is of steel. And it strikes home, because it has behind it the whole strength of a man, not merely this or that intellectual impulse.

All the more satisfying for their inner logic are those poems in which Mr. Gosse sets forth his conception of the poet's task, and guards "the memorial fire," as in Alere Flammam. A grave and beautiful conception of the functions of literature informs all this side of his work. Sometimes it is manifested simply in the chiselled beauty of the verses themselves, as in that exquisite poem, Lying in the Grass, which he dedicates to Hardy:

Thomas

And see that girl, with pitcher on her head,

And clean white apron on her gown of red,

Her even-song of love is but half-said:

She waits the youngest mower. Now

he goes;

Her cheeks are redder than a wild blush-rose;

They climb up where the deepest shadows close.

But though they pass and vanish, I am there;

I watch his rough hands meet beneath her hair;

Their broken speech sounds sweet to me like prayer.

Ah, now the rosy children come to play,

And romp and struggle with the newmown hay;

Their clear high voices sound from far away.

No wonder round those urns of mingled clays

The Tuscan potters fashioned in old days,

And colored like the torrid earth ablaze,

We find the little gods and loves portrayed

Through ancient forests wandering undismayed,

Or gathered, whispering, in some pleasant glade.

The light is dying; in the silver blue The young moon shines from her bright window through,

The mowers all are gone, and I go too. Fragmentary quotation utterly destroys the golden thread of thought connecting these detached stanzas; but that is only another tribute to Mr. Gosse's care for form. In another mood, what could be more delicate than that piece of metrical tapestry entitled a Dream of November?

Far, far away, I know not where, I know not how,

The skies are gray, the boughs are bare, bare boughs in flower; Long lilac silk is softly drawn from bough to bough,

With flowers of milk, and buds of fawn, a broidered shower.

Beneath that tent an Empress sits, with slanted eyes,

And wafts of scent from censers flit, a lilac flood;

Around her throne bloom peach and plum in lacquered dyes,

And many a blown chrysanthemum, and many a bud.

She sits and dreams, while bonzes twain strike some rich bell,

Whose music seems a metal rain of radiant dye;

In this strange birth of various blooms, I cannot tell

Which sprang from earth, which slipped from looms, which sank from sky.

Beneath her wings of lilac dim, in robes of blue,

The Empress sings a wordless hymn that thrills her bower;

My trance unweaves, and winds, and shreds, and weaves anew,

Dark bronze, bright leaves, pure silken threads, in triple flower.

It is difficult, in this hour of hasty work, and sometimes barbarous misuse of the English tongue, to overestimate the value of this care for technique and form. Mr. Gosse himself passes an interesting criticism on his own school when he says:

If we could dare to write as ill

As some whose voices haunt us still, Even we, perchance, might call our

own

Their deep enchanting undertone.

We are too difficult and nice.
Too learned and too over-wise,
Too much afraid of faults to be
The flutes of bold sincerity.

But there is as little doubt of the sincerity that is bold enough to question itself thus as there is of the value of these poems to a literature which shows signs, once more, of the usual blind reaction against form, order, and proportion, without which there is neither Art, nor Beauty, nor Truth. And an extraordinary feature of the modern reaction is the narrowness, the sectarian narrowness, and gross ignorance of the so-called rebels. They will turn away in contempt from some of the very greatest poets in the history of literature simply because these poets, too, belonged to an age of their own. They will reject Browning and Tennyson, out of a sneaking suspicion that their ideas are not quite in accord with the latest political speech of Mr. Lloyd George. This is a crime of some of our recent literary "rebels" which can be proved up to the hilt; and it is about as reasonable as to reject Beaumont and Fletcher for their royalist views, or Milton for his theology. What, in the sacred name of Philistia, has Mr. Lloyd George or any other politician to do with the paintings of Turner or the poetry of Wordsworth? What does it matter even if Milton ver

sified the books of Moses, or Tennyson painted the downfall of the State under atheism? An artistic atheist should be able to delight in both; and, if he be sincere, to reverence their sincerity. There is a species of critic springing up that is grossly ignorant of the most elementary facts of literary history, and grossly apt to misrepresent them. This is not the place to enlarge upon that subject; but it is interesting to note that while the writers who claim the glory (a somewhat multitudinous one) of lonely rebellion against not only the traditions, but also the facts of literature, are invariably sectarian and narrow and almost entirely limited to the outlook of their own decade, the writers who are gravely and sincerely concerned to "guard the flame" for its own sake and hand the worship on intact, are invariably more scientific and open-minded. In no way clashing with the reverence for a great literary heritage, for "famous men and our fathers that were before us," there shines through the poems in this volume, for instance, the light of an intellect at once creative and keenly critical.

