Letters to Dead Authors
Part 1 out of 2
This etext was prepared by A Elizabeth Warren MD, Sacramento,
LETTERS TO DEAD AUTHORS
by Andrew Lang
I. to W. M. Thackeray
II. To Charles Dickens
III. To Pierre De Ronsard
IV. To Herodotus
V. Epistle to Mr. Alexander Pope
VI. To Lucian of Samosata
VII. To Maitre Francoys Rabelais
VIII. To Jane Austen
IX. To Master Isaak Walton
X. to M. Chapelain
XI. To Sir John Manndeville, Kt
XII. To Alexandre Dumas
XIII. To Theocritus
XIV. To Edgar Allan Poe
XV. To Sir Walter Scott, Bart.
XVI. To Eusebius of Caesarea
XVII. To Percy Bysshe Shelley
XVIII. To Monsieur De Molie're, Valet De Chambre du Roi
XIX. To Robert Burns
XX. To Lord Byron
XXI. To Omar Khayya'm
XXII. To Q. Horatius Flaccus
Sixteen of these Letters, which were written at the suggestion of the editor
of the 'St. James's Gazette,' appeared in that journal, from which they are
now reprinted, by the editor's kind permission. They have been somewhat
emended, and a few additions have been made. The Letters to Horace, Byron,
Isaak Walton, Chapelain, Ronsard, and Theocritus have not been published
The gem published for the first time on the title-page is a red cornelian in
the British Museum, probably Graeco-Roman, and treated in an archaistic style.
It represents Hermes Psychogogos, with a Soul, and has some likeness to the
Baptism of Our Lord, as usually shown in art. Perhaps it may be post-
Christian. The gem was selected by Mr. A. S. Murray.
It is, perhaps, superfluous to add that some of the Letters are written rather
to suit the Correspondent than to express the writer's own taste or opinions.
The Epistle to Lord Byron, especially, is 'writ in a manner which is my
LETTERS TO DEAD AUTHORS
To W. M. Thackeray.
Sir,--There are many things that stand in the way of the critic when he has a
mind to praise the living. He may dread the charge of writing rather to vex a
rival than to exalt the subject of his applause. He shuns the appearance of
seeking the favour of the famous, and would not willingly be regarded as one
of the many parasites who now advertise each movement and action of
contemporary genius. 'Such and such men of letters are passing their summer
holidays in the Val d'Aosta,' or the Mountains of the Moon, or the Suliman
Range, as it may happen. So reports our literary 'Court Circular,' and all our
_Pre'cieuses_ read the tidings with enthusiasm. Lastly, if the critic be quite
new to the world of letters, he may superfluously fear to vex a poet or a
novelist by the abundance of his eulogy. No such doubts perplex us when, with
all our hearts, we would commend the departed; for they have passed almost
beyond the reach even of envy; and to those pale cheeks of theirs no
commendation can bring the red.
You, above all others, were and remain without a rival in your many-sided
excellence, and praise of you strikes at none of those who have survived your
day. The increase of time only mellows your renown, and each year that passes
and brings you no successor does but sharpen the keenness of our sense of
loss. In what other novelist, since Scott was worn down by the burden of a
forlorn endeavour, and died for honour's sake, has the world found so many of
the fairest gifts combined? If we may not call you a poet (for the first of
English writers of light verse did not seek that crown), who that was less
than a poet ever saw life with a glance so keen as yours, so steady, and so
sane? Your pathos was never cheap, your laughter never forced; your sigh was
never the pulpit trick of the preacher. Your funny people--your Costigans and
Fokers--were not mere characters of trick and catch-word, were not empty comic
masks. Behind each the human heart was beating; and ever and again we were
allowed to see the features of the man.
Thus fiction in your hands was not simply a profession, like another, but a
constant reflection of the whole surface of life: a repeated echo of its
laughter and its complaint. Others have written, and not written badly, with
the stolid professional regularity of the clerk at his desk; you, like the
Scholar Gipsy, might have said that 'it needs heaven-sent moments for this
skill.' There are, it will not surprise you, some honourable women and a few
men who call you a cynic; who speak of 'the withered world of Thackerayan
satire ;' who think your eyes were ever turned to the sordid aspects of
life--to the mother-in-law who threatens to 'take away her silver bread-
basket;' to the intriguer, the sneak, the termagant; to the Beckys, and Barnes
Newcomes, and Mrs. Mackenzies of this world. The quarrel of these
sentimentalists is really with life, not with you; they might as wisely blame
Monsieur Buffon because there are snakes in his Natural History. Had you not
impaled certain noxious human insects, you would have better pleased Mr.
Ruskin; had you confined yourself to such performances, you would have been
more dear to the Neo-Balzacian school in fiction.
You are accused of never having drawn a good woman who was not a doll, but the
ladies that bring this charge seldom remind us either of Lady Castlewood or of
Theo or Hetty Lambert. The best women can pardon you Becky Sharp and Blanche
Amory; they find it harder to forgive you Emmy Sedley and Helen Pendennis. Yet
what man does not know in his heart that the best women--God bless them--lean,
in their characters, either to the sweet passiveness of Emmy or to the
sensitive and jealous affections of Helen? 'Tis Heaven, not you, that made
them so; and they are easily pardoned, both for being a very little lower than
the angels and for their gentle ambition to be painted, as by Guido or
Guercino, with wings and harps and haloes. So ladies have occasionally seen
their own faces in the glass of fancy, and, thus inspired, have drawn Romola
and Consuelo. Yet when these fair idealists, Mdme. Sand and George Eliot,
designed Rosamund Vincy and Horace, was there not a spice of malice in the
portraits which we miss in your least favourable studies?
That the creator of Colonel Newcome and of Henry Esmond was a snarling cynic;
that he who designed Rachel Esmond could not draw a good woman: these are the
chief charges (all indifferent now to you, who were once so sensitive) that
your admirers have to contend against. A French critic, M. Taine, also
protests that you do preach too much. Did any author but yourself so
frequently break the thread (seldom a strong thread) of his plot to converse
with his reader and moralise his tale, we also might be offended. But who that
loves Montaigne and Pascal, who that likes the wise trifling of the one and
can bear with the melancholy of the other, but prefers your preaching to
Your thoughts come in, like the intervention of the Greek Chorus, as an
ornament and source of fresh delight. Like the songs of the Chorus, they bid
us pause a moment over the wider laws and actions of human fate and human
life, and we turn from your persons to yourself, and again from yourself to
your persons, as from the odes of Sophocles or Aristophanes to the action of
their characters on the stage. Nor, to my taste, does the mere music and
melancholy dignity of your style in these passages of meditation fall far
below the highest efforts of poetry. I remember that scene where Clive, at
Barnes Newcome's Lecture on the Poetry of the Affections, sees Ethel who is
lost to him. 'And the past and its dear histories, and youth and its hopes and
passions, and tones and looks for ever echoing in the heart and present in the
memory--these, no doubt, poor Clive saw and heard as he looked across the
great gulf of time, and parting and grief, and beheld the wonmn he had loved
for many years.'
_For_ever_echoing_in_the_heart_and_present_in_the_memory:_ who has not heard
these tones, who does not hear them as he turns over your books that, for so
many years, have been his companions and comforters? We have been young and
old, we have been sad and merry with you, we have listened to the mid-night
chimes with Pen and Warrington, have stood with you beside the death-bed, have
mourned at that yet more awful funeral of lost love, and with you have prayed
in the inmost chapel sacred to our old and immortal affections,
_a'_le'al_souvenir!_ And whenever you speak for yourself, and speak in
earnest, how magical, how rare, how lonely in our literature is the beauty of
your sentences! 'I can't express the charm of them' (so you write of George
Sand; so we may write of you): 'they seem to me like the sound of country
bells, provoking I don't know what vein of music and meditation, and falling
sweetly and sadly on the ear.' Surely that style, so fresh, so rich, so full
of surprises --that style which stamps as classical your fragments of slang,
and perpetually astonishes and delights--would alone give immortality to an
author, even had he little to say. But you, with your whole wide world of fops
and fools, of good women and brave men, of honest absurdities and cheery
adventurers: you who created the Steynes and Newcomes, the Beckys and
Blanches, Captain Costigan and F. B., and the Chevalier Strong--all that host
of friends imperishable--you must survive with Shakespeare and Cervantes in
the memory and affection of men.
To Charles Dickens.
Sir,--It has been said that every man is born a Platonist or an Aristotelian,
though the enormous majority of us, to be sure, live and die without being
conscious of any invidious philosophic partiality whatever. With more truth
(though that does not imply very much) every Englishman who reads may be said
to be a partisan of yourself or of Mr. Thackeray. Why should there be any
partisanship in the matter; and why, having two such good things as your
novels and those of your contemporary, should we not be silently happy in the
possession? Well, men are made so, and must needs fight and argue over their
tastes in enjoyment. For myself, I may say that in this matter I am what the
Americans do not call a 'Mugwump,' what English politicians dub a 'superior
person'--that is, I take no side, and attempt to enjoy the best of both.
It must be owned that this attitude is sometimes made a little difficult by
the vigour of your special devotees. They have ceased, indeed, thank Heaven!
to imitate you; and even in 'descriptive articles' the touch of Mr. Gigadibs,
of him whom 'we almost took for the true Dickens,' has disappeared. The young
lions of the Press no longer mimic your less admirable mannerisms--do not
strain so much after fantastic comparisons, do not (in your manner and Mr.
Carlyle's) give people nick-names derived from their teeth, or their
complexion; and, generally, we are spared second-hand copies of all that in
your style was least to be commended. But, though improved by lapse of time in
this respect, your devotees still put on little conscious airs of virtue,
robust manliness, and so forth, which would have irritated you very much, and
there survive some press men who seem to have read you a little (especially
your later works), and never to have read anything else. Now familiarity with
the pages of 'Our Mutual Friend'and 'Dombey and Son' does not precisely
constitute a liberal education, and the assumption that it does is apt (quite
unreasonably) to prejudice people against the greatest comic genius of modern
On the other hand, Time is at last beginning to sift the true admirers of
Dickens from the false. Yours, Sir, in the best sense of the word, is a
popular success, a popular reputation. For example, I know that, in a remote
and even Pictish part of this kingdom, a rural household, humble and under the
shadow of a sorrow inevitably approaching, has found in 'David Copperfield'
oblivion of winter, of sorrow, and of sickness. On the other hand, people are
now picking up heart to say that 'they cannot read Dickens,' and that they
particularly detest 'Pickwick.' I believe it was young ladies who first had
the courage of their convictions in this respect. 'Tout sied aux belles,' and
the fair, in the confidence of youth, often venture on remarkable confessions.
In your 'Natural History of Young Ladies' I do not remember that you describe
the Humorous Young Lady (1). She is a very rare bird indeed, and humour
generally is at a deplorably low level in England.
(1) I am informed that the _Natural_History_of_Young_Ladies_ is attributed,
by some writers, to another philosopher, the author of _The_Art_of_Pluck_.
Hence come all sorts of mischief, arisen since you left us; and, it may be
said, that inordinate philanthropy, genteel sympathy with Irish murder and
arson, Societies for Badgering the Poor, Esoteric Buddhism, and a score of
other plagues, including what was once called Aestheticism, are all,
primarily, due to want of humour. People discuss, with the gravest faces,
matters which properly should only be stated as the wildest paradoxes. It
naturally follows that, in a period almost destitute of humour, many
respectable persons 'cannot read Dickens,' and are not ashamed to glory in
their shame. We ought not to be angry with others for their misfortunes; and
yet when one meets the _cre'tins_ who boast that they cannot read Dickens, one
certainly does feel much as Mr. Samuel Weller felt when he encountered Mr. Job
How very singular has been the history of the decline of humour. Is there any
profound psychological truth to be gathered from consideration of the fact
that humour has gone out with cruelty? A hundred years ago, eighty years ago
--nay, fifty years ago--we were a cruel but also a humorous people. We had
bull-baitings, and badger-drawings, and hustings, and prize-fights, and
cock-fights; we went to see men hanged; the pillory and the stocks were no
empty 'terrors unto evil-doers,' for there was commonly a malefactor occupying
each of these institutions. With all this we had a broad blown comic sense. We
had Ho-garth, and Bunbury, and George Cruik-shank, and Gilray; we had Leech
and Surtees, and the creator of Tittlebat Titmouse; we had the Shepherd of the
'Noctes,' and, above all, we had _you_.
