Essays in Little
Andrew Lang

Part 3 out of 4

practically first, and he never surpassed "Pickwick." He was a poor
story-teller, and in "Pickwick" he had no story to tell; he merely
wandered at adventure in that merrier England which was before
railways were. "Pickwick" is the last of the stories of the road
that begin in the wandering, aimless, adventurous romances of
Greece, or in Petronius Arbiter, and that live with the life of "Gil
Blas" and "Don Quixote," of "Le Roman Comique," of "Tom Jones and
"Joseph Andrews." These tales are progresses along highways
bristling with adventure, and among inns full of confusion, Mr.
Pickwick's affair with the lady with yellow curl-papers being a mild
example. Though "Tom Jones" has a plot so excellent, no plot is
needed here, and no consecutive story is required. Detached
experiences, vagrants of every rank that come and go, as in real
life, are all the material of the artist. With such materials
Dickens was exactly suited; he was at home on high-road and lane,
street and field-path, in inns and yeomen's warm hospitable houses.
Never a humour escaped him, and he had such a wealth of fun and high
spirits in these glad days as never any other possessed before. He
was not in the least a bookish man, not in any degree a scholar; but
Nature taught him, and while he wrote with Nature for his teacher,
with men and women for his matter, with diversion for his aim, he
was unsurpassable--nay, he was unapproachable.

He could not rest here; he was, after all, a child of an age that
grew sad, and earnest, and thoughtful. He saw abuses round him--
injustice, and oppression, and cruelty. He had a heart to which
those things were not only abhorrent, but, as it were, maddening.
He knew how great an influence he wielded, and who can blame him for
using it in any cause he thought good? Very possibly he might have
been a greater artist if he had been less of a man, if he had been
quite disinterested, and had never written "with a purpose." That
is common, and even rather obsolete critical talk. But when we
remember that Fielding, too, very often wrote "with a purpose," and
that purpose the protection of the poor and unfriended; and when we
remember what an artist Fielding was, I do not see how we can blame
Dickens. Occasionally he made his art and his purpose blend so
happily that his work was all the better for his benevolent
intentions. We owe Mr. Squeers, Mrs. Squeers, Fanny Squeers,
Wackford and all, to Dickens's indignation against the nefarious
school pirates of his time. If he is less successful in attacking
the Court of Chancery, and very much less successful still with the
Red Tape and Circumlocution Office affairs, that may be merely
because he was less in the humour, and not because he had a purpose
in his mind. Every one of a man's books cannot be his masterpiece.
There is nothing in literary talk so annoying as the spiteful joy
with which many people declare that an author is "worked out,"
because his last book is less happy than some that went before.
There came a time in Dickens' career when his works, to my own taste
and that of many people, seemed laboured, artificial--in fact, more
or less failures. These books range from "Dombey and Son," through
"Little Dorrit," I dare not say to "Our Mutual Friend." One is
afraid that "Edwin Drood," too, suggests the malady which Sir Walter
already detected in his own "Peveril of the Peak." The intense
strain on the faculties of Dickens--as author, editor, reader, and
man of the world--could not but tell on him; and years must tell.
"Philip" is not worthy of the author of "Esmond," nor "Daniel
Deronda" of the author of "Silas Marner." At that time--the time of
the Dorrits and Dombeys--Blackwood's Magazine published a
"Remonstrance with Boz"; nor was it quite superfluous. But Dickens
had abundance of talent still to display--above all in "Great
Expectations" and "A Tale of Two Cities." The former is, after
"Pickwick," "Copperfield," "Martin Chuzzlewit," and "Nicholas
Nickleby"--after the classics, in fact--the most delightful of
Dickens's books. The story is embroiled, no doubt. What are we to
think of Estelle? Has the minx any purpose? Is she a kind of Ethel
Newcome of odd life? It is not easy to say; still, for a story of
Dickens's the plot is comparatively clear and intelligible. For a
study of a child's life, of the nature Dickens drew best--the river
and the marshes--and for plenty of honest explosive fun, there is no
later book of Dickens's like "Great Expectations." Miss Havisham,
too, in her mouldy bridal splendour, is really impressive; not like
Ralph Nickleby and Monk in "Oliver Twist"--a book of which the plot
remains to me a mystery. {4} Pip and Pumblechook and Mr. Wopsle and
Jo are all immortal, and cause laughter inextinguishable. The
rarity of this book, by the way, in its first edition--the usual
library three volumes--is rather difficult to explain. One very
seldom sees it come into the market, and then it is highly priced.

I have mentioned more than once the obscurity of Dickens's plots.
This difficulty may be accounted for in a very flattering manner.
Where do we lose ourselves? Not in the bare high-road, but among
lanes, between hedges hung with roses, blackberries, morning
glories, where all about us is so full of pleasure that our
attention is distracted and we miss our way. Now, in Dickens--in
"Oliver Twist," in "Martin Chuzzlewit," in "Nicholas Nickleby"--
there is, as in the lanes, so much to divert and beguile, that we
cease to care very much where the road leads--a road so full of
happy marvels. The dark, plotting villains--like the tramp who
frightened Sir Walter Scott so terribly, as he came from Miss
Baillie's at Hampstead--peer out from behind the hedges now and
then. But we are too much amused by the light hearts that go all
the way, by the Dodger and Crummles and Mrs. Gamp, to care much for
what Ralph, and Monk, and Jonas Chuzzlewit are plotting. It may not
be that the plot is so confused, but that we are too much diverted
to care for the plot, for the incredible machinations of Uriah Heap,
to choose another example. Mr. Micawber cleared these up; but it is
Mr. Micawber that hinders us from heeding them.

This, at least, is a not unfriendly explanation. Yet I cannot but
believe that, though Dickens took great pains with his plots, he was
not a great plotter. He was not, any more than Thackeray, a story-
teller first and foremost. We can hold in our minds every thread of
Mr. Wilkie Collins' web, or of M. Fortune du Boisgobey's, or of M.
Gaboriau's--all great weavers of intrigues. But Dickens goes about
darkening his intrigue, giving it an extra knot, an extra twist,
hinting here, ominously laughing there, till we get mystified and
bored, and give ourselves up to the fun of the humours, indifferent
to the destinies of villains and victims. Look at "Edwin Drood." A
constant war about the plot rages in the magazines. I believe, for
one, that Edwin Drood was resuscitated; but it gives me no pleasure.
He was too uninteresting. Dickens's hints, nods, mutterings,
forebodings, do not at all impress one like that deepening and
darkening of the awful omens in "The Bride of Lammermoor." Here
Scott--unconsciously, no doubt--used the very manner of Homer in the
Odyssey, and nowhere was his genius more Homeric. That was romance.

The "Tale of Two Cities" is a great test of the faith--that is in
Dickensites. Of all his works it is the favourite with the wrong
sort! Ladies prefer it. Many people can read it who cannot
otherwise read Dickens at all. This in itself proves that it is not
a good example of Dickens, that it is not central, that it is an
outlying province which he conquered. It is not a favourite of
mine. The humour of the humorous characters rings false--for
example, the fun of the resurrection-man with the wife who "flops."
But Sidney Carton has drawn many tears down cheeks not accustomed to
what Mr. B. in "Pamela" calls "pearly fugitives."

It sometimes strikes one that certain weaknesses in our great
novelists, in Thackeray as well as Dickens, were caused by their
method of publication. The green and yellow leaves flourished on
the trees for two whole years. Who (except Alexandre the Great)
could write so much, and yet all good? Do we not all feel that
"David Copperfield" should have been compressed? As to "Pendennis,"
Mr. Thackeray's bad health when he wrote it might well cause a
certain languor in the later pages. Moreover, he frankly did not
care for the story, and bluffly says, in the preface, that he
respited Colonel Altamont almost at the foot of the gallows.
Dickens took himself more in earnest, and, having so many pages to
fill, conscientiously made Uriah Heap wind and wriggle through them

To try to see blots in the sun, and to pick holes in Dickens, seems
ungrateful, and is indeed an ungrateful task; to no mortal man have
more people owed mirth, pleasure, forgetfulness of care, knowledge
of life in strange places. There never was such another as Charles
Dickens, nor shall we see his like sooner than the like of
Shakespeare. And he owed all to native genius and hard work; he
owed almost nothing to literature, and that little we regret. He
was influenced by Carlyle, he adopted his method of nicknames, and
of hammering with wearisome iteration on some peculiarity--for
example, on Carker's teeth, and the patriarch's white hair. By the
way, how incredible is all the Carker episode in "Dombey"! Surely
Dickens can never have intended Edith, from the first, to behave as
she did! People may have influenced him, as they influenced Scott
about "St. Ronan's Well." It has been said that, save for Carlyle,
Dickens was in letters a self-taught artist, that he was no man's
pupil, and borrowed from none. No doubt this makes him less
acceptable to the literary class than a man of letters, like
Thackeray--than a man in whose treasure chamber of memory all the
wealth of the Middle Ages was stored, like Scott. But the native
naked genius of Dickens,--his heart, his mirth, his observation, his
delightful high spirits, his intrepid loathing of wrong, his
chivalrous desire to right it,--these things will make him for ever,
we hope and believe, the darling of the English people.


Most of us, as boys, have envied the buccaneers. The greatest of
all boys, Canon Kingsley, once wrote a pleasing and regretful poem
in which the Last Buccaneer represents himself as a kind of
picturesque philanthropist:-

"There were forty craft in Aves that were both swift and stout,
All furnished well with small arms, and cannons round about;
And a thousand men in Aves made laws so fair and free,
To choose their valiant captains and obey them loyally.
Thence we sailed against the Spaniard with his hoards of plate and
Which he wrung with cruel tortures from Indian folk of old;
Likewise the merchant captains, with hearts as hard as stone,
Who flog men and keel-haul them, and starve them to the bone."

The buccaneer is "a gallant sailor," according to Kingsley's poem--a
Robin Hood of the waters, who preys only on the wicked rich, or the
cruel and Popish Spaniard, and the extortionate shipowner. For his
own part, when he is not rescuing poor Indians, the buccaneer lives
mainly "for climate and the affections":-

"Oh, sweet it was in Aves to hear the landward breeze,
A swing with good tobacco in a net between the trees,
With a negro lass to fan you, while you listened to the roar
Of the breakers on the reef outside that never touched the shore."

This is delightfully idyllic, like the lives of the Tahitian
shepherds in the Anti-Jacobin--the shepherds whose occupation was a
sinecure, as there were no sheep in Tahiti.

Yet the vocation was not really so touchingly chivalrous as the poet
would have us deem. One Joseph Esquemeling, himself a buccaneer,
has written the history and described the exploits of his companions
in plain prose, warning eager youths that "pieces-of-eight do not
grow on every tree," as many raw recruits have believed. Mr.
Esquemeling's account of these matters may be purchased, with a
great deal else that is instructive and entertaining, in "The
History of the Buccaneers in America." My edition (of 1810) is a
dumpy little book, in very small type, and quite a crowd of
publishers took part in the venture. The older editions are
difficult to procure if your pockets are not stuffed with pieces-of-
eight. You do not often find even this volume, but "when found make
a note of," and you have a reply to Canon Kingsley.

