Little Journeys to the Homes of the Great, Vol. 1 of 14
Part 3 out of 4
aliment and dew; so these buds become blossoms, fruits, tall branches and
stately trees that cast refreshing shadows.
There are men who are to other men as the shadow of a mighty rock in a
weary land--such is Walt Whitman.
Man is neither master of his life nor of his fate. He can but
offer to his fellowmen his efforts to diminish human suffering;
he can but offer to God his indomitable faith in the growth of
[Illustration: VICTOR HUGO]
The father of Victor Hugo was a general in the army of
Napoleon, his mother a woman of rare grace and brave good sense. Victor
was the third of three sons. Six weeks before the birth of her youngest
boy, the mother wrote to a very dear friend of her husband, this letter:
"To General Victor Lahorie,
"Soon to become the mother of a third child, it would be very
agreeable to me if you would act as its godfather. Its name shall
be yours--one which you have not belied and one which you have so
well honored: Victor or Victorine. Your consent will be a
testimonial of your friendship for us.
"Please accept, Citizen-General, the assurance of our sincere
Victorine was expected, Victor came. General Lahorie acted as sponsor for
A soldier's family lives here or there, everywhere or anywhere. In
Eighteen Hundred Eight, General Hugo was with Joseph Bonaparte in Spain.
Victor was then six years old. His mother had taken as a residence a
quaint house in the Impasse of the Feullantines, Paris.
It was one of those peculiar old places occasionally seen in France. The
environs of London have a few; America none of which I know. This house,
roomy, comfortable and antiquated, was surrounded with trees and a tangle
of shrubbery, vines and flowers; above it all was a high stone wall, and
in front a picket iron gate. It was a mosaic--a sample of the Sixteenth
Century inlaid in this; solitary as the woods; quiet as a convent; sacred
as a forest; a place for dreams, and reverie, and rest. At the back of
the house was a dilapidated little chapel. Here an aged priest counted
his beads, said daily mass, and endeavored to keep moth, rust and ruin
from the house of prayer. This priest was a scholar, a man of learning:
he taught the children of Madame Hugo.
Another man lived in this chapel. He never went outside the gate and used
to take exercise at night. He had a cot-bed in the shelter of the altar;
beneath his pillow were a pair of pistols and a copy of Tacitus. This man
lived there Summer and Winter, although there was no warmth save the
scanty sunshine that stole in through the shattered windows. He, too,
taught the children and gave them little lectures on history. He loved
the youngest boy and would carry him on his shoulder and tell him stories
of deeds of valor.
One day a file of soldiers came. They took this man and manacled him. The
mother sought to keep her children inside the house so that they should
not witness the scene, but she did not succeed. The boys fought their
mother and the servants in a mad frenzy trying to rescue the old man.
The soldiers formed in columns of four and marched their prisoner away.
Not long after, Madame Hugo was passing the church of Saint Jacques du
Haut Pas: her youngest boy's hand was in hers. She saw a large placard
posted in front of the church. She paused and pointing to it said,
"Victor, read that!" The boy read. It was a notice that General Lahorie
had been shot that day on the plains of Grenville by order of a court
General Lahorie was a gentleman of Brittany. He was a Republican, and
five years before had grievously offended the Emperor. A charge of
conspiracy being proved against him, a price was placed upon his head,
and he found a temporary refuge with the mother of his godson.
That tragic incident of the arrest, and the placard announcing General
Lahorie's death, burned deep into the soul of the manling, and who shall
say to what extent it colored his future life?
When Napoleon met his downfall, it was also a Waterloo for General Hugo.
His property was confiscated, and penury took the place of plenty.
When Victor was nineteen, his mother having died, the family life was
broken up. In "Les Miserables" the early struggles of Marius are
described; and this, the author has told us, may be considered
autobiography. He has related how the young man lived in a garret; how he
would sweep this barren room; how he would buy a pennyworth of cheese,
waiting until dusk to get a loaf of bread, and slink home as furtively as
if he had stolen it; how carrying his book under his arm he would enter
the butcher's shop, and after being elbowed by jeering servants till he
felt the cold sweat standing out on his forehead, he would take off his
hat to the astonished butcher and ask for a single mutton-chop. This he
would carry to his garret, and cooking it himself it would be made to
last for three days.
In this way he managed to live on less than two hundred dollars a year,
derived from the proceeds of poems, pamphlets and essays. At this time he
was already an "Academy Laureate," having received honorable mention for
a poem submitted in a competition.
In his twentieth year, fortune came to him in triple form: he brought out
a book of poems that netted him seven hundred francs; soon after the
publication of this book, Louis the Eighteenth, who knew the value of
having friends who were ready writers, bestowed on him a pension of one
thousand francs a year; then these two pieces of good fortune made
possible a third--his marriage.
Early marriages are like late ones: they may be wise and they may not.
Victor Hugo's marriage with Adele Foucher was a most happy event.
A man with a mind as independent as Victor Hugo's is sure to make
enemies. The "Classics" were positive that he was defiling the well of
Classic French, and they sought to write him down. But by writing a man
up you can not write him down; the only thing that can smother a literary
aspirant is silence.
Victor Hugo coined the word when he could not find it, transposed
phrases, inverted sentences, and never called a spade an agricultural
implement. Not content with this, he put the spade on exhibition and this
often at unnecessary times, and occasionally prefaced the word with an
adjective. Had he been let alone he would not have done this.
The censors told him he must not use the name of Deity, nor should he
refer so often to kings. At once, he doubled his Topseys and put on his
stage three Uncle Toms when one might have answered. Like Shakespeare, he
used idioms and slang with profusion--anything to express the idea. Will
this convey the thought? If so, it was written down, and, once written,
Beelzebub and all his hosts could not make him change it. But in the
interest of truth let me note one exception:
"I do not like that word," said Mademoiselle Mars to Victor Hugo at a
rehearsal of "Hernani"; "can I not change it?"
"I wrote it so and it must stand," was the answer.
Mademoiselle Mars used another expression instead of the author's, and he
promptly asked her to resign her part. She wept, and upon agreeing to
adhere to the text was reinstated in favor.
Rehearsal after rehearsal occurred, and the words were repeated as
written. The night of the performance came. Superb was the stage-setting,
splendid the audience. The play went forward amid loud applause. The
scene was reached where came the objectionable word. Did Mademoiselle
Mars use it? Of course not; she used the word she chose--she was a woman.
Fifty-three times she played the part, and not once did she use the
author's pet phrase; and he was wise enough not to note the fact. The
moral of this is that not even a strong man can cope with a small woman
who weeps at the right time.
The censorship forbade the placing of "Marion Delorme" on the stage until
a certain historical episode in it had been changed. Would the author be
so kind as to change it? Not he.
"Then it shall not be played," said M. de Martignac.
The author hastened to interview the minister in person. He got a North
Pole reception. In fact, M. de Martignac said that it was his busy day,
and that playwriting was foolish business anyway; but if a man were bound
to write, he should write to amuse, not to instruct. And young Hugo was
When he found himself well outside the door he was furious. He would see
the King himself. And he did see the King. His Majesty was gracious and
very patient. He listened to the young author's plea, talked book-lore,
recited poetry, showed that he knew Hugo's verses, asked after the
author's wife, then the baby, and--said that the play could not go on.
Hugo turned to go. Charles the Tenth called him back, and said that he
was glad the author had called--in fact, he was about to send for him.
His pension thereafter should be six thousand francs a year.
Victor Hugo declined to receive it. Of course, the papers were full of
the subject. All cafedom took sides: Paris had a topic for gesticulation,
and Paris improved the opportunity.
Conservatism having stopped this play, there was only one thing to do:
write another; for a play of Victor Hugo's must be put upon the stage.
All his friends said so; his honor was at stake.
In three weeks another play was ready. The censors read it and gave their
report. They said that "Hernani" was whimsical in conception, defective
in execution, a tissue of extravagances, generally trivial and often
coarse. But they advised that it be put upon the stage, just to show the
public to what extent of folly an author could go. In order to preserve
the dignity of their office, they drew up a list of six places where the
text should be changed.
Both sides were afraid, so each was willing to give in a point. The text
was changed, and the important day for the presentation was drawing nigh.
The Romanticists were, of course, anxious that the play should be a great
success; the Classics were quite willing that it should be otherwise; in
fact, they had bought up the claque and were making arrangements to hiss
it down. But the author's friends were numerous; they were young and
lusty; they held meetings behind locked doors, and swore terrible oaths
that the play should go.
On the day of the initial performance, five hours before the curtain
rose, they were on hand, having taken the best seats in the house. They
also took the worst, wherever a hisser might hide. These advocates of
liberal art wore coats of green or red or blue, costumes like
bullfighters, trousers and hats to match or not to match--anything to
defy tradition. All during the performance there was an uproar. Theophile
Gautier has described the event in most entertaining style, and in
"L'Historie de Romanticisme" the record of it is found in detail.
Several American writers have touched upon this particular theme, and all
who have seen fit to write of it seem to have stood under umbrellas when
God rained humor. One writer calls it "the outburst of a tremendous
revolution in literature." He speaks of "smoldering flames," "the hordes
that furiously fought entrenched behind prestige, age, caste, wealth and
tradition," "suppression and extermination of heresy," "those who sought
to stop the onward march of civilization," etc. Let us be sensible. A
"cane-rush" is not a revolution, and "Bloody Monday" at Harvard is not "a
decisive battle in the onward and upward march."
If "Hernani" had been hissed down, Victor Hugo would have lived just as
long and might have written better.
Civilization is not held in place by noisy youths in flaming waistcoats;
and even if every cabbage had hit its mark, and every egg bespattered its
target, the morning stars would still sing together.
"The Hunchback of Notre Dame" was next turned out--written in five
months--and was a great success. Publishers besieged the author for
another story, but he preferred poetry. It was thirty years before his
next novel, "Les Miserables," appeared. But all the time he wrote--plays,
verses, essays, pamphlets. Everything that he penned was widely read.
Amid storms of opposition and cries of bravo, continually making friends,
he moved steadily forward.
Men like Victor Hugo can be killed or they may be banished, but they can
not be bought; neither can they be intimidated into silence. He resigned
his pension and boldly expressed himself in his own way.
He knew history by heart and toyed with it; politics was his delight. But
it is a mistake to call him a statesman. He was bold to rashness,
impulsive, impatient and vehement. Because a man is great is no reason
why he should be proclaimed perfect. Such men as Victor Hugo need no
veneer--the truth will answer: he would explode a keg of powder to kill a
fly. He was an agitator. But these zealous souls are needed--not to
govern or to be blindly followed, but rather to make other men think for
themselves. Yet to do this in a monarchy is not safe.
The years passed, and the time came for either Hugo or Royalty to go;
France was not large enough for both. It proved to be Hugo; a bounty of
twenty-five thousand francs was offered for his body, dead or alive.
Through a woman's devotion he escaped to Brussels. He was driven from
there to Jersey, then to Guernsey.