From the old giants of English fun--burly persons delighting in broad
caricature, in decided colours, in cockney jokes, in swashing blows at the
more prominent and obvious human follies--from these you derived the splendid
high spirits and unhesitating mirth of your earlier works. Mr. Squeers, and
Sam Weller, and Mrs. Gamp, and all the Pickwickians, and Mr. Dowlet, and John
Browdie--these and their immortal companions were reared, so to speak, on the
beef and beer of that naughty, fox-hunting, badger-baiting old England, which
we have improved out of existence. And these characters, assuredly, are your
best; by them, though stupid people cannot read about them, you will live
while there is a laugh left among us. Perhaps that does not assure you a very
prolonged existence, but only the future can show.
The dismal seriousness of the time cannot, let us hope, last for ever and a
day. Honest old Laughter, the true _lutin_ of your inspiration, must have life
left in him yet, and cannot die; though it is true that the taste for your
pathos, and your melodrama, and plots constructed after your favourite fashion
('Great Expectations' and the 'Tale of Two Cities' are exceptions) may go by
and never be regretted. Were people simpler, or only less clear-sighted, as
far as your pathos is concerned, a generation ago? Jeffrey, the hard-headed
shallow critic, who declared that Wordsworth 'would never do,' cried, 'wept
like any-thing,' over your Little Nell. One still laughs as heartily as ever
with Dick Swiveller; but who can cry over Little Nell?
Ah, Sir, how could you--who knew so intimately, who remembered so strangely
well the fancies, the dreams, the sufferings of childhood--how could you
'wallow naked in the pathetic,' and massacre holocausts of the Innocents? To
draw tears by gloating over a child's death-bed, was it worthy of you? Was it
the kind of work over which our hearts should melt? I confess that Little Nell
might die a dozen times, and be welcomed by whole legions of Angels, and I
(like the bereaved fowl mentioned by Pet Marjory) would remain unmoved.
She was more than usual calm,
She did not give a single dam,
wrote the astonishing child who diverted the leisure of Scott. Over your
Little Nell and your Little Dombey I remain more than usual calm; and probably
so do thousands of your most sincere admirers. But about matter of this kind,
and the unsealing of the fountains of tears, who can argue? Where is taste?
where is truth? What tears are 'manly, Sir, manly,' as Fred Bayham has it; and
of what lamentations ought we rather to be ashamed? _Sunt_lacrymae_rerum_; one
has been moved in the cell where Socrates tasted the hemlock; or by the
river-banks where Syracusan arrows slew the parched Athenians among the mire
and blood; or, in fiction, when Colonel Newcome said _Adsum_, or over the
diary of Clare Doria Forey, or where Aramis laments, with strange tears, the
death of Porthos. But over Dombey (the Son), or Little Nell, one declines to
When an author deliberately sits down and says, 'Now, let us have a good cry,'
he poisons the wells of sensibility and chokes, at least in many breasts, the
fountain of tears. Out of 'Dombey and Son ' there is little we care to
remember except the deathless Mr. Toots; just as we forget the melodramatics
of 'Martin Chuzzlewit.' I have read in that book a score of tinms; I never see
it but I revel in it--in Pecksniff, and Mrs. Gamp, and the Americans. But what
the plot is all about, what Jonas did, what Montagu Tigg had to make in the
matter, what all the pictures with plenty of shading illustrate, I have never
been able to comprehend. In the same way, one of your most thorough-going
admirers has al-lowed (in the licence of private conver-sation) that 'Ralph
Nickleby and Monk are too steep;' and probably a cultivated taste will always
find them a little precipitous.
'Too steep:'--the slang expresses that defect of an artlent genius, carried
above itself, and out of the air we breathe, both in its grotesque and in its
gloomy imaginations. To force the note, to press fantasy too hard, to deepen
the gloom with black over the indigo, that was the failing which proved you
mortal. To take an instance in little: when Pip went to Mr. Pumblechook's, the
boy thought the seedsman 'a very happy man to have so many little drawers in
his shop.' The reflection is thoroughly boyish; but then you add, 'I wondered
whether the flower. seeds and bulbs ever wanted of a fine day to break out of
those jails and bloom.' That is not boyish at all; that is the hard-driven,
jaded literary fancy at work.
'So we arraign her; but she,' the Genius of Char]es Dickens, how brilliant,
how kindly, how beneficent she is! dwelling by a fountain of laughter
imperishable; though there is something of an alien salt in the neighbouring
fountain of tears. How poor the world of fancy would be, how 'dispeopled of
her dreams,' if, in some ruin of the social system, the books of Dickens were
lost; and if The Dodger, and Charley Bates, and Mr. Crinkle, and Miss Squeers,
and Sam Weller, and Mrs. Gamp, and Dick Swiveller were to perish, or to vanish
with Menander's men and women! We cannot think of our world without them; and,
children of dreams as they are, they seem more essential than great statesmen,
artists, soldiers, who have actually worn flesh and blood, ribbons and orders,
gowns and uniforms. May we not almost welcome 'Free Education'? for every
Englishman who can read, unless he be an Ass, is a reader the more for you.
To Pierre de Ronsard
(Prince of Poets.)
Master and Prince of Poets,--As we know what choice thou madest of a sepulchre
(a choice how ill fulfilled by the jealousy of Fate), so we know well the
manner of thy chosen immortality. In the Plains Elysian, among the heroes and
the ladies of old song, there was thy Love with thee to enjoy her paradise in
an eternal spring.
La' du plaisant Avril la saison imortelle
Sans eschange le suit,
La terre sans labeur, de sa grasse mamelle,
Tout chose y produit;
D'enbas la troupe sainte autrefois amoureuse,
Nous honorant sur tous,
Viendra nous saluer, s'estimant bien-heureuse
De s'accointer de nous.
There thou dwellest, with the learned lovers of old days, with Belleau, and Du
Bellay, and Bai'f, and the flower of the maidens of Anjou. Surely no runmm'
reaches thee, in that happy place of reconciled affections, no rumour of the
rudeness of Time, the despite of men, and the change which stole from thy
locks, so early grey, the crown of laurels and of thine own roses. How
different from thy choice of a sepulchre have been the fortunes of thy tomb!
I will that none should break
The marble for my sake,
Wishful to make more fair
So didst thou sing, or so thy sweet numbers run in my rude English. Wearied
of Courts and of priories, thou didst desire a grave beside thine own Loire,
not remote from
The caves, the founts that fall
From the high mountain wall,
That fall and flash and fleet,
Wilh silver fret.
Only a laurel tree
Shall guard the grave of me;
Only Apollo's bough
Shall shade me now!
Far other has been thy sepulchre: not in the free air, among the field
flowers, but in thy priory of Saint Cosme, with marble for a monument, and no
green grass to cover thee. Restless wert thou in thy life; thy dust was not to
be restful in thy death. The Huguenots,_ces_nouveaux_Chre'tiens_qui_la_France_
ont_pille'e_, destroyed thy tomb, and the warning of the later monument,
ABI, NEFASTE, QUAM CALCAS HUMUM SACRA EST,
has not scared away malicious men. The storm that passed over France a hundred
years ago, more terrible than the religious wars that thou didst weep for, has
swept the column from the tomb. The marble was broken by violent hands, and
the shattered sepulchre of the Prince of Poets gained a dusty hospitality from
the museum of a country town. Better had been the laurel of thy desire, the
creeping vine, and the ivy tree.
Scarce more fortunate, for long, than thy monument was thy memory. Thou hast
not encountered, Master, in the Paradise of Poets, Messieurs Malherbe, De
Balzac, and Boileau--Boileau who spoke of thee as _Ce_poe'te_orgueilleux_
These gallant gentlemen, I make no doubt, are happy after their own fashion,
backbiting each other and thee in the Paradise of Critics. In their time they
wrought thee much evil, grumbling that thou wrotest in Greek and Latin (of
which tongues certain of them had but little skill), and blaming thy many
lyric melodies and the free flow of thy lines. What said M. de Balzac to M.
Chapelain? 'M. de Malherbe, M. de Grasse, and yourself must be very little
poets, if Ronsard be a great one.' Time has brought in his revenges, and
Messieurs Chapelain and De Grasse are as well forgotten as thou art wclI
remembered. Men could not ahvays be deaf to thy sweet old songs, nor blind to
the beauty of thy roses and thy loves. When they took the wax out of their
ears that M. Boileau had given them lest they should hear the singing of thy
Sirens, then they were deaf no longer, then they heard the old deaf poet
singing and made answer to his lays. Hast thou not heard these sounds? have
they not reached thee, the voices and the lyres of The'ophile Gautier and
Alfred de Musset? Methinks thou hast marked them, and been glad that the old
notes were ringing again and the old French lyric measures tripping to thine
ancient harmonies, echoing and replying to the Muses of Horace and Catullus.
Returning to Nature, poets returned to thee. Thy monument has perished, but
not thy music, and the Prince of Poets has returned to his own again in a
Through the dust and smoke of ages, and through the centuries of wars we
strain our eyes and try to gain a glimpse of thee, Master, in thy good days,
when the Muses walked with thee. We seem to mark thee wandering silent through
some little village, or dreaming in the woods, or loitering among thy lonely
places, or in gardens where the roses blossom among wilder flowers, or on
river banks where the whispering poplars and sighing reeds make answer to the
murmur of the waters. Such a picture hast thou drawn of thyself in the summer
Je m'en vais pourmener tantost parmy la plaine,
Tantost en un village, et tantost en un bois,
Et tantost par les lieux solitaires et cois.
J'aime fort les jardins qui sentent le sauvage,
J'aime le flot de l'eau qui gazou'ille au rivage.
Still, methinks, there was a book in the hand of the grave and learned poet;
still thou wouldst carry thy Horace, thy Catullus, thy Theocritus, through the
gem-like weather of the _Renouveau_, when the woods were enamelled with
flowers, and the young Spring was lodged, like a wandering prince, in his
great palaces hung with green:
Orgueilleux de ses fleurs, enfle' de sa jeunesse,
Loge' comme un grand Prince en ses vertes maisons!
Thou sawest, in these woods by Loire side, the fair shapes of old religion,
Fauns, Nymphs, and Satyrs, and heard'st in the nightingale's music the plaint
of Philomel. The ancient poets came back in the train of thyself and of the
Spring, and learning was scarce less dear to thee than love; and thy ladies
seemed fairer for the names they borrowed from the beauties of forgotten days,
Helen and Cassandra. How sweetly didst thou sing to them thine old morality,
and how gravely didst thou teach the lesson of the Roses! Well didst thou know
it, well didst thou love the Rose, since thy nurse, carrying thee, an infant,
to the holy font, let fall on thee the sacred water brimmed with floating
blossoms of the Rose!
Mignonne, allons voir si la Rose,
Qui ce matin avoit desclose
Sa robe de pourpre au soleil,
A point perdu ceste vespree
Les plis de sa robe pourpree,
Et son teint au votre pareil.
La belle Rose du Printemps,
Aubert, admoneste les hommes
Passer joyeusement le temps,
Et pendant que jeunes nous sommes,
Esbattre la fleur de nos ans.
In the same mood, looking far down the future, thou sangest of thy lady's age,
the most sad, the most beautiful of thy sad and beautiful lays; for if thy
bees gathered much honey 't was somewhat bitter to taste, as that of the
Sardinian yews. How clearly we see the great hall, the grey lady spinning and
humming among her drowsy maids, and how they waken at the word, and she sees
her spring in their eyes, and they forecast their winter in her face, when she
murmurs ''Twas Ronsard sang of me.'
Winter, and summer, and spring, how swiftly they pass, and how early time
brought thee his sorrows, and grief cast her dust upon th> head.
Adieu ma Lyre, adieu fillettes,
Jadis mes douces amourettes,
Adieu, je sens venir ma fin,
Nul passetemps de ma jeunesse
Ne m'accompagne en la vieillesse,
Que le feu, le lict et le vin.
Wine, and a soft bed, and a bright fire: to this trinity of poor pleasures we
come soon, if, indeed, wine be left to us. Poetry herself deserts us; is it
not said that Bacchus never forgives a renegade? and most of us turn recreants
to Bacchus. Even the bright fire, I fear, was not always there to warm thine
old blood, Master, or, if fire there were, the wood was not bought with thy
book-seller's money. When autumn was drawing in during thine early old age, in
1584, didst thou not write that thou hadst never received a sou at the hands
of all the publishers who vended thy books? And as thou wert about putting
forth the folio edition of 1584, thou didst pray Buon, the bookseller, to give
thee sixty crowns to buy wood withal, and make thee a bright fire in winter
weather, and comfort thine old age with thy friend Gallandius. And if Buon
will not pay, then to try the other book-sellers, 'that wish to take
everything and give nothing.'