A charitable old Scotch lady, who heard our ghostly foe evil spoken
of, remarked that, "If we were all as diligent and conscientious as
the Devil, it would be better for us." Now, the buccaneers were
certainly models of diligence and conscientiousness in their own
industry, which was to torture people till they gave up their goods,
and then to run them through the body, and spend the spoils over
drink and dice. Except Dampier, who was a clever man, but a poor
buccaneer (Mr. Clark Russell has written his life), they were the
most hideously ruthless miscreants that ever disgraced the earth and
the sea. But their courage and endurance were no less notable than
their greed and cruelty, so that a moral can be squeezed even out of
these abandoned miscreants. The soldiers and sailors who made their
way within gunshot of Khartoum, overcoming thirst, hunger, heat, the
desert, and the gallant children of the desert, did not fight,
march, and suffer more bravely than the scoundrels who sacked
Mairaibo and burned Panama. Their good qualities were no less
astounding and exemplary than their almost incredible wickedness.
They did not lie about in hammocks much, listening to the landward
wind among the woods--the true buccaneers. To tell the truth, most
of them had no particular cause to love the human species. They
were often Europeans who had been sold into slavery on the West
Indian plantations, where they learned lessons of cruelty by
suffering it. Thus Mr. Joseph Esquemeling, our historian, was
beaten, tortured, and nearly starved to death in Tortuga, "so I
determined, not knowing how to get any living, to enter into the
order of the pirates or robbers of the sea." The poor Indians of
the isles, much pitied by Kingsley's buccaneer, had a habit of
sticking their prisoners all over with thorns, wrapped in oily
cotton, whereto they then set fire. "These cruelties many
Christians have seen while they lived among these barbarians." Mr.
Esquemeling was to see, and inflict, plenty of this kind of torment,
which was not out of the way nor unusual. One planter alone had
killed over a hundred of his servants--"the English did the same
with theirs."

A buccaneer voyage began in stealing a ship, collecting desperadoes,
and torturing the local herdsmen till they gave up their masters'
flocks, which were salted as provisions. Articles of service were
then drawn up, on the principle "no prey, no pay." The spoils, when
taken, were loyally divided as a rule, though Captain Morgan, of
Wales, made no more scruple about robbing his crew than about
barbecuing a Spanish priest. "They are very civil and charitable to
each other, so that if any one wants what another has, with great
willingness they give it to one another." In other matters they did
not in the least resemble the early Christians. A fellow nick-named
The Portuguese may be taken as our first example of their
commendable qualities.

With a small ship of four guns he had taken a great one of twenty
guns, with 70,000 pieces-of-eight . . . He himself, however, was
presently captured by a larger vessel, and imprisoned on board.
Being carelessly watched, he escaped on two earthen jars (for he
could not swim), reached the woods in Campechy, and walked for a
hundred and twenty miles through the bush. His only food was a few
shell-fish, and by way of a knife he had a large nail, which he
whetted to an edge on a stone. Having made a kind of raft, he
struck a river, and paddled to Golpho Triste, where he found
congenial pirates. With twenty of these, and a boat, he returned to
Campechy, where he had been a prisoner, and actually captured the
large ship in which he had lain captive! Bad luck pursued him,
however: his prize was lost in a storm; he reached Jamaica in a
canoe, and never afterwards was concerned as leader in any affair of
distinction. Not even Odysseus had more resource, nor was more
long-enduring; but Fortune was The Portuguese's foe.

Braziliano, another buccaneer, served as a pirate before the mast,
and "was beloved and respected by all." Being raised to command, he
took a plate ship; but this success was of indifferent service to
his otherwise amiable character. "He would often appear foolish and
brutish when in drink," and has been known to roast Spaniards alive
on wooden spits "for not showing him hog yards where he might steal
swine." One can hardly suppose that Kingsley would have regretted
THIS buccaneer, even if he had been the last, which unluckily he was
not. His habit of sitting in the street beside a barrel of beer,
and shooting all passers-by who would not drink with him, provoked
remark, and was an act detestable to all friends of temperance

Francois L'Olonnois, from southern France, had been kidnapped, and
sold as a slave in the Caribbee Islands. Recovering his freedom, he
plundered the Spanish, says my buccaneer author, "till his
unfortunate death." With two canoes he captured a ship which had
been sent after him, carrying ten guns and a hangman for his express
benefit. This hangman, much to the fellow's chagrin, L'Olonnois put
to death like the rest of his prisoners. His great achievements
were in the Gulf of Venezuela or Bay of Maracaibo. The gulf is a
strong place; the mouth, no wider than a gun-shot, is guarded by two
islands. Far up the inlet is Maracaibo, a town of three thousand
people, fortified and surrounded by woods. Yet farther up is the
town of Gibraltar. To attack these was a desperate enterprise; but
L'Olonnois stole past the forts, and frightened the townsfolk into
the woods. As a rule the Spaniards made the poorest resistance;
there were examples of courage, but none of conduct. With strong
forts, heavy guns, many men, provisions, and ammunition, they
quailed before the desperate valour of the pirates. The towns were
sacked, the fugitives hunted out in the woods, and the most
abominable tortures were applied to make them betray their friends
and reveal their treasures. When they were silent, or had no
treasures to declare, they were hacked, twisted, burned, and starved
to death.

Such were the manners of L'Olonnois; and Captain Morgan, of Wales,
was even more ruthless.

Gibraltar was well fortified and strengthened after Maracaibo fell;
new batteries were raised, the way through the woods was barricaded,
and no fewer than eight hundred men were under arms to resist a
small pirate force, exhausted by debauch, and having its retreat cut
off by the forts at the mouth of the great salt-water loch. But
L'Olonnois did not blench: he told the men that audacity was their
one hope, also that he would pistol the first who gave ground. The
men cheered enthusiastically, and a party of three hundred and fifty
landed. The barricaded way they could not force, and in a newly cut
path they met a strong battery which fired grape. But L'Olonnois
was invincible. He tried that old trick which rarely fails, a sham
retreat, and this lured the Spaniards from their earthwork on the
path. The pirates then turned, sword in hand, slew two hundred of
the enemy, and captured eight guns. The town yielded, the people
fled to the woods, and then began the wonted sport of torturing the
prisoners. Maracaibo they ransomed afresh, obtained a pilot, passed
the forts with ease, and returned after sacking a small province.
On a dividend being declared, they parted 260,000 pieces-of-eight
among the band, and spent the pillage in a revel of three weeks.

L'Olonnois "got great repute" by this conduct, but I rejoice to add
that in a raid on Nicaragua he "miserably perished," and met what
Mr. Esquemeling calls "his unfortunate death." For L'Olonnois was
really an ungentlemanly character. He would hack a Spaniard to
pieces, tear out his heart, and "gnaw it with his teeth like a
ravenous wolf, saying to the rest, 'I will serve you all alike if
you show me not another way'" (to a town which he designed
attacking). In Nicaragua he was taken by the Indians, who, being
entirely on the Spanish side, tore him to pieces and burned him.
Thus we really must not be deluded by the professions of Mr.
Kingsley's sentimental buccaneer, with his pity for "the Indian folk
of old."

Except Denis Scott, a worthy bandit in his day, Captain Henry Morgan
is the first renowned British buccaneer. He was a young Welshman,
who, after having been sold as a slave in Barbadoes, became a sailor
of fortune. With about four hundred men he assailed Puerto Bello.
"If our number is small," he said, "our hearts are great," and so he
assailed the third city and place of arms which Spain then possessed
in the West Indies. The entrance of the harbour was protected by
two strong castles, judged as "almost impregnable," while Morgan had
no artillery of any avail against fortresses. Morgan had the luck
to capture a Spanish soldier, whom he compelled to parley with the
garrison of the castle. This he stormed and blew up, massacring all
its defenders, while with its guns he disarmed the sister fortress.
When all but defeated in a new assault, the sight of the English
colours animated him afresh. He made the captive monks and nuns
carry the scaling ladders; in this unwonted exploit the poor
religious folk lost many of their numbers. The wall was mounted,
the soldiers were defeated, though the Governor fought like a
Spaniard of the old school, slew many pirates with his own hand, and
pistolled some of his own men for cowardice. He died at his post,
refusing quarter, and falling like a gentleman of Spain. Morgan,
too, was not wanting in fortitude: he extorted 100,000 pieces-of-
eight from the Governor of Panama, and sent him a pistol as a sample
of the gun wherewith he took so great a city. He added that he
would return and take this pistol out of Panama; nor was he less
good than his word. In Cuba he divided 250,000 pieces-of-eight, and
a great booty in other treasure. A few weeks saw it all in the
hands of the tavern-keepers and women of the place.

Morgan's next performance was a new sack of Maracaibo, now much
stronger than L'Olonnois had found it. After the most appalling
cruelties, not fit to be told, he returned, passing the castles at
the mouth of the port by an ingenious stratagem. Running boatload
after boatload of men to the land side, he brought them back by
stealth, leading the garrison to expect an attack from that quarter.
The guns were massed to landward, and no sooner was this done than
Morgan sailed up through the channel with but little loss. Why the
Spaniards did not close the passage with a boom does not appear.
Probably they were glad to be quit of Morgan on any terms.

A great Spanish fleet he routed by the ingenious employment of a
fire-ship. In a later expedition a strong place was taken by a
curious accident. One of the buccaneers was shot through the body
with an arrow. He drew it out, wrapped it in cotton, fired it from
his musket, and so set light to a roof and burned the town.

His raid on Panama was extraordinary for the endurance of his men.
For days they lived on the leather of bottles and belts. "Some, who
were never out of their mothers' kitchens, may ask how these pirates
could eat and digest these pieces of leather, so hard and dry? Whom
I answer--that could they once experience what hunger, or rather
famine is, they would find the way, as the pirates did." It was at
the close of this march that the Indians drove wild bulls among
them; but they cared very little for these new allies of the
Spaniards: beef, in any form, was only too welcome.

Morgan burned the fair cedar houses of Panama, but lost the plate
ship with all the gold and silver out of the churches. How he
tortured a poor wretch who chanced to wear a pair of taffety
trousers belonging to his master, with a small silver key hanging
out, it is better not to repeat. The men only got two hundred
pieces-of-eight each, after all their toil, for their Welshman was
indeed a thief, and bilked his crews, no less than he plundered the
Spaniards, without remorse. Finally, he sneaked away from the fleet
with a ship or two; and it is to be feared that Captain Morgan made
rather a good thing by dint of his incredible cruelty and villainy.

And so we leave Mr. Esquemeling, whom Captain Morgan also deserted;
for who would linger long when there is not even honour among
thieves? Alluring as the pirate's profession is, we must not forget
that it had a seamy side, and was by no means all rum and pieces-of-
eight. And there is something repulsive to a generous nature in
roasting men because they will not show you where to steal hogs.


"The general reader," says a frank critic, "hates the very name of a
Saga." The general reader, in that case, is to be pitied, and, if
possible, converted. But, just as Pascal admits that the sceptic
can only become religious by living as if he WERE religious--by
stupefying himself, as Pascal plainly puts it, with holy water--so
it is to be feared that there is but a single way of winning over
the general reader to the Sagas. Preaching and example, as in this
brief essay, will not avail with him. He must take Pascal's advice,
and live for an hour or two as if he were a lover of Sagas. He
must, in brief, give that old literature a fair chance. He has now
his opportunity: Mr. William Morris and Mr. Eirikr Magnusson are
publishing a series of cheap translations--cheap only in coin of the
realm--a Saga Library. If a general reader tries the first tale in
the first volume, story of "Howard the Halt,"--if he tries it
honestly, and still can make no way with it, then let him take
comfort in the doctrine of Invincible Ignorance. Let him go back to
his favourite literature of gossiping reminiscence, or of realistic
novels. We have all, probably, a drop of the Northmen's blood in
us, but in that general reader the blood is dormant.

What is a Saga? It is neither quite a piece of history nor wholly a
romance. It is a very old story of things and adventures that
really happened, but happened so long ago, and in times so
superstitious, that marvels and miracles found their way into the
legend. The best Sagas are those of Iceland, and those, in
translations, are the finest reading that the natural man can
desire. If you want true pictures of life and character, which are
always the same at bottom, or true pictures of manners, which are
always changing, and of strange customs and lost beliefs, in the
Sagas they are to be found. Or if you like tales of enterprise, of
fighting by land and sea, fighting with men and beasts, with storms
and ghosts and fiends, the Sagas are full of this entertainment.

