The World's Greatest Books, Vol IX.
Edited by Arthur Mee and J.A. Hammerton
Part 6 out of 6
rooted themselves within me, and were little by little moulding
themselves into poetic form. These were "Goetz von Berlichingen" and
"Faust." Of my poetical labours, I believe I laid before him "The
Accomplices," but I do not recollect that on this account I received
from him either correction or encouragement.
At this epoch of my life took place a singular episode. During a
delightful tour in beautiful Alsace, round about the Vosges, I and two
fellow-students halted for a time at the house of a Protestant
clergyman, pastor in Sesenheim. I had visited the family previously.
Herder here joined us, and during our readings in the evenings
introduced to us an excellent work, "The Vicar of Wakefield." With the
German translation, he undertook to make us acquainted by reading it
The pastor had two daughters and a son. The family struck me as
corresponding in the most extraordinary manner to that delineated by
Goldsmith. The elder daughter might be taken for Olivia in the story,
and Frederica, the younger, for Sophia, while, as I looked at the boy, I
could scarcely help exclaiming, "Moses, are you here, too?" A Protestant
country clergyman is, perhaps, the most beautiful subject for a modern
idyl; he appears, like Melchizedek, as priest and king in one person.
Between me and the charming Frederica a mutual affection sprang up. Her
beautiful nature attracted me irresistibly, and I was happy beyond all
bounds at her side. For her I composed many songs to well-known
melodies. They would have made a pretty book; a few of them still
remain, and may easily be found among the others. But we were destined
soon to part. Such a youthful affection, cherished at random, may be
compared to a bombshell thrown at night, which rises with a soft,
brilliant light, mingles for a moment with the stars, then, in
descending, describes a similar path in the reverse direction, and at
last brings destruction where it terminates its course.
_V.--Among the Jurists_
In 1772 I went to Wetzlar, the seat of the Reichskammergericht, or
Imperial Chamber. This was a kind of court of chancery for the whole
empire; and I went there in order to gain increased experience in
jurisprudence. Here I found myself in a large company of talented and
vivacious young men, assistants to the commissioners of the various
states, and by them was accorded a genial welcome.
To one of the legations at Wetzlar was attached a young man of good
position and abilities, named Jerusalem, whose sad suicide soon
afterwards resulted through an unhappy passion for the wife of a friend.
On this history the plan of "The Sorrows of Werther" was founded. The
effect of this little book was great, nay, immense, and chiefly because
it exactly hit the temper of the times. For as it requires but a little
match to blow up an immense mine, so the explosion which followed my
publication was mighty from the circumstances that the youthful world
had already undermined itself; and the shock was great because all
extravagant demands, unsatisfied passions, and imaginary wrongs, were
suddenly brought to an eruption.
At this period I usually combined the art of design with poetical
composition. Whenever I dictated, or listened to reading, I drew the
portraits of my friends in profile on grey paper in white and black
chalk. But feeling the insufficiency of this copying, I betook myself
once more to language and rhythm, which were much more at my command.
How briskly, how joyously, I went to work with them will appear from the
many poems which, enthusiastically proclaiming the art of nature and the
nature of art, infused, at the moment of production, new spirit into me
as well as in my friends.
At this epoch, and in the midst of these occupations, I was sitting one
evening with a struggling light in my chamber, when there entered a
well-formed, slender man, who announced himself by the name of Von
Knebel. Much to my satisfaction, I learned that he came from Weimar,
where he was the companion of Prince Constantin. Of matters there I had
already heard much that was favourable; for several strangers who had
come from Weimar assured us that the widowed Duchess Amalia had gathered
round her the best men to assist in the education of the princes, her
sons; that the arts were not only protected by this princess, but were
practised by her with great diligence and zeal.
At Weimar was also one of the best theatres of Germany, which was made
famous by its actors, as well as by the authors who wrote for it. When I
expressed a wish to become better acquainted with these persons and
things, my visitor replied, in the most friendly manner possible, that
nothing was easier, since the hereditary prince, with his brother, the
Prince Constantin, had just arrived in Frankfort, and desired to see and
I at once expressed the greatest willingness to wait upon them; and my
new friend told me that I must not delay, as their stay would not be
long. I proceeded with Von Knebel to the young princes, who received me
in a very easy and friendly manner.
As the stay of the young princes in Frankfort was necessarily short,
they made me promise to follow them to Mayence. I gave this promise
gladly enough, and visited them. The few days of my stay passed very
pleasantly, for when my new patrons, with whom I enjoyed delightful
conversations on literature, were abroad on visits and banquets, I
remained with their attendants, drew portraits, or went skating. I
returned home full of the kindness I had met with.