The epilogue to Mr. Gosse's latest work nobly takes up the burden of the epilogue to his first. At the end of his early book, On Viol and Flute, he struck the key-note of all his work, with his lines to those who "disdain the sacred Muse":

The moving heavens, in rhythmic time,

Roll, if thou watch them or refrain; The waves upon the shore in rhyme Beat, heedless of thy loss or gain;

Not they, but thou, hast lived in vain If thou are deaf and blind and dumb,

Parched in the heat of morning rain, And on the flaming altar numb.

And, at the end of his latest work he expresses in perfection just that wide sane view of literature which is so necessary at the present day, expresses it with a noble eagerness and an intel

lectual curiosity that our conventional rebels would do well to emulate:

Before my tale of days is told,
O, may I watch on reverent knees,
The Unknown Beauty once unfold
The magic of her mysteries!

Before I die, O may I see

Clasp'd in her violet girdle, Spring; May April breezes blow to me

[ocr errors]

.

[ocr errors]

Songs that the youngest poets sing! New arts, new raptures, new desires Will stir the new-born souls of men; New fingers smite new-fashioned lyres,

And O, may I be listening then. . . . Shall I reject the green and rose

Of opals, with their shifting flame, Because the classic diamond glows

With lustre that is still the same. Change is the pulse of life on earth; The artist dies, but Art lives on. New rhapsodies are ripe for birth When every rhapsodist seems gone.

So, if I pray for length of days,

It is not in the barren pride
That looks behind itself and says
"The Past alone is deified!"
The Fortnightly Review.

So to my days' extremity

May I, in patience infinite, Attend the beauty that must be,

And, though it slay me, welcome it.

Only in such a fine and lofty air can literature prosper. I am not writing this for the mere stupidity that does reject the shifting opal. I am writing, or trying to write, for those who have intelligently accepted the opal, and at the same time are rejecting, a little stupidly, the classic diamond, and are even desirous of destroying it. We must have both; and to each its proper place must be assigned. That, and that alone, is the function of criticism. This broad and scientific view of literature is manifest in all the work of Mr. Edmund Gosse; so that, over and above their intrinsic beauty, his poems are a contribution of permanent value to the literary history of our time. Many of them are records of the author's adventures among masterpieces; and taken together, they are a confession of faith in the future of English poetry by a true guardian of the fire. Alfred Noyes.

THE LADY OF THE CANARIES.

I.

Comparative poverty, when one is wandering abroad, often proves a better leader than Murray or Baedeker. Early in the magnificent autumn of 19 I had been walking and climbing in the Ampezzo Dolomites, and found, when I decided to go to Venice for a fortnight, that I had spent far too much money on guides for Cristallo and the Drei Zinnern. The result of this discovery was that instead of sojourning in some huge hotel on the Grand Canal where one's fellow-countrymen abounded, I was driven to seek refuge in a tiny pension on the Zattere, which was dignified with the no

ble and ancient name of Cà Loredan. I was most fortunate in my necessity: although I had previously visited Venice on many delightful occasions, I felt very soon that this was the first time when I had really lived there. My rooms were sunny and clean, and from the windows I beheld an everchanging vision of ships, brownsailed and oddly rigged, with gaily painted hulls; all day long there was a haunting savor of tarry ropes, and also, it must be admitted, an intermittent ancient and fish-like smell; beyond the ships was the Giudecca, rose and pearl in the morning, tawny in the day, and a heaven of gold and brown

at sunset; to the left I beheld the domes of the Redentore and San Giorgio Maggiore, and to the right San Giorgio in Alga and the dusky mainland beyond Fusina. In addition to these delights I soon had the pleasure (for abroad it is a pleasure, whatever it may be in England) of knowing most of my neighbors by sight. They were all picturesque, and the children were charming.

My landlord was a retired gondolier, Zorzio Bresanin-a person who combined the most piratical aspect with a simple and cheerful soul. His wife, Marietta, came from Treviso-Treviso in Italy, she called it-and was exceeding stout and a very good cook. Her one defect was a habit of singing out of tune all day long, but the words of her songs were so naïvely amusing that I could easily forgive her. I was the only guest in the little pension; Marietta assured me that she had several English clients, all artists; but the autumn season had scarcely commenced, and the heat, in which I revel, and the mosquitoes, which I despise, had driven the majority of tourists to the sadly vulgarized Lido.