The stories of which we are speaking were first told in Iceland,
perhaps from 950 to 1100 B.C. When Norway and Sweden were still
heathen, a thousand years ago, they were possessed by families of
noble birth, owning no master, and often at war with each other,
when the men were not sailing the seas, to rob and kill in Scotland,
England, France, Italy, and away east as far as Constantinople, or
farther. Though they were wild sea robbers and warriors, they were
sturdy farmers, great shipbuilders; every man of them, however
wealthy, could be his own carpenter, smith, shipwright, and
ploughman. They forged their own good short swords, hammered their
own armour, ploughed their own fields. In short, they lived like
Odysseus, the hero of Homer, and were equally skilled in the arts of
war and peace. They were mighty lawyers, too, and had a most
curious and minute system of laws on all subjects--land, marriage,
murder, trade, and so forth. These laws were not written, though
the people had a kind of letters called runes. But they did not use
them much for documents, but merely for carving a name on a sword-
blade, or a tombstone, or on great gold rings such as they wore on
their arms. Thus the laws existed in the memory and judgment of the
oldest and wisest and most righteous men of the country. The most
important was the law of murder. If one man slew another, he was
not tried by a jury, but any relation of the dead killed him "at
sight," wherever he found him. Even in an Earl's hall, Kari struck
the head off one of his friend Njal's Burners, and the head bounded
on the board, among the trenchers of meat and the cups of mead or
ale. But it was possible, if the relations of a slain man
consented, for the slayer to pay his price--every man was valued at
so much--and then revenge was not taken. But, as a rule, one
revenge called for another. Say Hrut slew Hrap, then Atli slew
Hrut, and Gisli slew Atli, and Kari slew Gisli, and so on till
perhaps two whole families were extinct and there was peace. The
gods were not offended by manslaughter openly done, but were angry
with treachery, cowardice, meanness, theft, perjury, and every kind
of shabbiness.

This was the state of affairs in Norway when a king arose, Harold
Fair-Hair, who tried to bring all these proud people under him, and
to make them pay taxes and live more regularly and quietly. They
revolted at this, and when they were too weak to defy the king they
set sail and fled to Iceland. There in the lonely north, between
the snow and fire, the hot-water springs, the volcano of Hecla, the
great rivers full of salmon that rush down such falls as Golden
Foot, there they lived their old-fashioned life, cruising as pirates
and merchants, taking foreign service at Mickle Garth, or in England
or Egypt, filling the world with the sound of their swords and the
sky with the smoke of their burnings. For they feared neither God
nor man nor ghost, and were no less cruel than brave; the best of
soldiers, laughing at death and torture, like the Zulus, who are a
kind of black Vikings of Africa. On some of them "Bersark's gang"
would fall--that is, they would become in a way mad, slaying all and
sundry, biting their shields, and possessed with a furious strength
beyond that of men, which left them as weak as children when it
passed away. These Bersarks were outlaws, all men's enemies, and to
kill them was reckoned a great adventure, and a good deed. The
women were worthy of the men--bold, quarrelsome, revengeful. Some
were loyal, like Bergthora, who foresaw how all her sons and her
husband were to be burned; but who would not leave them, and
perished in the burning without a cry. Some were as brave as
Howard's wife, who enabled her husband, old and childless, to
overthrow the wealthy bully, the slayer of his only son. Some were
treacherous, as Halgerda the Fair. Three husbands she had, and was
the death of every man of them. Her last lord was Gunnar of
Lithend, the bravest and most peaceful of men. Once she did a mean
thing, and he slapped her face. She never forgave him. At last
enemies besieged him in his house. The doors were locked--all was
quiet within. One of the enemies climbed up to a window slit, and
Gunnar thrust him through with his lance. "Is Gunnar at home?" said
the besiegers. "I know not--but his lance is," said the wounded
man, and died with that last jest on his lips. For long Gunnar kept
them at bay with his arrows, but at last one of them cut the arrow
string. "Twist me a string with thy hair," he said to his wife,
Halgerda, whose yellow hair was very long and beautiful. "Is it a
matter of thy life or death?" she asked. "Ay," he said. "Then I
remember that blow thou gavest me, and I will see thy death." So
Gunnar died, overcome by numbers, and they killed Samr, his hound,
but not before Samr had killed a man.

So they lived always with sword or axe in hand--so they lived, and
fought, and died.

Then Christianity was brought to them from Norway by Thangbrand, and
if any man said he did not believe a word of it, Thangbrand had the
schoolboy argument, "Will you fight?" So they fought a duel on a
holm or island, that nobody might interfere--holm-gang they called
it--and Thangbrand usually killed his man. In Norway, Saint Olaf
did the like, killing and torturing those who held by the old gods--
Thor, Odin, and Freya, and the rest. So, partly by force and partly
because they were somewhat tired of bloodshed, horsefights, and the
rest, they received the word of the white Christ and were baptised,
and lived by written law, and did not avenge themselves by their own

They were Christians now, but they did not forget the old times, the
old feuds and fightings and Bersarks, and dealings with ghosts, and
with dead bodies that arose and wrought horrible things, haunting
houses and strangling men. The Icelandic ghosts were able-bodied,
well "materialised," and Grettir and Olaf Howard's son fought them
with strength of arm and edge of steel. TRUE stories of the ancient
days were told at the fireside in the endless winter nights by story
tellers or Scalds. It was thought a sin for any one to alter these
old stories, but as generations passed more and more wonderful
matters came into the legend. It was believed that the dead Gunnar,
the famed archer, sang within his cairn or "Howe," the mound wherein
he was buried, and his famous bill or cutting spear was said to have
been made by magic, and to sing in the night before the wounding of
men and the waking of war. People were thought to be "second-
sighted"--that is, to have prophetic vision. The night when Njal's
house was burned his wife saw all the meat on the table "one gore of
blood," just as in Homer the prophet Theoclymenus beheld blood
falling in gouts from the walls, before the slaying of the Wooers.
The Valkyries, the Choosers of the slain, and the Norns who wove the
fates of men at a ghastly loom were seen by living eyes. In the
graves where treasures were hoarded the Barrowwights dwelt, ghosts
that were sentinels over the gold: witchwives changed themselves
into wolves and other monstrous animals, and for many weeks the
heroes Signy and Sinfjotli ran wild in the guise of wolves.

These and many other marvels crept into the Sagas, and made the
listeners feel a shudder of cold beside the great fire that burned
in the centre of the skali or hall where the chief sat, giving meat
and drink to all who came, where the women span and the Saga man
told the tales of long ago. Finally, at the end of the middle ages,
these Sagas were written down in Icelandic, and in Latin
occasionally, and many of them have been translated into English.

Unluckily, these translations have hitherto been expensive to buy,
and were not always to be had easily. For the wise world, which
reads newspapers all day and half the night, does not care much for
books, still less for good books, least of all for old books. You
can make no money out of reading Sagas: they have nothing to say
about stocks and shares, nor about Prime Ministers and politics.
Nor will they amuse a man, if nothing amuses him but accounts of
races and murders, or gossip about Mrs. Nokes's new novel, Mrs.
Stokes's new dresses, or Lady Jones's diamonds. The Sagas only tell
how brave men--of our own blood very likely--lived, and loved, and
fought, and voyaged, and died, before there was much reading or
writing, when they sailed without steam, travelled without railways,
and warred hand-to-hand, not with hidden dynamite and sunk
torpedoes. But, for stories of gallant life and honest purpose, the
Sagas are among the best in the world.

Of Sagas in English one of the best is the "Volsunga," the story of
the Niflungs and Volsungs. This book, thanks to Mr. William Morris,
can be bought for a shilling. It is a strange tale in which gods
have their parts, the tale of that oldest Treasure Hunt, the Hunt
for the gold of the dwarf Andvari. This was guarded by the serpent,
Fafnir, who had once been a man, and who was killed by the hero
Sigurd. But Andvari had cursed the gold, because his enemies robbed
him of it to the very last ring, and had no pity. Then the brave
Sigurd was involved in the evil luck. He it was who rode through
the fire, and woke the fair enchanted Brynhild, the Shield-maiden.
And she loved him, and he her, with all their hearts, always to the
death. But by ill fate she was married to another man, Sigurd's
chief friend, and Sigurd to another woman. And the women fell to
jealousy and quarrelling as women will, and they dragged the friends
into the feud, and one manslaying after another befell, till that
great murder of men in the Hall of Atli, the King. The curse came
on one and all of them--a curse of blood, and of evil loves, and of
witchwork destroying good and bad, all fearless, and all fallen in
one red ruin.

The "Volsunga Saga" has this unique and unparalleled interest, that
it gives the spectacle of the highest epic genius, struggling out of
savagery into complete and free and conscious humanity. It is a
mark of the savage intellect not to discriminate abruptly between
man and the lower animals. In the tales of the lower peoples, the
characters are just as often beasts as men and women. Now, in the
earlier and wilder parts of the "Volsunga Saga," otters and dragons
play human parts. Signy and his son, and the mother of their enemy,
put on the skins of wolves, become wolves, and pass through hideous
adventures. The story reeks with blood, and ravins with lust of
blood. But when Sigurd arrives at full years of manhood, the
barbarism yields place, the Saga becomes human and conscious.

These legends deal little with love. But in the "Volsunga Saga" the
permanent interest is the true and deathless love of Sigurd and
Brynhild: their separation by magic arts, the revival of their
passion too late, the man's resigned and heroic acquiescence, the
fiercer passion of the woman, who will neither bear her fate nor
accept her bliss at the price of honour and her plighted word.

The situation, the nodus, is neither ancient merely nor modern
merely, but of all time. Sigurd, having at last discovered the net
in which he was trapped, was content to make the best of marriage
and of friendship. Brynhild was not. "The hearts of women are the
hearts of wolves," says the ancient Sanskrit commentary on the Rig
Veda. But the she-wolf's heart broke, like a woman's, when she had
caused Sigurd's slaying. Both man and woman face life, as they
conceive it, with eyes perfectly clear.

The magic and the supernatural wiles are accidental, the human heart
is essential and eternal. There is no scene like this in the epics
of Greece. This is a passion that Homer did not dwell upon. In the
Iliad and Odyssey the repentance of Helen is facile; she takes life
easily. Clytemnestra is not brought on the stage to speak for
herself. In this respect the epic of the North, without the charm
and the delightfulness of the Southern epic, excels it; in this and
in a certain bare veracity, but in nothing else. We cannot put the
Germanic legend on the level of the Greek, for variety, for many-
sided wisdom, for changing beauty of a thousand colours. But in
this one passion of love the "Volsunga Saga" excels the Iliad.

The Greek and the Northern stories are alike in one thing. Fate is
all-powerful over gods and men. Odin cannot save Balder; nor
Thetis, Achilles; nor Zeus, Sarpedon. But in the Sagas fate is more
constantly present to the mind. Much is thought of being "lucky,"
or "unlucky." Howard's "good luck" is to be read in his face by the
wise, even when, to the common gaze, he seems a half-paralytic
dotard, dying of grief and age.

Fate and evil luck dog the heroes of the Sagas. They seldom "end
well," as people say,--unless, when a brave man lies down to die on
the bed he has strewn of the bodies of his foes, you call THAT
ending well. So died Grettir the Strong. Even from a boy he was
strong and passionate, short of temper, quick of stroke, but loyal,
brave, and always unlucky. His worst luck began after he slew Glam.
This Glam was a wicked heathen herdsman, who would not fast on
Christmas Eve. So on the hills his dead body was found, swollen as
great as an ox, and as blue as death.