Was it knowledge of this passage, Master, or ignorance of everything else,
that made certain of the common steadfast dunces of our days speak of thee as
if thou hadst been a starveling, neglected poetaster, jealous forsooth, of
Maitre Francoys Rabelais? See how ignorantly M. Fleury writes, who teaches
French literature withal to them of Muscovy, and hath indited a Life of
Rabelais. 'Rabelais e'tait reve'tu d'un emploi honorable; Ronsard e'tait
traite' en subalterne,' quoth this wondrous professor. What! Pierre de
Ronsard, a gentleman of a noble house, holding the revenue of many abbeys, the
friend of Mary Stuart, of the Duc d'Orle'ans, of Charles IX., _he_ is
_traite'_en_subalterne_, and is jealous of a frocked or unfrocked _manant_
like Maitre Francoys! And then this amazing Fleury falls foul of thine epitaph
on Mai'tre Francoys and cries, 'Ronsard a voulu faire des vers me'chants; il
n'a fait que de me'chants vers.' More truly saith M. Sainte-Beuve, 'If the
good Rabelais had returned to Meudon on the day when this epitaph was made
over the wine, he would, methinks, have laughed heartily.' But what shall be
said of a Professor like the egregious M. Fleury, who holds that Ronsard was
despised at Court? Was there a party at tennis when the king would not fain
have had thee on his side, declaring that he ever won when Ronsard was his
partner? Did he not give thee benefices, and many priories, and call thee his
father in Apollo, and even, so they say, bid thee sit down beside him on his
throne? Away, ye scandalous folk, who tell us that there was strife between
the Prince of Poets and the King of Mirth. Naught have ye by way of proof of
your slander but the talk of Jean Bernier, a scurrilous, starveling
apothecary, who put forth his fables in 1697, a century and a half after
Mai'tre Francoys died. Bayle quoted this fellow in a note, and ye all steal
the tattle one from another in your dull manner, and know not whence it comes,
nor even that Bayle would none of it and mocked its author. With so little
knowledge is history written, and thus doth each chattering brook of a 'Life'
swell with its tribute 'that great Mississippi of falsehood,' Biography.
To Herodotus of Halicarnassus, greeting. --Concerning the matters set forth in
your histories, and the tales you tell about both Greeks and barbarians,
whether they be true, or whether they be false, men dispute not little but a
great deal. Wherefore I, being concerned to know the verity, did set forth to
make search in every manner, and came in my quest even unto the ends of the
earth. For there is an island of the Cimmerians beyond the Straits of
Heracles, some three days' voyage to a ship that hath a fair following wind in
her sails; and there it is said that men know many things from of old:
thither, then, I came in my inquiry. Now, the island is not small, but large,
greater than the whole of Hellas; and they call it Britain. In that island the
east wind blows for ten parts of the year, and the people know not how to
cover themselves from the cold. But for the other two months of the year the
sun shines fiercely, so that some of them die thereof, and others die of the
frozen mixed drinks; for they have ice even in the summer, and this ice they
put to their liquor. Through the whole of this island, from the west even to
the east, there flows a river called Thames: a great river and a laborious,
but not to be likened to the River of Egypt.
The mouth of this river, where I stepped out from my ship, is exceedingly foul
and of an evil savour by reason of the city on the banks. Now this city is
several hundred parasangs in circumference. Yet a man that needed not to
breathe the air might go round it in one hour, in chariots that run under the
earth; and these chariots are drawn by creatures that breathe smoke and
sulphur, such as Orpheus mentions in his 'Argonautica,' if it be by Orpheus.
The people of the town, when I inquired of them concerning Herodotus of
Halicarnassus, looked on me with amazement, and went straightway about their
business,--namely, to seek out whatsoever new thing is coming to pass all over
the whole inhabited world, and as for things old, they take no keep of them.
Nevertheless, by diligence I learned that he who in this land knew most
concerning Herodotus was a priest, and dwelt in the priests' city on the river
which is called the City of the Ford of the Ox. But whether Io, when she wore
a cow's shape, had passed by that way in her wanderings, and thence comes the
name of that city, I could not (though I asked all men I met) learn aught with
certainty. But to me, considering this, it seemed that Io must have come
thither. And now farewell to Io.
To the City of the Priests there are two roads: one by land; and one by water,
following the river. To a well-girdled man, the land journey is but one day's
travel; by the river it is longer but more pleasant. Now that river flows, as
I said, from the west to the east. And there is in it a fish called chub,
which they catch; but they do not eat it, for a certain sacred reason. Also
there is a fish called trout, and this is the manner of his catching. They
build far this purpose great dams of wood, which they call weirs. Having built
the weir they sit upon it with rods in their hands, and a line on the rod, and
at the end of the line a little fish. There then they 'sit and spin in the
sun,' as one of their poets says, not for a short time but for many days,
having rods in their hands and eating and drinking. In this wise they angle
for the fish called trout; but whether they ever catch him or not, not having
seen it, I cannot say; for it is not pleasant to me to speak things concerning
which I know not the truth.
Now, after sailing and rowing against the stream for certain days, I came to
the City of the Ford of the Ox. Here the river changes his name, and is called
Isis, after the name of the goddess of the Egyptians. But whether the Britons
brought the name from Egypt or whether the Egyptians took it from the Britons,
not knowing I prefer not to say. But to me it seems that the Britons are a
colony of the Egyptians, or the Egyptians a colony of the Britons. Moreover,
when I was in Egypt I saw certain soldiers in white helmets, who were
certainly British. But what they did there (as Egypt neither belongs to
Britain nor Britain to Egypt) I know not, neither could they tell me. But one
of them replied to me in that line of Homer (if the Odyssey be Homer's), 'We
have come to a sorry Cyprus, and a sad Egypt.' Others told me that they once
marched against the Ethiopians, and having defeated them several times, then
came back again, leaving their property to the Ethiopians. But as to the truth
of this I leave it to every man to form his own opinion.
Having come into the City of the Priests, I went forth into the street, and
found a priest of the baser sort, who for a piece of silver led me hither and
thither among the temples, discoursing of many things.
Now it seemed to me a strange thing that the city was empty, and no man
dwelling therein, save a few priests only, and their wives, and their
children, who are drawn to and fro in little carriages dragged by women, but
the priest told me that during half the year the city was desolate, for that
there came somewhat called 'The Long,' or 'The Vac,' and drave out the young
priests. And he said that these did no other thing but row boats, and throw
balls from one to the other, and this they were made to do, he said, that the
young priests might learn to be humble, for they are the proudest of men. But
whether he spoke truth or not I know not, only I set down what he told me. But
to anyone considering it, this appears rather to jump with his story--namely,
that the young priests have houses on the river, painted of divers colours,
all of them empty.
Then the priest, at my desire, brought me to one of the temples, that I might
seek out all things concerning Herodotus the Halicarnassian, from one who
knew. Now this temple is not the fairest in the city, but less fair and goodly
than the old temples, yet goodlier and more fair than the new temples; and
over the roof there is the image of an eagle made of stone--no small marvel,
but a great one, how men came to fashion him; and that temple is called the
House of Queens. Here they sacrifice a boar once every year; and concerning
this they tell a certain sacred story which I know but will not utter.
Then I was brought to the priest who had a name for knowing most about Egypt,
and the Egyptians, and the Assyrians, and the Cappadocians, and all the
kingdoms of the Great King. He came out to me, being attired in a black robe,
and wearing on his head a square cap. But why the priests have square caps I
know, and he who has been initiated into the mysteries which they call
'Matric' knows, but I prefer not to tell. Concerning the square cap, then, let
this be sufficient. Now, the priest received me courteously, and when I asked
him, concerning Herodotus, whether he were a true man or not, he smiled, and
answered 'Abu Goosh,' which, in the tongue of the Arabians, means 'The Father
of Liars.' Then he went on to speak concerning Herodotus, and he said in his
discourse that Herodotus not only told the thing which was not, but that he
did so wilfully, as one knowing the truth but concealing it. For example,
quoth he, 'Solon never went to see Croesus, as Herodotus avers; nor did those
about Xerxes ever dream dreams; but Herodotus, out of his abundant wickedness,
invented these things.
'Now behold,' he went on, 'how the curse of the Gods falls upon Herodotus. For
he pretends that he saw Cadmeian inscriptions at Thebes. Now I do not believe
there were any Cadmeian inscriptions there: therefore Herodotus is most
manifestly lying. Moreover, this Herodotus never speaks of Sophocles the
Athenian, and why not? Because he, being a child at school, did not learn
Sophocles by heart: for the tragedies of Sophocles could not have been learned
at school before they were written, nor can any man quote a poet whom he never
learned at school. Moreover, as all those about Herodotus knew Sophocles well,
he could not appear to them to be learned by showing that he knew what they
knew also.' Then I thought the priest was making game and sport, saying first
that Herodotus could know no poet whom he had not learned at school, and then
saying that all the men of his time well knew this poet, 'about whom everyone
was talking'. But the priest seemed not to know that Herodotus and Sophocles
were friends, which is proved by this, that Sophocles wrote an ode in praise
Then he went on, and though I were to write with a hundred hands (like
Briareus, of whom Homer makes mention) I could not tell you all the things
that the priest said against Herodotus, speaking truly, or not truly, or
sometimes correctly and sometimes not, as often befalls mortal men. For
Herodotus, he said, was chiefly concerned to steal the lore of those who came
before him, such as Hecataeus, and then to escape notice as having stolen it.
Also he said that, being himself cunning and deceitful, Herodotus was easily
beguiled by the cunning of others, and believed in things manifestly false,
such as the story of the Phoenix-bird.
Then I spoke, and said that Herodotus himself declared that he could not
believe that story; but the priest regarded me not. And he said that Herodotus
had never caught a crocodile with cold pig, nor did he ever visit Assyria, nor
Babylon, nor Elephantine; but, saying that he had been in these lands, said
that which was not true. He also declared that Herodotus, when he travelled,
knew none of the Fat Ones of the Egyptians, but only those of the baser sort.
And he called Herodotus a thief and a beguiler, and 'the same with intent to
deceive,' as one of their own poets writes, and, to be short, Herodotus, I
could not tell you in one day all the charges which are now brought against
you; but concerning the truth of these things, _you_ know, not least, but
most, as to yourself being guilty or innocent. Wherefore, if you have anything
to show or set forth whereby you may be relieved from the burden of these
accusations, now is the time. Be no more silent; but, whether through the
Oracle of the Dead, or the Oracle of Branchidae, or that in Delphi, or Dodona,
or of Amphiaraus at Oropus, speak to your friends and lovers (whereof I am one
from of old)and let men know the very truth.
Now, concerning the priests in the City of the Ford of the Ox, it is to be
said that of all men whom we know they receive strangers most gladly, feasting
them all day. Moreover, they have many drinks, cunningly mixed, and of these
the best is that they call Archdeacon, naming it from one of the priests'
offices. Truly, as Homer says (if the Odyssey be Homer's), 'when that draught
is poured into the bowl then it is no pleasure to refrain.'
Drinking of this wine, or nectar, Herodotus, I pledge you, and pour forth some
deal on the ground, to Herodotus of Halicarnassus, in the House of Hades.
And I wish you farewell, and good be with you. Whether the priest spoke truly,
or not truly, even so may such good things betide you as befall dead men.
Epistle to Mr. Alexander Pope.
From mortal Gratitude, decide, my Pope,
Have Wits Immortal more to fear or hope?
Wits toil and travail round the Plant of Fame,
Their Works its Garden, and its Growth their Aim,
Then Commentators, in unwieldy Dance,
Break down the Barriers of the trim Pleasance,
Pursue the Poet, like Actaeon's Hounds,
Beyond the fences of his Garden Grounds,
Rend from the singing Robes each borrowed gem,
Rend from the laurel'd Brows the Diadem,
And, if one Rag of Character they spare,
Comes the Biographer, and strips it bare!
Such, Pope, has been thy Fortune, such thy Doom.
Swift the Ghouls gathered at the Poet's Tomb,
With Dust of Notes to clog each lordly Line,
Warburton, Warton, Croker, Bowles, combine!
Collecting Cackle, Johnson condescends
To _interview_ the Drudges of your Friends.
Though still your Courthope holds your merits high,
And still proclaims your Poems poetry,
Biographers, un-Boswell-like, have sneered,
And Dunces edit him whom Dunces feared!
They say; what say they? Not in vain You ask.
To tell you what they say, behold my Task!