It was nineteen years before he returned to Paris--years of banishment,
but years of glory. Exiled by Fate that he might do his work!
* * * * *
Each day a steamer starts from Southampton for Guernsey,
Alderney and Jersey. These are names known to countless farmers' boys the
wide world over.
You can not mistake the Channel Island boats--they smell like a county
fair, and though you be blind and deaf it is impossible to board the
wrong craft. Every time one of these staunch little steamers lands in
England, crates containing mild-eyed, lusty calves are slid down the
gangplank, marked for Maine, Iowa, California, or some uttermost part of
the earth. There his vealship (worth his weight in gold) is going to
found a kingdom.
I stood on the dock watching the bovine passengers disembark, and
furtively listened the while to an animated argument between two rather
rough-looking, red-faced men, clothed in corduroys and carrying long,
stout staffs. Mixed up in their conversation I caught the names of
royalty, then of celebrities great, and artists famous--warriors,
orators, philanthropists and musicians. Could it be possible that these
rustics were poets? It must be so. And there came to me thoughts of
Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Joaquin Miller, and all that sublime company of
singers in shirt-sleeves.
Suddenly the wind veered and the veil fell; all the sacred names so
freely bandied about were those of "families" with mighty milk-records.
When we went on board and the good ship was slipping down The Solent, I
made the acquaintance of these men and was regaled with more cow-talk
than I had heard since I left Texas.
We saw the island of Portsea, where Dickens was born, and got a glimpse
of the spires of Portsmouth as we passed; then came the Isle of Wight and
the quaint town of Cowes. I made a bright joke on the latter place as it
was pointed out to me by my Jersey friend, but it went for naught.
A pleasant sail of eight hours and the towering cliffs of Guernsey came
in sight. Foam-dashed and spray-covered they rise right out of the sea at
the south, to the height of two hundred seventy feet. About them great
flocks of sea-fowl hover, swirl and soar. Wild, rugged and romantic is
The Isle of Guernsey is nine miles long and six wide. Its principal town
is Saint Peter Port, a place of about sixteen thousand inhabitants, where
a full dozen hotel porters meet the incoming steamer and struggle for
Hotels and boarding-houses here are numerous and good. Guernsey is a
favorite resort for invalids and those who desire to flee the busy world
for a space. In fact, the author of "Les Miserables" has made exile
Emerging from my hotel at Saint Peter Port I was accosted by a small
edition of Gavroche, all in tatters, who proposed showing me the way to
Hauteville House for a penny. I already knew the route, but accepted the
offer on Gavroche's promise to reveal to me a secret about the place.
The secret is this: The house is haunted, and when the wind is east, and
the setting moon shows only a narrow rim above the rocks, ghosts come and
dance a solemn minuet on the glass roof above the study.
Had Gavroche ever seen them? No, but he knew a boy who had. Years and
years--ever so many years ago--long before there were any steamboats, and
when only a schooner came to Guernsey once a week, a woman was murdered
in Hauteville House. Her ghost came back with other ghosts and drove the
folks away. So the big house remained vacant--save for the spooks, who
paid no rent.
Then after a great, long time Victor Hugo came and lived in the house.
The ghosts did not bother him. Faith! they had been keeping the place
just a' purpose for him. He rented the house first, and liked it so well
that he bought it--got it at half-price on account of the ghosts. Here,
every Christmas, Victor Hugo gave a big dinner in the great oak hall to
all the children in Guernsey: hundreds of them--all the way from babies
that could barely creep, to "boys" with whiskers. They were all fed on
turkey, tarts, apples, oranges and figs; and when they went away, each
was given a bag of candy to take home.
Climbing a narrow, crooked street we came to the great, dark, gloomy
edifice situated at the top of a cliff. The house was painted black by
some strange whim of a former occupant.
"We will leave it so," said Victor Hugo; "liberty is dead, and we are in
mourning for her."
But the gloom of Hauteville House is only on the outside. Within all is
warm and homelike. The furnishings are almost as the poet left them, and
the marks of his individuality are on every side.
In the outer hall stands an elegant column of carved oak, its panels
showing scenes from "The Hunchback." In the dining-room there is
fantastic wainscoting with plaques and porcelain tiles inlaid here and
there. Many of these ornaments were presents, sent by unknown admirers in
all parts of the world.
In "Les Miserables" there is a chance line revealing the author's love
for the beautiful as shown in the grain of woods. The result was an
influx of polished panels, slabs, chips, hewings, carvings, and in one
instance a log sent "collect." Samples of redwood, ebony, calamander,
hamamelis, suradanni, tamarind, satinwood, mahogany, walnut, maples of
many kinds and oaks without limit--all are there. A mammoth ax-helve I
noticed on the wall was labeled, "Shagbark-hickory from Missouri."
These specimens of wood were sometimes made up into hatracks, chairs,
canes, or panels for doors, and are seen in odd corners of these rambling
rooms. Charles Hugo once facetiously wrote to a friend: "We have bought
no kindling for three years." At another time he writes:
"Father still is sure he can sketch and positive he can carve. He has
several jackknives, and whittles names, dates and emblems on sticks and
furniture--we tremble for the piano."
In the dining-room, I noticed a huge oaken chair fastened to the wall
with a chain. On the mantel was a statuette of the Virgin; on the
pedestal Victor Hugo had engraved lines speaking of her as "Freedom's
Goddess." This dining-room affords a sunny view out into the garden; on
this floor are also a reception-room, library and a smoking-room.
On the next floor are various sleeping-apartments, and two cozy parlors,
known respectively as the red room and the blue. Both are rich in curious
draperies, a little more pronounced in color than some folks admire.
The next floor contains the "Oak Gallery": a ballroom we should call it.
Five large windows furnish a flood of light. In the center of this fine
room is an enormous candelabrum with many branches, at the top a statue
of wood, the whole carved by Victor Hugo's own hands.
The Oak Gallery is a regular museum of curiosities of every sort--books,
paintings, carvings, busts, firearms, musical instruments. A long glass
case contains a large number of autograph-letters from the world's
celebrities, written to Hugo in exile.
At the top of the house and built on its flat roof is the most
interesting apartment of Hauteville House--the study and workroom of
Victor Hugo. Three of its sides and the roof are of glass. The floor,
too, is one immense slab of sea-green glass. Sliding curtains worked by
pulleys cut off the light as desired. "More light, more light," said the
great man again and again. He gloried and reveled in the sunshine.
Here, in the Winter, with no warmth but the sun's rays, his eyes shaded
by his felt hat, he wrote, always standing at a shelf fixed in the wall.
On this shelf were written all "The Toilers," "The Man Who Laughs,"
"Shakespeare" and much of "Les Miserables." The leaves of manuscript were
numbered and fell on the floor, to remain perhaps for days before being
When Victor Hugo went to Guernsey he went to liberty, not to banishment.
He arrived at Hauteville House poor in purse and broken in health. Here
the fire of his youth came back, and his pen retrieved the fortune that
royalty had confiscated. The forenoons were given to earnest work. The
daughter composed music; the sons translated Shakespeare and acted as
their father's faithful helpers; Madame Hugo collected the notes of her
husband's life and cheerfully looked after her household affairs.
Several hours of each afternoon were given to romp and play; the evenings
were sacred to music, reading and conversation.
Horace Greeley was once a prisoner in Paris. From his cell he wrote, "The
Saint Peter who holds the keys of this place has kindly locked the world
out; and for once, thank Heaven, I am free from intrusion."
Lovers of truth must thank exile for some of our richest and ripest
literature. Exile is not all exile. Imagination can not be imprisoned.
Amid the winding bastions of the brain, thought roams free and
Liberty is only a comparative term, and Victor Hugo at Guernsey enjoyed a
thousand times more freedom than ever ruling monarch knew.
Standing at the shelf-desk where this "Gentleman of France" stood for so
many happy hours, I inscribed my name in the "visitors' book."
I thanked the good woman who had shown me the place, and told me so much
of interest--thanked her in words that seemed but a feeble echo of all
that my heart would say.
I went down the stairs--out at the great carved doorway--and descended
the well-worn steps.
Perched on a crag waiting for me was little Gavroche, his rags fluttering
in the breeze. He offered to show me the great stone chair where Gilliatt
sat when the tide came up and carried him away. And did I want to buy a
bull calf? Gavroche knew where there was a fine one that could be bought
cheap. Gavroche would show me both the calf and the stone chair for
I accepted the offer, and we went down the stony street toward the sea,
hand in hand.
* * * * *
On the Twenty-eighth day of June, Eighteen Hundred
Ninety-four, I took my place in the long line and passed slowly through
the Pantheon at Paris and viewed the body of President Carnot.
The same look of proud dignity that I had seen in life was there--calm,
composed, serene. The inanimate clay was clothed in the simple black of a
citizen of the Republic; the only mark of office being the red silken
sash that covered the spot in the breast where the stiletto-stroke of
hate had gone home.
Amid bursts of applause, surrounded by loving friends and loyal
adherents, he was stricken down and passed out into the Unknown. Happy
fate! to die before the fickle populace had taken up a new idol; to step
in an instant beyond the reach of malice--to leave behind the
self-seekers that pursue, the hungry horde that follows, the zealots who
defame; to escape the dagger-thrust of calumny and receive only the
glittering steel that at the same time wrote his name indelibly on the
roll of honor.
Carnot, thrice happy thou! Thy name is secure on history's page, and thy
dust now resting beneath the dome of the Pantheon is bedewed with the
tears of thy countrymen.
Saint Genevieve, the patron saint of Paris, died in Five Hundred Twelve.
She was buried on a hilltop, the highest point in Paris, on the left bank
of the Seine. Over the grave was erected a chapel which for many years
was a shrine for the faithful. This chapel with its additions remained
until Seventeen Hundred Fifty, when a church was designed which in beauty
of style and solidity of structure has rarely been equaled. The object of
the architect was to make the most enduring edifice possible, and still
not sacrifice proportion.
Louis the Fifteenth laid the cornerstone of this church in Seventeen
Hundred Sixty-four, and in Seventeen Hundred Ninety the edifice was
dedicated by the Roman Catholics with great pomp. But the spirit of
revolution was at work; and in one year after, a mob sacked this
beautiful building, burned its pews, destroyed its altar, and wrought
havoc with its ecclesiastical furniture.
The Convention converted the structure into a memorial temple, inscribing
on its front the words, "Aux grandes Hommes la patrie reconnaisante," and
they named the building the Pantheon.
In Eighteen Hundred Six, the Catholics had gotten such influence with the
government that the building was restored to them. After the revolution
of Eighteen Hundred Thirty, the church of Saint Genevieve was again taken
from the priests. It was held until Eighteen Hundred Fifty-one, when the
Romanists in the Assembly succeeded in having it again reconsecrated. In
the meantime, many of the great men of France had been buried there.