What killed him they did not know. But he haunted the farmhouse,
riding the roof, kicking the sides with his heels, killing cattle
and destroying all things. Then Grettir came that way, and he slept
in the hall. At night the dead Glam came in, and Grettir arose, and
to it they went, struggling and dashing the furniture to bits. Glam
even dragged Grettir to the door, that he might slay him under the
sky, and for all his force Grettir yielded ground. Then on the very
threshold he suddenly gave way when Glam was pulling hardest, and
they fell, Glam undermost. Then Grettir drew the short sword,
"Kari's loom," that he had taken from a haunted grave, and stabbed
the dead thing that had lived again. But, as Glam lay a-dying in
the second death, the moon fell on his awful eyes, and Grettir saw
the horror of them, and from that hour he could not endure to be in
the dark, and he never dared to go alone. This was his death, for
he had an evil companion who betrayed him to his enemies; but when
they set on Grettir, though he was tired and sick of a wound, many
died with him. No man died like Grettir the Strong, nor slew so
many in his death.

Besides those Sagas, there is the best of all, but the longest,
"Njala" (pronounced "Nyoula"), the story of Burnt Njal. That is too
long to sketch here, but it tells how, through the hard hearts and
jealousy of women, ruin came at last on the gentle Gunnar, and the
reckless Skarphedin of the axe, "The Ogress of War," and how Njal,
the wisest, the most peaceful, the most righteous of men, was burned
with all his house, and how that evil deed was avenged on the
Burners of Kari.

The site of Njal's house is yet to be seen, after these nine hundred
years, and the little glen where Kari hid when he leaped through the
smoke and the flame that made his sword-blade blue. Yes, the very
black sand that Bergthora and her maids threw on the fire lies there
yet, and remnants of the whey they cast on the flames, when water
failed them. They were still there beneath the earth when an
English traveller dug up some of the ground last year, and it is
said that an American gentleman found a gold ring in the house of
Njal. The story of him and of his brave sons, and of his slaves,
and of his kindred, and of Queens and Kings of Norway, and of the
coming of the white Christ, are all in the "Njala." That and the
other Sagas would bear being shortened for general readers; once
they were all that the people had by way of books, and they liked
them long. But, shortened or not, they are brave books for men, for
the world is a place of battle still, and life is war. These old
heroes knew it, and did not shirk it, but fought it out, and left
honourable names and a glory that widens year by year. For the
story of Njal and Gunnar and Skarphedin was told by Captain Speedy
to the guards of Theodore, King of Abyssinia. They liked it well;
and with queer altered names and changes of the tale, that Saga will
be told in Abyssinia, and thence carried all through Africa where
white men have never wandered. So wide, so long-enduring a renown
could be given by a nameless Sagaman.


When I was very young, a distinguished Review was still younger. I
remember reading one of the earliest numbers, being then myself a
boy of ten, and coming on a review of a novel. Never, as it seemed
to me, or seems to my memory, was a poor novel more heavily handled:
and yet I felt that the book must be a book to read on the very
earliest opportunity. It was "Westward Ho!" the most famous, and
perhaps the best novel, of Charles Kingsley. Often one has read it
since, and it is an example of those large, rich, well-fed romances,
at which you can cut and come again, as it were, laying it down, and
taking it up on occasion, with the certainty of being excited,
amused--and preached at.

Lately I have re-read "Westward Ho!" and some of Kingsley's other
books, "Hypatia," "Hereward the Wake," and the poems, over again.
The old pleasure in them is not gone indeed, but it is modified.
One must be a boy to think Kingsley a humourist. At the age of
twelve or ten you take the comic passages which he conscientiously
provides, without being vexed or offended; you take them merely in
the way of business. Better things are coming: struggles with the
Inquisition, storms at sea, duels, the Armada, wanderings in the
Lotus land of the tropical west; and for the sake of all this a boy
puts up good-naturedly with Kingsley's humour. Perhaps he even
grins over Amyas "burying alternately his face in the pasty and the
pasty in his face," or he tries to feel diverted by the Elizabethan
waggeries of Frank. But there is no fun in them--they are
mechanical; they are worse than the humours of Scott's Sir Percy
Shafto, which are not fine.

The same sense of everything not being quite so excellent as one
remembered it haunts one in "Hereward the Wake, the Last of the
English." Kingsley calls him "the Last of the English," but he is
really the first of the literary Vikings. In the essay on the Sagas
here I have tried to show, very imperfectly, what the Norsemen were
actually like. They caught Kingsley's fancy, and his "Hereward,"
though born on English soil, is really Norse--not English. But
Kingsley did not write about the Vikings, nor about his Elizabethan
heroes in "Westward Ho!" in a perfectly simple, straightforward way.
He was always thinking of our own times and referring to them. That
is why even the rather ruffianly Hereward is so great an enemy of
saints and monks. That is why, in "Hypatia" (which opens so well),
we have those prodigiously dull, stupid, pedantic, and conceited
reflections of Raphael Ben Ezra. That is why, in all Kingsley's
novels, he is perpetually exciting himself in defence of marriage
and the family life, as if any monkish ideas about the blessedness
of bachelorhood were ever likely to drive the great Anglo-Saxon race
into convents and monasteries. That is the very last thing we have
to be afraid of; but Kingsley was afraid of it, and was eternally
attacking everything Popish and monkish.

Boys and young people, then, can read "Westward Ho!" and "Hypatia,"
and "Hereward the Wake," with far more pleasure than their elders.
They hurry on with the adventures, and do not stop to ask what the
moralisings mean. They forgive the humour of Kingsley because it is
well meant. They get, in short, the real good of this really great
and noble and manly and blundering genius. They take pleasure in
his love of strong men, gallant fights, desperate encounters with
human foes, with raging seas, with pestilence, or in haunted
forests. For in all that is good of his talent--in his courage, his
frank speech, his love of sport, his clear eyes, his devotion to
field and wood, river, moor, sea, and storms--Kingsley is a boy. He
has the brave, rather hasty, and not over well-informed enthusiasm
of sixteen, for persons and for causes. He saw an opponent (it
might be Father Newman): his heart lusted for a fight; he called
his opponent names, he threw his cap into the ring, he took his coat
off, he fought, he got a terrible scientific drubbing. It was like
a sixth-form boy matching himself against the champion. And then he
bore no malice. He took his defeat bravely. Nay, are we not left
with a confused feeling that he was not far in the wrong, though he
had so much the worse of the fight?

Such was Kingsley: a man with a boy's heart; a hater of cruelty and
injustice, and also with a brave, indomitable belief that his own
country and his own cause were generally in the right, whatever the
quarrel. He loved England like a mistress, and hated her enemies,
Spain and the Pope, though even in them he saw the good. He is for
ever scolding the Spanish for their cruelties to the Indians, but he
defends our doings to the Irish, which (at that time) were neither
more nor less oppressive than the Spanish performances in America.
"Go it, our side!" you always hear this good Kingsley crying; and
one's heart goes out to him for it, in an age when everybody often
proves his own country to be in the wrong.

Simple, brave, resolute, manly, a little given to "robustiousness,"
Kingsley transfigured all these qualities by possessing the soul and
the heart of a poet. He was not a very great poet, indeed, but a
true poet--one of the very small band who are cut off, by a gulf
that can never be passed, from mere writers of verse, however
clever, educated, melodious, ingenious, amiable, and refined. He
had the real spark of fire, the true note; though the spark might
seldom break into flame, and the note was not always clear. Never
let us confuse true poets with writers of verse, still less with
writers of "poetic prose." Kingsley wrote a great deal of that-
perhaps too much: his descriptions of scenes are not always as good
as in Hereward's ride round the Fens, or when the tall, Spanish
galleon staggers from the revenge of man to the vengeance of God, to
her doom through the mist, to her rest in the sea. Perhaps only a
poet could have written that prose; it is certain no writer of
"poetic prose" could have written Kingsley's poems.

His songs are his best things; they really are songs, not merely
lyric poems. They have the merit of being truly popular, whether
they are romantic, like "The Sands o' Dee," which actually
reproduces the best qualities of the old ballad; or whether they are
pathetic, like the "Doll's Song," in "Water Babies"; or whether they
attack an abuse, as in the song of "The Merry Brown Hares"; or
whether they soar higher, as in "Deep, deep Love, within thine own
abyss abiding"; or whether they are mere noble nonsense, as in
"Lorraine Loree":-

"She mastered young Vindictive; oh, the gallant lass was she,
And kept him straight and won the race, as near as near could be;
But he killed her at the brook against a pollard willow tree;
Oh, he killed her at the brook, the brute, for all the world to see,
And no one but the baby cried for poor Lorraine Loree."

The truth about Charles Kingsley seems to be that he rather made a
brave and cheery noise in this night-battle of modern life, than
that he directed any movement of forces. He kept cheering, as it
were, and waving his sword with a contagious enthusiasm. Being a
poet, and a man both of heart and of sentiment, he was equally
attached to the best things of the old world and to the best of the
new world, as far as one can forecast what it is to be. He loved
the stately homes of England, the ancient graduated order of
society, the sports of the past, the military triumphs, the
patriotic glories. But he was also on the side of the poor: as
"Parson Lot" he attempted to be a Christian Socialist.

Now, the Socialists are the people who want to take everything; the
Christians are the persons who do not want to give more than they
find convenient. Kingsley himself was ready to give, and did give,
his time, his labour, his health, and probably his money, to the
poor. But he was by no means minded that they should swallow up the
old England with church and castle, manor-house and tower, wealth,
beauty, learning, refinement. The man who wrote "Alton Locke," the
story of the starved tailor-poet, was the man who nearly wept when
he heard a fox bark, and reflected that the days of fox-hunting were
numbered. He had a poet's politics, Colonel Newcome's politics. He
was for England, for the poor, for the rich, for the storied houses
of the chivalrous past, for the cottage, for the hall; and was dead
against the ideas of Manchester, and of Mr. John Bright. "My
father," he says in a letter, "would have put his hand to a spade or
an axe with any man, and so could I pretty well, too, when I was in
my prime; and my eldest son is now working with his own hands at
farming, previous to emigrating to South America, where he will do
the drudgery of his own cattle-pens and sheepfolds; and if I were
twenty-four and unmarried I would go out there too, and work like an
Englishman, and live by the sweat of my brow."

This was the right side of his love of the Vikings; it was thus THEY
lived, when not at war--thus that every gentleman who has youth and
health should work, winning new worlds for his class, in place of
this miserable, over-crowded, brawling England. This, I think, was,
or should have been, the real lesson and message of Kingsley for the
generations to come. Like Scott the scion of an old knightly line,
he had that drop of wild blood which drives men from town into the
air and the desert, wherever there are savage lands to conquer,
beasts to hunt, and a hardy life to be lived. But he was the son of
a clergyman, and a clergyman himself. The spirit that should have
gone into action went into talking, preaching, writing--all sources
of great pleasure to thousands of people, and so not wasted. Yet
these were not the natural outlets of Kingsley's life: he should
have been a soldier, or an explorer; at least, we may believe that
he would have preferred such fortune. He did his best, the best he
knew, and it is all on the side of manliness, courage, kindness.
Perhaps he tried too many things--science, history, fairy tales,
religious and political discussions, romance, poetry. Poetry was
what he did best, romance next; his science and his history are
entertaining, but without authority.

This, when one reads it again, seems a cold, unfriendly estimate of
a man so ardent and so genuine, a writer so vivacious and courageous
as Kingsley. Even the elderly reviewer bears to him, and to his
brother Henry, a debt he owes to few of their generation. The truth
is we should READ Kingsley; we must not criticise him. We must
accept him and be glad of him, as we accept a windy, sunny autumn
day--beautiful and blusterous--to be enjoyed and struggled with. If
once we stop and reflect, and hesitate, he seems to preach too much,
and with a confidence which his knowledge of the world and of
history does not justify. To be at one with Kingsley we must be
boys again, and that momentary change cannot but be good for us.
Soon enough--too soon--we shall drop back on manhood, and on all the
difficulties and dragons that Kingsley drove away by a blast on his
chivalrous and cheery horn.