'Methinks already I your Tears survey'
As I repeat 'the horrid Things they say.' (1)
Comes El--n first: I fancy you'll agree
Not frenzied Dennis smote so fell as he;
For El--n's Introduction, crabbed and dry,
Like Churchill's Cudgel's (2) marked with Lie, and Lie!
(2) In Mr Hogarth's Caricatura.
'Too dull to know what his own System meant,
Pope yet was skilled new Treasons to invent;
A Snake that puffed himself and stung his Friends,
Few Lied so frequent, for such little Ends;
His mind, like Flesh inflamed, (3) was raw and sore,
And still, the more he writhed, he stung the more!
Oft in a Quarrel, never in the Right,
His Spirit sank when he was called to fight.
Pope, in the Darkness mining like a Mole,
Forged on Himself, as from Himself he stole,
And what for Caryll once he feigned to feel,
Transferred, in Letters never sent, to Steele!
Still he denied the Letters he had writ,
And still mistook Indecency for Wit.
His very Grammar, so De Quincey cries,
"Detains the Reader, and at times defies!"'
(3) Elwyn's Pope, ii. 15.
Fierce El--n thus: no Line escapes his Rage,
And furious Foot-notes growl 'neath every Page:
See St-ph-n next take up the woful Tale,
Prolong the Preaching, and protract the Wail!
'Some forage Falsehoods from the North and South,
But Pope, poor D---l, lied from Hand to Mouth; (1)
Affected, hypocritical, and vain,
A Book in Breeches, and a Fop in Grain;
A Fox that found not the high Clusters sour,
The Fanfaron of Vice beyond his power,
Pope yet possessed'--(the Praise will make you start)--
'Mean, morbid, vain, he yet possessed a Heart!
And still we marvel at the Man, and still
Admire his Finish, and applaud his Skill:
Though, as that fabled Barque, a phantom Form,
Eternal strains, nor rounds the Cape of Storm,
Even so Pope strove, nor ever crossed the Line
That from the Noble separates the Fine!'
(1) 'Poor Pope was always a hand-to-mouth liar.' --_Pope_, by Leslie Stephen,
The Learned thus, and who can quite reply,
Reverse the Judgment, and Retort the Lie?
You reap, in arme'd Hates that haunt Your name,
Reap what you sowed, the Dragon's Teeth of Fame:
You could not write, and from unenvious Time
Expect the Wreath that crowns the lofty Rhyme,
You still must fight, retreat, attack, defend,
And oft, to snatch a Laurel, lose a Friend!
The Pity of it! And the changing Taste
Of changing Time leaves half your Work a Waste!
My Childhood fled your couplet's clarion tone,
And sought for Homer in the Prose of Bohn.
Still through the Dust of that dim Prose appears
The Flight of Arrows and the Sheen of Spears;
Still we may trace what Hearts heroic feel,
And hear the Bronze that hurtles on the Steel!
But, ah, your Iliad seems a half-pretence,
Where Wits, not Heroes, prove their Skill in Fence,
And great Achilles' Eloquence doth show
As if no Centaur trained him, but Boileau!
Again, your Verse is orderly,--and more,--
'The Waves behind impel the Waves before ;'
Monotonously musical they glide,
Till Couplet unto Couplet hath replied.
But turn to Homer! How his Verses sweep!
Surge answers Surge and Deep doth call on Deep;
This Line in Foam and Thunder issues forth,
Spurred by the West or smitten by the North,
Sombre in all its sullen Deeps, and all
Clear at the Crest, and foaming to the Fall,
The next with silver Murmur dies away,
Like Tides that falter to Calypso's Bay!
Thus Time, with sordid Alchemy and dread,
Turns half the Glory of your Gold to Lead;
Thus Time,--at Ronsard's wreath that vainly bit,--
Has marred the Poet to preserve the Wit,
Who almost left on Addison a stain,
Whose knife cut cleanest with a poisoned pain,--
Yet Thou (strange Fate that clings to all of Thine!)
When most a Wit dost most a Poet shine.
In Poetry thy Dunciad expires,
When Wit has shot 'her momentary Fires.'
'T is Tragedy that watches by the Bed
'Where tawdry Yellow strove with dirty Red,'
And men, remembering all, can scarce deny
To lay the Laurel where thine Ashes lie!
To Lucian of Samosata.
In what bower, oh Lucian, of your rediscovered Islands Fortunate are you now
reclining; the delight of the fair, the learned, the witty, and the brave? In
that clear and tranquil climate, whose air breathes of 'violet and lily,
myrtle, and the flower of the vine,'
Where the daisies are rose-scented,
And the Rose herself has got
Perfume which on earth is not,
among the music of all birds, and the wind-blown notes of flutes hanging on
the trees, methinks that your laughter sounds most silvery sweet, and that
Helen and fair Charmides are still of your company. Master of mirth, and Soul
the best contented of all that have seen the world's ways clearly, most clear-
sighted of all that have made tranquillity their bride, what other laughers
dwell with you, where the crystal and fragrant waters wander round the shining
palaces and the temples of amethyst?
Heine surely is with you; if, indeed, it was not one Syrian soul that dwelt
among alien men, Germans and Romans, in the bodily tabernacles of Heine and of
Lucian. But he was fallen on evil times and evil tongues; while Lucian, as
witty as he, as bitter in mockery, as happily dowered with the magic of words,
lived long and happily and honoured, imprisoned in no 'mattress-grave.'
Without Rabelais, without Voltaire, without Heine, you would find, methinks,
even the joys of your Happy Islands lacking in zest; and, unless Plato came by
your way, none of the ancients could meet you in the lists of sportive
There, among the vines that bear twelve times in the year, more excellent than
all the vineyards of Touraine, while the song-birds bring you flowers from
vales enchanted, and the shapes of the Blessed come and go, beautiful in
wind-woven raiment of sunset hues; there, in a land that knows not age nor
winter, midnight, nor autumn, nor noon, where the silver twilight of summer-
dawn is perennial, where youth does not wax spectre-pale and die; there, my
Lucian, you are crowned the Prince of the Paradise of Mirth.
Who would bring you, if he had the power, from the banquet where Homer sings:
Homer, who, in mockery of commentators, past and to come, German and Greek,
informed you that he was by birth a Babylonian? Yet, if you, who first wrote
Dialogues of the Dead, could hear the prayer of an epistle wafted to 'lands
indiscoverable in the unheard-of West,' you might visit once more a world so
worthy of such a mocker, so like the world you knew so well of old.
Ah, Lucian, we have need of you, of your sense and of your mockery! Here,
where faith is sick and superstition is waking afresh; where gods come rarely,
and spectres appear at five shillings an interview; where science is popular,
and philosophy cries aloud in the market-place, and clamour does duty for
government, and Thais and Lais are names of power--here, Lucian, is room and
scope for you. Can I not imagine a new 'Auction of Philosophers,' and what
wealth might be made by him who bought these popular sages and lecturers at
his estimate, and vended them at their own?
HERMES: Whom shall we put first up to auction?
ZEUS: That German in spectacles; he seems a highly respectable man.
HERMES: Ho, pessimist, come down and let the public view you.
ZEUS: Go on, put him up and have done with him.
HERMES: Who bids for the Life Miserable, for extreme, complete, perfect,
unredeemable perdition? What offers for the universal extinction of the
species, and the collapse of the Conscious?
A PURCHASER: He does not look at all a bad lot. May one put him through his
HERMES: Certainly; try your luck.
PURCHASER: What is your name?
PURCHASER: What can you teach me?
PESSIMIST: That Life is not worth Living.
PURCHASER: Wonderful! Most edifying! How much for this lot?
HERMES: Two hundred pounds.
PURCHASER: I will write you a cheque for the money. Come home, Pessimist, and
begin your lessons without more ado.
HERMES: Attention! Here is a magnificent article--the Positive Life, the
Scientific Life, the Enthusiastic Life. Who bids for a possible place in the
Calendar of the Future?
PURCHASER: What does he call himself? he has a very French air.
HERMES: Put your own questions.
PURCHASER: What's your pedigree, my Philosopher, and previous performances?
POSITIVIST: I am by Rousseau out of Catholicism, with a strain of the
PURCHASER: What do you believe in?
POSITIVIST : In Man, with a large M.
PURCHASER: Not in individual Man?
POSITIVIST: Bv no means; not even always in Mr. Gladstone. All men, all
Churches, all parties, all philosophies, and even the other sect of our own
Church, are perpetually in the wrong. Buy me, and listen to me, and you will
ahvays be in the right.
PURCHASER: And, after this life, what have you to offer me?
POSITIVIST:: A distinguished position in the Choir Invisible: but not, of
course, conscious immortality.
PURCHASER: Take him away, and put up another lot.
Then the Hegelian, with his Notion, and the Darwinian, with his notions, and
the Lotzian, with his Broad Church mixture of Religion and Evolution, and the
Spencerian, with that Absolute which is a sort of a something, might all be
offered with their divers wares; and cheaply enough, Lucian, you would value
them in this auction of Sects. 'There is but one way to Corinth,' as of old;
but which that way may be, oh master of Hermotimus, we know no more than he
did of old; and still we find, of all philosophies, that the Stoic route is
most to be recommended. But we have our Cyrenaics too, though they are no
longer 'clothed in purple, and crowned with flowers, and fond of drink and of
female flute-players.' Ah, here too, you might laugh, and fail to see where
the Pleasure lies, when the Cyrenaics are no 'judges of cakes' (nor of ale,
for that matter), and are strangers in the Courts of Princes. 'To despise all
things, to make use of all things, in all things to follow pleasure only:'
that is not the manner of the new, if it were the secret of the older
Then, turning from the philosophers to the seekers after a sign, what change,
Lucian, would you find in them and their ways? None; they are quite unaltered.
Still our Perigrinus, and our Perigrina too, come to us from the East, or, if
from the West, they take India on their way--India, that secular home of
drivelling creeds, and of religion in its sacerdotage. Still they prattle of
Brahmins and Buddhism; though, unlike Peregrinus, they do not publicly burn
themselves on pyres, at Epsom Downs, after the Derby. We are not so fortunate
in the demise of our Theosophists; and our police, less wise than the
Hellenodicae, would probably not permit the Immolation of the Quack. Like your
Alexander, they deal in marvels and miracles, oracles and warnings. All such
bogy stories as those of your 'Philopseudes,' and the ghost of the lady who
took to table-rapping because one of her best slippers had not been burned
with her body, are gravely investigated by the Psychical Society.
Even your ignorant Bibliophile is still with us--the man without a tinge of
letters, who buys up old manuscripts 'because they are stained and gnawed, and
who goes, for proof of valued antiquity, to the testimony of the book-worms.'
And the rich Bibliophile now, as in your satire, clothes his volumes in purple
morocco and gay _dorures_, while their contents are sealed to him.
As to the topics of satire and gay curiosity which occupy the lady known as
'Gyp,' and M. Hale'vy in his 'Les Petites Cardinal,' if you had not exhausted
the matter in your 'Dialogues of Hetairai,' you would be amused to find the
same old traits surviving without a touch of change. One reads, in Hale'vy's
French, of Madame Cardinal, and, in your Greek, of the mother of Philinna, and
marvels that eighteen hundred years have not in one single trifle altered the
mould. Still the old shabby light-loves, the old greed, the old luxury and
squalor. Still the unconquerable superstition that now seeks to tell fortunes
by the cards, and, in your time, resorted to the sorceress with her magical
'bull-roarer' or '_turndun_.' (1)
(1)The Greek _rombos_ [transliterated], mentioned by Lucian and Theocritus,
was the magical weapon of the Australians--the _turndun_.
Yes, Lucian, we are the same vain creatures of doubt and dread, of unbelief
and credulity, of avarice and pretence, that you knew, and at whom you smiled.
Nay, our very 'social question' is not altered. Do you not write, in 'The
Runaways,' 'The artisans will abandon their workshops, and leave their trades,
when they see that, with all the labour that bows their bodies from dawn to
dark, they make a petty and starveling pittance, while men that toil not nor
spin are floating in Pactolus'?
They begin to see this again as of yore; but whether the end of their vision
will be a laughing matter, you, fortunate Lucian, do not need to care. Hail to
you, and farewell!
To Maitre Francoys Rabelais.
Of the Coming of the Coqcigrues.
Master,- In the Boreal and Septentrional lands, turned aside from the noonday
and the sun, there dwelt of old (as thou knowest, and as Olaus voucheth) a
race of men, brave, strong, nimble, and adventurous, who had no other care but
to fight and drink. There, by reason of the cold (as Virgil witnesseth), men
break wine with axes. To their minds, when once they were dead and gotten to
Valhalla, or the place of their Gods, there would be no other pleasure but to
swig, tipple, drink, and boose till the coming of that last darkness and
Twilight, wherein they, with their deities, should do battle against the
enemies of all mankind; which day they rather desired than dreaded.