The first interment in the Pantheon was Mirabeau. Next came
Marat--stabbed while in the bath by Charlotte Corday. Both bodies were
removed by order of the Convention when the church was given back to
In the Pantheon, the visitor now sees the elaborate tombs of Voltaire and
Rousseau. In the dim twilight he reads the glowing inscriptions, and from
the tomb of Rousseau he sees the hand thrust forth bearing a torch--but
the bones of these men are not here.
While robed priests chanted the litany, as the great organ pealed, and
swinging censers gave off their perfume, visitors came, bringing
children, and they stopped at the arches where Rousseau and Voltaire
slept side by side, and they said, "It is here." And so the dust of
infidel greatness seemed to interfere with the rites. A change was made.
Let Victor Hugo tell:
"One night in May, Eighteen Hundred Fourteen, about two o'clock in the
morning, a cab stopped near the city gate of La Gare at an opening in a
board fence. This fence surrounded a large, vacant piece of ground
belonging to the city of Paris. The cab had come from the Pantheon, and
the coachman had been ordered to take the most deserted streets. Three
men alighted from the cab and crawled into the enclosure. Two carried a
sack between them. Other men, some in cassocks, awaited them. They
proceeded towards a hole dug in the middle of the field. At the bottom of
the hole was quicklime. These men said nothing, they had no lanterns. The
wan daybreak gave a ghastly light; the sack was opened. It was full of
bones. These were the bones of Jean Jacques and of Voltaire, which had
been withdrawn from the Pantheon.
"The mouth of the sack was brought close to the hole, and the bones
rattled down into that black pit. The two skulls struck against each
other; a spark, not likely to be seen by those standing near, was
doubtless exchanged between the head that made 'The Philosophical
Dictionary' and the head that made 'The Social Contract,' When that was
done, when the sack was shaken, when Voltaire and Rousseau had been
emptied into that hole, a digger seized a spade, threw into the opening
the heap of earth, and filled up the grave. The others stamped with their
feet upon the ground, so as to remove from it the appearance of having
been freshly disturbed. One of the assistants took for his trouble the
sack--as the hangman takes the clothing of his victim--they left the
enclosure, got into the cab without saying a word, and, hastily, before
the sun had risen, these men got away."
The ashes of the man who wrote these vivid words now rest next to the
empty tombs of Voltaire and Rousseau. But a step away is the grave of
When the visitor is conducted to the crypt of the Pantheon, he is first
taken to the tomb of Victor Hugo. The sarcophagus on each side is draped
with the red, white and blue of France and the stars and stripes of
America. With uncovered heads, we behold the mass of flowers and wreaths,
and our minds go back to Eighteen Hundred Eighty-five, when the body of
the chief citizen of Paris lay in state at the Pantheon and five hundred
thousand people passed by and laid the tribute of silence or of tears on
The Pantheon is now given over as a memorial to the men of France who
have enriched the world with their lives. Over the portals of this
beautiful temple are the words, "Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite." Across
its floors of rarest mosaic echo only the feet of pilgrims and those of
the courteous and kindly old soldiers who have the place in charge. On
the walls color revels in beautiful paintings, and in the niches and on
the pedestals is marble that speaks of greatness which lives in lives
The history of the Pantheon is one of strife. As late as Eighteen Hundred
Seventy the Commune made it a stronghold, and the streets on every side
were called upon to contribute their paving-stones for a barricade. Yet
it seems meet that Victor Hugo's dust should lie here amid the scenes he
loved and knew, and where he struggled, worked, toiled, achieved; from
whence he was banished, and to which he returned in triumph, to receive
at last the complete approbation so long withheld.
Certainly not in the quiet of a mossy graveyard, nor in a church where
priests mumble unmeaning words at fixed times, nor yet alone on the
mountain-side--for he chafed at solitude--but he should have been buried
at sea. In the midst of storm and driving sleet, at midnight, the sails
should have been lowered, the great engines stopped, and with no requiem
but the sobbing of the night-wind and the sighing of the breeze through
the shrouds, and the moaning of the waves as they surged about the great,
black ship, the plank should have been run out, and the body wrapped in
the red, white and blue of the Republic: the sea, the infinite mother of
all, beloved and sung by him, should have taken his tired form to her
arms, and there he would rest.
If not this, then the Pantheon.
Even such a shell the universe itself
Is to the ear of Faith; and there are times,
I doubt not, when to you it doth impart
Authentic tidings of invisible things;
Of ebb and flow and ever-during power;
And central peace subsisting at the heart
Of endless agitation. Here you stand,
Adore and worship, when you know it not;
Pious beyond the intention of your thought;
Devout above the meaning of your will.
[Illustration: WILLIAM WORDSWORTH]
Some one has told us that Heaven is not a place but a
condition of mind, and it is possible that he is right.
But if Heaven is a place, surely it is not unlike Grasmere. Such
loveliness of landscape--such sylvan stretches of crystal water--peace
and quiet and rest!
Great, green hills lift their heads to the skies, and all the old stone
walls and hedgerows are covered with trailing vines and blooming flowers.
The air is rich with song of birds, sweet with perfume, and the blossoms
gaily shower their petals on the passer-by. Overhead, white, billowy
clouds float lazily over their background of ethereal blue. Cool June
breezes fan the cheek. Distant knolls are dotted with flocks of sheep
whose bells tinkle dreamily; and drowsy hum of beetle makes the bass,
while lark song forms the air of the sweet symphony that Nature plays.
Such was Grasmere as I first saw it.
To love the plain, homely, common, simple things of earth, of these to
sing; to make the familiar beautiful and the commonplace enchanting; to
cause each bush to burn with the actual presence of the living God: this
is the poet's office. And if the poet lives near Grasmere, his task does
not seem difficult.
From Seventeen Hundred Ninety-nine to Eighteen Hundred Eight, Wordsworth
lived at Dove Cottage. Thanks to a few earnest souls, the place is now
secured to the people of England and the lovers of poetry wherever they
may be. A good old woman has charge of the cottage, and for a slight fee
shows you the house and garden and little orchard and objects of
interest, all the while talking: and you are glad, for, although
unlettered, she is reverent and honest. She was born here, and all she
knows is Wordsworth and the people and the things he loved. Is not this
Here Wordsworth lived before anything he wrote was published in book
form: here his best work was done, and here Dorothy--splendid,
sympathetic Dorothy---was inspiration, critic, friend. But who inspired
Dorothy? Coleridge perhaps more than all others, and we know somewhat of
their relationship as told in Dorothy's diary. There is a little
Wordsworth Library in Dove Cottage, and I sat at the window of "De
Quincey's room" and read for an hour. Says Dorothy:
"Sat until four o'clock reading dear Coleridge's letters."
"We paced the garden until moonrise at one o'clock--we three, brother,
Coleridge and I." "I read Spenser to him aloud and then we had a midnight
Here in this little, terraced garden, behind the stone cottage with its
low ceilings and wide window-seats and little, diamond panes, she in her
"Oh, the pity of it all! Yet there is recompense; every sight reminds me
of Coleridge, dear, dear fellow; of our walks and talks by day and night;
of all the bright and witty, and sad sweet things of which we spoke and
read. I was melancholy and could not talk, and at last I eased my heart
Alas, too often there is competition between brother and sister, then
follow misunderstandings; but here the brotherly and sisterly love stands
out clear and strong after these hundred years have passed, and we
contemplate it with delight. Was ever woman more honestly and better
praised than Dorothy?
"The blessings of my later years
Were with me when I was a boy.
She gave me eyes, she gave me ears,
And humble cares and gentle fears,
A heart! the fountain of sweet tears,
And love and thought and joy.
And she hath smiles to earth unknown,
Smiles that with motion of their own
Do spread and sink and rise;
That come and go with endless play,
And ever as they pass away
Are hidden in her eyes."
And so in a dozen or more poems, we see Dorothy reflected. She was the
steel on which he tried his flint. Everything he wrote was read to her,
then she read it alone, balancing the sentences in the delicate scales of
her womanly judgment. "Heart of my heart, is this well done?" When she
said, "This will do," it was no matter who said otherwise.
Back of the house on the rising hillside is the little garden. Hewn out
of the solid rock is "Dorothy's seat." There I rested while Mrs. Dixon
discoursed of poet lore, and told me of how, many times, Coleridge and
Dorothy had sat in the same seat and watched the stars.
Then I drank from "the well," which is more properly a spring; the stones
that curb it were placed in their present position by the hand that wrote
"The Prelude." Above the garden is the orchard, where the green linnet
still sings, for the birds never grow old.
There, too, are the circling swallows; and in a snug little alcove of the
cottage you can read "The Butterfly" from a first edition; and then you
can go sit in the orchard, white with blossoms, and see the butterflies
that suggested the poem. And if your eye is good you can discover down by
the lakeside the daffodils, and listen the while to the cuckoo call.
Then in the orchard you can see not only "the daisy," but many of them,
and, if you wish, Mrs. Dixon will let you dig a bunch of the daisies to
take back to America; and if you do, I hope that yours will prosper as
have mine, and that Wordsworth's flowers, like Wordsworth's verse, will
gladden your heart when the blue sky of your life threatens to be
o'ercast with gray.
Here Southey came, and "Thalaber" was read aloud in this little garden.
Here, too, came Clarkson, the man with a fine feminine carelessness, as
Dorothy said. Charles Lloyd sat here and discoursed with William Calvert.
Sir George Beaumont forgot his title and rapped often at the quaint,
hinged door. An artist was Beaumont, but his best picture they say is not
equal to the lines that Wordsworth wrote about it. Sir George was not
only a gentleman according to law, but one in heart, for he was a friend,
kind, gentle and generous. With such a friend Wordsworth was rich indeed.
But perhaps the friends we have are only our other selves, and we get
what we deserve.
We must not forget the kindly face of Humphry Davy, whose gracious
playfulness was ever a charm to the Wordsworths. The safety-lamp was then
only an unspoken word, and perhaps few foresaw the sweetness and light
that these two men would yet give to earth.
Walter Scott and his wife came to Dove Cottage in Eighteen Hundred Five.
He did not bring his title, for it, like Humphry Davy's, was as yet
unpacked down in London town. They slept in the little cubby-hole of a
room in the upper southwest corner. One can imagine Dorothy taking Sir
Walter's shaving-water up to him in the morning; and the savory smell of
breakfast as Mistress Mary poured the tea, while England's future
laureate served the toast and eggs: Mr. Scott eating everything in sight
and talking a torrent the while about art and philosophy as he passed his
cup back, to the consternation of the hostess, whose frugal ways were
not used to such ravages of appetite. Of course she did not know that a
combined novelist and rhymster ate twice as much as a simple poet.
Afterwards Mrs. Scott tucked up her dress, putting on one of Dorothy's
aprons, and helped do the dishes.
Then Coleridge came over and they all climbed to the summit of Helm Crag.
Shy little De Quincey had read some of Wordsworth's poems, and knew from
their flavor that the man who penned them was a noble soul. He came to
Grasmere to call on him: he walked past Dove Cottage twice, but his heart
failed him and he went away unannounced. Later, he returned and found the
occupants as simple folks as himself.
Happiness was there and good society; few books, but fine culture; plain
living and high thinking.