Surely it is a pleasant thing that there are books, like other
enjoyments, for all ages. You would not have a boy prefer whist to
fives, nor tobacco to toffee, nor Tolstoi to Charles Lever. The
ancients reckoned Tyrtaecus a fine poet, not that he was
particularly melodious or reflective, but that he gave men heart to
fight for their country. Charles Lever has done as much. In his
biography, by Mr. Fitzpatrick, it is told that a widow lady had but
one son, and for him she obtained an appointment at Woolwich. The
boy was timid and nervous, and she fancied that she must find for
him some other profession--perhaps that of literature. But he one
day chanced on Lever's novels, and they put so much heart into him
that his character quite altered, and he became the bravest of the

Lever may not do as much for every one, but he does teach contempt
of danger, or rather, delight in it: a gay, spontaneous, boyish
kind of courage--Irish courage at its best. We may get more good
from that than harm from all his tales of much punch and many
drinking bouts. These are no longer in fashion and are not very gay
reading, perhaps, but his stories and songs, his duels and battles
and hunting scenes are as merry and as good as ever. Wild as they
seem in the reading, they are not far from the truth, as may be
gathered out of "Barrington's Memoirs," and their tales of the
reckless Irish life some eighty years ago.

There were two men in Charles Lever--a glad man and a sad man. The
gaiety was for his youth, when he poured out his "Lorrequers" and
"O'Malleys," all the mirth and memories of his boyhood, all the
tales of fighting and feasting he gleaned from battered, seasoned
old warriors, like Major Monsoon. Even then, Mr. Thackeray, who
knew him, and liked and laughed at him, recognised through his
merriment "the fund of sadness beneath." "The author's character is
NOT humour, but sentiment . . . extreme delicacy, sweetness and
kindliness of heart. The spirits are mostly artificial, the fond is
sadness, as appears to me to be that of most Irish writing and
people." Even in "Charles O'Malley," what a true, dark picture
that is of the duel beside the broad, angry river on the level waste
under the wide grey sky! Charles has shot his opponent, Bodkin, and
with Considine, his second, is making his escape. "Considine cried
out suddenly, 'Too infamous, by Jove: we are murdered men!'"

"'What do you mean?' said I.

"'Don't you see that?' said he, pointing to something black which
floated from a pole at the opposite side of the river.

"'Yes; what is it?'

"'It's his coat they've put upon an oar, to show the people he's
killed--that's all. Every man here's his tenant; and look there!
they're not giving us much doubt as to their intentions.'

"Here a tremendous yell burst forth from the mass of people along
the shore, which, rising to a terrific cry, sank gradually down to a
low wailing, then rose and fell several times, as the Irish death-
cry filled the air, and rose to heaven, as if imploring vengeance on
a murderer."

Passages like this, and that which follows--the dangerous voyage
through the storm on the flooded Shannon, and through the reefs--are
what Mr. Thackeray may have had in his mind when he spoke of Lever's
underlying melancholy. Like other men with very high spirits, he
had hours of gloom, and the sadness and the thoughtfulness that were
in him came forth then and informed his later books. These are far
more carefully written, far more cunningly constructed, than the old
chapters written from month to month as the fit took him, with no
more plan or premeditation than "Pickwick." But it is the early
stories that we remember, and that he lives by--the pages thrown off
at a heat, when he was a lively doctor with few patients, and was
not over-attentive to them. These were the days of Harry Lorrequer
and Tom Burke; characters that ran away with him, and took their own
path through a merry world of diversion. Like the knights in Sir
Thomas Malory, these heroes "ride at adventure," ride amazing horses
that dread no leap, be it an Irish stone wall on a mountain crest,
or be it the bayonets of a French square.

Mr. Lever's biographer has not been wholly successful in pleasing
the critics, and he does not seem to affect very critical airs
himself, but he tells a straightforward tale. The life of Charles
Lever is the natural commentary on his novels. He was born at
Dublin in 1806, the son of a builder or architect. At school he was
very much flogged, and the odds are that he deserved these
attentions, for he had high spirits beyond the patience of dominies.
Handsome, merry and clever, he read novels in school hours, wore a
ring, and set up as a dandy. Even then he was in love with the
young lady whom he married in the end. At a fight with boys of
another school, he and a friend placed a mine under the ground
occupied by the enemy, and blew them, more or less, into the air.
Many an eyebrow was singed off on that fatal day, when, for the only
time, this romancer of the wars "smelled powder." He afterwards
pleaded for his party before the worthy police magistrate, and
showed great promise as a barrister. At Trinity College, Dublin, he
was full of his fun, made ballads, sang them through the streets in
disguise (like Fergusson, the Scottish poet), and one night
collected thirty shillings in coppers.

The original of Frank Webber, in "Charles O'Malley," was a chum of
his, and he took part in the wonderful practical jokes which he has
made immortal in that novel.

From Trinity College, Dublin, Lever went to Gottingen, where he
found fun and fighting enough among the German students. From that
hour he became a citizen of the world, or, at least, of Europe, and
perhaps, like the prophets, was most honoured when out of his own
country. He returned to Dublin and took his degree in medicine,
after playing a famous practical joke. A certain medical professor
was wont to lecture in bed. One night he left town unexpectedly.
Lever, by chance, came early to lecture, found the Professor absent,
slipped into his bed, put on his nightcap, and took the class
himself. On another day he was standing outside the Foundling
Hospital with a friend, a small man. Now, a kind of stone cradle
for foundlings was built outside the door, and, when a baby was
placed therein, a bell rang. Lever lifted up his friend, popped him
into the cradle, and had the joy of seeing the promising infant
picked out by the porter.

It seems a queer education for a man of letters; but, like Sir
Walter Scott when revelling in Liddesdale, he "was making himself
all the time." He was collecting myriads of odd experiences and
treasures of anecdotes; he was learning to know men of all sorts;
and later, as a country doctor, he had experiences of mess tables,
of hunting, and of all the ways of his remarkable countrymen. When
cholera visited his district he stuck to his work like a man of
heart and courage. But the usual tasks of a country doctor wearied
him; he neglected them, he became unpopular with the authorities, he
married his first love and returned to Brussels, where he practised
as a physician. He had already begun his first notable book, "Harry
Lorrequer," in the University Magazine. It is merely a string of
Irish and other stories, good, bad, and indifferent--a picture
gallery full of portraits of priests, soldiers, peasants and odd
characters. The plot is of no importance; we are not interested in
Harry's love affairs, but in his scrapes, adventures, duels at home
and abroad. He fights people by mistake whom he does not know by
sight, he appears on parade with his face blackened, he wins large
piles at trente et quarante, he disposes of coopers of claret and
bowls of punch, and the sheep on a thousand hills provide him with
devilled kidneys. The critics and the authors thought little of the
merry medley, but the public enjoyed it, and defied the reviewers.
One paper preferred the book to a wilderness of "Pickwicks"; and as
this opinion was advertised everywhere by M'Glashan, the publisher,
Mr. Dickens was very much annoyed indeed. Authors are easily
annoyed. But Lever writes ut placeat pueris, and there was a
tremendous fight at Rugby between two boys, the "Slogger Williams"
and "Tom Brown" of the period, for the possession of "Harry
Lorrequer." When an author has the boys of England on his side, he
can laugh at the critics. Not that Lever laughed: he, too, was
easily vexed, and much depressed, when the reviews assailed him.
Next he began "Charles O'Malley"; and if any man reads this essay
who has not read the "Irish Dragoon," let him begin at once.
"O'Malley" is what you can recommend to a friend. Here is every
species of diversion: duels and steeplechases, practical jokes at
college (good practical jokes, not booby traps and apple-pie beds);
here is fighting in the Peninsula. If any student is in doubt, let
him try chapter xiv.--the battle on the Douro. This is, indeed,
excellent military writing, and need not fear comparison as art with
Napier's famous history. Lever has warmed to his work; his heart is
in it; he had the best information from an eye-witness; and the
brief beginning, on the peace of nature before the strife of men, is
admirably poetical.

To reach the French, under Soult, Wellesley had to cross the deep
and rapid Douro, in face of their fire, and without regular
transport. "He dared the deed. What must have been his confidence
in the men he commanded! what must have been his reliance on his own

You hold your breath as you read, while English and Germans charge,
till at last the field is won, and the dust of the French columns
retreating in the distance blows down the road to Spain.

The Great Duke read this passage, and marvelled how Lever knew
certain things that he tells. He learned this, and much more, the
humours of war, from the original of Major Monsoon. Falstaff is
alone in the literature of the world, but if ever there came a later
Falstaff, Monsoon was the man. And where have you such an Irish
Sancho Panza as Micky Free, that independent minstrel, or such an
Irish Di Vernon as Baby Blake? The critics may praise Lever's
thoughtful and careful later novels as they will, but "Charles
O'Malley" will always be the pattern of a military romance. The
anecdote of "a virtuous weakness" in O'Shaughnessy's father's
character would alone make the fortune of many a story. The truth
is, it is not easy to lay down "Charles O'Malley," to leave off
reading it, and get on with the account of Lever.

His excellent and delightful novel scarcely received one favourable
notice from the press. This may have been because it was so
popular; but Lever became so nervous that he did not like to look at
the papers. When he went back to Dublin and edited a magazine
there, he was more fiercely assailed than ever. It is difficult for
an Irishman to write about the Irish, or for a Scot to write about
the Scottish, without hurting the feelings of his countrymen. While
their literary brethren are alive they are not very dear to the
newspaper scribes of these gallant nations; and thus Jeffrey was
more severe to Scott than he need have been, while the Irish press,
it appears, made an onslaught on Lever. Mr. Thackeray met Lever in
Dublin, and he mentions this unkind behaviour. "Lorrequer's
military propensities have been objected to strongly by his
squeamish Hibernian brethren . . . But is Lorrequer the only man in
Ireland who is fond of military spectacles? Why does the Nation
publish these edifying and Christian war songs? . . . And who is it
that prates about the Irish at Waterloo, and the Irish at Fontenoy,
and the Irish at Seringapatam, and the Irish at Timbuctoo? If Mr.
O'Connell, like a wise rhetorician, chooses, and very properly, to
flatter the national military passion, why not Harry Lorrequer?"

Why not, indeed? But Mr. Lever was a successful Irishman of
letters, and a good many other Irish gentlemen of letters, honest
Doolan and his friends, were not successful. That is the humour of

Though you, my youthful reader, if I have one, do not detest Jones
because he is in the Eleven, nor Brown because he has "got his cap,"
nor Smith because he does Greek Iambics like Sophocles; though you
rather admire and applaud these champions, you may feel very
differently when you come to thirty years or more, and see other men
doing what you cannot do, and gaining prizes beyond your grasp. And
then, if you are a reviewer, you "will find fault with a book for
what it does not give," as thus, to take Mr. Thackeray's example:-

"Lady Smigsmag's novel is amusing, but lamentably deficient in
geological information." "Mr. Lever's novels are trashy and
worthless, for his facts are not borne out by any authority, and he
gives us no information about the political state of Ireland. 'Oh!
our country, our green and beloved, our beautiful and oppressed?'"
and so forth.