So chanced it also with Pantagruel and Brother John and their company, after
they had once partaken of the secret of the _Dive_Bouteille_. Thereafter they
searched no longer; but, abiding at their ease, were merry, frolic, jolly,
gay, glad, and wise; only that they always and ever did expect the awful
Coming of the Coqcigrues. Now concerning the day of that coming, and the
nature of them that should come, they knew nothing; and for his part Panurge
was all the more adread, as Aristotle testifieth that men (and Panurge above
others) most fear that which they know least. Now it chanced one day, as they
sat at meat, with viands rare, dainty, and precious as ever Apicius dreamed
of, that there fluttered on the air a faint sound as of sermons, speeches,
orations, addresses, discourses, lectures, and the like; whereat Panurge,
pricking up his ears, cried, 'Methinks this wind bloweth from Midlothian,' and
so fell a trembling.
Next, to their aural orifices, and the avenues audient of the brain, was borne
a very melancholy sound as of harmoniums, hymns, organ-pianos, psalteries, and
the like, all playing different airs, in a kind most hateful to the Muses.
Then said Panurge, as well as he might for the chattering of his teeth: 'May I
never drink if here come not the Coqcigrues!' and this saying and prophecy of
his was true and inspired. But thereon the others began to mock, flout, and
gird at Panurge for his cowardice. ' Here am I! ' cried Brother John, '
well-armed and ready to stand a siege; being entrenched, fortified, hemmed-in
and surrounded with great pasties, huge pieces of salted beef, salads,
fricassees, hams, tongues, pies, and a wilderness of pleasant little tarts,
jellies, pastries, trifles, and fruits of all kinds, and I shall not thirst
while I have good wells, founts, springs, and sources of Bordeaux wine,
Burgundy, wine of the Champagne country, sack and Canary. A fig for thy
But even as he spoke there ran up suddenly a whole legion, or rather army, of
physicians, each armed with laryngoscopes, stethoscopes, horoscopes,
microscopes, weighing machines, and such other tools, engines, and arms as
they had who, after thy time, persecuted Monsieur de Pourceaugnac! And they
all, rushing on Brother John, cried out to him, ' Abstain! Abstain!' And one
said, 'I have well diagnosed thee, and thou art in a fair way to have the
gout.' 'I never did better in my days,' said Brother John. 'Away with thy
meats and drinks!' they cried. And one said, 'He must to Royat;' and another,
'Hence with him to Aix ;' and a third, 'Banish him to Wiesbaden;' and a
fourth, 'Hale him to Gastein ;' and yet another, ' To Barbouille with him in
And while others felt his pulse and looked at his tongue, they all wrote
prescriptions for him like men mad. 'For thy eating,' cried he that seemed to
be their leader, 'No soup!' 'No soup!' quoth Brother John; and those cheeks of
his, whereat you might have warmed your two hands in the winter solstice, grew
white as lilies. 'Nay! and no salmon nor any beef nor mutton! A little chicken
by times, but _periculo_tuo_! Nor any game, such as grouse, partridge,
pheasant, capercailzie, wild duck; nor any cheese, nor fruit, nor pastry, nor
coffee, nor eau de vie; and avoid all sweets. No veal, pork, nor made dishes
of any kind.' 'Then what may I eat?' quoth the good Brother, whose valour had
oozed out of the soles of his sandals. 'A little cold bacon at breakfast--no
eggs,' quoth the leader of the strange folk, 'and a slice of toast without
butter.' 'And for thy drink'-- ('What?' gasped Brother John)--'one
dessert-spoonful of whisky, with a pint of the water of Apollinaris at
luncheon and dinner. No more!' At this Brother John fainted, falling like a
great buttress of a hill, such as Taygetus or Erymanthus.
While they were busy with him, others of the frantic folk had built great
platforms of wood, whereon they all stood and spoke at once, both men and
women. And of these some wore red crosses on their garments, which meaneth
'Salvation ;' and others wore white crosses, with a little black button of
crape, to signify 'Purity;' and others bits of blue to mean 'Abstinence.'
While some of these pursued Panurge others did beset Pantagruel; asking him
very long questions, whereunto he gave but short answers. Thus they asked:
Have ye Local Option here?--Pan.: What?
May one man drink if his neighbour be not athirst?-- Pan.: Yea!
Have ye Free Education? -- Pan.: What?
Must they that have, pay to school them that have not?-- Pan.: Nay
Have ye free land?--Pan.: What?
Have ye taken the land from the farmer, and given it to the tailor out of work
and the candlemaker masterless? --Pan.: Nay!
Have your women folk votes?--Pan.: Bosh!
Have ye got religion?-- Pan.: How?
Do you go about the streets at night, brawling, blowing a trumpet before you,
and making long prayers?-- Pan.: Nay
Have you manhood suffrage? -- Pan.: Eh?
Is Jack as good as his master? Pan.: Nay!
Have you joined the Arbitration Society? -- Pan.: _Quoy?_?
Will you let another kick you, and will you ask his neighbour if you deserve
the same?-- Pan.: Nay?
Do you cat what you list?-- Pan.: Ay!
Do you drink when you are athirst? Pan.: Ay!
Are you governed by the free expression of the popular will?-- Pan.: How?
Are you servants of priests, pulpits, and penny papers?--Pan.: No!
Now, when they heard these answers of Pantagruel they all fell, some a
weeping, some a praying, some a swearing, some an arbitrating, some a
lecturing, some a caucussing, some a preaching, some a faith-healing, some a
miracle-working, some a hypnotising, some a writing to the daily press; and
while they were thus busy, like folk distraught, 'reforming the island,'
Pantagruel burst out a laughing; whereat they were greatly dismayed; for
laughter killeth the whole race of Coqcigrues, and they may not endure it.
Then Pantagruel and his company stole aboard a barque that Panurge had ready
in the harbour. And having provisioned her well with store of meat and good
drink, they set sail for the kingdom of Entelechy, where, having landed, they
were kindly entreated; and there abide to this day; drinking of the sweet and
eating of the fat, under the protection of that intellectual sphere which hath
in all places its centre and nowhere its circumference.
Such was their destiny; there was their end appointed, and thither the
Coqcigrues can never come. For all the air of that land is full of laughter,
which killeth Coqcigrues; and there aboundeth the herb Pantagruelion. But for
thee, Master Francoys, thou art not well liked in this island of ours, where
the Coqcigrues are abundant, very fierce, cruel, and tyrannical. Yet thou hast
thy friends, that meet and drink to thee and wish thee well wheresoever thou
hast found thy _grand_peut-e'tre_.
To Jane Austen.
Madame,--If to the enjoyments of your present state be lacking a view of the
minor infirmities or foibles of men, I cannot but think (were the thought
permitted) that your pleasures are yet incomplete. Moreover, it is certain
that a woman of parts who has once meddled with literature will never wholly
lose her love for the discussion of that delicious topic, nor cease to relish
what (in the cant of our new age) is styled 'literary shop.' For these reasons
I attempt to convey to you some inkling of the present state of that agreeable
art which you, madam, raised to its highest pitch of perfection.
As to your own works (immortal, as I believe), I have but little that is
wholly cheering to tell one who, among women of letters, was almost alone in
her freedom from a lettered vanity. You are not a very popular author: your
volumes are not found in gaudy covers on every bookstall; or, if found, are
not perused with avidity by the Emmas and Catherines of our generation. 'Tis
not long since a blow was dealt (in the estimation of the unreasoning) at your
character as an author by the publication of your familiar letters. The editor
of these epistles, unfortunately, did not always take your witticisms, and he
added others which were too unmistakably his own. While the injudicious were
disap-pointed by the absence of your exquisite style and humour, the wiser
sort were the more convinced of your wisdom. In your letters (knowing your
correspondents) you gave but the small personal talk of the hour, for them
sufficient; for your books you reserved matter and expression which are
imperishable. Your admirers, if not very numerous, include all persons of
taste, who, in your favour, are apt somewhat to abate the rule, or shake off
the habit, which commonly confines them to but temperate laudation.
'T is the fault of all art to seem antiquated and faded in the eyes of the
succeeding generation. The manners of your age were not the manners of to-day,
and young gentlemen and ladies who think Scott 'slow,' think Miss Austen
'prim' and 'dreary.' Yet, even could you return among us, I scarcely believe
that, speaking the language of the hour, as you might, and versed in its
habits, you would win the general admiration. For how tame, madam, are your
characters, especially your favourite heroines! how limited the life which you
knew and described! how narrow the range of your incidents! how correct your
As heroines, for example, you chose ladies like Emma, and Elizabeth, and
Catherine: women remarkable neither for the brilliance nor for the degradation
of their birth; women wrapped up in their own and the parish's concerns,
ignorant of evil, as it seems, and unacquainted with vain yearnings and
interesting doubts. Who can engage his fancy with their match-makings and the
conduct of their affections, when so many daring and dazzling heroines
approach and solicit his regard?
Here are princesses dressed in white velvet stamped witla golden fleurs-de-lys
--ladies with hearts of icc and lips of fire, who count their roubles by the
million, their lovers by the score, and even their husbands, very often, in
figures of some arithmetical importance. With these are the immaculate
daughters of itinerant italian musicians, maids whose souls are unsoiled
amidst the contaminations of our streets, and whose acquaintance with the art
of Phidias and Praxiteles, of Daedalus and Scopas, is the more admirable,
because entirely derived from loving study of the inexpensive collections
vended by the plaster-of-Paris man round the corner. When such heroines are
wooed by the nephews of Dukes, where are your Emmas and Elizabeths? Your
volumes neither excite nor satisfy the curiosities provoked by that modern and
scientific fiction, which is greatly admired, I learn, in the United States,
as well as in France and at home.
You erred, it cannot be denied, with your eyes open. Knowing Lydia and Kitty
so intimately as you did, why did you make of them almost insignificant
characters? With Lydia for a heroine you might have gone far; and, had you
devoted three volumes, and the chief of your time, to the passions of Kitty,
you might have held your own, even now, in the circulating library. How Lyddy,
perched on a corner of the roof, first beheld her Wickham; how, on her
challenge, he climbed up by a ladder to her side; how they kissed, caressed,
swung on gates together, met at odd seasons, in strange places, and finally
eloped: all this might have been put in the mouth of a jealous elder sister,
say Elizabeth, and you would not have been less popular than several
favourites of our time. Had you cast the whole narrative into the present
tense, and lingered lovingly over the thickness of Mary's legs and the
softness of Kitty's cheeks, and the blonde fluffiness of Wickham's whiskers,
you would have left a romance still dear to young ladies.
Or again, you might entrance your students still, had you concentrated your
attention on Mrs. Rushworth, who eloped with Henrv Crawford. These should have
been the chief figures of 'Mansfield Park.' But you timidly decline to tackle
Passion. 'Let other pens,' you write, 'dwell on guilt and misery. I quit such
odious subjects as soon as I can.' Ah, _there_ is the secret of your failure!
Need I add that the vulgarity and narrowness of the social circles you
describe impair your popularity? I scarce remember more than one lady of
title, and but very few lords (and these unessential) in all your tales. Now,
when we all wish to be in society, we demand plenty of titles in our novels,
at any rate, and we get lords (and very queer lords) even from Republican
authors, born in a country which in your time was not renowned for its
literature. I have heard a critic remark, with a decided air of fashion, on
the brevity of the notice which your characters give each other when they
offer invitations to dinner. 'An invitation to dinner next day was
despatched,' and this demonstrates that your acquaintance 'went out' very
little, and had but few engagements. How vulgar, too, is one of your heroines,
who bids Mr. Darcy 'keep his breath to cool his porridge.' I blush for
Elizabeth! It were superfluous to add that your characters are debased by
being invariably mere members of the Church of England as by law established.