Wordsworth lived at Rydal Mount for thirty-three years, yet the sweetest
flowers of his life blossomed at Dove Cottage. For difficulty, toil,
struggle, obscurity, poverty, mixed with aspiration and ambition---all
these were here. Success came later, but this is naught; for the
achievement is more than the public acknowledgment of the deed.
After Wordsworth moved away, De Quincey rented Dove Cottage and lived in
it for twenty-seven years. He acquired a library of more than five
thousand volumes, making bookshelves on four sides of the little rooms
from floor to ceiling. Some of these shelves still remain. Here he
turned night into day and dreamed the dreams of "The Opium-Eater."
And all these are some of the things that Mrs. Dixon told me on that
bright Summer day. What if I had heard them before! no difference. Dear
old lady, I salute you and at your feet I lay my gratitude for a day of
rare and quiet joy.
"Farewell, thou little nook of mountain ground,
Thou rocky corner in the lowest stair
Of that magnificent temple which does bound
One side of our whole vale with gardens rare,
Sweet garden-orchard, eminently fair,
The loveliest spot that man has ever found,
Farewell! We leave thee to Heaven's peaceful care,
Thee, and the Cottage which thou dost surround."
* * * * *
At places of pleasure and entertainment in the Far West,
are often found functionaries known as "bouncers." It is the duty of the
bouncer to give hints to objectionable visitors that their presence is
not desired. And inasmuch as there are many men who can never take a hint
without a kick, the bouncer is a person selected on account of his
peculiar fitness--psychic and otherwise--for the place. We all have
special talents, and these faculties should be used in a manner that will
help our fellowmen on their way.
My acquaintanceship with the bouncer has been only general, not
particular. Yet I have admired him from a distance, and the skill and
eclat that he sometimes shows in a professional way has often excited my
In social usages, America borrows constantly from the mother country. But
like all borrowing it seems to be one-sided, for seldom, very, very
seldom, in point of etiquette and manners does England borrow from us.
Yet there are exceptions.
It is a beautiful highway that skirts Lake Windermere and follows up
through Ambleside. We get a glimpse of the old home of Harriet Martineau,
and "Fox Howe," the home of Matthew Arnold. Just before Rydal Water is
reached comes Rydal Road, running straight up the hillside, off from the
turnpike. Rydal Mount is the third house up on the left-hand side, I knew
the location, for I had read of it many times, and in my pocketbook I
carried a picture taken from an old "Frank Leslie's," showing the house.
My heart beat fast as I climbed the hill. To visit the old home of one
who was Poet Laureate of England is no small event in the life of a
book-lover. I was full of poetry and murmured lines from "The Excursion"
as I walked. Soon rare old Rydal Mount came in sight among the wealth of
green. I stopped and sighed. Yes, yes, Wordsworth lived here for
thirty-three years, and here he died; the spot whereon I then stood had
been pressed many times by his feet. I walked slowly, with uncovered
head, and approached the gate. It was locked. I fumbled at the latch; and
just as there came a prospect of its opening, a loud, deep, guttural
voice dashed over me like a wave:
"There--you! now, wot you want?"
The owner of this voice was not ten feet away, but he was standing up
close to the wall and I had not seen him. I was somewhat startled at
first. The man did not move. I stepped to one side to get a better view
of my interlocutor, and saw him to be a large, red man of perhaps fifty.
A handkerchief was knotted around his thick neck, and he held a heavy hoe
in his hand. A genuine beefeater he was, only he ate too much beef and
the ale he drank was evidently Extra XXX.
His scowl was so needlessly severe and his manner so belligerent that
I--thrice armed, knowing my cause was just--could not restrain a smile. I
touched my hat and said, "Ah, excuse me, Mr. Falstaff, you are the
"Never mind wot I am, sir--'oo are you?"
"I am a great admirer of Wordsworth----"
"That's the way they all begins. Cawn't ye hadmire 'im on that side of
the wall as well as this?"
There is no use of wasting argument with a man of this stamp; besides
that, his question was to the point. But there are several ways of
overcoming one's adversary: I began feeling in my pocket for pence. My
enemy ceased glaring, stepped up to the locked gate as though he
half-wished to be friendly, and there was sorrow in his voice: "Don't
tempt me, sir; don't do ut! The Missus is peekin' out of the shutters at
"And do you never admit visitors, even to the grounds?"
"No, sir, never, God 'elp me! and there's many an honest bob I could turn
by ut, and no one 'urt. But I've lost my place twic't by ut. They took me
back though. The Guv'ner 'ud never forgive me again. 'It's three times
and out, Mister 'Opkins,' says 'ee, only last Whitsuntide."
"But visitors do come?"
"Yes, sir; but they never gets in. Mostly 'mer'cans; they don't know no
better, sir. They picks all the ivy orf the outside of the wall, and you
sees yourself there's no leaves on the lower branches of that tree. Then
they carries away so many pebbles from out there that I've to dump in a
fresh weelbarrel full o' gravel every week, sir, don't you know."
He thrust a pudgy, freckled hand through the bars of the gate to show
that he bore me no ill-will, and also, I suppose, to mollify my
disappointment. For although I had come too late to see the great poet
himself and had even failed to see the inside of his house, yet I had at
least been greeted at the gate by his proxy. I pressed the hand firmly,
pocketed a handful of gravel as a memento, then turned and went my way.
And all there is to tell about my visit to Rydal Mount is this interview
with the bouncer.
* * * * *
Wordsworth lived eighty years. His habitation, except for
short periods, was never more than a few miles from his birthplace. His
education was not extensive, his learning not profound. He lacked humor
and passion; in his character there was little personal magnetism, and in
his work there is small dramatic power.
He traveled more or less and knew humanity, but he did not know man. His
experience in so-called practical things was slight, his judgment not
accurate. So he lived--quietly, modestly, dreamily.
His dust rests in a country churchyard, the grave marked by a simple
slab. A gnarled, old yew-tree stands guard above the grass-grown mound.
The nearest railroad is fifteen miles away.
As a poet, Wordsworth stands in the front rank of the second class.
Shelley, Browning, Mrs. Browning, Tennyson, far surpass him; and the
sweet singer of Michigan, even in uninspired moments, never "threw off"
anything worse than this:
"And he is lean and he is sick:
His body, dwindled and awry,
Rests upon ankles swollen and thick;
His legs are thin and dry.
One prop he has, and only one,
His wife, an aged woman,
Lives with him near the waterfall,
Upon the village common."
Jove may nod, but when he makes a move it counts.
Yet the influence of Wordsworth upon the thought and feeling of the world
has been very great. He himself said, "The young will read my poems and
be better for their truth." Many of his lines pass as current coin: "The
child is father of the man," "The light that never was on land nor sea,"
"Not too bright and good for human nature's daily food," "Thoughts that
do lie too deep for tears," "The mighty stream of tendency," and many
others. "Plain living and high thinking" is generally given to Emerson,
but he discovered it in Wordsworth, and recognizing it as his own he took
it. In a certain book of quotations, "The still sad music of humanity" is
given to Shakespeare; but to equalize matters we sometimes attribute to
Wordsworth "The Old Oaken Bucket."
The men who win are those who correct an abuse. Wordsworth's work was a
protest--mild yet firm--against the bombastic and artificial school of
the Eighteenth Century. Before his day the "timber" used by poets
consisted of angels, devils, ghosts, gods; onslaught, tourneys, jousts,
tempests of hate and torrents of wrath, always of course with a very
beautiful and very susceptible young lady just around the corner. The
women in those days were always young and ever beautiful, but seldom wise
and not often good. The men were saints or else "bad," generally bad.
Like the cats of Kilkenny, they fought on slight cause.
Our young man at Hawkshead School saw this: it pleased him not, and he
made a list of the things on which he would write poems. This list
includes: sunset, moonrise, starlight, mist, brooks, shells, stones,
butterflies, moths, swallows, linnets, thrushes, wagoners, babies, bark
of trees, leaves, nests, fishes, rushes, leeches, cobwebs, clouds, deer,
music, shade, swans, crags and snow. He kept his vow and "went it one
better," for among his verses I find the following titles: "Lines Left
Upon a Seat in a Yew-Tree," "Lines Composed a Few Miles Above Tintern
Abbey," "To a Wounded Butterfly," "To Dora's Portrait," "To the Cuckoo,"
"On Seeing a Needlebook Made in the Shape of a Harp," etc.
Wordsworth's service to humanity consists in the fact that he has shown
us old truth in a new light, and has made plain the close relationship
that exists between physical nature and the soul of man. Is this much or
little? I think it is much. When we realize that we are a part of all
that we see, or hear, or feel, we are not lonely. But to feel a sense of
separation is to feel the chill of death.
Wordsworth taught that the earth is the universal Mother and that the
life of the flower has its source in the same universal life from whence
ours is derived. To know this truth is to feel a tenderness, a
kindliness, a spirit of fraternalism, toward every manifestation of this
universal life. No attempt was made to say the last word, only a wish to
express the truth that the spirit of God is manifest on every hand.
Now this is a very simple philosophy. No far-reaching, syllogistic logic
is required to prove it; no miracle, nor special dispensation is needed;
you just feel that it is so, that's all, and it gives you peace.
Children, foolish folks, old men, whose sands of life are nearly run,
comprehend it. But heaven bless you! you can't prove any such
foolishness. Jeffrey saw the ridiculousness of these assumptions and so
he declared, "This will never do," and for twenty years "The Edinburgh
Review" never ceased to fling off fleers and jeers--and to criticize and
scoff. That a great periodical, rich and influential, in the city which
was the very center of learning, should go so much out of its way to
attack a quiet countryman living in a four-roomed cottage, away off in
the hills of Cumberland, seems a little queer.
Then, this countryman did not seek to found a kingdom, nor to
revolutionize society, nor did he force upon the world his pattypan
rhymes about linnets, and larks, and daffodils. Far from it: he was very
modest--diffident, in fact--and his song was quite in the minor key, but
still the chain-shot and bombs of literary warfare were sent hissing in
There is a little story about a certain general who figured as
division-commander in the War of Secession: this warrior had his
headquarters, for a time, in a typical Southern home in the Tennessee
Mountains. The house had a large fireplace and chimney; in this chimney,
swallows had nests. One day, as the great man was busy at his maps,
working out a plan of campaign against the enemy, the swallows made quite
an uproar. Perhaps some of the eggs were hatching; anyway, the birds were
needlessly noisy in their domestic affairs, and it disturbed the great
man--he grew nervous. He called his adjutant. "Sir," said the mighty
warrior, "dislodge those damn pests in the chimney, without delay."
Two soldiers were ordered to climb the roof and dislodge the enemy. Yet
the swallows were not dislodged, for the soldiers could not reach them.
So Jeffrey's tirades were unavailing, and Wordsworth was not dislodged.
"He might as well try to crush Skiddaw," said Southey.