* * * * *
Conversations with Eckermann
The outstanding feature of the remarkable "Conversations with
Eckermann" is this, that the compilation furnishes an
altogether unique record of the working of Goethe's mature
mind. For Goethe's age at the period when the "Conversations"
begin is seventy-three, and eighty-two when they end. John
Peter Eckermann published his work in 1836. In 1848 appeared
an additional portion. Eckermann, born at Winsen, in Hanover,
was the son of a woollen draper. He received an excellent
education, and studied art, under Ramber, in Hanover, but soon
became enamoured of poetry through the influence of Koerner and
of Goethe. He became the intimate friend of Goethe, and lived
with him for several years. In describing the friendship,
Eckermann says, "My relation to him was peculiar, and of a
very intimate kind. It was that of the scholar to the master,
of the son to the father, of the poor in culture to the rich
in culture. His conversation was as varied as his works.
Winter and summer, age and youth, seemed with him to be
engaged in a perpetual strife and change." Goethe was one of
the world's most brilliant conversationalists, ranking in this
respect with Coleridge.
_I.--On Poets and Poetry_
_Weimar, June_ 10, 1823. I reached here a few days ago, but have not
seen Goethe until to-day. He gave me a most cordial reception. I esteem
this the most fortunate day of my life. Goethe was dressed in a blue
frock-coat. He is a sublime figure. His first words were concerning my
manuscript. "I have just come from _you_" said he. He meant that he had
been reading it all the morning. He commented it enthusiastically. We
talked long together. But I could say little for I could not look at him
enough, with his strong, brown face, full of wrinkles, each wrinkle
being full of expression. He spoke like some old monarch. We parted
affectionately, for every word of his breathed kindness.
_Jena, September_ 8, 1823. Yesterday morning I had the happiness of
another interview with Goethe. What he said to me was quite important,
and will have a beneficial influence on all my life. All the young poets
of Germany should have the benefit of it. "Do not," said he, "attempt to
produce a great work. It is just this mistake which has done harm to our
best minds. I have myself suffered from this error. What have I not
dropped into the well! The present must assert its rights, and so the
poet will and should give out what presses on him. But if one has a
great work in his head, it expels everything else and deprives life for
the time of all comfort. If as to the whole you err, all time and
trouble are lost. But if the poet daily grasps the present, treating
with fresh sentiment what it offers, he always makes sure of something
good. If sometimes he does not succeed, at any rate he has lost nothing.
The world is so great and rich, and life is so manifold, that occasions
for poems are never lacking. But they must all be poems for special
occasions (_Gelegenheitsgedichte_). All my poems are thus suggested by
incidents in real life. I attach no value to poems snatched out of the
air. You know Furnstein, the so-called poet of nature? He has written
the most fascinating poem possible on hop-culture. I have suggested to
him that he should write songs on handicrafts, especially a weaver's
song, for he has spent his life from youth amongst such folk, and he
understands the subject through and through."
_February_ 24, 1824. At one to-day I went to Goethe's. He showed me a
short critique he had written on Byron's "Cain," which I read with much
interest. "We see," said he, "how the defectiveness of ecclesiastical
dogmas affects such a mind as Byron's, and how by such a piece he seeks
to emancipate himself from doctrine which has been thrust on him. Truly
the English clergy will not thank him, but I shall wonder whether he
will not proceed to treat Bible subjects, not letting slip such topics
as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah."
_February_ 25, 1824. Goethe was in high spirits at table. He showed me
Frau von Spiegel's album, in which he had written some very beautiful
verses. For two years a place had been left open for him, and he was
delighted that at length he had been able to fulfil an old promise.
Noticing on another page of the album a poem by Tiedge in the style of
his "Urania," Goethe observed that he had suffered considerably from
Tiedge's "Urania," for at one time nothing else was sung and recited.
Said he, "Wherever you went, you found 'Urania' on the table, and that
poem and immortality were the subjects of every conversation. By no
means would I lose the happiness of believing in a future existence, and
indeed I would say with Lorenzo de Medici that all they are dead, even
for this life, who believe in no other.
"But such incomprehensible matters lie too far off to be a theme of
daily meditation and thought-distracting speculation. And further, let
him who believes in immortality be happy in silence; he has no reason to
hold his head high because of his conviction. Silly women, priding
themselves on believing with Tiedge in immortality, have been offended
at my declaring that in the future state I hoped I should meet none of
those who had believed in it here. For how I should be tormented! The
pious would crowd about me, saying, 'Were we not right? Did we not
predict it? Has it not turned out exactly so?' And thus even up yonder
there would be everlasting ennui."