The Dissenting enthusiast, the open soul that glides from Esoteric Buddhism to
the Salvation Army, and from the Higher Pantheism to the Higher Paganism, we
look for in vain among your studies of character. Nay, the very words I employ
are of unknown sound to you; so how can you help us in the stress of the
You may say that the soul's travailings are no affair of yours; proving
thereby that you have indeed but a lowly conception of the duty of the
novelist. I only remember one reference, in all your works, to that
controversy which occupies the chief of our attention--the great controversy
on Creation or Evolution. Your Jane Bennet cries: 'I have no idea of there
being so much Design in the world as some persons imagine.' Nor do you touch
on our mighty social question, the Land Laws, save when Mrs. Bennet appears as
a Land Reformer, and rails bitterly against the cruelty 'of settling an estate
away from a family of five daughters, in favour of a man whom nobody cared
anything about.' There, madam, in that cruelly unjust performance, what a text
you had for a _Tendenz-Roman_. Nay, you can allow Kitty to report that a
Private had been flogged, without introducing a chapter on Flogging in the
Army. But you formally declined to stretch your matter out, here and there,
'with solemn specious nonsense about something unconnected with the story.' No
'padding' for Miss Austen! In fact, madam, as you were born before Analysis
came in, or Passion, or Realism, or Naturalism, or Irreverence, or Religious
Open-mindedness, you really cannot hope to rival your literary sisters in the
minds of a perplexed generation. Your heroines are not passionate, we do not
see their red wet cheeks, and tresses dishevelled in the manner of our frank
young Maenads. What says your best successor, a lady who adcIs fresh lustre to
a name that in fiction equals yours? She says of Miss Austen: 'Her heroines
have a stamp of their own. They have a _certain_gentle_self-respect_and_
_humour_and_hardness_of_heart_... Love with them does not mean a passion as
much as an interest, deep and silent.' I think one prefers them so, and that
Englishwomen should be more tike Anne Elliot than Maggie Tulliver. 'All the
privilege I claim for my own sex is that of loving longest when existence or
when hope is gone,' said Anne; perhaps she insisted on a monopoly that neither
sex has all to itself. Ah, madam, what a relief it is to come back to your
witty volumes, and forget the follies of to-day in those of Mr. Collins and of
Mrs. Bennet! How fine, nay, how noble is your art in its delicate reserve,
never insisting, never forcing the note, never pushing the sketch into the
caricature! You worked without thinking of it, in the spirit of Greece. on a
labour happily limited, and exquisitely organised. 'Dear books,' we say, with
Miss Thackeray--'dear books, bright, sparkling with wit and animation, in
which the homely heroines charm, the dull hours fly, and the very bores are
To Master Isaak Walton.
Father Isaak,--When I would be quiet and go angling it is my custom to carry
in my wallet thy pretty book, 'The Compleat Angler.' Here, methinks, if I find
not trout I shall find content, and good company, and sweet songs, fair
milkmaids, and country mirth. For you are to know that trout be now scarce,
and whereas he was ever a fearful fish, he hath of late become so wary that
none but the cunningest anglers may be even with him.
It is not as it was in your time, Father, when a man might leave his shop in
Fleet Street, of a holiday, and, when he had stretched his legs up Tottenham
Hill, come lightly to meadows chequered with waterlilies and lady-smocks, and
so fall to his sport. Nay, now have the houses so much increased, like a
spreading sore (through the breaking of that excellent law of the
Conscientious King and blessed Martyr, whereby building beyond the walls was
forbidden), that the meadows are all swallowed up in streets. And as to the
River Lea, wherein you took many a good trout, I read in the news sheets that
'its bed is many inches thick in horrible filth, and the air for more than
half a mile on each side of it is polluted with a horrible, sickening stench,'
so that we stand in dread of a new Plague, called the Cholera. And so it is
all about London for many miles, and if a man, at heavy charges, betake
himself to the fields, lo you, folk are grown so greedy that none will suffer
a stranger to fish in his water.
So poor anglers are in sore straits. Unless a man be rich and can pay great
rents, he may not fish, in England, and hence spring the discontents of the
times, for the angler is full of content, if he do but take trout, but if he
be driven from the waterside, he falls, perchance, into evil company, and
cries out to divide the property of the gentle folk. As many now do, even
among Parliament, men, whom you loved not, Father Isaak, neither do I love
them more than Reason and Scripture bid each of us be kindly to his neighbour.
But, behold, the causes of the ill content are not yet all expressed, for even
where a man hath licence to fish, he will hardly take trout in our age, unless
he be all the more cunning. For the fish, harried this way and that by so many
of your disciples, is exceeding shy and artful, nor will he bite at a fly
unless it falleth lightly, just above his mouth, and floateth dry over him,
for all the world like the natural _ephemeris_. And we may no longer angle
with worm for him, nor with penk or minnow, nor with the natural fly, as was
your manner, but only with the artificial, for the more difficulty the more
diversion. For my part I may cry, like Viator in your book, 'Master, I can
neither catch with the first nor second Angle: I have no fortune.'
So we fare in England, but somewhat better north of the Tweed, where trout are
less wary, but for the most part small, except in the extreme rough north,
among horrid hills and lakes. Thither, Master, as methinks you may remember,
went Richard Franck, that called himself _Philanthropus_, and was, as it were,
the Columbus of anglers, discovering for them a new Hyperborean world. But
Franck, doubtless, is now an angler in the Lake of Darkness, with Nero and
other tyrants, for he followed after Cromwell, the man of blood, in the old
riding days. How wickedly doth Franck boast of that leader of the giddy
multitude, 'when they raged, and became restless to find out misery for
themselves and others, and the rabble would herd themselves together,' as you
said, 'and endeavour to govern and act in spite of authority.' So you wrote;
and what said Franck, that recreant angler? Doth he not praise 'Ireton, Vane,
Nevill, and Martin, and the most renowned, valorous, and victorious conqueror,
Oliver Cromwell.' Natheless, with all his sins on his head, this Franck
discovered Scotland for anglers, and my heart turns to him when he praises
'the glittering and resolute streams of Tweed.'
In those wilds of Assynt and Loch Rannoch, Father, we, thy followers, may yet
take trout, and forget the evils of the times. But, to be done with Franck,
how harshly he speaks of thee and thy book. 'For you may dedicate your opinion
to what scribbling putationer you please; the _Compleat_Angler_ if you will,
who tells you of a tedious fly story, extravagantly collected from antiquated
authors, such as Gesner and Dubravius.' Again, he speaks of 'Isaac Walton,
whose authority to me seems alike authentick, as is the general opinion of the
vulgar prophet,' &c.
Certain I am that Franck, if a better angler than thou, was a worse man, who,
writing his 'Dialogues Piscatorial' or 'Northern Memoirs' five years after the
world welcomed thy 'Compleat Angler,' was jealous of thy favour with the
people, and, may be, hated thee for thy loyalty and sound faith. But, Master,
like a peaceful man avoiding contention, thou didst never answer this
blustering Franck, but wentest quietly about thy quiet Lea, and left him his
roaring Brora and windy Assynt. How could this noisy man know thee--and know
thee he did, having argued with thee in Stafford--and not love Isaak Walton? A
pedant angler, I call him, a plaguy angler, so let him huff away, and turn we
to thee and to thy sweet charm in fishing for men.
How often, studying in thy book, have I hummed to myself that of Horace--
Laudis amore tumes? Sunt certa piacula quae te
Ter pure lecto poterunt recreare libello.
So healing a book for the frenzy of fame is thy discourse on meadows, and pure
streams, and the country life. How peaceful, men say, and blessed must have
been the life of this old man, how lapped in content, and hedged about by his
own humility from the world! They forget, who speak thus, that thy years,
which were many, were also evil, or would have seemed evil to divers that had
tasted of thy fortunes. Thou wert poor, but that, to thee, was no sorrow, for
greed of money was thy detestation. Thou wert of lowly rank, in an age when
gentle blood was alone held in regard; yet tiny virtues made thee hosts of
friends, and chiefly among religious men, bishops, and doctors of the Church.
Thy private life was not unacquainted with sorrow; thy first wife and all her
fair children were taken from thee like flowers in spring, though, in thine
age, new love and new offspring comforted thee like 'the primrose of the later
year.' Thy private griefs might have made thee bitter, or melancholy, so might
the sorrows of the State and of the Church, which were deprived of their heads
by cruel men, despoiled of their wealth, the pious driven, like thee, from
their homes; fear everywhere, everywhere robbery and confusion: all this ruin
might have angered another temper. But thou, Father, didst bear all with so
much sweetness as perhaps neither natural temperament, nor a firm faith, nor
the love of angling could alone have displayed. For we see many anglers (as
witness Richard Franck aforesaid) who are angry men, and myself, when I get my
hooks entangled at every cast in a tree, have come nigh to swear prophane.
Also we see religious men that are sour and fanatical, no rare thing in the
party that professes godliness. But neither private sorrow nor public grief
could abate thy natural kindliness, nor shake a religion which was not
untried, but had, indeed, passed through the furnace like fine gold. For if we
find not Faith at all times easy, because of the oppositions of Science, and
the searching curiosity of men's minds, neither was Faith a matter of course
in thy day. For the learned and pious were greatly tossed about, like worthy
Mr. Chillingworth, by doubts wavering between the Church of Rome and the
Reformed Church of England. The humbler folk, also, were invited, now here,
now there, by the clamours of fanatical Nonconformists, who gave themselves
out to be somebody, while Atheism itself was not without many to witness to
it. Therefore, such a religion as thine was not, so to say, a mere innocence
of evil in the things of our Belief, but a reasonable and grounded faith,
strong in despite of oppositions. Happy was the man in whom temper, and
religion, and the love of the sweet country and an angler's pastime so
conveniently combined; happy the long life which held in its hand that
threefold clue through the labyrinth of human fortunes! Around thee Church and
State might fall in ruins, and might be rebuilded, and thy tears would not be
bitter, nor thy triumph cruel.
Thus, by God's blessing, it befell thee
Nec turpem senectam
Degere, nec cithara carentem.
I would, Father, that I conld get at the verity about thy poems. Those
recommendatory verses with which thou didst grace the Lives of Dr. Donne and
others of thy friends, redound more to the praise of thy kind heart than thy
fancy. But what or whose was the pastoral poem of 'Thealma and Clearchus,'
which thou didst set about printing in 1678, and gavest to the world in 1683?
Thou gavest John Chalkhill for the author's name, and a John Chalkhill of thy
kindred died at Winchester, being eighty years of his age, in 1679. Now thou
speakest of John Chalkhill as 'a friend of Edmund Spenser's,' and how could
Are they right who hold that John Chalkhill was but a name of a friend,
borrowed by thee out of modesty, and used as a cloak to cover poetry of thine
own inditing? When Mr. Flatman writes of Chalkhill, 't is in words well fitted
to thine own merit:
Happy old man, whose worth all mankind knows
Except himself, who charitably shows
The ready road to virtue and to praise,
The road to many long and happy days.
However it be, in that road, by quiet streams and through green pastures, thou
didst walk all thine almost century of years, and we, who stray into thy path
out of the highway of life, we seem to hold thy hand, and listen to thy
cheerful voice. If our sport be worse, may our content be equal, and our
praise, therefore, none the less. Father, if Master Stoddard, the great fisher
of Tweed-side, be with thee, greet him for me, and thank him for those songs
of his, and perchance he will troll thee a catch of our dear River.
Tweed! windin~ and wild! where the heart is unbound,
They know not, they dream not, who linger around,
How the saddened will smile, and the wasted rewin
From thee-- the bliss withercd within.
Or perhaps thou wilt better love,
The lanesome Tala and the Lyne,
And Mahon wi' its mountain rills,
An' Etterick, whose waters twine
Wi' Yarrow frae the forest hills;
An' Gala, too, and Teviot bright,
An' mony a stream o' playfu' speed,
Their kindred valleys a' unite
Amang the braes o' bonnie Tweed!
So, Master, may you sing against each other, you two good old anglers, like
Peter and Corydon, that sang in your golden age.
To M. Chapelain.
Monsieur,--You were a popular writer, and an honourable, over-educated,
upright gentleman. Of the latter character you can never be deprived, and I
doubt not it stands you in better stead where you are, than the laurels which
flourished so gaily, and faded so soon.
Laurel is green for a season, and Love is fair for a day,
But Love grows bitter with treason, and laurel out-lives not May.
I know not if Mr. Swinburne is cor-rect in his botany, but _your_ laurel
certainly outlived not May, nor can we hope that you dwell where Orpheus and
where Homer are. Some other crown, some other Paradise, we cannot doubt it,
awaited _un_si_bon_homme_. But the moral excellence that even Boileau
admitted, _la_foi,_l'honneur,_la probiite',_ do not in Parnassus avail the
popular poet, an4 some luckless Musset or The'ophile, Regnier or Villars
attains a kind of immortality denied to the man of many contemporary editions,
and of a great commercial success.
If ever, for the confusion of Horace, any Poet was Made, you, Sir, should have
been that fortunately manufactured article. You were, in matters of the Muses,
the child of many prayers. Never, since Adam's day, have any parents but yours
prayed for a poet-child. Then Destiny, that mocks the desires of men in
general, and fathers in particular, heard the appeal, and presented M.