WILLIAM M. THACKERAY
TO MR. BROOKFIELD
September 16, 1849
Have you read Dickens? Oh, it is charming! Brave Dickens! "David
Copperfield" has some of his prettiest touches, and the reading
of the book has done another author a great deal of good.
[Illustration: W.M. THACKERAY]
There are certain good old ladies in every community who
wear perennial mourning. They attend every funeral, carrying
black-bordered handkerchiefs, and weep gently at the right time. I have
made it a point to hunt out these ancient dames at their homes, and, over
the teacups, I have discovered that invariably they enjoy a sweet
peace--a happiness with contentment--that is a great gain. They seem to
be civilization's rudimentary relic of the Irish keeners and the paid
mourners of the Orient.
And there is just a little of this tendency to mourn with those who mourn
in all mankind. It is not difficult to bear another's woe--and then there
is always a grain of mitigation, even in the sorrow of the afflicted,
that makes their tribulation bearable.
Burke affirms, in "On the Sublime," that all men take a certain
satisfaction in the disasters of others. Just as Frenchmen lift their
hats when a funeral passes and thank God that they are not in the hearse,
so do we in the presence of calamity thank Heaven that it is not ours.
Perhaps this is why I get a strange delight from walking through a
graveyard by night. All about are the white monuments that glisten in
the ghostly starlight, the night-wind sighs softly among the grassy
mounds--all else is silent--still.
This is the city of the dead, and of all the hundreds or thousands who
have traveled to this spot over long and weary miles, I, only I, have the
power to leave at will. Their ears are stopped, their eyes are closed,
their hands are folded--but I am alive.
One of the first places I visited on reaching London was Kensal Green
Cemetery. I quickly made the acquaintance of the First Gravedigger, a
rare wit, over whose gray head have passed full seventy pleasant summers.
I presented him a copy of "The Shroud," the organ of the American
Undertakers' Association, published at Syracuse, New York. I subscribe
for "The Shroud" because it has a bright wit-and-humor column, and also
for the sweet satisfaction of knowing that there is still virtue left in
The First Gravedigger greeted me courteously, and when I explained
briefly my posthumous predilections we grasped hands across an open grave
(that he had just digged) and were fast friends.
"Do you believe in cremation, sir?" he asked.
"No, never; it's pagan."
"Aye, you are a gentleman--and about burying folks in churches?"
"Never! A grave should be out under the open sky, where the sun by day
and the moon and stars----"
"Right you are. How Shakespeare can ever stand it to have his grave
walked over by a boy choir is more than I can understand. If I had him
here I could look after him right. Come, I'll show you the company I
Not twenty feet from where we stood was a fine but plain granite block to
the memory of the second wife of James Russell Lowell.
"Just Mr. Lowell and one friend stood by the grave when we lowered the
coffin--just two men and no one else but the young clergyman who belongs
here. Mr. Lowell shook hands with me when he went away. He gave me a
guinea and wrote me two letters afterward from America; the last was sent
only a week before he died. I'll show 'em to you when we go to the
office. Say, did you know him?"
He pointed to a slab, on which I read the name of Sydney Smith. Then we
went to the graves of Mulready, the painter; Kemble, the actor; Sir
Charles Eastlake, the artist. Next came the resting-place of
Buckle--immortal for writing a preface--dead at thirty-seven, with his
history unwrit; Leigh Hunt sleeps near, and above his dust a column that
explains how it was erected by friends. In life he asked for bread; when
dead they gave him a costly pile of stone.
Here are also the graves of Madame Tietjens; of Charles Mathews, the
actor; and of Admiral Sir John Ross, the Arctic explorer.
"And just down the hill aways another big man is buried. I knew him well;
he used to come and visit us often. The last time I saw him I said as he
was going away, 'Come again, sir; you are always welcome!'
"'Thank you, Mr. First Gravedigger,' says he; 'I will come again before
long, and make you an extended visit.' In less than a year the hearse
brought him. That's his grave--push that ivy away and you can read the
inscription. Did you ever hear of him?"
It was a plain, heavy slab placed horizontally, and the ivy had so run
over it that the white of the marble was nearly obscured. But I made out
WILLIAM MAKEPEACE THACKERAY
Born July 18, 1811
Died Dec. 24, 1863
ANNE CARMICHAEL SMYTH
Died Dec. 18, 1864, aged 72--his mother
by her first marriage
The unpoetic exactness of that pedigree gave me a slight chill. But here
they sleep--mother and son in one grave. She who gave him his first
caress also gave him his last; and when he was found dead in his bed, his
mother, who lived under the same roof, was the first one called. He was
the child of her girlhood--she was scarcely twenty when she bore him. In
life they were never separated, and in death they are not divided. It is
as both desired.
Thackeray was born in India, and was brought to England on the death of
his father, when he was six years of age. On the way from Calcutta the
ship touched at the Island of Saint Helena. A servant took the lad ashore
and they walked up the rocky heights to Longwood, and there, pacing back
and forth in a garden, they saw a short, stout man.
"Lookee, lad, lookee quick--that's him! He eats three sheep every day and
all the children he can get!"
"And that's all I had to do with the Battle of Waterloo," said "Old
Thack," forty years after. But you will never believe it after reading
those masterly touches concerning the battle, in "Vanity Fair."
Young Thackeray was sent to the Charterhouse School, where he was
considered rather a dull boy. He was big and good-natured, and read
novels when he should have studied arithmetic. This tendency to "play
off" stuck to him at Cambridge--where he did not remain long enough to
get a degree, but to the relief of his tutors went off on a tour through
Travel as a means of education is a very seductive bit of sophistry.
Invalids whom the doctors can not cure, and scholars whom teachers can
not teach, are often advised to take "a change." Still there is reason in
In England Thackeray was intent on law; at Paris he received a strong
bent toward art; but when he reached Weimar and was introduced at the
Court of Letters and came into the living presence of Goethe, he caught
the infection and made a plan for translating Schiller.
Schiller dead was considered in Germany a greater man than Goethe living,
as if it were an offense to live and a virtue to die. And young William
Makepeace wrote home to his mother that Schiller was the greatest man
that ever lived and that he was going to translate his books and give
them to England.
No doubt there are certain people born with a tendency to infectiousness
in regard to certain diseases; so there are those who catch the literary
mania on slight exposure.
"I've got it," said Thackeray, and so he had.
He went back to England and made groggy efforts at Blackstone, and
Somebody's Digest, and What's-His-Name's Compendium, but all the time he
scribbled and sketched.
The young man had come into possession of a goodly fortune from his
father's estate--enough to yield him an income of over two thousand
dollars a year. But bad investments and signing security for friends took
the money the way that money usually goes when held by a man who has not
"Talk about riches having wings," said Thackeray; "my fortune had pinions
like a condor, and flew like a carrier-pigeon."
When Thackeray was thirty he was eking out a meager income writing poems,
reviews, criticisms and editorials. His wife was a confirmed invalid, a
victim of mental darkness, and his sorrows and anxieties were many.
He was known as a bright writer, yet London is full of clever,
unsuccessful men. But in Thackeray's thirty-eighth year "Vanity Fair"
came out, and it was a success from the first.
In "Yesterdays With Authors," Mr. Fields says: "I once made a pilgrimage
with Thackeray to the various houses where his books had been written;
and I remember when we came to Young Street, Kensington, he said, with
mock gravity, 'Down on your knees, you rogue, for here "Vanity Fair" was
penned; and I will go down with you, for I have a high opinion of that
little production myself.'"
Young Street is only a block from the Kensington Metropolitan
Railway-Station. It is a little street running off Kensington Road. At
Number Sixteen (formerly Number Thirteen), I saw a card in the window,
"Rooms to Rent to Single Gentlemen."
I rang the bell, and was shown a room that the landlady offered me for
twelve shillings a week if I paid in advance; or if I would take another
room one flight up with a "gent who was studying hart" it would be only
eight and six. I suggested that we go up and see the "gent." We did so,
and I found the young man very courteous and polite.
He told me that he had never heard Thackeray's name in connection with
the house. The landlady protested that "no man by the name o' Thack'ry
has had rooms here since I rented the place; leastwise, if he has been
here he called hisself by sumpthink else, which was like o'nuff the case,
as most ev'rybody is crooked now'days--but surely no decent person can
blame me for that!"
I assured her that she was in no wise to blame.
From this house in Young Street the author of "Vanity Fair" moved to
Number Thirty-six Onslow Square, where he wrote "The Virginians." On the
south side of the Square there is a row of three-storied brick houses.
Thackeray lived in one of these houses for nine years. They were the
years when honors and wealth were being heaped upon him; and he was
worldling enough to let his wants keep pace with his ability to gratify
them. He was made of the same sort of clay as other men, for his standard
of life conformed to his pocketbook and he always felt poor.
From this fine house on Onslow Square he moved to a veritable palace,
which he built to suit his own taste, at Number Two Palace Green,
Kensington. But mansions on earth are seldom for long--he died here on
Christmas Eve, Eighteen Hundred Sixty-three. And Charles Dickens, Mark
Lemon, Millais, Trollope, Robert Browning, Cruikshank, Tom Taylor, Louis
Blanc, Charles Mathews and Shirley Brooks were among the friends who
carried him to his rest.
* * * * *
To take one's self too seriously is a great mistake.
Complacency is the unpardonable sin, and the man who says, "Now I'm sure
of it," has at that moment lost it.
Villagers who have lived in one little place until they think themselves
great, having lost the sense of proportion through lack of comparison,
are generally "in dead earnest."
Surely they are often intellectually dead, and I do not dispute the fact
that they are in earnest. All those excellent gentlemen in the days gone
by who could not contemplate a celestial bliss that did not involve the
damnation of those who disagreed with them were in dead earnest.
Cotton Mather once saw a black cat perched on the shoulder of an
innocent, chattering old gran'ma. The next day a neighbor had a
convulsion; and Cotton Mather went forth and exorcised Tabby with a
hymn-book, and hanged gran'ma by the neck, high on Gallows Hill, until
she was dead.
Had the Reverend Mr. Mather possessed but a mere modicum of humor he
might have exorcised the cat, but I am sure he would never have troubled
old gran'ma. But alas, Cotton Mather's conversation was limited to yea,
yea, and nay, nay--generally, nay, nay--and he was in dead earnest.
In the Boston Public Library is a book written in Sixteen Hundred
Eighty-five by Cotton Mather, entitled, "Wonders of the Invisible
World." This book received the endorsement of the Governor of the
Province and also of the President of Harvard College. The author cites
many cases of persons who were bewitched; and also makes the interesting
statement that the Devil knows Greek, Latin and Hebrew, but speaks
English with an accent. These facts were long used at Harvard as an
argument in favor of the Classics. And when Greek was at last made
optional, the Devil was supposed to have filed a protest with the Dean of
The Reverend Francis Gastrell, who razed New Place, and cut down the
poet's mulberry-tree to escape the importunities of visitors, was in dead
earnest. Attila, and Herod, and John Calvin were in dead earnest. And
were it not for the fact that Luther had lucid intervals when he went
about with his tongue in his cheek he surely would have worked grievous
Recent discoveries in Egyptian archeology show that in his lifetime Moses
was esteemed more as a wit than as a lawmaker. His jokes were posted upon
the walls and explained to the populace, who it seems were a bit slow.