It was not altogether a happy time that Lever passed at home. Not
only did his native critics belabour him most ungrudgingly for "Tom
Burke," that vivid and chivalrous romance, but he made enemies of
authors. He edited a magazine! Is not that enough? He wearied of
wading through waggon-loads of that pure unmitigated rubbish which
people are permitted to "shoot" at editorial doors. How much dust
there is in it to how few pearls! He did not return MSS. punctually
and politely. The office cat could edit the volunteered
contributions of many a magazine, but Lever was even more casual and
careless than an experienced office cat. He grew crabbed, and tried
to quarrel with Mr. Thackeray for that delightful parody "Phil
Fogarty," nearly as good as a genuine story by Lever.

Beset by critics, burlesqued by his friend, he changed his style
(Mr. Fitzpatrick tells us) and became more sober--and not so
entertaining. He actually published a criticism of Beyle, of
Stendhal, that psychological prig, the darling of culture and of M.
Paul Bourget. Harry Lorrequer on Stendhal!--it beggars belief. He
nearly fought a duel with the gentleman who is said to have
suggested Mr. Pecksniff to Dickens! Yet they call his early novels
improbable. Nothing could be less plausible than a combat between
Harry Lorrequer and a gentleman who, even remotely, resembled the
father of Cherry and Merry.

Lever went abroad again, and in Florence or the Baths of Lucca, in
Trieste or Spezia, he passed the rest of his life. He saw the
Italian revolution of 1848, and it added to his melancholy. This is
plain from one of his novels with a curious history--"Con Cregan."
He wrote it at the same time as "The Daltons," and he did not sign
it. The reviewers praised "Con Cregan" at the expense of the signed
work, rejoicing that Lever, as "The Daltons" proved, was exhausted,
and that a new Irish author, the author of "Con Cregan," was coming
to eclipse him. In short, he eclipsed himself, and he did not like
it. His right hand was jealous of what his left hand did. It seems
odd that any human being, however dull and envious, failed to detect
Lever in the rapid and vivacious adventures of his Irish "Gil Blas,"
hero of one of the very best among his books, a piece not unworthy
of Dumas. "Con" was written after midnight, "The Daltons" in the
morning; and there can be no doubt which set of hours was more
favourable to Lever's genius. Of course he liked "The Daltons"
best; of all people, authors appear to be their own worst critics.

It is not possible even to catalogue Lever's later books here.
Again he drove a pair of novels abreast--"The Dodds" and "Sir Jasper
Carew"--which contain some of his most powerful situations. When
almost an old man, sad, outworn in body, straitened in
circumstances, he still produced excellent tales in this later
manner--"Lord Kilgobbin," "That Boy of Norcott's," "A Day's Ride,"
and many more. These are the thoughts of a tired man of the world,
who has done and seen everything that such men see and do. He says
that he grew fat, and bald, and grave; he wrote for the grave and
the bald, not for the happier world which is young, and curly, and
merry. He died at last, it is said, in his sleep; and it is added
that he did what Harry Lorrequer would not have done--he left his
affairs in perfect order.

Lever lived in an age so full of great novelists that, perhaps, he
is not prized as he should be. Dickens, Bulwer, Thackeray,
Trollope, George Eliot, were his contemporaries. But when we turn
back and read him once more, we see that Lever, too, was a worthy
member of that famous company--a romancer for boys and men.


Yesterday, as the sun was very bright, and there was no wind, I took
a fishing-rod on chance and Scott's poems, and rowed into the middle
of St. Mary's Loch. Every hill, every tuft of heather was reflected
in the lake, as in a silver mirror. There was no sound but the
lapping of the water against the boat, the cry of the blackcock from
the hill, and the pleasant plash of a trout rising here and there.
So I read "The Lay of the Last Minstrel" over again, here, in the
middle of the scenes where the story is laid and where the fights
were fought. For when the Baron went on pilgrimage,

"And took with him this elvish page
To Mary's Chapel of the Lowes,"

it was to the ruined chapel HERE that he came,

"For there, beside our Ladye's lake,
An offering he had sworn to make,
And he would pay his vows."

But his enemy, the Lady of Branksome, gathered a band,

"Of the best that would ride at her command,"

and they all came from the country round. Branksome, where the lady
lived, is twenty miles off, towards the south, across the ranges of
lonely green hills. Harden, where her ally, Wat of Harden, abode,
is within twelve miles; and Deloraine, where William dwelt, is
nearer still; and John of Thirlestane had his square tower in the
heather, "where victual never grew," on Ettrick Water, within ten
miles. These gentlemen, and their kinsfolk and retainers, being at
feud with the Kers, tried to slay the Baron, in the Chapel of "Lone
St. Mary of the Waves."

"They were three hundred spears and three.
Through Douglas burn, up Yarrow stream,
Their horses prance, their lances gleam.
They came to St. Mary's Lake ere day;
But the chapel was void, and the Baron away.
They burned the chapel for very rage,
And cursed Lord Cranstoun's goblin-page."

The Scotts were a rough clan enough to burn a holy chapel because
they failed to kill their enemy within the sacred walls. But, as I
read again, for the twentieth time, Sir Walter's poem, floating on
the lonely breast of the lake, in the heart of the hills where
Yarrow flows, among the little green mounds that cover the ruins of
chapel and castle and lady's bower, I asked myself whether Sir
Walter was indeed a great and delightful poet, or whether he pleases
me so much because I was born in his own country, and have one drop
of the blood of his Border robbers in my own veins?

It is not always pleasant to go back to places, or to meet people,
whom we have loved well, long ago. If they have changed little, we
have changed much. The little boy, whose first book of poetry was
"The Lady of the Lake," and who naturally believed that there was no
poet like Sir Walter, is sadly changed into the man who has read
most of the world's poets, and who hears, on many sides, that Scott
is outworn and doomed to deserved oblivion. Are they right or
wrong, the critics who tell us, occasionally, that Scott's good
novels make up for his bad verse, or that verse and prose, all must
go? Pro captu lectoris, by the reader's taste, they stand or fall;
yet even pessimism can scarcely believe that the Waverley Novels are
mortal. They were once the joy of every class of minds; they cannot
cease to be the joy of those who cling to the permanently good, and
can understand and forgive lapses, carelessnesses, and the leisurely
literary fashion of a former age. But, as to the poems, many give
them up who cling to the novels. It does not follow that the poems
are bad. In the first place, they are of two kinds--lyric and
narrative. Now, the fashion of narrative in poetry has passed away
for the present. The true Greek epics are read by a few in Greek;
by perhaps fewer still in translations. But so determined are we
not to read tales in verse, that prose renderings, even of the
epics, nay, even of the Attic dramas, have come more or less into
vogue. This accounts for the comparative neglect of Sir Walter's
lays. They are spoken of as Waverley Novels spoiled. This must
always be the opinion of readers who will not submit to stories in
verse; it by no means follows that the verse is bad. If we make an
exception, which we must, in favour of Chaucer, where is there
better verse in story telling in the whole of English literature?
The readers who despise "Marmion," or "The Lady of the Lake," do so
because they dislike stories told in poetry. From poetry they
expect other things, especially a lingering charm and magic of
style, a reflective turn, "criticism of life." These things, except
so far as life can be criticised in action, are alien to the Muse of
narrative. Stories and pictures are all she offers: Scott's
pictures, certainly, are fresh enough, his tales are excellent
enough, his manner is sufficiently direct. To take examples: every
one who wants to read Scott's poetry should begin with the "Lay."
From opening to close it never falters:-

"Nine and twenty knights of fame
Hung their shields in Branksome Hall;
Nine and twenty squires of name
Brought their steeds to bower from stall,
Nine and twenty yeomen tall
Waited, duteous, on them all . . .
Ten of them were sheathed in steel,
With belted sword, and spur on heel;
They quitted not their harness bright
Neither by day nor yet by night:
They lay down to rest
With corslet laced,
Pillowed on buckler cold and hard;
They carved at the meal
With gloves of steel,
And they drank the red wine through the helmet barred."

Now, is not that a brave beginning? Does not the verse clank and
chime like sword sheath on spur, like the bits of champing horses?
Then, when William of Deloraine is sent on his lonely midnight ride
across the haunted moors and wolds, does the verse not gallop like
the heavy armoured horse?

"Unchallenged, thence passed Deloraine,
To ancient Riddell's fair domain,
Where Aill, from mountains freed,
Down from the lakes did raving come;
Each wave was crested with tawny foam,
Like the mane of a chestnut steed,
In vain! no torrent, deep or broad,
Might bar the bold moss-trooper's road;
At the first plunge the horse sunk low,
And the water broke o'er the saddle-bow."

These last two lines have the very movement and note, the deep heavy
plunge, the still swirl of the water. Well I know the lochs whence
Aill comes red in flood; many a trout have I taken in Aill, long
ago. This, of course, causes a favourable prejudice, a personal
bias towards admiration. But I think the poetry itself is good, and
stirs the spirit, even of those who know not Ailmoor, the mother of
Aill, that lies dark among the melancholy hills.

The spirit is stirred throughout by the chivalry and the courage of
Scott's men and of his women. Thus the Lady of Branksome addresses
the English invaders who have taken her boy prisoner:-

"For the young heir of Branksome's line,
God be his aid, and God be mine;
Through me no friend shall meet his doom;
Here, while I live, no foe finds room.
Then if thy Lords their purpose urge,
Take our defiance loud and high;
Our slogan is their lyke-wake dirge,
Our moat, the grave where they shall lie."

Ay, and though the minstrel says he is no love poet, and though,
indeed, he shines more in war than in lady's bower, is not this a
noble stanza on true love, and worthy of what old Malory writes in
his "Mort d'Arthur"? Because here Scott speaks for himself, and of
his own unhappy and immortal affection:-

"True love's the gift which God has given
To man alone beneath the Heaven.
It is not Fantasy's hot fire,
Whose wishes, soon as granted, fly;
It liveth not in fierce desire,
With dead desire it dock not die:
It is the secret sympathy,
The silver link, the silken tie,
Which heart to heart and mind to mind,
In body and in soul can bind."

Truth and faith, courage and chivalry, a free life in the hills and
by the streams, a shrewd brain, an open heart, a kind word for
friend or foeman, these are what you learn from the "Lay," if you
want to learn lessons from poetry. It is a rude legend, perhaps, as
the critics said at once, when critics were disdainful of wizard
priests and ladies magical. But it is a deathless legend, I hope;
it appeals to every young heart that is not early spoiled by low
cunning, and cynicism, and love of gain. The minstrel's own
prophecy is true, and still, and always,

"Yarrow, as he rolls along,
Bears burden to the minstrel's song."

After the "Lay" came "Marmion, a Tale of Flodden Field." It is far
more ambitious and complicated than the "Lay," and is not much worse
written. Sir Walter was ever a rapid and careless poet, and as he
took more pains with his plot, he took less with his verse. His
friends reproved him, but he answered to one of them -

"Since oft thy judgment could refine
My flattened thought and cumbrous line,
Still kind, as is thy wont, attend,
And in the minstrel spare the friend:
Though wild as cloud, as stream, as gale,
Flow forth, flow unrestrained, my tale!"

Any one who knows Scott's country knows how cloud and stream and
gale all sweep at once down the valley of Ettrick or of Tweed. West
wind, wild cloud, red river, they pour forth as by one impulse--
forth from the far-off hills. He let his verse sweep out in the
same stormy sort, and many a "cumbrous line," many a "flattened
thought," you may note, if you will, in "Marmion." For example -

"And think what he must next have felt,
At buckling of the falchion belt."