Chapelain and Jeanne Corbie're his wife with the future author of 'La
Pucelle.' Oh futile hopes of men, _0_pectora_caeca!_ All was done that
education could do for a genius which, among other qualities, 'especially
lacked fire and imagination,' and an ear for verse--sad defects these in a
child of the Muses. Your training in all the mechanics and metaphysics of
criticism might have made you exclaim, like Rasselas, 'Enough! Thou hast
convinced me that no human being can ever be a Poet.' Unhappily, you succeeded
in convincing Cardinal Richelieu that to be a Poet was well within your
powers, you received a pension of one thousand crowns, and were made Captain
of the Cardinal's minstrels, as M. de Tre'ville was Captain of the King's
Ah, pleasant age to live in, when good intentions in poetry were more richly
endowed than ever is Research, even Research in Prehistoric English, among us
niggard moderns! How I wish I knew a Cardinal, or, even as you did, a Prime
Minister, who would praise and pension me; but Envy be still! Your existence
was more happy indeed; you constructed odes, corrected sonnets, presided at
the Ho'tel Rambouillet, while the learned ladies were still young and fair,
and you enjoyed a prodigious celebrity on the score of your yet unpublished
Epic. 'Who, indeed,' says a sympathetic author, M. The'ophile Gautier, 'who
could expect less than a miracle from a man so deeply learned in the laws of
art--a perfect Turk in the science of poetry, a person so well pensioned, and
so favoured by the great?' Bishops and politicians combined in perfect good
faith to advertise your merits. Hard must have been the heart that could
resist the testimonials of your skill as a poet offered by the Duc de
Montausier, and the learned Huet, Bishop of Avranches, and Monseigneur Godeau,
Bishop of Vence, or M. Colbert, who had such a genius for finance.
If bishops and politicians and prime ministers skilled in finance, and some
critics, Me'nage and Sarrazin and Vaugetas, if ladies of birth and taste, if
all the world in fact, combined to tell you that you were a great poet, how
can we blame you for taking yourself seriously, and appraising yourself at the
It was not in human nature to resist the evidence of the bishops especially,
and when every minor poet believes in himself on the testimony of his own
conceit, you may be acquitted of vanity if you listened to the plaudits of
your friends. Nay, you ventured to pronounce judgment on contemporaries whom
Posterity has preferred to your perfections. 'Molie're,' said you,
'understands the nature of comedy, and presents it in a natural style. The
plot of his best pieces is borrowed, but not without judgment; his _morale_ is
fair, and he has only to avoid scurrility.'
Excellent, unconscious, popular Chapelain!
Of yourself you observed, in a Report on contemporary literature, that your
'courage and sincerity never allowed you to tolerate work not absolutely
good.' And yet you regarded 'La Pucelle' with some complacency.
On the 'Pucelle' you were occupied during a generation of mortal men. I marvel
not at the length of your labours, as you received a yearly pension till the
Epic was finished, but your Muse was no Alcmena, and no Hercules was the
result of that prolonged night of creations. First you gravely wrote out (it
was the task of five years) all the compositions in prose. Ah, why did you not
leave it in that commonplace but appropriate medium? What says the Pre'cieuse
about you in Boileau's satire?
In Chapelain, for all his foes have said,
She finds but one defect, he can't be read;
Yet thinks the world might taste his maiden's woes,
If only he would turn his verse to prose!
The verse had been prose, and prose, perhaps, it should have remained. Yet for
this precious 'Pucelle,' in the age when 'Paradise Lost' was sold for five
pounds, you are believed to have received about four thousand. Horace was
wrong, mediocre poets may exist (now and then), and he was a wise man who
first spoke of _aurea_mediocritas_. At length the great work was achieved, a
work thrice blessed in its theme, that divine Maiden to whom France owes all,
and whom you and Voltaire have recompensed so strangely. In folio, in italics,
with a score of portraits and engravings, and _culs_de_lampe_, the great work
was given to the world, and had a success. Six editions in eighteen months are
figures which fill the poetic heart with envy and admiration. And then, alas!
the bubble burst. A great lady, Madame de Longveille, hearing the 'Pucelle'
read aloud, murmured that it was 'perfect indeed, but perfectly wearisome.'
Then the satires began, and the satirists never left you till your poetic
reputation was a rag, till the mildest Abbe' at Me'nage's had his cheap sneer
I make no doubt, Sir, that envy and jealousy had much to do with the onslaught
on your 'Pucelle.' These qualities, alas! are not strange to literary minds;
does not even Hesiod tell us 'potter hates potter, and poet hates poet'? But
contemporary spites do not harm true genius. Who suffered more than Molie're
from cabals? Yet neither the court nor the town ever deserted him, and he is
still the joy of the world. I admit that his adversaries were weaker than
yours. What were Boursault and Le Boulanger, and Thomas Corneille and De
Vise', what were they all compared to your enemy, Boileau? Brossette tells a
story which really makes a man pity you. There was a M. de Puimorin who, to be
in the fashion, laughed at your once popular Epic. 'It is all very well for a
man to laugh who cannot even read.' Whereon m. de Puimorin replied: 'Qu'il
n'avoit que trop su' lire, depuis que Chapelain s'e'toit avise' de faire
imprimer.' A new horror had been added to the accomplishment of reading since
Chapelain had published. This repartee was applauded, and M. de Puimorin tried
to turn it into an epigram. He did complete the last couplet,
He'las! pour mes pe'che's, je n'ai su' que trop lire
Depuis que tu fais imprimer.
But by no labour would M. de Puimorin achieve the first two lines of his
epigram. Then you remember what great allies came to his assistance. I almost
blush to think that M. Despre'aux, M. Racine, and M. de Molie're, the three
most renowned wits of the time, conspired to complete the poor jest, and
madden you. Well, bubble as your poetry was, you may be proud that it needed
all these sharpest of pens to prick the bubble. Other poets, as popular as
you, have been annihilated by an article. Macaulay puts forth his hand, and
'Satan Montgomery' was no more. It did not need a Macaulay, the laughter of a
mob of little critics was enough to blow into space; but you probably have met
Montgomery, and of contemporary failures or successes I do not speak.
I wonder, sometimes, whether the consensus of criticism ever made you doubt
for a moment whether, after all, you were not a false child of Apollo? Was
your complacency tortured, as the complacency of true poets has occasionally
been, by doubts? Did you expect posterity to reverse the verdict of the
satirists, and to do you justice? You answered your earliest assailant,
Linie're, and, by a few changes of words, turned his epigrams into flattery.
But I fancy, on the whole, you remained calm, unmoved, wrapped up in
admiration of yourself. According to M. de Marivaux, who reviewed, as I am
doing, the spirits of the mighty dead, you 'conceived, on the strength of your
reputation, a great and serious veneration for yourself and your genius.'
Probably you were protected by this invulnerable armour of an honest vanity,
probably you declared that mere jealousy dictates the lines of Boileau, and
that Chapelain's real fault was his popularity, and his pecuniary success,
Qu'il soit le mieux rente' de tous les beaux-esprits.
This, you would avow, was your offence, and perhaps you were not altogether
mistaken. Yet posterity declines to read a line of yours, and, as we think of
you, we are again set face to face with that eternal problem, how far is
popularity a test of poetry? Burns was a poet, and popular. Byron was a
popular poet, and the world agrees in the verdict of their own generation. But
Montgomery, though he sold so well, was no poet, nor, Sir, I fear, was your
verse made of the stuff of immortality. Criticism cannot hurt what is truly
great; the Cardinal and the Academy left Chime'ne as fair as ever, and as
adorable. It is only pinchbeck that perishes under the acids of satire: gold
defies them. Yet I sometimes ask myself, does the existence of popularity like
yours justify the malignity of satire, which blesses neither him who gives,
nor him who takes? Are poisoned arrows fair against a bad poet? I doubt it,
Sir, holding that, even unprickcd, a poetic bubble must soon burst by its own
nature. Yet satire will assuredly be written so long as bad poets are
successful, and bad poets will assuredly reflect that their assailants are
merely envious, and, while their vogue lasts, that Prime Ministers and the
purchasing public are the only judges.
Votre tre's humble serviteur,
To Sir John Manndeville, Kt.
(Of the Ways Into Ynde.)
Sir John,--wit you well that men holden you but light, and some clepen you a
Liar. And they say that you never were born in Englond, in the town of Seynt
Albones, nor have seen and gone through manye diverse Londes. And there goeth
an old knight at arms, and one that connes Latyn, and hath been beyond the
sea, and hath seen Prester John's country. And he hath been in an Yle that men
clepen Burmah, and there bin women bearded. Now men call him Colonel Henry
Yule, and he hath writ of thee in his great booke, Sir John, and he holds thee
but lightly. For he saith that ye did pill your tales out of Odoric his book,
and that ye never saw snails with shells as big as houses, nor never met no
Devyls, but part of that ye say, ye took it out of William of Boldensele his
book, yet ye took not his wisdom, withal, but put in thine own foolishness.
Nevertheless, Sir John, for the frailty of Mankynde, ye are held a good
fellow, and a merry; so now, come, I shall tell you of the new ways into Ynde.
In that Lond they have a Queen that governeth all the Lond, and all they ben
obeyssant to her. And she is the Queen of Englond; for Englishmen have taken
all the Lond of Ynde. For they were right good werryoures of old, and wyse,
noble, and worthy. But of late hath risen a new sort of Englishman very puny
and fearful, and these men clepen Radicals. And they go ever in fear, and they
scream on high for dread in the streets and the houses, and they fain would
flee away from all that their fathers gat them with the sword. And this sort
men call Scuttleres, but the mean folk and certain of the womenkind hear them
gladly, and they say ever that Englishmen should flee out of Ynde. Fro England
men gon to Ynde by many dyverse Contreyes. For Englishmen ben very stirring
and nymble. For they ben in the seventh climate, that is of the Moon. And the
Moon (ye have said it yourself, Sir John, natheless, is it true) is of lightly
moving, for to go diverse ways, and see strange things, and other diversities
of the Worlde. Wherefore Englishmen be lightly moving, and far wandering. And
they gon to Ynde by the great Sea Ocean. First come they to Gibraltar, that
was the point of Spain, and builded upon a rock; and there ben apes, and it is
so strong that no man may take it. Natheless did Englishmen take it fro the
Spanyard, and all to hold the way to Ynde. For ye may sail all about Africa,
and past the Cape men clepen of Good Hope, but that way unto Ynde is long and
the sea is weary. Wherefore men rather go by the Midland sea, and Englishmen
have taken many Yles in that sea.
For first they have taken an Yle that is clept Malta; and therein built they
great castles, to hold it against them of Fraunce, and Italy, and of Spain.
And from this Ile of Malta Men gon to Cipre. And Cipre is right a good Yle,
and a fair, and a great, and it hath 4 principal Cytees within him. And at
Famagost is one of the principal Havens of the sea that is in the world, and
Englishmen have but a lytel while gone won that Yle from the Sarazynes. Yet
say that sort of Englishmen where of I told you, that is puny and sore adread,
that the Lond is poisonous and barren and of no avail, for that Lond is much
more hotter than it is here. Yet the Englishmen that ben werryoures dwell
there in tents, and the skill is that they may ben the more fresh.
From Cypre, Men gon to the Lond of Egypte, and in a Day and a Night he that
hath a good wind may come to the Haven of Alessandrie. Now the Lond of Egypt
longeth to the Soudan, yet the Soudan longeth not to the Lond of Egypt. And
when I say this, I do jape with words, and may hap ye understond me not. Now
Englishmen went in shippes to Alessandrie, and brent it, and over ran the
Lond, and their soudyours warred agen the Bedoynes, and all to hold the way to
Ynde. For it is not long past since Frenchmen let dig a dyke, through the
narrow spit of lond, from the Midland sea to the Red sea, wherein was Pharaoh
drowned. So this is the shortest way to Ynde there may be, to sail through
that dyke, if men gon by sea.
But all the Lond of Egypt is clepen the Vale enchaunted; for no man may do his
business well that goes thither, but always fares he evil, and therefore
clepen they Egypt the Vale perilous, and the sepulchre of reputations. And men
say there that is one of the entrees of Helle. In that Vale is plentiful lack
of Gold and Silver, for many misbelieving men, and many Christian men also,
have gone often time for to take of the Thresoure that there was of old, and
have pilled the Thresoure, wherefore there is none left. And Englishmen have
let carry thither great store of our Thresoure, 9,000,000 of Pounds sterling,
and whether they will see it agen I misdoubt me. For that Vale is alle fulle
of Develes and Fiendes that men clepen Bondholderes, for that Egypt from of
olde is the Lond of Bondage. And whatsoever Thresoure cometh into the Lond,
these Devyls of Bondholders grabben the same. Natheless by that Vale do
Englishmen go unto Ynde, and they gon by Aden, even to Kurrachee, at the mouth
of the Flood of Ynde. Thereby they send their souldyours, when they are adread
of them of Muscovy.