Job was a humorist of a high order, and when he said to the wise men, "No
doubt but ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you," he struck
twelve. When the sons of Jacob went down into Egypt and Joseph put up the
price of corn, took their money, and then secretly replaced the coin in
the sacks, he showed his artless love of a quiet joke.
Shakespeare's fools were the wisest and kindliest men at court. When the
master decked a character in cap and bells, it was as though he had given
bonds for the man's humanity. Touchstone followed his master into exile;
and when all seemed to have forsaken King Lear the fool bared himself to
the storm and covered the shaking old man with his own cloak. And if
Costard, Trinculo, Touchstone, Jaques and Mercutio had lived in Salem in
Sixteen Hundred Ninety-two, there would have been not only a flashing of
merry jests, but a flashing of rapiers as well, and every gray hair of
every old dame's head would have been safe so long as there was a striped
leg on which to stand.
Lincoln, liberator of men, loved the motley. In fact, the individual who
is incapable of viewing the world from a jocular basis is unsafe, and can
be trusted only when the opposition is strong enough to laugh him into
In the realm of English letters, Thackeray is prince of humorists. He
could see right through a brick wall, and never mistook a hawk for a
hernshaw. He had a just estimate of values, and the temperament that can
laugh at all trivial misfits. And he had, too, that dread capacity for
pain which every true humorist possesses, for the true essence of humor
In all literature that lives there is mingled like pollen an indefinable
element of the author's personality. In Thackeray's "Lectures on English
Humorists" this subtle quality is particularly apparent. Elusive,
delicate, alluring--it is the actinic ray that imparts vitality.
When wit plays skittles with dulness, dulness gets revenge by taking wit
at his word. Vast numbers of people taking Thackeray at his word consider
him a bitter pessimist.
He even disconcerted bright little Charlotte Bronte, who went down to
London to see him, and then wrote back to Haworth that "the great man
talked steadily with never a smile. I could not tell when to laugh and
when to cry, for I did not know what was fun and what fact."
But finally the author of "Jane Eyre" found the combination, and she saw
that beneath the brusk exterior of that bulky form there was a woman's
Thackeray has told us what he thought of the author of "Jane Eyre," and
the author of "Jane Eyre" has told us what she thought of the author of
"Vanity Fair." One was big and whimsical, the other was little and
sincere, but both were alike in this: their hearts were wrung at the
sight of suffering, and both had tears for the erring, the groping, and
A Frenchman can not comprehend a joke that is not accompanied by grimace
and gesticulation; and so M. Taine chases Thackeray through sixty solid
pages, berating him for what he is pleased to term "bottled hate."
Taine is a cynic who charges Thackeray with cynicism, all in the choicest
of biting phrase. It is a beautiful example of sinners calling the
righteous to repentance--a thing that is often done, but seldom with
The fun is too deep for Monsieur, or mayhap the brand is not the yellow
label to which his palate is accustomed, so he spews it all. Yet Taine's
criticism is charming reading, although he is only hot after an aniseed
trail of his own dragging. But the chase is a deal more exciting than
most men would lead, were there real live game to capture.
If pushed, I might suggest several points in this man's make-up where God
could have bettered His work. But accepting Thackeray as we find him, we
see a singer whose cage Fate had overhung with black until he had caught
the tune. The "Ballad of Boullabaisse" shows a tender side of his spirit
that he often sought to conceal. His heart vibrated to all finer thrills
of mercy; and his love for all created things was so delicately strung
that he would, in childish shame, sometimes issue a growl to drown its
rising, tearful tones.
In the character of Becky Sharp, he has marshaled some of his own weak
points and then lashed them with scorn. He looked into the mirror and
seeing a potential snob he straightway inveighed against snobbery. The
punishment does not always fit the crime--it is excess. But I still
contest that where his ridicule is most severe, it is Thackeray's own
back that is bared to the knout.
The primal recipe for roguery in art is, "Know Thyself." When a writer
portrays a villain and does it well--make no mistake, he poses for the
character himself. Said gentle Ralph Waldo Emerson, "I have capacity in
me for every crime."
The man of imagination knows those mystic spores of possibility that lie
dormant, and like the magicians of the East who grow mango-trees in an
hour, he develops the "inward potential" at will. The mere artisan in
letters goes forth and finds a villain and then describes him, but the
artist knows a better way: "I am that man."
One of the very sweetest, gentlest characters in literature is Colonel
Newcome. The stepfather of Thackeray, Major Carmichael Smyth, was made to
stand for the portrait of the lovable Colonel; and when that all-round
athlete, F. Hopkinson Smith, gave us that other lovable old Colonel he
paid high tribute to "The Newcomes."
Thackeray was a poet, and as such was often caught in the toils of
doubt--the crux of the inquiring spirit. He aspired for better things,
and at times his imperfections stood out before him in monstrous shape,
and he sought to hiss them down.
In the heart of the artist-poet there is an Inmost Self that sits over
against the acting, breathing man and passes judgment on his every deed.
To satisfy the world is little; to please the populace is naught; fame is
vapor; gold is dross; and every love that has not the sanction of that
Inmost Self is a viper's sting. To satisfy the demands of the God within
is the poet's prayer.
What doubts beset, what taunting fears surround, what crouching sorrows
lie in wait, what dead hopes drag, what hot desires pursue, and what
kindly lights do beckon on--ah! "'tis we musicians know."
Thackeray came to America to get a pot of money, and was in a fair way of
securing it, when he chanced to pick up a paper in which a steamer was
announced to sail that evening for England. A wave of homesickness swept
over the big boy--he could not stand it. He hastily packed up his effects
and without saying good-by to any one, and forgetting all his
engagements, he hastened to the dock, leaving this note for the kindest
of kind friends: "Good-by, Fields; good-by, Mrs. Fields--God bless
everybody, says W.M.T."
I hope for the enlargement of my mind, and for the improvement of
my understanding. If I have done but little good, I trust I have
done less harm, and that none of my adventures will be other than
a source of amusing and pleasant recollection. God bless you all!
[Illustration: CHARLES DICKENS]
The path of progress in certain problems seems barred as
by a flaming sword.
More than a thousand years before Christ, an Arab chief asked, "If a man
die shall he live again?" Every man who ever lived has asked the same
question, but we know no more today about the subject than did Job.
There are one hundred five boy babies born to every one hundred girls.
The law holds in every land where vital statistics have been kept; and
Sairey Gamp knew just as much about the cause why as Brown-Sequard,
Pasteur, Agnew or Austin Flint.
There is still a third question that every parent, since Adam and Eve,
has sought to solve: "How can I educate this child so that he will attain
eminence?" And even in spite of shelves that groan beneath tomes and
tomes, and advice from a million preachers, the answer is: Nobody knows.
"There is a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."
Moses was sent adrift, but the tide carried him into power. The brethren
of Joseph "deposited him into a cavity," but you can not dispose of
genius that way!
Demosthenes was weighted (or blessed) with every disadvantage;
Shakespeare got into difficulty with a woman eight years his senior,
stole deer, ran away, and--became the very first among English poets;
Erasmus was a foundling.
Once there was a woman by the name of Nancy Hanks; she was thin-breasted,
gaunt, yellow and sad. At last, living in poverty, overworked, she was
stricken by death. She called her son--homely as herself--and pointing to
the lad's sister said, "Be good to her, Abe," and died--died, having no
expectation for her boy beyond the hope that he might prosper in worldly
affairs so as to care for himself and his sister. The boy became a man
who wielded wisely a power mightier than that ever given to any other
American. Seven college-bred men composed his cabinet; and Proctor Knott
once said that "if a teeter were evenly balanced, and the members of the
cabinet were all placed on one end, and the President on the other, he
would send the seven wise men flying into space."
On the other hand, Marcus Aurelius wrote his "Meditations" for a son who
did not read them, and whose name is a symbol of profligacy; Charles
Kingsley penned "Greek Heroes" for offspring who have never shown their
father's heroism; and Charles Dickens wrote "A Child's History of
England" for his children--none of whom has proven his proficiency in
Charles Dickens himself received his education at the University of Hard
Knocks. Very early in life he was cast upon the rocks and suckled by the
she-wolf. Yet he became the most popular author the world has ever known,
and up to the present time no writer of books has approached him in point
of number of readers and of financial returns. These are facts--facts so
hard and true that they would be the delight of Mr. Gradgrind.
At twelve years of age, Charles Dickens was pasting labels on
blacking-boxes; his father was in prison. At sixteen, he was spending odd
hours in the reading-room of the British Museum. At nineteen, he was
Parliamentary reporter; at twenty-one, a writer of sketches; at
twenty-three, he was getting a salary of thirty-five dollars a week, and
the next year his pay was doubled. When twenty-five, he wrote a play that
ran for seventy nights at Drury Lane Theater. About the same time he
received seven hundred dollars for a series of sketches written in two
weeks. At twenty-six, publishers were at his feet.
When Dickens was at the flood-tide of prosperity, Thackeray, one year his
senior, waited on his doorstep with pictures to illustrate "Pickwick."
He worked steadily, and made from eight to twenty-five thousand dollars a
year. His fame increased, and the "New York Ledger" paid him ten thousand
dollars for one story which he wrote in a fortnight. His collected works
fill forty volumes. There are more of Dickens' books sold every year now
than in any year in which he lived. There were more of Dickens' books
sold last year than any previous year.
"I am glad that the public buy his books," said Macready; "for if they
did not he would take to the stage and eclipse us all."
"Not So Bad As We Seem," by Bulwer-Lytton, was played at Devonshire House
in the presence of the Queen, Dickens taking the principal part. He gave
theatrical performances in London, Liverpool and Manchester, for the
benefit of Leigh Hunt, Sheridan Knowles and various other needy authors
and actors. He wrote a dozen plays, and twice as many more have been
constructed from his plots.
He gave public readings through England, Scotland and Ireland, where the
people fought for seats. The average receipts for these entertainments
were eight hundred dollars per night.
In Eighteen Hundred Sixty-three, he made a six months' tour of the United
States, giving a series of readings. The prices of admission were placed
at extravagant figures, but the box-office was always besieged until the
ticket-seller put out his lights and hung out a sign: "The standing-room
is all taken."
The gross receipts of these readings were two hundred twenty-nine
thousand dollars; the expenses thirty-nine thousand dollars; net profit,
one hundred ninety thousand dollars.
Charles Dickens died of brain-rupture in Eighteen Hundred Seventy, aged
fifty-eight. His dust rests in Westminster Abbey.
* * * * *
"To know the London of Dickens is a liberal education,"
once said James T. Fields, who was affectionately referred to by Charles
Dickens as "Massachusetts Jemmy." And I am aware of no better way to
become acquainted with the greatest city in the world than to follow the
winding footsteps of the author of "David Copperfield."