I passed a blissful fortnight of solitude in the Cà Loredan, writing and reading in strict moderation, staring interminably at architecture, idling in gondolas, bathing, and dining with painters at a little restaurant in the Rioterrà di Sant' Agnese. Zorzio and Marietta were afraid that I should become depressed and lonely, but their company, with that of Marco and Todaro, their offspring, was entertainment enough for the most gregarious of mortals. Venice, the Bride of the Sea, is also par excellence the Mother of Gossip; in a very short time I seemed to have heard the private history of every one who dwelt on the Zattere, nor were the most intimate affairs of the Giudecca unrevealed. As for my countrymen who live on or near the

Grand Canal-I wonder if they have any notion of how the Venetian tongue can wag? I regret to state that I encouraged the Bresanin family to develop this vice of loquacity with all my powers; the stories that they told were commonplace enough, but their method of narration was always fresh, picturesque, and highly comic. The children inherited the failings of their parents; they would talk by the hour of their neighbors, and the candor of their criticisms was often extremely startling. Marco and Todaro, for example, would come to my room on some more or less superfluous errand (not without an eye to the reward-an apricot each-for such attentions), and while Marco conversed with me Todaro would observe the gay world from the window. In the middle of our conversation a wild cry would arise from Todaro; Marco would beg my pardon and rush to join his brother, and they would both lean out of the window, chattering and gesticulating like a pair of insane monkeys. On my demanding the reason of their excitement the answer would be something to this effect-"It is nothing, Signore, only Dario the barcaiuolo making love, as usual, to the wife of Pinelli the seller of pumpkins;" or "Ecco! Ecco! the old Lordessa with the golden wig! Who would think that in her youth she was the innamorata of gentlemen innumerable!" On these occasions I would haul them hurriedly back into the room, praying with great fervor that the Lordessa with the golden wig, or whoever else the victim was, might be happily ignorant of the highly expressive Venetian dialect. Once they were removed, however, from their usual environment, Marco and Todaro became living pillars of propriety, and on the occasion when I took them for a trip in a gondola to the Lido, thinking that their comments on the heterogeneous crowd which haunts that famous shore

would be amusing, they sat side by side near the bathing-place, which they steadily refused to enter, holding each other's hands, and staring at the motley throng with immense, melancholy eyes-looking, indeed, so much too good for this vile world that an amusing Frenchwoman of my acquaintance came to demand where I had found the "deux chers petits anges d'Andrea del Sarto." If she could have heard the criticisms passed on her by the angels when they returned home she might have felt inclined to modify her impression of them.

With such diversions I led a pleasant life until the end of September, when a change happened. I returned one night from Torcello to find Marietta in a state of garrulous excitement: she had received a telegram from England announcing that a lady of my country was coming to stay at the Ca Loredan, and that she would arrive next evening. I inquired if she were an artist; Marietta did not know, but affirmed that she was not one of her former clients, adding that her name was Farnay, which sounded improbable. I received the news with secret distaste; but I had the grace to offer to turn out of the best room, which I was occupying, in favor of the unknown. Marietta, after protesting volubly for a quarter of an hour that nothing in heaven or on earth would force her to disturb me, agreed to my proposal, and told me where I should live in a way that betrayed how she had all along intended my transplantation. Next day I moved my belongings into a smaller room which adjoined my old one, and found to my joy that I could still obtain access to the balcony. Probably though, I thought, the invading Englishwoman would soon monopolize that point of vantage, and would even use it for airing her garments, in the objectionable manner of my fellow-countrymen at Swiss hotels.

LIVING AGE. VOL. LVI. 2960

The next day was wet, so I passed the greater part of it reading and writing. About six o'clock the rain ceased, and I walked with a friend to the gardens, afterwards dining at a small restaurant on the Schiavoni. When I returned to the Zattere I found that the new client had arrived at Cà Loredan. She was, it appeared, extremely tired, and had gone at once to her room. Her name was Fane (Farnay was Marietta's Latinization). I was assured that she was not an artist, but a Lordessa who wore very beautiful clothes and had brought a surprising quantity of trunks and bandboxes. She knew no Italian, and was weary, so weary. When she heard that there was an Englishman staying in the house she had evinced great curiosity as to his name, and had shown symptoms of disappointment when she had learnt it.

It seemed strange that anyone should have advised a lonely Lordessa who knew no Italian to stay at Cà Loredan, where only that language, or rather its Venetian equivalent, was spoken. Zorzio, it is true, professed to be acquainted with English; but his excursions in our tongue were limited to a song which he had learnt in his more active days,-an artless ditty, warbled through the nose, and consisting only of these words

Gondoliery Drinky-beery

with repetition da capo ad lib. He was capable also of uttering a series of fantastic howls which bore only the slightest resemblance to human speech and were supposed to be French. Marietta, on the other hand, knew no language but her own, and gloried in the fact. Fortunately she was sensible and sympathetic, so that if the Lordessa wasn't a complete idiot I might still be spared from the obligation of acting as interpreter a dozen times in the day.

« ElőzőTovább »