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From Macmillan's Magazine.
1887. Perpetual praise is productive of | is the old grievence symbolized in the captious peevishness, to which a good story of Tithonus and Aurora, "immorgrumble is a good antidote. tal age beside immortal youth," our dwindling age beside the undying youth of nature. Not, mercifully, that our age is really immortal, but in imagination at least it is nothing less, for when is our own death ever adequately compassed by our imagination? Nay, even when our memory is fading "from all the circle of the hills," are we not standing by to see it fade? And so the poet apostrophizes the autumn fields as happy, because they are yet in possession of their ancient glory which has not waxed old. The golden shimmer and the fragrance and the fruitfulness are all there, although we are no longer in touch with it as once in "the days that are no more.'
THE Source of much of the pathos of poetry, and particularly of the self-conscious poetry of our own day, is the passionate idealization of what we once had, but have not, and cannot have any more. Herein is the virtue of all the eternal farewells and hopeless regrets of literature; and we each of us, in an abiding sense of such loss, carry about a burden of which we seldom trust ourselves to speak, but which to a great extent qualifies all we It is the light out of which so many pathetic colors are made, identical under so many different expressions, from Cowper's lament over his mother's picture,
Till year by year our memory fades
But never before, I believe, has it won
In days far off, and with what other eyes
Glow with the glow that slowly crimson'd all
Of course, in many lives some overmastering loss has as it were gathered about it all the passion of the past
With bitter memories to make
The whole earth blasted for our sake.
But even here, except in certain supreme moments, it is hard to say whether the larger rhythm of sorrow does not belong to that which is gathered rather than to the special sorrow which gathers it. We love, it would seem, the past, if it be in any sense good, because it is the past. A light has fallen upon it which when present it had not; an evening light in which the scene, whilst exquisitely distinct, has somehow lost all the irksome trivialities which accompanied its actual presence. It is invested with
The light that never was on sea or land, The consecration and the poet's dream. Compare, for instance, our memory of some summer wandering with any faithful diary made at the time, and we shall be able to realize something of the sort of glamour thrown by loss. Most people regard with a tender, and often with an intense regret the memory of childhood. Here for the most part there is a solid ground for the pain of loss. We have lost our innocence with all its infinite possibilities; and we may well sigh over the happiness of a time,
is a fair spot in a southern county, an old home of the writer's or rather the scene of an old home, for the home itself has vanished. It is the first home he can recollect, lost to him when still a child; and the last home he recognizes, for a schoolboy has no home in any complete sense. A large gray house it was, with purple, lichen-mottled roof and goodly lawn and gardens sloping to one of the bright est of English trout-streams, which wound its way through the deep water-meadows to an old cathedral town some two miles distant. Our life was lulled by the caressing sounds of those cathedral bells which in their varying cadences had this ever for an under tone, "As it was in the be ginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end." Those who came after us for one reason or another quarrelled with the old place, which was to us as a Paradise of God. They dealt with it as it had been Thurnaby waste; the house was demolished, the shrubs and trees cut down, and the disfenced garden suffered to melt away into the surrounding fields. Any ghost of our leaving, one would think, must have been "stubb'd oot wi' the lot."