_April_ 14, 1824. I went, about one, for a walk with Goethe. We
conversed on the style of different authors. Said he, "Philosophical
speculation is, on the whole, a hindrance to the Germans, for it tends
to induce a tendency to obscurantism. The nearer they approach to
certain philosophical schools, the worse they write. Those Germans write
best who, as business men, and men of real life, confine themselves to
the practical. Thus, Schiller's style is the noblest and most
impressive, as soon as he ceases to philosophise, as I see from his
highly interesting letters, on which I am now busy. Many of our genial
German women in their style excel even many of our famous male writers.
"The French, in their style, are consistent with their general
character. They are sociable by nature and as such never forget the
public whom they address. They take the trouble to be clear in order to
convince, and agreeable in order to please. The English, as a rule,
write well, as born orators and as practical and realistic men.
Altogether, the style of a writer is a true reflection of his mind. If
anyone would acquire a lucid style, let him first be clear in his
thoughts; if he would command a noble style, he must first possess a
_May_ 2, 1824. During a drive over the hills through Upper Weimar we
could not look enough at the trees in blossom. We remarked that trees
full of white blossom should not be painted, because they make no
picture, just as birches with their foliage are unfit for the foreground
of a picture, because the delicate foliage does not adequately balance
the white trunk. Said Goethe, "Ruysdael never placed a foliaged birch in
the foreground, but only broken birch stems, without leaves. Such a
trunk suits the foreground admirably, for its bright form stands out
After some slight discussion of other subjects, we talked of the
erroneous tendency of such artists as would make religion art, while
their art ought to be religion. Goethe observed, "Religion stands in the
same relation to art as every other higher interest of life. It is
merely to be regarded as a material, which has equal claims with all
other vital materials. Also, faith and unbelief are not those organs
with which a work of art is to be comprehended. Far otherwise; totally
different human powers and capacities are required for such
comprehension. Art must appeal to those organs with which we can
apprehend it, or it misses its aim. A religious material may be a good
subject for art, but only if it possesses general human interest. Thus,
the Virgin with the Child is a good subject that may be treated a
hundred times, and will always be seen again with pleasure."
_November_ 24, 1824. In a conversation this evening concerning Roman and
Greek history, Goethe said, "Roman history is certainly no longer suited
to our time. We have become too humane for the triumphs of Caesar to be
anything but repellent to us. So also does Greek history offer little to
allure us. The resistance to a foreign enemy is indeed glorious, but the
constant civil wars of states against each other are intolerable.
Besides, the history of our own time is overwhelmingly important. The
battles of Leipzig and Waterloo eclipse Marathon, and such heroes as
Bluecher and Wellington are rivals of those of antiquity."
_January_ 10, 1825. In accordance with his deep interest in the English,
Goethe requested me to introduce to him the young Englishmen staying
here. I took this afternoon Mr. H., a young English officer, who, in the
course of the conversation, mentioned that he was reading "Faust," but
found it somewhat difficult.
Said Goethe, laughing, "Really, I should not have recommended you to
undertake 'Faust.' It is mad stuff, and goes beyond all usual feeling.
But as you have done it of your own accord, without asking me, you will
see how you get through. Faust is so strange an individual that only a
few persons can sympathise with his inner condition. Then the character
of Mephistopheles is also very difficult, because of his irony, and also
because he is the living result of an extensive acquaintance with the
world. But you will see what light comes to you.
"'Tasso,' on the other hand, lies far nearer to the common feeling of
mankind, and the elaboration of its form is favourable to an easier
understanding of it. What is chiefly needed for reading 'Tasso' is that
one should be no longer a child, and should not have been deprived of
_October_ 15, 1825. I found Goethe this evening in a very elevated mood,
and had the happiness of hearing from him many significant observations.
Concerning the state of the newest literature, he said, "Want of
character in individual investigators and writers is the source of all
the evils in our most recent literature. Till now the world believed in
the heroism of Lucretia and of Mucius Scaevola, and allowed itself thus
to be stimulated and inspired. But now comes historical criticism, and
says that those persons never lived, but are to be regarded as fables
and fictions, imagined by the great mind of the Romans. What are we to
do with so pitiful a truth? And if the Romans were great enough to
invent such stories, we should at least be great enough to believe
_December_ 25, 1825. I found Goethe alone this evening, and passed with
him some delightful hours. The conversation at one time turned on Byron,
especially on the disadvantage at which he appears when compared with
the innocent cheerfulness of Shakespeare, and on the frequent and
usually not unmerited blame which he drew on himself by his manifold
works of negation. Said Goethe, "If Byron had had the opportunity of
working off all the opposition that was in him, by delivering many
strong speeches in parliament, he would have been far purer as a poet.