The "Lay" is a tale that only verse could tell; much of "Marmion"
might have been told in prose, and most of "Rokeby." But prose
could never give the picture of Edinburgh, nor tell the tale of
Flodden Fight in "Marmion," which I verily believe is the best
battle-piece in all the poetry of all time, better even than the
stand of Aias by the ships in the Iliad, better than the slaying of
the Wooers in the Odyssey. Nor could prose give us the hunting of
the deer and the long gallop over hillside and down valley, with
which the "Lady of the Lake" begins, opening thereby the enchanted
gates of the Highlands to the world. "The Lady of the Lake," except
in the battle-piece, is told in a less rapid metre than that of the
"Lay," less varied than that of "Marmion." "Rokeby" lives only by
its songs; the "Lord of the Isles" by Bannockburn, the "Field of
Waterloo" by the repulse of the Cuirassiers. But all the poems are
interspersed with songs and ballads, as the beautiful ballad of
"Alice Brand"; and Scott's fame rests on THESE far more than on his
later versified romances. Coming immediately after the very tamest
poets who ever lived, like Hayley, Scott wrote songs and ballads as
wild and free, as melancholy or gay, as ever shepherd sang, or gipsy
carolled, or witch-wife moaned, or old forgotten minstrel left to
the world, music with no maker's name. For example, take the
Outlaw's rhyme -

"With burnished brand and musketoon,
So gallantly you come,
I read you for a bold dragoon
That lists the tuck of drum.
I list no more the tuck of drum,
No more the trumpet hear;
But when the beetle sounds his hum,
My comrades take the spear.
And, oh, though Brignal banks be fair,
And Greta woods be gay,
Yet mickle must the maiden dare,
Would reign my Queen of May!"

How musical, again, is this! -

"This morn is merry June, I trow,
The rose is budding fain;
But she shall bloom in winter snow,
Ere we two meet again.
He turned his charger as he spake,
Upon the river shore,
He gave his bridle-reins a shake,
Said, 'Adieu for evermore,
My love!
Adieu for evermore!'"

Turning from the legends in verse, let it not be forgotten that
Scott was a great lyrical poet. Mr. Palgrave is not too lenient a
judge, and his "Golden Treasury" is a touchstone, as well as a
treasure, of poetic gold. In this volume Wordsworth contributes
more lyrics than any other poet: Shelley and Shakespeare come next;
then Sir Walter. For my part I would gladly sacrifice a few of
Wordsworth's for a few more of Scott's. But this may be prejudice.
Mr. Palgrave is not prejudiced, and we see how high is his value for
Sir Walter.

There are scores of songs in his works, touching and sad, or gay as
a hunter's waking, that tell of lovely things lost by tradition, and
found by him on the moors: all these--not prized by Sir Walter
himself--are in his gift, and in that of no other man. For example,
his "Eve of St. John" is simply a masterpiece, a ballad among
ballads. Nothing but an old song moves us like -

"Are these the links o' Forth, she said,
Are these the bends o' Dee!"

He might have done more of the best, had he very greatly cared.
Alone among poets, he had neither vanity nor jealousy; he thought
little of his own verse and his own fame: would that he had thought
more! would that he had been more careful of what was so precious!
But he turned to prose; bade poetry farewell.

"Yet, once again, farewell, thou Minstrel Harp,
Yet, once again, forgive my feeble sway.
And little reck I of the censure sharp
May idly cavil at an idle lay."

People still cavil idly, complaining that Scott did not finish, or
did not polish his pieces; that he was not Keats, or was not
Wordsworth. He was himself; he was the Last Minstrel, the latest,
the greatest, the noblest of natural poets concerned with natural
things. He sang of free, fierce, and warlike life, of streams yet
rich in salmon, and moors not yet occupied by brewers; of lonely
places haunted in the long grey twilights of the North; of crumbling
towers where once dwelt the Lady of Branksome or the Flower of
Yarrow. Nature summed up in him many a past age a world of ancient
faiths; and before the great time of Britain wholly died, to
Britain, as to Greece, she gave her Homer. When he was old, and
tired, and near his death--so worn with trouble and labour that he
actually signed his own name wrong--he wrote his latest verse, for a
lady. It ends -

"My country, be thou glorious still!"

and so he died, within the sound of the whisper of Tweed, foreseeing
the years when his country would no more be glorious, thinking of
his country only, forgetting quite the private sorrow of his own
later days.

People will tell you that Scott was not a great poet; that his bolt
is shot, his fame perishing. Little he cared for his fame! But for
my part I think and hope that Scott can never die, till men grow up
into manhood without ever having been boys--till they forget that

"One glorious hour of crowded life
Is worth an age without a name!"

Thus, the charges against Sir Walter's poetry are, on the whole,
little more than the old critical fallacy of blaming a thing for not
being something else. "It takes all sorts to make a world," in
poetry as in life. Sir Walter's sort is a very good sort, and in
English literature its place was empty, and waiting for him. Think
of what he did. English poetry had long been very tame and
commonplace, written in couplets like Pope's, very artificial and
smart, or sensible and slow. He came with poems of which the music
seemed to gallop, like thundering hoofs and ringing bridles of a
rushing border troop. Here were goblin, ghost, and fairy, fight and
foray, fair ladies and true lovers, gallant knights and hard blows,
blazing beacons on every hill crest and on the bartisan of every
tower. Here was a world made alive again that had been dead for
three hundred years--a world of men and women.

They say that the archaeology is not good. Archaeology is a
science; in its application to poetry, Scott was its discoverer.
Others can name the plates of a coat of armour more learnedly than
he, but he made men wear them. They call his Gothic art false, his
armour pasteboard; but he put living men under his castled roofs,
living men into his breastplates and taslets. Science advances, old
knowledge becomes ignorance; it is poetry that does not die, and
that will not die, while -

"The triple pride
Of Eildon looks over Strathclyde."


Dr. Johnson once took Bishop Percy's little daughter on his knee,
and asked her what she thought of the "Pilgrim's Progress." The
child answered that she had not read it. "No?" replied the Doctor;
"then I would not give one farthing for you," and he set her down
and took no further notice of her.

This story, if true, proves that the Doctor was rather intolerant.
We must not excommunicate people because they have not our taste in
books. The majority of people do not care for books at all.

There is a descendant of John Bunyan's alive now, or there was
lately, who never read the "Pilgrim's Progress." Books are not in
his line. Nay, Bunyan himself, who wrote sixty works, was no great
reader. An Oxford scholar who visited him in his study found no
books at all, except some of Bunyan's own and Foxe's "Book of

Yet, little as the world in general cares for reading, it has read
Bunyan more than most. One hundred thousand copies of the "Pilgrim"
are believed to have been sold in his own day, and the story has
been done into the most savage languages, as well as into those of
the civilised world.

Dr. Johnson, who did not like Dissenters, praises the "invention,
imagination, and conduct of the story," and knew no other book he
wished longer except "Robinson Crusoe" and "Don Quixote." Well, Dr.
Johnson would not have given a farthing for ME, as I am quite
contented with the present length of these masterpieces. What books
do YOU wish longer? I wish Homer had written a continuation of the
Odyssey, and told us what Odysseus did among the far-off men who
never tasted salt nor heard of the sea. A land epic after the sea
epic, how good it would have been--from Homer! But it would have
taxed the imagination of Dante to continue the adventures of
Christian and his wife after they had once crossed the river and
reached the city.

John Bunyan has been more fortunate than most authors in one of his

His life has been written by the Rev. Dr. Brown, who is now minister
of his old congregation at Bedford; and an excellent life it is.
Dr. Brown is neither Roundhead nor Cavalier; for though he is, of
course, on Bunyan's side, he does not throw stones at the beautiful
Church of England.

Probably most of us are on Bunyan's side now. It might be a good
thing that we should all dwell together in religious unity, but
history shows that people cannot be bribed into brotherhood. They
tried to bully Bunyan; they arrested and imprisoned him--unfairly
even in law, according to Dr. Brown, not unfairly, Mr. Froude
thinks--and he would not be bullied.

What was much more extraordinary, he would not be embittered. In
spite of all, he still called Charles II. "a gracious Prince." When
a subject is in conscience at variance with the law, Bunyan said, he
has but one course--to accept peaceably the punishment which the law
awards. He was never soured, never angered by twelve years of
durance, not exactly in a loathsome dungeon, but in very
uncomfortable quarters. When there came a brief interval of
toleration, he did not occupy himself in brawling, but in preaching,
and looking after the manners and morals of the little "church,"
including one woman who brought disagreeable charges against
"Brother Honeylove." The church decided that there was nothing in
the charges, but somehow the name of Brother Honeylove does not
inspire confidence.

Almost everybody knows the main facts of Bunyan's life. They may
not know that he was of Norman descent (as Dr. Brown seems to
succeed in proving), nor that the Bunyans came over with the
Conqueror, nor that he was a gipsy, as others hold. On Dr. Brown's
showing, Bunyan's ancestors lost their lands in process of time and
change, and Bunyan's father was a tinker. He preferred to call
himself a brazier--his was the rather unexpected trade to which Mr.
Dick proposed apprenticing David Copperfield.

Bunyan himself, "the wondrous babe," as Dr. Brown enthusiastically
styles him, was christened on November 30th, 1628. He was born in a
cottage, long fallen, and hard by was a marshy place, "a veritable
slough of despond." Bunyan may have had it in mind when he wrote of
the slough where Christian had so much trouble. He was not a
travelled man: all his knowledge of people and places he found at
his doors. He had some schooling, "according to the rate of other
poor men's children," and assuredly it was enough.

The great civil war broke out, and Bunyan was a soldier; he tells us
not on which side. Dr. Brown and Mr. Lewis Morris think he was on
that of the Parliament, but his old father, the tinker, stood for
the King. Mr. Froude is rather more inclined to hold that he was
among the "gay gallants who struck for the crown." He does not seem
to have been much under fire, but he got that knowledge of the
appearance of war which he used in his siege of the City of Mansoul.
One can hardly think that Bunyan liked war--certainly not from
cowardice, but from goodness of heart.

In 1646 the army was disbanded, and Bunyan went back to Elstow
village and his tinkering, his bell-ringing, his dancing with the
girls, his playing at "cat" on a Sunday after service.

He married very young and poor. He married a pious wife, and read
all her library--"The Plain Man's Pathway to Heaven," and "The
Practice of Piety." He became very devout in the spirit of the
Church of England, and he gave up his amusements. Then he fell into
the Slough of Despond, then he went through the Valley of the
Shadow, and battled with Apollyon.

People have wondered WHY he fancied himself such a sinner? He
confesses to having been a liar and a blasphemer. If I may guess, I
fancy that this was merely the literary genius of Bunyan seeking for
expression. His lies, I would go bail, were tremendous romances,
wild fictions told for fun, never lies of cowardice or for gain. As
to his blasphemies, he had an extraordinary power of language, and
that was how he gave it play. "Fancy swearing" was his only
literary safety-valve, in those early days, when he played cat on
Elstow Green.

Then he heard a voice dart from heaven into his soul, which said,
"Wilt thou leave thy sins and go to heaven, or have thy sins and go
to hell?" So he fell on repentance, and passed those awful years of
mental torture, when all nature seemed to tempt him to the Unknown

What did all this mean? It meant that Bunyan was within an ace of

It happens to a certain proportion of men, religiously brought up,
to suffer like Bunyan. They hear voices, they are afraid of that
awful unknown iniquity, and of eternal death, as Bunyan and Cowper
were afraid.

Was it not De Quincey who was at school with a bully who believed he
had been guilty of the unpardonable offence? Bullying is an offence
much less pardonable than most men are guilty of. Their best plan
(in Bunyan's misery) is to tell Apollyon that the Devil is an ass,
to do their work and speak the truth.

Bunyan got quit of his terror at last, briefly by believing in the
goodness of God. He did not say, like Mr. Carlyle, "Well, if all my
fears are true, what then?" His was a Christian, not a stoical

The "church" in which Bunyan found shelter had for minister a
converted major in a Royalist regiment. It was a quaint little
community, the members living like the early disciples, correcting
each other's faults, and keeping a severe eye on each other's lives.
Bunyan became a minister in it; but, Puritan as he was, he lets his
Pilgrims dance on joyful occasions, and even Mr. Ready-to-Halt
waltzes with a young lady of the Pilgrim company.