When yet I had not walked above A mile or two from my first love, And looking back at that short space Could see a glimpse of his bright face. Moreover, we have lost almost infinite opportunities. We have seen door after door closed to us which but now was standing open; we have joined the ranks of "the old who play no more;" of those emeriti who would seem by long living inadvisedly to have earned the right of advising fruitlessly. But even here it is hard to say that the surplusage of actual anguish is not due to the passion of the past, that is to say to a delusion, as some will be inclined to call it. But this is hardly fair; the passion of the past is as much a phenomenon of our nature, and therefore as likely to have a truth of its own, as any other sentiment. It may be in abeyance to a great extent in some natures, who cannot afford, as they boast, the time for dreaming; who are too eagerly engaged with the coming chapters even to keep a finger in the past; but sooner or later in all probability their time will come. On the other hand it is wonderful to see how this passion will affect even quite young children, of whom their elders can scarcely understand how their tiny lives afford room enough for any past upon which to dwell with regret. Past holidays, past toys, past companionships will often affect these little beings with a solemn sense of woe not the less real No more fear now of any such desecration because in miniature; and they will listen of nursery floors by alien footsteps as to the sighing of the wind at night, or to the continuous murmuring of the stream with the feeling that it is singing to them of ancient bygone times when it was all so nice, when the weather was fine, and their best friend in all the world had not departed. So the Ancient Sage:
I remember that on first hearing what had taken place I felt a certain fierce satisfaction that the work had been so cleanly done. It was almost as though we had had perished with our possession of it.
not been ousted at all, but that our home
Cowper lamented. One who years after saw and brought us word, reported that there was nothing to distinguish the old place from the meadows round except two or three trees yet remaining, with a statelier presence speaking of more gentle days. Hardly a shred is left us here on which to feed the passion of the past; and yet to me it has always seemed that these desolate fields must be its very sanctuary. There is the river ever whispering the story, whilst the garden trees, a knot of old retainers with uplifted hands and husky voices, bear witness that it is true.
I have not seen, and I trust I may never see, that spot. There for me, if anywhere, is the ancient well-head from which, when it is once unsealed, the Undine of the past is fain to issue, a spectral figure with Who can fail to recognize the allegory in agonizing hands, to kill one with a kiss. that story? The present, a dainty bride, would fain add to her charms "the tender grace of a day that is dead; a few drops of that water is deemed a sovereign cos metic-yesterday is to enhance with its
delicate half shadows the brightness of | image thrown successively upon its surto-day; and lo, from the unsealed spring face, could not as a river complain that of memory rises your dead youth, or first they are fleeting. On the contrary we do love, or in some more vague form the pas- complain as we cling passionately to that sion of the past, and with a kiss that is at which, for the moment at least, we cannot once more sweet and more bitter than hope to retain; and by so doing testify, aught else on earth, snaps the thread that as I conceive, that to live with such a sucbinds you to the present, and you wander cessive loss of life is no essential part of forth a man forlorn. This is no mere our immortality. We appeal to the obstifancy; though for the most part the malady nate aspirations of the soul after life and is neither fatal nor continuous, it has sent yet more life, as an argument of immortalmany a victim to our madhouses. It is ity; we may with equal justice appeal to the nympholepsy of the ancients. Men the passion of the past as an argument are driven to seek an escape either in that our immortal life will not be in time leading the life of a superior sort of swine, but in eternity, that it will, in some sense contented not to look beyond the daily at least, be unsuccessive. mash, or in the life of the ascetic, who both in theory and in practice recognizes that here he hath no abiding habitation, and must look for his contentment to the
city that is above. Others, and they are the majority, would fain practise a wise economy of the emotions, and continue more or less painfully to sit upon two stools until the present vanishes with its need and capability of compromise. Such alternate between indifference and sensibility; they use the water of the well sparingly, and somehow no Undine emerges. But each stands on his guard against his peculiar danger. For one it is an old. song, for another some pictured face, or faded letter, or lock of woman's hair.
Yet if a man be not faithful to his past I know not how he shall be faithful to his future; for in casting away his past he remains but half himself. It is the more manly and the more philosophic course to take up the burden of our past upon our own shoulders without flinching, to live with it as with something inalienably one's own. It is the basis of Christian repentance not to ignore the guilty past; it is an element of Christian hope to retain our hold upon the old good things which God has promised to renew. It is infidelity to their past which renders so repulsive certain personages of modern fiction who are supposed to have found out the secret of the elixir of life. These pass sentimentally unscathed though a succession of generations, ever hardening in the process, as they form fresh and fresh connections, until they change them as easily as their
Keats, in his “Ode on a Grecian Urn," apostrophizing its sculptured images, expresses this craving in the form of a regret in immortal lines:
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal-yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!
Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Forever panting and forever young;
A burning forehead, and a parching
At the end the poet wakes from his rapture, and, in a line I venture to think at once acute and perverse, exclaims, Thou, silent form! dost tease us out of thought As doth eternity.
Now it is precisely this suggestion of eternity which does not tease us, but on the contrary administers the one sedative to our passion. I know few words of more But if human life be essentially succes- solemn beauty and stronger comfort that sive, why should it complain of what be- have come to us from the remote past, longs to succession, the continual losing than the definition given of eternity by of the present in the past? A river ever Boethius in the sixth century, which the flowing on, as it belongs to rivers to flow, schoolmen have with one accord adopted between banks ever varying in their as- as their own: Est interminabilis vitæ tota pect, even if it were conscious of every | simul et perfecta possessio; “It is the all
at once and perfect possession of life with- | pect of a prelude to the blessedness of the out end." In its first instance and highest life that is then present; the memory of perfection it is regarded as an attribute of sin perseveres in that of the grace which the Divinity; but it is also attributed in makes it void. its degree under the expression of ævum to the life of pure spirits, and of the souls of the just made perfect. It is a life in which for the first time we shall have a present we can call our own; no mere gasp between an anxious future as yet uncome and a regretful past which has come and gone. Surely of all undesirable things the most undesirable is to be forever broken on this wheel of time: Vex not his ghost: O, let him pass! he hates
That would upon the rack of this tough world
Stretch him out longer.
As it is not congenial to a man to be forever tossed on shipboard, and he must needs desire and look again to feel the solid earth beneath his feet, so we must
desire and look for that day which "hours
Forsooth the present we must give
In this life, hope and memory divide the field between them; in the life to come, hope and affectionate memory are merged in the joy that welcomes the old things made new: Ecce nova facio omnia. Winter's despair and summer's disappointment having perished, autumn and spring shall meet and bring between them a new season, neither the one nor the other but holding of both.
refuse to be comforted, I must be allowed Should Mimnermus still persist and to doubt the sincerity of his devotion to the past, daintily as he expresses himself. He clasps his dying roses with an eye to relays of fresh ones by which the charming tradition of blooming and dying may be carried on. He has, after all, been only coquetting with the passion of the past. He is not "aidless, alone, and smitten through the helm," or he would look longingly toward that Avilion,
From Temple Bar.
I clasp them is because they die. Have we any hope that the eternal life, ubi totum stat, will not only bar future loss but will restore to us what we have lost in A CHILD'S RECOLLECTION OF WILLIAM the life that is past? To this I answer that there can be no actual repossession of a past that has actually gone; that were such repossession possible, in virtue of the tota simul possessio, it would in the best circumstances be intolerable. There is much in every one's past that he would not only willingly not recover, but that he would gladly not even remember. The river Lethe has a necessary place even in the Christian conception of the after world. Dante makes it flow in the highest place in Purgatory as a proximate preparation for Paradise; but by him it is described rather as a water for transforming the remembrance than as the mere water of oblivion. The past remains and is recognized, though only under the as
I WAS a little girl of about seven years of age when I first recollect seeing Mr. Thackeray. We lived then in Paris (my birthplace), as my father was the Paris correspondent of several leading English newspapers. My mother's evening receptions were very popular; her salon was a rendezvous where the artistic and literary celebrities met in order to converse. Conversation was at that period almost a fine art; men and women (so I have been told, as I was far too young to judge) enjoyed causerie; and they knew how to talk. Amongst the many interesting people who gathered round my father and mother, none made such a vivid impression on my childish imagination as Thackeray. He
is the central figure which stands out in bold relief from the dim surroundings. I can distinctly recall the big white head, the spectacles, the rosy face, and the sweet sunny smile which positively illumined his countenance and made it almost beautiful. I grew even to love the broad broken nose, and used to wonder how a boy, at any period, could have been so wildly audacious as to punch that feature. I wondered at the softness and gentleness of his voice and manner, and why so great an author should care to come amongst us little children in such a simple friendly way. He had a formidable appearance, being over six feet, and broad in proportion. We children were like pilgrims clustering round the knees of Brobdignag. Mr. Thackeray was our favorite giant. But evidently he was not too tall or too great to take an interest in our childish games. How often has he sat amongst us, enquiring tenderly about my dolls! He remembered all their names, and had made out a genealogical tree, so that every poupée had a distinct history of her own.