But as he scarcely ever spoke in parliament, he kept in his heart all
that he felt against his nation, and no other means than poetical
expression of his sentiments remained to him. I could therefore style a
great part of his works of negation suppressed parliamentary speeches,
and I think the characterisation would suit them well."
_IV.--"Faust" and Victor Hugo_
_May_ 6, 1827. At a dinner-party at Goethe's, after conversation on
certain poems, he said, "The Germans are certainly strange people. They
make life much more burdensome to themselves than they ought by their
deep thoughts and ideas, which they seek everywhere and fix on
everything. Only have the courage to surrender yourself to your
impressions, permit yourself to be moved, instructed and inspired for
something great. But never imagine that all is vanity, if it is not
abstract thought and idea.
"Next they come and ask what idea I meant to embody in my 'Faust'? As if
I knew that myself, and could inform them. _From Heaven through the
world to hell_ would, indeed, be something; but that is no idea, only a
course of action. And further, that the devil loses the wager, and that
a man, continually struggling from difficult errors towards something
better, should be redeemed, is truly a more effective, and to many a
good, enlightening thought; but it is no idea lying at the basis of the
whole, and of each individual scene. It would have been a fine thing,
indeed, if I had strung so rich and diversified a life as I have brought
to view in 'Faust' upon the slender thread of one single, pervading
"It was altogether out of my province, as a poet, to strive to embody
anything abstract. I received in my mind impressions of an animated,
charming, hundredfold kind, just as a lively imagination presented them;
and as a poet I had nothing more to do than artistically to elaborate
these impressions, and so to present them that others might receive like
impressions. But I am somewhat of the opinion that the more
incommensurable, and the more incomprehensible to the understanding a
poetic production is, so much the better it is."
_June_ 20, 1831. At Goethe's, after dinner, the conversation fell upon
the use and misuse of terms. Said he, "The French use the word
'composition' inappropriately. The expression is degrading as applied to
genuine productions of art and poetry. It is a thoroughly contemptible
word, of which we should seek to get rid as soon as possible.
"How can one say, Mozart has _composed_ 'Don Juan'! Composition! As if
it were a piece of cake or biscuit, which had been mixed together with
eggs, flour, and sugar! It is a spiritual creation, in which the details
as well as the whole are pervaded by _one_ spirit. Consequently, the
producer did not follow his own experimental impulse, but acted under
that of his demoniac genius."
_June_ 27, 1831. We conversed about Victor Hugo. "He has a fine talent,"
said Goethe. "But he is altogether ensnared in the unhappy romantic
tendency of his time, by which he is constrained to represent, side by
side with the beautiful, the most hateful and intolerable. I have
recently read his 'Notre Dame de Paris,' and needed no little patience
to endure the horror that I felt. It is the most abominable book ever
written! And one is not even compensated by truthful representation of
human nature or character. On the contrary, his book is totally
destitute of nature and truth. The so-called acting personages whom he
brings forward are not men with living flesh and blood, but miserable
wooden puppets, moved according to his fancy and made to produce all
sorts of contortions and grimaces. But what kind of an age is this,
which not only makes such a book possible, but even finds it endurable
_V.--On the Bible_
_Sunday, March_ 11, 1832. This evening for an hour Goethe talked on
various excellent topics. I had purchased an English Bible, but found to
my great regret that it did not include the Apocrypha, because these
were not considered genuine and divinely inspired. I missed the truly
noble Tobias, the wisdom of Solomon and Jesus Sirach, all writings of
such deeply spiritual value, that few others equal them. I expressed to
Goethe my regret at the narrow exclusiveness thus manifested. He
entirely agreed with me.