For, look you, there is another way into Ynde, and thereby the men of Muscovy
are fain to come, if the Englishmen let them not. That way cometh by Desert
and Wildernesse, from the sea that is clept Caspian, even to Khiva, and so to
Merv; and then come ye to Zulfikar and Penjdeh, and anon to Herat, that is
called the Key of the Gates of Ynde. Then ye win the lond of the Emir of the
Afghauns, a great prince and a rich, and he hath in his Thresoure more
crosses, and stars, and coats that captains wearen, than any other man on
For all they of Muscovy, and all Englishmen maken him gifts, and he keepeth
the gifts, and he keepeth his own counsel. For his lond lieth between Ynde and
the folk of Muscovy, wherefore both Englishmen and men of Muscovy would fain
have him friendly, yea, and independent. Wherefore they of both parties give
him clocks, and watches, and stars, and crosses, and culverins, and now and
again they let cut the throats of his men some deal, and pill his country.
Thereby they both set up their rest that the Emir will be independent, yea,
and friendly. But his men love him not, neither love they the English nor the
Muscovy folk, for they are worshippers of Mahound, and endure not Christian
men. And they love not them that cut their throats, and burn their country.
Now they of Muscovy ben Devyls, und they ben subtle for to make a thing seme
otherwise than it is, for to deceive mankind. Wherefore Englishmen putten no
trust in them of Muscovy, save only the Englishmen ciept Radicals, for they
make as if they loved these Develes, out of the fear and dread of war wherein
they go, and would be slaves sooner than fight. But the folk of Ynde know not
what shall befall, nor whether they of Muscovy will take the Lond, or
Englishmen shall keep it, so that their hearts may not enduren for drede. And
methinks that soon shall Englishmen and Muscovy folk put their bodies in
adventure, and war one with another, and all for the way to Ynde.
But St. George for Englond, I say, and so enough; and may the Seyntes hele
thee, Sir John, of thy Gowtes Artetykes, that thee tormenten. But to thy Boke
I list not to give no credence.
To Alexandre Dumas.
Sir,--There are moments when the wheels of life, even of such a life as yours,
run slow, and when mistrust and doubt overshadow even the most intrepid
disposition. In such a moment, towards the ending of your days, you said to
your son, M. Alexandre Dumas, 'I seem to see myself set on a pedestal which
trembles as if it were founded on the sands.' These sands, your uncounted
volumes, are all of gold, and make a foundation more solid than the rock. As
well might the singer of Odysseus, or the authors of the 'Arabian Nights', or
the first inventors of the stories of Boccaccio, believe that their works were
perishable (their names, indeed, have perished), as the creator of 'Les Trois
Mousquetaires' alarm himself with the thought that the world could ever forget
Than yours there has been no greater nor more kindly and beneficent force in
modern letters. To Scott, indeed, you owed the first impulse of your genius;
but, once set in motion, what miracles could it not accomplish? Our dear
Porthos was overcome, at last, by a superhuman burden; but your imaginative
strength never found a task too great for it. What an extraordinary vigour,
what health, what an overflow of force was yours! It is good, in a day of
small and laborious ingenuities, to breathe the free air of your books, and
dwell in the company of Dumas's men --so gallant, so frank, so indomitable,
such swordsmen, and such trenchermen. Like M. de Rochefort in 'Vingt Ans
Apre's,' like that prisoner of the Bastille, your genius 'n'est que d'un
parti, c'est du parti du grand air.'
There seems to radiate from you a still persistent energy and enjoyment; in
that current of strength not only your ~characters live, frolic, kindly, and
sane, but even your very collaborators were animated by the virtue which went
out of you. How else can we explain it, the dreary charge which feeble and
envious tongues have brought against you, in England and at home? They say you
employed in your novels and dramas that vicarious aid which, in the slang of
the studio, the 'sculptor's ghost' is fabled to afford.
Well, let it be so; these ghosts, when uninspired by you, were faint and
impotent as 'the strengthless tribes of the dead' in Homer's Hades, before
Odysseus had poured forth the blood that gave them a momentary valour. It was
from you and your inexhaustible vitality that these collaborating spectres
drew what life they possessed; and when they parted from you they shuddered
back into their nothingness. Where are the plays, where the romances which
Maquet and the rest wrote in their own strength? They are forgotten with last
year's snows; they have passed into the wide waste-paper basket of the world.
You say of D'Artagnan, when severed from his three friends--from Porthos,
Athos, and Aramis--'he felt that he could do nothing, save on the condition
that each of these companions yielded to him, if one may so speak, a share of
that electric fluid which was his gift from heaven.'
No man of letters ever had so great a measure of that gift as you; none gave
of it more freely to all who came--to the chance associate of the hour, as to
the characters, all so burly and full-blooded, who flocked from your brain.
Thus it was that you failed when you approached the supernatural. Your ghosts
had too much flesh and blood, more than the living persons of feebler fancies.
A writer so fertile, so rapid, so masterly in the ease with which he worked,
could not escape the reproaches of barren envy. Because you overflowed with
wit, you could not be 'serious;' Because you created with a word, you were
said to scamp your work; because you were never dull, never pedantic,
incapable of greed, you were to be censured as desultory, inaccurate, and
A generation suffering from mental and physical anaemia--a generation devoted
to the 'chiselled phrase,' to accumulated 'documents,' to microscopic porings
over human baseness, to minute and disgustful records of what in humanity is
least human--may readily bring these unregarded and railing accusations. Like
one of the great and good-humoured Giants of Rabelais, you may hear the
murmurs from afar, and smile with disdain. To you, who can amuse the world--to
you who offer it the fresh air of the highway, the battle-field, and the sea--
the world must always return, escaping gladly from the boudoirs and the
_bouges_, from the surgeries and hospitals, and dead rooms, of M. Daudet and
M. Zola and of the wearisome De Goncourt.
With all your frankness, and with that queer morality of the Camp which, if it
swallows a camel now and again, never strains at a gnat, how healthy and
wholesome, and even pure, are your romances! You never gloat over sin, nor
dabble with an ugly curiosity in the corruptions of sense. The passions in
your tales are honourable and brave, the motives are clearly human. Honour,
Love, Friendship make the threefold cord, the clue your knights and dames
follow through how delightful a labyrinth of adventures! Your greatest books,
I take the liberty to maintain, are the Cycle of the Valois ('La Reine Margot,
'La Dame de Montsoreau,' 'Les Quarante-cinq'), and the Cycle of Louis Treize
and Louis Quatorze ('Les Trois Mousquetaires,' 'Vingt Ans Apre's,' 'Le Vicomte
de Bragelonne'); and, beside these two trilogies--a lonely monument, like the
sphinx hard by the three pyramids--'Monte Cristo.'
In these romances how easy it would have been for you to burn incense to that
great goddess, Lubricity, whom our critic says your people worship. You had
Branto'me, you had Tallemant, you had Re'tif, and a dozen others, to furnish
materials for scenes of voluptuousness and of blood that would have outdone
even the present _naturalistes_. From these alcoves of 'Les Dames Galantes,'
and from the torture chambers (M. Zola would not have spared us one starting
sinew of brave La Mole on the rack) you turned, as Scott would have turned,
without a thought of their profitable literary uses. You had other metal to
work on: you gave us that superstitious and tragical true love of La Mole's,
that devotion--how tender and how pure!--of Bussy for the Dame de Montsoreau.
You gave us the valour of D'Artagnan, the strength of Porthos, the melancholy
nobility of Athos: Honour, Chivalry, and Friendship. I declare your characters
are real people to me and old friends. I cannot bear to read the end of
'Bragelonne,' and to part with them for ever. 'Suppose Perthos, Athos, and
Aramis should enter with a noiseless swagger, curling their moustaches.' How
we would welcome them, forgiving D'Artagnan even his hateful _fourberie_ in
the case of Milady. The brilliance of your dialogue has never been approached:
there is wit everywhere; repartees glitter and ring like the flash and clink
of small-swords. Then what duels are yours! and what inimitable battle-pieces!
I know four good fights of one against a multitude, in literature. These are
the Death of Gretir the Strong, the Death of Gunnar of Lithend, the Death of
Hereward the Wake, the Death of Bussy d'Amboise. We can compare the strokes of
the heroic fighting-times with those described in later days; and, upon my
word, I do not know that the short sword of Gretir, or the bill of Skarphedin,
or the bow of Gunnar was better wielded than the rapier of your Bussy or the
sword and shield of Kingsley's Hereward.
They say your fencing is unhistorical; no doubt it is so, and you knew it. La
Mole could not have lunged on Coconnas 'after deceiving circle;' for the parry
was not invented except by your immortal Chicot, a genius in advance of his
time. Even so Hamlet and Laertes would have fought with shields and axes, not
with small swords. But what matters this pedantry? In your works we hear the
Homeric Muse again,, rejoicing in the clash of steel; and even, at times, your
very phrases are unconsciously Homeric.
Look at these men of murder, on the Eve of St. Bartholomew, who flee in terror
from the Queen's chamber, and 'find the door too narrow for their flight:' the
very words were anticipated in a line of the 'Odyssey' concerning the massacre
of the Wooers. And the picture of Catherine de Medicis, prowling 'like a wolf
among the bodies and the blood,' in a passage of the Louvre--the picture is
taken unwittingly from the 'Iliad.' There was in you that reserve of primitive
force, that epic grandeur and simplicity of diction. This is the force that
animates 'Monte Cristo,' the earlier chapters, the prison, and the escape. In
later volumes of that romance, methinks, you stoop your wing. Of your dramas I
have little room, and less skill, to speak. 'Antony,' they tell me, was 'the
greatest literary event of its time,' was a restoration of the stage. 'While
Victor Hugo needs the cast-off clothes of history, the wardrobe and costume,
the sepulchre of Charlemagne, the ghost of Barbarossa, the coffins of Lucretia
Borgia, Alexandre Dumas requires no more than a room in an inn, where people
meet in riding cloaks, to move the soul with the last degree of terror and of
The reproach of being amusing has somewhat dimmed your fame--for a moment. The
shadow of this tyranny will soon be overpast; and when ' La Cure'e' and
'Pot-Bouille' are more forgotten than 'Le Grand Cyrus,' men and women--and,
above all, boys--will laugh and weep over the page of Alexandre Dumas. Like
Scott himself, you take us captive in our childhood. I remember a very idle
little boy who was busy with the 'Three Musketeers' when he should have been
occupied with 'Wilkins's Latin Prose.' 'Twenty years after' (alas and more) he
is still constant to that gallant company; and, at this very moment, is
breathlessly wondering whether Grimand will steal M. de Beaufort out of the
'Sweet, methinks, is the whispering sound of yonder pine-tree,' so,
Theocritus, with that sweet word _ade_*, didst thou begin and strike the
keynote of thy songs. 'Sweet,' and didst thou find aught of sweet, when thou,
like thy Daphnis, didst 'go down the stream, when the whirling wave closed
over the man the Muses loved, the man not hated of the Nymphs?' Perchance
below those waters of death thou didst find, like thine own Hylas, the lovely
Nereids waiting thee, Eunice, and Malis, and Nycheia with her April eyes. In
the House of Hades, Theocritus, doth there dwell aught that is fair, and can
the low light on the fields of asphodel make thee forget thy Sicily? Nay,
methinks thou hast not forgotten, and perchance for poets dead there is
prepared a place more beautiful than their dreams. It was well for the later
minstrels of another day, it was well for Ronsard and Du Bellay to desire a
dim Elysium of their own, where the sunlight comes faintly through the shadow
of the earth, where the poplars are duskier, and the waters more pale than in
the meadows of Anjou.
There, in that restful twilight, far remote from war and plot, from sword and
fire, and from religions that sharpened the steel and lit the torch, there
these learned singers would fain have wandered with their learned ladies,
satiated with life and in love with an unearthly quiet. But to thee,
Theocritus, no twilight of the Hollow Land was dear, but the high suns of
Sicily and the brown cheeks of the country maidens were happiness enough. For
thee, therefore, methinks, surely is reserved an Elysium beneath the summer of
a far-off system, with stars not ours and alien seasons. There, as Bion
Back to Full Books