As a minister and teacher Bunyan began to write books of controversy
with Quakers and clergymen. The points debated are no longer
important to us; the main thing was that he got a pen into his hand,
and found a proper outlet for his genius, a better way than fancy

If he had not been cast into Bedford jail for preaching in a
cottage, he might never have dreamed his immortal dream, nor become
all that he was. The leisures of gaol were long. In that "den" the
Muse came to him, the fair kind Muse of the Home Beautiful. He saw
all that company of his, so like and so unlike Chaucer's: Faithful,
and Hopeful, and Christian, the fellowship of fiends, the truculent
Cavaliers of Vanity Fair, and Giant Despair, with his grievous
crabtree cudgel; and other people he saw who are with us always,--
the handsome Madam Bubble, and the young woman whose name was Dull,
and Mr. Worldly Wiseman, and Mr. Facing Bothways, and Byends, all
the persons of the comedy of human life.

He hears the angelic songs of the City beyond the river; he hears
them, but repeat them to us he cannot, "for I'm no poet," as he says
himself. He beheld the country of Beulah, and the Delectable
Mountains, that earthly Paradise of nature where we might be happy
yet, and wander no farther, if the world would let us--fair
mountains in whose streams Izaak Walton was then even casting angle.

It is pleasant to fancy how Walton and Bunyan might have met and
talked, under a plane tree by the Ouse, while the May showers were
falling. Surely Bunyan would not have likened the good old man to
Formalist; and certainly Walton would have enjoyed travelling with
Christian, though the book was by none of his dear bishops, but by a
Non-conformist. They were made to like but not to convert each
other; in matters ecclesiastical they saw the opposite sides of the
shield. Each wrote a masterpiece. It is too late to praise "The
Complete Angler" or the "Pilgrim's Progress." You may put ingenuity
on the rack, but she can say nothing new that is true about the best
romance that ever was wedded to allegory, nor about the best idyl of
old English life.

The people are living now--all the people: the noisy bullying
judges, as of the French Revolutionary Courts, or the Hanging Courts
after Monmouth's war; the demure, grave Puritan girls; and Matthew,
who had the gripes; and lazy, feckless Ignorance, who came to so ill
an end, poor fellow; and sturdy Old Honest, and timid Mr. Fearing;
not single persons, but dozens, arise on the memory.

They come, as fresh, as vivid, as if they were out of Scott or
Moliere; the Tinker is as great a master of character and fiction as
the greatest, almost; his style is pure, and plain, and sound, full
of old idioms, and even of something like old slang. But even his
slang is classical.

Bunyan is everybody's author. The very Catholics have their own
edition of the Pilgrim: they have cut out Giant Pope, but have been
too good-natured to insert Giant Protestant in his place.
Unheralded, unannounced, though not uncriticised (they accused the
Tinker of being a plagiarist, of course), Bunyan outshone the Court
wits, the learned, the poets of the Restoration, and even the great

His other books, except "Grace Abounding" (an autobiography), "The
Holy War," and "Mr. Badman," are only known to students, nor much
read by them. The fashion of his theology, as of all theology,
passed away; it is by virtue of his imagination, of his romance,
that he lives.

The allegory, of course, is full of flaws. It would not have been
manly of Christian to run off and save his own soul, leaving his
wife and family. But Bunyan shrank from showing us how difficult,
if not impossible, it is for a married man to be a saint.
Christiana was really with him all through that pilgrimage; and how
he must have been hampered by that woman of the world! But had the
allegory clung more closely to the skirts of truth, it would have
changed from a romance to a satire, from "The Pilgrim's Progress" to
"Vanity Fair." There was too much love in Bunyan for a satirist of
that kind; he had just enough for a humourist.

Born in another class, he might have been, he would have been, a
writer more refined in his strength, more uniformly excellent, but
never so universal nor so popular in the best sense of the term.

In the change of times and belief it is not impossible that Bunyan
will live among the class whom he least thought of addressing--
scholars, lovers of worldly literature--for devotion and poverty are
parting company, while art endures till civilisation perishes.

Are we better or worse for no longer believing as Bunyan believed,
no longer seeing that Abyss of Pascal's open beside our armchairs?
The question is only a form of that wide riddle, Does any
theological or philosophical opinion make us better or worse? The
vast majority of men and women are little affected by schemes and
theories of this life and the next. They who even ask for a reply
to the riddle are the few: most of us take the easy-going morality
of our world for a guide, as we take Bradshaw for a railway journey.
It is the few who must find out an answer: on that answer their
lives depend, and the lives of others are insensibly raised towards
their level. Bunyan would not have been a worse man if he had
shared the faith of Izaak Walton. Izaak had his reply to all
questions in the Church Catechism and the Articles. Bunyan found
his in the theology of his sect, appealing more strongly than
orthodoxy to a nature more bellicose than Izaak's. Men like him,
with his indomitable courage, will never lack a solution of the
puzzle of the earth. At worst they will live by law, whether they
dare to speak of it as God's law, or dare not. They will always be
our leaders, our Captain Greathearts, in the pilgrimage to the city
where, led or unled, we must all at last arrive. They will not fail
us, while loyalty and valour are human qualities. The day may
conceivably come when we have no Christian to march before us, but
we shall never lack the company of Greatheart.


Dear Smith, -

You inform me that you desire to be a journalist, and you are kind
enough to ask my advice. Well, be a journalist, by all means, in
any honest and honourable branch of the profession. But do not be
an eavesdropper and a spy. You may fly into a passion when you
receive this very plainly worded advice. I hope you will; but, for
several reasons, which I now go on to state, I fear that you won't.
I fear that, either by natural gift or by acquired habit, you
already possess the imperturbable temper which will be so useful to
you if you do join the army of spies and eavesdroppers. If I am
right, you have made up your mind to refuse to take offence, as long
as by not taking offence you can wriggle yourself forward in the
band of journalistic reptiles. You will be revenged on me, in that
case, some day; you will lie in wait for me with a dirty bludgeon,
and steal on me out of a sewer. If you do, permit me to assure you
that I don't care. But if you are already in a rage, if you are
about tearing up this epistle, and are starting to assault me
personally, or at least to answer me furiously, then there is every
hope for you and for your future. I therefore venture to state my
reasons for supposing that you are inclined to begin a course which
your father, if he were alive, would deplore, as all honourable men
in their hearts must deplore it. When you were at the University
(let me congratulate you on your degree) you edited, or helped to
edit, The Bull-dog. It was not a very brilliant nor a very witty,
but it was an extremely "racy" periodical. It spoke of all men and
dons by their nicknames. It was full of second-hand slang. It
contained many personal anecdotes, to the detriment of many people.
It printed garbled and spiteful versions of private conversations on
private affairs. It did not even spare to make comments on ladies,
and on the details of domestic life in the town and in the
University. The copies which you sent me I glanced at with extreme

In my time, more than a score of years ago, a similar periodical,
but a much more clever periodical, was put forth by members of the
University. It contained a novel which, even now, would be worth
several ill-gotten guineas to the makers of the chronique
scandaleuse. But nobody bought it, and it died an early death.
Times have altered, I am a fogey; but the ideas of honour and
decency which fogies hold now were held by young men in the sixties
of our century. I know very well that these ideas are obsolete. I
am not preaching to the world, nor hoping to convert society, but to
YOU, and purely in your own private, spiritual interest. If you
enter on this path of tattle, mendacity, and malice, and if, with
your cleverness and light hand, you are successful, society will not
turn its back on you. You will be feared in many quarters, and
welcomed in others. Of your paragraphs people will say that "it is
a shame, of course, but it is very amusing." There are so many
shames in the world, shames not at all amusing, that you may see no
harm in adding to the number. "If I don't do it," you may argue,
"some one else will." Undoubtedly; but WHY SHOULD YOU DO IT?

You are not a starving scribbler; if you determine to write, you can
write well, though not so easily, on many topics. You have not that
last sad excuse of hunger, which drives poor women to the streets,
and makes unhappy men act as public blabs and spies. If YOU take to
this metier, it must be because you like it, which means that you
enjoy being a listener to and reporter of talk that was never meant
for any ears except those in which it was uttered. It means that
the hospitable board is not sacred for YOU; it means that, with you,
friendship, honour, all that makes human life better than a low
smoking-room, are only valuable for what their betrayal will bring.
It means that not even the welfare of your country will prevent you
from running to the Press with any secret which you may have been
entrusted with, or which you may have surprised. It means, this
peculiar kind of profession, that all things open and excellent, and
conspicuous to all men, are with you of no account. Art,
literature, politics, are to cease to interest you. You are to
scheme to surprise gossip about the private lives, dress, and talk
of artists, men of letters, politicians. Your professional work
will sink below the level of servants' gossip in a public-house
parlour. If you happen to meet a man of known name, you will watch
him, will listen to him, will try to sneak into his confidence, and
you will blab, for money, about him, and your blab will inevitably
be mendacious. In short, like the most pitiable outcasts of
womankind, and, without their excuse, you will live by selling your
honour. You will not suffer much, nor suffer long. Your conscience
will very speedily be seared with a red-hot iron. You will be on
the road which leads from mere dishonour to crime; and you may find
yourself actually practising chantage, and extorting money as the
price of your silence. This is the lowest deep: the vast majority,
even of social mouchards, do not sink so low as this.

The profession of the critic, even in honourable and open criticism,
is beset with dangers. It is often hard to avoid saying an unkind
thing, a cruel thing, which is smart, and which may even be
deserved. Who can say that he has escaped this temptation, and what
man of heart can think of his own fall without a sense of shame?
There are, I admit, authors so antipathetic to me, that I cannot
trust myself to review them. Would that I had never reviewed them!
They cannot be so bad as they seem to me: they must have qualities
which escape my observation. Then there is the temptation to hit
back. Some one writes, unjustly or unkindly as you think, of you or
of your friends. You wait till your enemy has written a book, and
then you have your innings. It is not in nature that your review
should be fair: you must inevitably be more on the look-out for
faults than merits. The ereintage, the "smashing" of a literary foe
is very delightful at the moment, but it does not look well in the
light of reflection. But these deeds are mere peccadilloes compared
with the confirmed habit of regarding all men and women as fair game
for personal tattle and the sating of private spite. Nobody,
perhaps, begins with this intention. Most men and women can find
ready sophistries. If a report about any one reaches their ears,
they say that they are doing him a service by publishing it and
enabling him to contradict it. As if any mortal ever listened to a
contradiction! And there are charges--that of plagiarism, for
example--which can never be disproved, even if contradictions were
listened to by the public. The accusation goes everywhere, is
copied into every printed rag; the contradiction dies with the daily
death of a single newspaper. You may reply that a man of sense will
be indifferent to false accusations. He may, or may not be,--that
is not the question for you; the question for you is whether you
will circulate news that is false, probably, and spiteful,

In short, the whole affair regards yourself more than it regards the
world. Plenty of poison is sold: is it well for you to be one of
the merchants? Is it the business of an educated gentleman to live
by the trade of an eavesdropper and a blab? In the Memoirs of M.
Blowitz he tells you how he began his illustrious career by
procuring the publication of remarks which M. Thiers had made to
him. He then "went to see M. Thiers, not without some
apprehension." Is that the kind of emotion which you wish to be
habitual in your experience? Do you think it agreeable to become
shame-faced when you meet people who have conversed with you
frankly? Do you enjoy being a sneak, and feeling like a sneak? Do
you find blushing pleasant? Of course you will soon lose the power
of blushing; but is that an agreeable prospect? Depend on it, there
are discomforts in the progress to the brazen, in the journey to the


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