"Still," said he, "there are two points of view from which Biblical
subjects may be regarded. There is that of primitive religion, of pure
nature and reason, which is of divine origin. This will ever remain the
same, and will endure as long as divinely endowed beings exist. It is,
however, only for the elect, and is far too high and noble to become
"Then there is the point of view of the Church, which is of a more human
nature. This is fallible and fickle, but, though perpetually changing,
it will last as long as there are weak human beings. The light of
cloudless divine revelation is far too pure and radiant for poor, weak
man. But the Church interposes as mediator, to soften and moderate, and
all are helped. Its influence is immense, through the notion that as
successor of Christ it can relieve the burden of human sin. To secure
this power, and to consolidate ecclesiasticism is the special aim of the
"Therefore it does not so much ask whether this or that book in the
Bible effects a great enlightenment of the mind, it much more looks to
the Mosaic and prophetic and Gospel records for allusions to the fall of
man, and the advent to earth and death of Christ, as the atonement for
sin. Thus you see that for such purposes the noble Tobias, the wisdom of
Solomon, and the sayings of Sirach have little weight.
"Still, the question as to authenticity in details of the Bible is truly
singular. What is genuine but the really excellent, which harmonises
with the purest reason and nature, and even now ministers to our highest
development? What is spurious but the absurd, hollow, and stupid, which
brings no worthy fruit? If the authenticity of a Biblical writing
depends on the question whether something true throughout has been
handed down to us, we might on some points doubt the genuineness of the
Gospels, of which Mark and Luke were not written from immediate presence
and experience, but long afterwards from oral tradition. And the last,
by the disciple John, was written in his old age.
"Yet I hold all four evangelists as thoroughly genuine, for there is in
them the reflection of a greatness which emanated from the person of
Jesus, such as only once has appeared on earth. If anyone asks whether
it is in my nature to pay Him devout reverence, I say--'Surely, yes!' I
bow before Him as the divine revelation of the highest principle of
morality. If I am asked whether it is in my nature to revere the sun,
again I say--'Surely, yes!' For the sun is also a manifestation of the
highest, and, indeed, the mightiest which we children of earth are
allowed to behold. But if I am asked whether I am inclined to bow before
a thumb-bone of the apostle Peter or Paul, I say, 'Spare me, and stand
off with your absurdities!'
"Says the apostle, 'Quench not the spirit.' The high and richly-endowed
clergy fear nothing so much as the enlightenment of the lower orders.
They withheld the Bible from them as long as possible. What can a poor
member of the Christian church think of the princely pomp of a richly
endowed bishop, when against this he sees in the Gospels the poverty of
Christ, travelling humbly on foot with His disciples, while the princely
bishop drives along in a carriage drawn by six horses!
"We do not at all know," continued Goethe, "all that we owe to Luther
and the Reformation generally. We are emancipated from the fetters of
spiritual narrowness. In consequence of our increasing culture, we have
become capable of reverting to the fountain-head, and of comprehending
Christianity in its purity. We have again the courage to stand with firm
feet upon God's earth, and to realise our divinely endowed human nature.
Let spiritual culture ever go on advancing, let the natural sciences go
on ever gaining in breadth and depth, and let the human mind expand as
it may, it will never go beyond the elevation and moral culture of
Christianity as it shines and gleams in the Gospel!
"But the more effectually we Protestants advance in our noble
development, so much the more rapidly will the Catholics follow. As soon
as they feel themselves caught in the current of enlightenment, they
must go on to the point where all is but one.
"The mischievous sectism of Protestantism will also cease, and with it
alienation between father and son, brother and sister. For as soon as
the pure teaching and love of Christ, as they really are, are
comprehended and consistently practised, we shall realise our humanity
as great and free, and cease to attach undue importance to mere outward
"Furthermore, we shall all gradually advance from a Christianity of word
and faith to one of feeling and action."
The conversation next turned on the question how far God is influencing
the great natures of the present world. Said Goethe, "If we notice how
people talk, we might almost believe them to be of opinion that God had
withdrawn into silence since that old time before Christ, and that man
was now placed on his own feet, and must see how he can get on without
God. In religious and moral matters a divine influence is still
admitted, but in matters of science and art it is insisted that they are
merely earthly, and nothing more than a product of pure human powers.
"But now let anyone only attempt with human will and human capabilities
to produce something comparable with the creations that bear the names
of Mozart, Raphael, or Shakespeare. I know right well that these three
noble men are not the only ones, and that in every department of art
innumerable excellent minds have laboured, who have produced results as
perfectly good as those mentioned. But, if they were as great as those,
they transcended ordinary human nature, and were in just the same degree
Goethe was silent, but I cherished his great and good words in my heart.
* * * * *
Thomas Gray, the poet and author of the "Elegy written in a
Country Churchyard," was born on December 26, 1716, in London,
and was the only survivor of twelve children. At Eton he
formed friendships with Horace Walpole, Thomas Ashton, and
Richard West, who were later his chief correspondents. At
Cambridge, where Gray took no degree, he began to make
experiments in poetry. In 1739 and 1740 he travelled in
Europe, and in 1742 he had established himself at Peterhouse,
Cambridge, without University position or recognition of any
kind. Here he plunged into the study of classical literature,
and began to work on the "Elegy," which was published in 1751.