Beginning his London life when ten years of age, he shifted from one
lodging to another, zigzag, tacking back and forth from place to place,
but all the time making head, and finally dwelling in palaces of which
nobility might be proud. It took him forty-eight years to travel from the
squalor of Camden Town to Poet's Corner in Westminster Abbey.
He lodged first in Bayham Street. "A washerwoman lived next door, and a
Bow Street officer over the way." It was a shabby district, chosen by the
elder Dickens because the rent was low. As he neglected to pay the rent,
one wonders why he did not take quarters in Piccadilly.
I looked in vain for a sign reading, "Washin dun Heer," but I found a Bow
Street orf'cer who told me that Bayham Street had long since disappeared.
Yet there is always a recompense in prowling about London, because if you
do not find the thing you are looking for, you find something else
equally interesting. My Bow Street friend proved to be a regular magazine
of rare and useful information--historical, archeological and
A Lunnun Bobby has his clothes cut after a pattern a hundred years old,
and he always carries his gloves in his hand--never wearing them--because
this was a habit of William the Conqueror.
But never mind; he is intelligent, courteous and obliging, and I am
perfectly willing that he should wear skirts like a ballet-dancer and a
helmet too small, if it is his humor.
My perliceman knew an older orf'cer who was acquainted with Mr. Dickens.
Mr. Dickens 'ad a full perliceman's suit 'imself, issued to 'im on an
order from Scotland Yard, and he used to do patrol duty at night,
carrying 'is bloomin' gloves in 'is 'and and 'is chinstrap in place. This
was told me by my new-found friend, who volunteered to show me the way to
North Gower Street.
It's only Gower Street now and the houses have been renumbered, so Number
Four is a matter of conjecture; but my guide showed me a door where were
the marks of a full-grown plate that evidently had long since
disappeared. Some days afterward I found this identical brass plate at an
old bookshop in Cheapside. The plate read: "Mrs. Dickens' Establishment."
The man who kept the place advertised himself as a "Bibliopole." He
offered to sell me the plate for one pun ten; but I did not purchase, for
I knew where I could get its mate with a deal more verdigris--all for six
Dickens has recorded that he can not recollect of any pupils coming to
the Establishment. But he remembers when his father was taken, like Mr.
Dorrit, to the Debtors' Prison. He was lodged in the top story but one,
in the very same room where his son afterwards put the Dorrits. It's a
queer thing to know that a book-writer can imprison folks without a
warrant and even kill them and yet go unpunished--which thought was
suggested to me by my philosophic guide.
From this house in Gower Street, Charles used to go daily to the
Marshalsea to visit Micawber, who not so many years later was to act as
the proud amanuensis of his son.
The next morning after I first met Bobby he was off duty. I met him by
appointment at the Three Jolly Beggars (a place pernicious snug). He was
dressed in a fashionable, light-colored suit, the coat a trifle short,
and a high silk hat. His large, red neckscarf--set off by his bright,
brick-dust complexion--caused me to mistake him at first for a friend of
mine who drives a Holborn bus.
Mr. 'Awkins (for it was he) greeted me cordially, pulled gently at his
neck-whiskers, and, when he addressed me as Me Lud, the barmaid served us
with much alacrity and things.
We went first to the church of Saint George; then we found Angel Court
leading to Bermondsey, also Marshalsea Place. Here is the site of the
prison, where the crowded ghosts of misery still hover; but small trace
could we find of the prison itself, neither did we see the ghosts. We,
however, saw a very pretty barmaid at the public in Angel Court. I think
she is still prettier than the one to whom Bobby introduced me at the
Sign of the Meat-Axe, which is saying a good deal. Angel Court is rightly
The blacking-warehouse at Old Hungerford Stairs, Strand, in which Charles
Dickens was shown by Bob Fagin how to tie up the pots of paste, has
rotted down and been carted away. The coal-barges in the muddy river are
still there, just as they were when Charles, Poll Green and Bob Fagin
played on them during the dinner-hour. I saw Bob and several other boys,
grimy with blacking, chasing each other across the flatboats, but Dickens
was not there.
Down the river aways there is a crazy, old warehouse with a rotten wharf
of its own, abutting on the water when the tide is in, and on the mud
when the tide is out--the whole place literally overrun with rats that
scuffle and squeal on the moldy stairs. I asked Bobby if it could not be
that this was the blacking-factory; but he said, No, for this one allus
Dickens found lodgings in Lant Street while his father was awaiting in
the Marshalsea for something to turn up. Bob Sawyer afterward had the
same quarters. When Sawyer invited Mr. Pickwick "and the other chaps" to
dine with him, he failed to give his number, so we can not locate the
house. But I found the street and saw a big, wooden Pickwick on wheels
standing as a sign for a tobacco-shop. The old gentleman who runs the
place, and runs the sign in every night, assured me that Bob Sawyer's
room was the first floor back. I looked in at it, but seeing no one there
whom I knew, I bought tuppence worth of pigtail in lieu of fee, and came
If a man wished to abstract himself from the world, to remove himself
from temptation, to place himself beyond the possibility of desire to
look out of the window, he should live in Lant Street, said a great
novelist. David Copperfield lodged here when he ordered that glass of
Genuine Stunning Ale at the Red Lion and excited the sympathy of the
landlord, winning a motherly kiss from his wife.
The Red Lion still crouches (under another name) at the corner of Derby
and Parliament Streets, Westminster. I daydreamed there for an hour one
morning, pretending the while to read a newspaper. I can not, however,
recommend their ale as particularly stunning.
As there are authors of one book, so are there readers of one
author--more than we wist. Children want the same bear story over and
over, preferring it to a new one; so "grown-ups" often prefer the
dog-eared book to uncut leaves.
Mr. Hawkins preferred the dog-eared, and at the station-house, where many
times he had long hours to wait in anticipation of a hurry-up call, he
whiled away the time by browsing in his Dickens. He knew no other author,
neither did he wish to. His epidermis was soaked with Dickensology, and
when inspired by gin and bitters he emitted information at every pore. To
him all these bodiless beings of Dickens' brain were living creatures. An
anachronism was nothing to Hawkins. Charley Bates was still at large,
Quilp was just around the corner, and Gaffer Hexam's boat was moored in
the muddy river below.
Dickens used to haunt the publics, those curious resting-places where all
sorts and conditions of thirsty philosophers meet to discuss all sorts of
themes. My guide took me to many of these inns which the great novelist
frequented, and we always had one legend with every drink. After we had
called at three or four different snuggeries, Hawkins would begin to
shake out the facts.
Now, it is not generally known that the so-called stories of Dickens are
simply records of historic events, like What-do-you-call-um's plays! F'r
instance, Dombey and Son was a well-known firm, who carried over into a
joint stock company only a few years ago. The concern is now known as The
Dombey Trading Company; they occupy the same quarters that were used by
their illustrious predecessors.
I signified a desire to see the counting-house so minutely described by
Dickens, and Mr. Hawkins agreed to pilot me thither on our way to
Tavistock Square. We twisted down to the first turning, then up three,
then straight ahead to the first right-hand turn, where we cut to the
left until we came to a stuffed dog, which is the sign of a glover. Just
beyond this my guide plucked me by the sleeve; we halted, and he silently
and solemnly pointed across the street. Sure enough! There it was, the
warehouse with a great stretch of dirty windows in front, through which
we could see dozens of clerks bending over ledgers, just as though Mr.
Dombey were momentarily expected. Over the door was a gilt sign, "The
Bombay Trading Co."
Bobby explained that it was all the same.
I did not care to go in; but at my request Hawkins entered and asked for
Mister Carker, the Junior, but no one knew him.
Then we dropped in at The Silver Shark, a little inn about the size of a
large dustbin of two compartments and a sifter. Here we rested a bit, as
we had walked a long way.
The barmaid who waited upon us was in curl-papers, but she was even then
as pretty if not prettier than the barmaid at the public in Angel Court,
and that is saying a good deal. She was about as tall as Trilby or as
Ellen Terry, which is a very nice height, I think.
As we rested, Mr. Hawkins told the barmaid and me how Rogue Riderhood
came to this very public, through that same doorway, just after he had
his Alfred David took down by the Governors Both. He was a slouching dog,
was the Rogue. He wore an old, sodden fur cap, Winter and Summer,
formless and mangy; it looked like a drowned cat. His hands were always
in his pockets up to his elbows, when they were not reaching for
something, and when he was out after game his walk was a half-shuffle and
Hawkins saw him starting off this way one night and followed him--knowing
there was mischief on hand--followed him for two hours through the fog
and rain. It was midnight and the last stroke of the bells that tolled
the hour had ceased, and their echo was dying away, when all at once----
But the story is too long to relate here. It is so long that when Mr.
Hawkins had finished it was too late to reach Tavistock Square before
dark. Mr. Hawkins explained that as bats and owls and rats come out only
when the sun has disappeared, so there are other things that can be seen
best by night. And as he did not go on until the next day at one, he
proposed that we should go down to The Cheshire Cheese and get a bite of
summat and then sally forth.
So we hailed a bus and climbed to the top.
"She rolls like a scow in the wake of a liner," said Bobby, as we tumbled
into seats. When the bus man came up the little winding ladder and
jingled his punch, Hawkins paid our fares with a heavy wink, and the
guard said, "Thank you, sir," and passed on.
We got off at The Cheese and settled ourselves comfortably in a corner.
The same seats are there, running along the wall, where Doctor Johnson,
"Goldy" and Boswell so often sat and waked the echoes with their
laughter. We had chops and tomato-sauce in recollection of Jingle and
Trotter. The chops were of that delicious kind unknown outside of
England. I supplied the legend this time, for my messmate had never heard
Hawkins introduced me to "the cove in the white apron" who waited upon
us, and then explained that I was the man who wrote "Martin Chuzzlewit."
He kissed his hand to the elderly woman who presided behind the
nickel-plated American cash-register. The only thing that rang false
about the place was that register, perked up there spick-span new.
Hawkins insisted that it was a typewriter, and as we passed out he took a
handful of matches (thinking them toothpicks) and asked the cashier to
play a tune on the thingumabob, but she declined.
We made our way to London Bridge as the night was settling down. No stars
came out, but flickering, fluttering gaslights appeared, and around each
post was a great, gray, fluffy aureole of mist. Just at the entrance to
the bridge we saw Nancy dogged by Noah Claypole. They turned down towards
Billingsgate Fish-Market, and as the fog swallowed them, Hawkins answered
my question as to the language used at Billingsgate.
"It's not so bloomin' bad, you know; why, I'll take you to a market in
Islington where they talk twice as vile."
He started to go into technicalities, but I excused him.
Then he leaned over the parapet and spat down at a rowboat that was
passing below. As the boat moved out into the glimmering light we made
out Lizzie Hexam at the oars, while Gaffer sat in the stern on the
The Marchioness went by as we stood there, a bit of tattered shawl over
her frowsy head, one stocking down around her shoetop. She had a penny
loaf under her arm, and was breaking off bits, eating as she went.