One late afternoon, after having told us delightful stories, Mr. Thackeray remarked that he must leave us at once, he was so terribly hungry. We coaxed him to remain, and told him that we really could give him a good dinner.
were three little iron beds all in a row; I saw him smiling at us, and then, putting his hand in his pocket, he murmured, "Now for the distribution of medals!" and chuckling, he deposited on each of our pillows a bright five-franc piece, remarking, "Precious little ones! they will think the fairies have been here."
One afternoon, as I was taking a walk with my father in the Champs Elysées, we met Mr. Thackeray, and he stopped to have a talk. Some public character was mentioned I forget who, but evidently some one that Thackeray disliked, for he certainly poured forth a torrent of strong, scathing words. I had never seen him before look angry or speak in a vexed manner, so I was rather frightened. Whilst talking, I noticed that Mr. Thackeray's eyes wandered towards a poor, delicate woman holding in her arms a little child; she was leaning for support against a tree, and was evidently in great destitution; without making any remark, he walked up to the woman, enquired into her condition, and on learning her troubles slipped into her hand several small silver pieces.
Mr. Thackeray often made us little ones laugh heartily with his droll stories and ways. He one day spied my crinoline, which was on a chair in the nursery; he examined it carefully, and to my horror put his head through the aperture, and walked into the drawing-room with it round his neck, looking like Michael Angelo's statue of Moses.
"There is nothing, my dears, you can give me," he answered, with a funny little sigh; "for I could only eat the chop of a rhinoceros or a slice from an elephant." "Yes I tan," exclaimed my three-yearold sister; we saw her disappear into a "I am an ogre now!" he exclaimed. big cupboard. She emerged a few sec-"Imagine, my dears, that I have a cropped onds after, with a look of triumph on her red head, blue eyes, and very big lu fat little face, holding in her hands a nettes!" And forthwith he related to us wooden rhinoceros and an elephant from wonderful adventures, making us laugh her Noah's ark, and putting the two ani- and cry, just as he wished. mals on a plate, she handed them with great gravity to Mr. Thackeray. Never can I forget the look of delight on the great man's face; how he laughed and rubbed his hands with glee; and then, taking the child up in his arms, kissed her, remarking, "Ah, little rogue, you already know the value of a kiss!"
Then he asked for a knife and fork, smacked his lips, and pretended to devour the elephant and rhinoceros.
Another time when Mr. Thackeray called we children were in bed. I was the only one not asleep. I had been listening to his pleasant voice, talking to my father and mother in the salon, when our bedroom door was cautiously opened, and in marched Mr. Thackeray, my mother following him, holding a candle. There
A few years later we came to live in London; my father, through no fault of his own, lost a lucrative appointment in Paris; it was a period of much anxiety; my second sister fell dangerously ill. Mr. Thackeray's goodness and kindness to us all were beyond words. He called nearly every day at our house in Thistle Grove, himself bringing delicacies of all sorts to tempt the appetite of my invalid sister. His cook, who was a cordon-bleu, had received orders to exert her culinary powers to their utmost, and she made the most exquisite dishes and jellies. I remember a note from Thackeray to my mother, with the words "A LAST APPEAL," written in capital letters, begging that the jellies should in the future be made with old sherry, or the best Madeira. The doctor