He was a shy, sensitive man of very wide learning. Couched in
graceful language, the letters are typical of the best in the
best age of letter-writing, and not only are they fascinating
for the tender and affectionate nature they reveal, but also
for the gleam of real humour which Walpole declared was the
poet's most natural vein. He died on July 30, 1771.
_I.--The Student's Freedom_
TO RICHARD WEST
Peterhouse, _December, 1736._ After this term I shall have nothing more
of college impertinences to undergo. I have endured lectures daily and
hourly since I came last, supported by the hopes of being shortly at
liberty to give myself up to my friends and classical companions, who,
poor souls, though I see them fallen into great contempt with most
people here, yet I cannot help sticking to them.
Indeed, what can I do else? Must I plunge into metaphysics? Alas! I
cannot see in the dark. Nature has not furnished me with the optics of a
cat. Must I pore upon mathematics? Alas! I cannot see in too much light.
I am no eagle. It is very possible that two and two make four, but I
would not give four farthings to demonstrate this ever so clearly; and
if these be the profits of life, give me the amusements of it. The
people I behold all around me, it seems, know all this, and more, and
yet I do not know one of them who inspires me with any ambition of being
like him. Surely it was of this place, now Cambridge, but formerly known
by the name of Babylon, that the prophet spoke when he said, "The wild
beasts of the desert shall dwell there, and their houses shall be full
of doleful creatures, and owls shall build there and satyrs shall dance
there." You see, here is a pretty collection of desolate animals, which
is verified in this town to a tittle.
TO HORACE WALPOLE
_Burnham, September, 1737._ I have at the distance of half a mile
through a green lane a forest all my own, for I spy no human thing in it
but myself. It is a little chaos of mountains and precipices; mountains,
it is true, that do not ascend much above the clouds, nor are the
declivities quite so amazing as Dover cliff; but just such hills as
people who love their necks as well as I do may venture to climb, and
crags that give the eye as much pleasure as if they were more dangerous.
Both vale and hill are covered with most venerable beeches, and other
very reverend vegetables, that, like most other ancient people, are
always dreaming out their old stories to the winds. At the foot of one
of these squat I, "_Il penseroso_," and there grow to the trunk for a
whole morning. The timorous hare and sportive squirrel gambol around me
like Adam in Paradise, before he had an Eve; but I do not think he read
Virgil, as I commonly do there.
_II.--Travels with Horace Walpole_
TO HIS MOTHER
_Amiens, April, 1739._ We left Dover at noon, and with a pretty brisk
gale reached Calais by five. This is an exceeding old, but very pretty
town, and we hardly saw anything there that was not so new and so
different from England that it surprised us agreeably. We went the next
morning to the great church, and were at high mass, it being Easter
Monday. In the afternoon we took a post-chaise for Boulogne, which was
only eighteen miles further.
This chaise is a strange sort of conveyance, resembling an ill-shaped
chariot, only with the door opening before, instead of the side; three
horses draw it, one between the shafts, and the other two on each side,
on one of which the postillion rides and drives, too. This vehicle will,
upon occasion, go fourscore miles a day; but Mr. Walpole, being in no
hurry, chooses to make easy journeys of it, and we go about six miles an
hour. They are no very graceful steeds, but they go well, and through
roads which they say are bad for France, but to me they seem gravel
walks and bowling greens. In short, it would be the finest travelling in
the world were it not for the inns, which are most terrible places
The country we have passed through hitherto has been flat, open, but
agreeably diversified with villages, fields well cultivated, and little
rivers. On every hillock is a windmill, a crucifix, or a Virgin Mary
dressed in flowers and a sarcenet robe; one sees not many people or
carriages on the road; now and then, indeed, you meet a strolling friar,
a countryman, or a woman riding astride on a little ass, with short
petticoats and a great headdress of blue wool.
TO THOMAS ASHTON
_Paris, April, 1739._ Here there are infinite swarms of inhabitants and
more coaches than men. The women in general dress in sacs, flat hoops of
five yards wide, nosegays of artificial flowers on one shoulder, and
faces dyed in scarlet up to the eyes. The men in bags, roll-ups, muffs,
We had, at first arrival, an inundation of visits pouring in upon us,
for all the English are acquainted, and herd much together, and it is no
easy matter to disengage oneself from them, so that one sees but little
of the French themselves. To be introduced to people of high quality it
is absolutely necessary to be master of the language. There is not a
house where they do not play, nor is any one at all acceptable unless he
does so, too, a professed gamester being the most advantageous character
a man can have at Paris. The abbes and men of learning are of easy
access enough, but few English that travel have knowledge enough to take
any great pleasure in that company.