Soon came Snagsby, then Mr. Vincent Crummels, Mr. Sleary, the
horseback-rider, followed by Chops, the dwarf, and Pickleson, the giant.
Hawkins said there were two Picklesons, but I saw only one. Just below
was the Stone pier and there stood Mrs. Gamp, and I heard her ask:
"And which of all them smoking monsters is the Anxworks boat, I wonder?
"Which boat do you want?" asked Ruth.
"The Anxworks package--I will not deceive you, Sweet; why should I?"
"Why, that is the Antwerp packet, in the middle," said Ruth.
"And I wish it was in Jonidge's belly, I do," cried Mrs. Gamp.
We came down from the bridge, moved over toward Billingsgate, past the
Custom-House, where curious old sea-captains wait for ships that never
come. Captain Cuttle lifted his hook to the brim of his glazed hat as we
passed. We returned the salute and moved on toward the Tower.
"It's a rum place; let's not stop," said Hawkins. Thoughts of the ghosts
of Raleigh, of Mary Queen of Scots and of Lady Jane Grey seemed to steady
his gait and to hasten his footsteps.
In a few moments we saw just ahead of us David Copperfield and Mr.
Peggotty following a woman whom we could make out walking excitedly a
block ahead. It was Martha, intent on suicide.
"We'll get to the dock first and 'ead 'er orf," said 'Awkins. We ran down
a side street. But a bright light in a little brick cottage caught our
attention--men can't run arm in arm anyway. We forgot our errand of mercy
and stood still with open mouths looking in at the window at little Jenny
Wren hard at work dressing her dolls and stopping now and then to stab
the air with her needle. Bradley Headstone and Charlie and Lizzie Hexam
came in, and we then passed on, not wishing to attract attention.
There was an old smoke-stained tree on the corner which I felt sorry for,
as I do for every city tree. Just beyond was a blacksmith's forge and a
timber-yard behind, where a dealer in old iron had a shop, in front of
which was a rusty boiler and a gigantic flywheel half buried in the sand.
There were no crowds to be seen now, but we walked on and on--generally
in the middle of the narrow streets, turning up or down or across,
through arches where tramps slept, by doorways where children crouched;
passing drunken men, and women with shawls over their heads.
Now and again the screech of a fiddle could be heard or the lazy music of
an accordion, coming from some "Sailors' Home." Steps of dancing with
rattle of iron-shod boot-heels clicking over sanded floors, the hoarse
shout of the "caller-off," and now and again angry tones with cracked
feminine falsettos broke on the air; and all the time the soft rain fell
and the steam seemed to rise from the sewage-laden streets.
We were in Stepney, that curious parish so minutely described by Walter
Besant in "All Sorts and Conditions of Men"--the parish where all
children born at sea were considered to belong. We saw Brig Place, where
Walter Gay visited Captain Cuttle. Then we went with Pip in search of
Mrs. Wimple's house, at Mill-Pond Bank, Chink's Basin, Old Green Copper
Rope Walk; where lived old Bill Barley and his daughter Clara, and where
Magwitch was hidden. It was the dingiest collection of shabby buildings
ever squeezed together in a dark corner as a club for tomcats.
Then, standing out in the gloom, we saw Limehouse Church, where John
Rokesmith prowled about on a 'tective scent; and where John Harmon waited
for the third mate Radfoot, intending to murder him. Next we reached
Limehouse Hole, where Rogue Riderhood took the plunge down the steps of
Hawkins thought he saw the Artful Dodger ahead of us on the dock. He went
over and looked up and down and under an old upturned rowboat, then
peered over the dock and swore a harmless oath that if we could catch him
we would run him in without a warrant. Yes, we'd clap the nippers on 'im
and march 'im orf.
"Not if I can help it," I said; "I like the fellow too well." Fortunately
Hawkins failed to find him.
Here it was that the Uncommercial Traveler did patrol duty on many
sleepless nights. Here it was that Esther Summerson and Mr. Bucket came.
And by the light of a match held under my hat we read a handbill on the
brick wall: "Found Drowned!" The heading stood out in big, fat letters,
but the print below was too damp to read, yet there is no doubt it is the
same bill that Gaffer Hexam, Eugene Wrayburn and Mortimer Lightwood read,
for Mr. Hawkins said so.
As we stood there we heard the gentle gurgle of the tide running under
the pier, then a dip of oars coming from out the murky darkness of the
muddy river: a challenge from the shore with orders to row in, a hoarse,
defiant answer and a watchman's rattle.
A policeman passed us running and called back, "I say, Hawkins, is that
you? There's murder broke loose in Whitechapel again! The reserves have
been ordered out!"
Hawkins stopped and seemed to pull himself together--his height
increased three inches. A moment before I thought he was a candidate for
fatty degeneration of the cerebrum, but now his sturdy frame was all
atremble with life.
"Another murder! I knew it. Bill Sykes has killed Nancy at last. There 's
fifty pun for the man who puts the irons on 'im--I must make for the
He gave my hand a twist, shot down a narrow courtway--and I was left to
fight the fog, and mayhap this Bill Sykes and all the other wild phantoms
of Dickens' brain, alone.
* * * * *
A certain great general once said that the only good Indian
is a dead Indian. Just why the maxim should be limited to aborigines I
know not, for when one reads obituaries he is discouraged at the thoughts
of competing in virtue with those who have gone hence.
Let us extend the remark--plagiarize a bit--and say that the only perfect
men are those whom we find in books. The receipt for making them is
simple, yet well worth pasting in your scrapbook. Take the virtues of all
the best men you ever knew or heard of, leave out the faults, then mix.
In the hands of "the lady novelist" this composition, well molded, makes
a scarecrow, in the hair of which the birds of the air come and build
their nests. But manipulated by an expert a figure may appear that starts
and moves and seems to feel the thrill of life. It may even take its
place on a pedestal and be exhibited with other waxworks and thus become
confounded with the historic And though these things make the unskilful
laugh, yet the judicious say, "Dickens made it, therefore let it pass for
Dear old M. Taine, ever glad to score a point against the British, and
willing to take Dickens at his word, says, "We have no such men in France
as Scrooge and Squeers!"
But, God bless you, M. Taine, England has no such men either.
The novelist takes the men and women he has known, and from life, plus
imagination, he creates. If he sticks too close to nature he describes,
not depicts: this is "veritism." If imagination's wing is too strong, it
lifts the luckless writer off from earth and carries him to an unknown
land. You may then fall down and worship his characters, and there is no
violation of the First Commandment.
Nothing can be imagined that has not been seen; but imagination can
assort, omit, sift, select, construct. Given a horse, an eagle, an
elephant, and the "creative artist" can make an animal that is neither a
horse, an eagle, nor an elephant, yet resembles each. This animal may
have eight legs (or forty) with hoofs, claws and toes alternating; a
beak, a trunk, a mane; and the whole can be feathered and given the power
of rapid flight and also the ability to run like the East Wind. It can
neigh, roar or scream by turn, or can do all in concert, with a vibratory
force multiplied by one thousand.
The novelist must have lived, and the novelist must have imagination. But
this is not enough. He must have power to analyze and separate, and then
he should have the good taste to select and group, forming his parts into
a harmonious whole.
Yet he must build large. Life-size will not do: the statue must be
heroic, and the artist's genius must breathe into its nostrils the breath
The men who live in history are those whose lives have been skilfully
written. "Plutarch is the most charming writer of fiction the world has
ever known," said Emerson.
Dickens' characters are personifications of traits, not men and women.
Yet they are a deal funnier--they are as funny as a box of monkeys, as
entertaining as a Punch-and-Judy show, as interesting as a "fifteen
puzzle," and sometimes as pretty as chromos. Quilp munching the eggs,
shells and all, to scare his wife, makes one shiver as though a
Jack-in-the-box had been popped out at him. Mr. Mould, the undertaker,
and Jaggers, the lawyer, are as amusing as Humpty-Dumpty and Pantaloon. I
am sure that no live lawyer ever gave me half the enjoyment that Jaggers
has, and Doctor Slammers' talk is better medicine than the pills of any
living M.D. Because the burnt-cork minstrel pleases me more than a real
"nigger" is no reason why I should find fault!
Dickens takes the horse, the eagle and the elephant and makes an animal
of his own. He rubs up the feathers, places the tail at a fierce angle,
makes the glass eyes glare, and you are ready to swear that the thing is
By rummaging over the commercial world you can collect the harshness,
greed, avarice, selfishness and vanity from a thousand men. With these
sins you can, if you are very skilful, construct a Ralph Nickleby, a
Scrooge, a Jonas Chuzzlewit, an Alderman Cute, a Mr. Murdstone, a
Bounderby or a Gradgrind at will.
A little more pride, a trifle less hypocrisy, a molecule extra of
untruth, and flavor with this fault or that, and your man is ready to
place up against the fence to dry.
Then you can make a collection of all the ridiculous traits--the whims,
silly pride, foibles, hopes founded on nothing and dreams touched with
moonshine--and you make a Micawber. Put in a dash of assurance and a good
thimbleful of hypocrisy, and Pecksniff is the product. Leave out the
assurance, replacing it with cowardice, and the result is Doctor Chillip
or Uriah Heap. Muddle the whole with stupidity, and Bumble comes forth.
Then, for the good people, collect the virtues and season to suit the
taste and we have the Cheeryble Brothers, Paul Dombey or Little Nell.
They have no development, therefore no history--the circumstances under
which you meet them vary, that's all. They are people the like of whom
are never seen on land or sea.
Little Nell is good all day long, while live children are good for only
five minutes at a time. The recurrence with which these five-minute
periods return determines whether the child is "good" or "bad." In the
intervals the restless little feet stray into flowerbeds; stand on chairs
so that grimy, dimpled hands may reach forbidden jam; run and romp in
pure joyous innocence, or kick spitefully at authority. Then the little
fellow may go to sleep, smile in his dreams so that mamma says angels are
talking to him (nurse says wind on the stomach); when he awakens the
five-minute good spell returns.
Men are only grown-up children. They are cheerful after breakfast, cross
at night. Houses, lands, barns, railroads, churches, books, racetracks
are the playthings with which they amuse themselves until they grow
tired, and Death, the kind old nurse, puts them to sleep.
So a man on earth is good or bad as mood moves him; in color his acts are
seldom pure white, neither are they wholly black, but generally of a
steel-gray. Caprice, temper, accident, all act upon him. The North Wind
of hate, the Simoon of Jealousy, the Cyclone of Passion beat and buffet
him. Pilots strong and pilots cowardly stand at the helm by turn. But
sometimes the South Wind softly blows, the sun comes out by day, the
stars at night: friendship holds the rudder firm, and love makes all
Such is the life of man--a voyage on life's unresting sea; but Dickens
knows it not. Esther is always good, Fagin is always bad, Bumble is
always pompous, and Scrooge is always--Scrooge. At no Dickens' party do
you ever mistake Cheeryble for Carker; yet in real life Carker is Carker
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