We are exceedingly unsettled and irresolute; don't know our own minds
for two moments together, and try to bring ourselves to a state of
perfect apathy. In short, I think the greatest evil that could have
happened to us is our liberty, for we are not at all capable to
determine our own actions.
TO HIS MOTHER
_Lyons, October 13, 1739._ We have been to see a famous monastery,
called the Grand Chartreuse, and had no reason to think our time lost.
After having travelled seven days, very slow (for we did not change
horses, it being impossible for a chaise to go post in these roads), we
arrived at a little village among the mountains of Savoy, called
Echelles; from thence we proceeded on horses, who are used to the way,
to the mountain of the Chartreuse. It is six miles to the top; the road
runs winding up it, commonly not six feet broad; on one hand is the
rock, with woods of pine-trees hanging overhead; on the other, a
monstrous precipice, almost perpendicular, at the bottom of which rolls
a torrent, that sometimes is tumbling among the fragments of stone that
have fallen from on high, and sometimes precipitating itself down vast
descents with a noise like thunder, which is made still greater by the
echo from the mountains on each side, concurs to form one of the most
solemn, the most romantic, and the most astonishing scenes I ever
beheld. Add to this the strange views made by the crags and cliffs on
the other hand, the cascades that in many places throw themselves from
the very summit down into the vale and the river below.
This place St. Bruno chose to retire to, and upon its very top founded
the convent, which is the superior of the whole order. When we came
there, the two fathers who are commissioned to entertain strangers (for
the rest must neither speak to one another nor to anyone else) received
us very kindly, and set before us a repast of dried fish, eggs, butter,
and fruits, all excellent in their kind, and extremely neat. They
pressed us to spend the night there, and to stay some days with them;
but this we could not do, so they led us about their house, which is
like a little city, for there are 100 fathers, besides 300 servants,
that make their clothes, grind their corn, press their wine, and do
everything among themselves. The whole is quite orderly and simple;
nothing of finery, but the wonderful decency and the strange situation
more than supply the place of it.
TO THE SAME
_Turin, November 7, 1739_. I am this night arrived here, and have just
set down to rest me after eight days tiresome journey. On the seventh
day we came to Lanebourg, the last town in Savoy; it lies at the foot of
the famous Mount Cenis, which is so situated as to allow no room for any
way but over the very top of it. Here the chaise was forced to be pulled
to pieces, and the baggage and that to be carried by mules. We ourselves
were wrapped up in our furs, and seated upon a sort of matted chair
without legs, which is carried upon poles in the manner of a bier, and
so began to ascend by the help of eight men.
It was six miles to the top, where a plain opens itself about as many
more in breadth, covered perpetually with very deep snow, and in the
midst of that a great lake of unfathomable depth, from whence a river
takes its rise, and tumbles over monstrous rocks quite down the other
side of the mountain. The descent is six miles more, but infinitely more
steep than the going up; and here the men perfectly fly down with you,
stepping from stone to stone with incredible swiftness, in places where
none but they could go three places without falling. The immensity of
the precipices, the roaring of the river and torrents that run into it,
the huge crags covered with ice and snow, and the clouds below you and
about you, are objects it is impossible to conceive without seeing them.
We were but five hours in performing the whole, from which you may judge
of the rapidity of the men's motion.
TO THE SAME
_Rome, April 2, 1740._ The first entrance of Rome is prodigiously
striking. It is by a noble gate, designed by Michael Angelo, and adorned
with statues; this brings you into a large square, in the midst of which
is a large block of granite, and in front you have at one view two
churches of a handsome architecture, and so much alike that they are
called the twins; with three streets, the middle-most of which is one of
the longest in Rome. As high as my expectation was raised, I confess,
the magnificence of this city infinitely surpasses it. You cannot pass
along a street but you have views of some palace, or church, or square,
or fountain, the most picturesque and noble one can imagine.
_III.--The Birth of the "Elegy"_
TO HORACE WALPOLE
_January_, 1747. I am very sorry to hear you treat philosophy and her
followers like a parcel of monks and hermits, and think myself obliged
to vindicate a profession I honour. The first man that ever bore the
name used to say that life was like the Olympic games, where some came
to show the strength and agility of their bodies; others, as the
musicians, orators, poets, and historians, to show their excellence in
those arts; the traders to get money; and the better sort, to enjoy the
spectacle and judge of all these. They did not then run away from
society for fear of its temptations; they passed their days in the midst
of it, conversation was their business; they cultivated the arts of
persuasion, on purpose to show men it was their interest, as well as
their duty, not to be foolish and false and unjust; and that, too, in
many instances with success; which is not very strange, for they showed
by their life that their lessons were not impracticable.
TO THE SAME
_Cambridge, February_ 11, 1751. As you have brought me into a little
sort of distress, you must assist me, I believe, to get out of it as
well as I can. Yesterday I had the misfortune of receiving a letter from
certain gentlemen who have taken the "Magazine of Magazines" into their
hands. They tell me that an "ingenious" poem, called "Reflections in a
Country Church-* yard," has been communicated to them, which they are
printing forthwith; that they are informed that the "excellent" author
of it is I by name, and that they beg not only his "indulgence," but the
"honour" of his correspondence, etc.
As I am not at all disposed to be either so indulgent or so
correspondent as they desire, I have but one bad way left to escape the
honour they would inflict upon me; and therefore am obliged to desire
you would make Dodsley print it immediately (which may be done in less
than a week's time) from your copy, but without my name, in what form is
most convenient for him, but on his best paper and character. He must
correct the press himself, and print it without any interval between the
stanzas, because the sense is in some places continued beyond them; and
the title must be, "Elegy, written in a Country Churchyard." If he would
add a line or two to say it came into his hands by accident, I should
like it better.
_Cambridge, August_ 18, 1758. I am as sorry as you seem to be that our
acquaintance harped so much on the subject of materialism when I saw him
with you in town. That we are indeed mechanical and dependent beings, I
need no other proof than my own feelings; and from the same feelings I
learn with equal conviction that we are not merely such; that there is a
power within that struggles against the force and bias of that
mechanism, commands its motion, and, by frequent practice, reduces it to
that ready obedience which we call "habit"; and all this in conformity
to a preconceived opinion, to that least material of all agents, a
I have known many in his case who, while they thought they were
conquering an old prejudice, did not perceive they were under the
influence of one far more dangerous; one that furnishes us with a ready
apology for all our worst actions, and opens to us a full licence for
doing whatever we please; and yet these very people were not at all the
more indulgent to other men, as they should have been; their indignation
to such as offended them was nothing mitigated. In short, the truth is,
they wished to be persuaded of that opinion for the sake of its
convenience, but were not so in their heart.
TO HORACE WALPOLE
1760. I am so charmed with the two specimens of Erse poetry
(Macpherson's) that I cannot help giving you the trouble to inquire a
little farther about them.
Is there anything known of the author or authors, and of what antiquity
they are supposed to be? Is there any more to be had of equal beauty, or
at all approaching to it? I have often been told that the poem called
"Hardycanute," which I always admired, and still admire, was the work of
somebody that lived a few years ago. This I do not at all believe,
though it has evidently been retouched in places by some modern hand;
but, however, I am authorised by this report to ask whether the two
poems in question are certainly antique and genuine. I make this inquiry
in quality of an antiquary, and am not otherwise concerned about it;
for, if I were sure that anyone now living in Scotland had written them
to divert himself, and laugh at the credulity of the world, I would
undertake a journey into the Highlands only for the pleasure of seeing
* * * * *
Memoirs of the Count de Grammont
Count Antony Hamilton, soldier, courtier, and author, was born
at Roscrea, Tipperary, in 1646. His father was George
Hamilton, grandson of the Duke of Hamilton. At the death of
Charles I., the Hamilton family took refuge abroad until the
Restoration, and Antony's boyhood, until his fourteenth year,
was spent in France. Shortly after their return with the
Stuart dynasty, the illustrious Count de Grammont, exiled from
France in 1662, won the affections of Elizabeth, Antony's
sister, and then with characteristic inconstancy, chose to
forget her; but he was caught up at Dover by the brothers
Antony and George, and brought back to fulfil his engagement.
After James II. had retired from England, Antony Hamilton
frequented the court of the fallen monarch at Saint-Germain,
where he died on April 21, 1720. In the "Memoirs of the Count
de Grammont," first published anonymously in 1713, Hamilton,
though of British birth, wrote one of the great classics of
the French language. The spirited wit, the malicious and
graceful gaiety of these adventures, are perfectly French in
_I.--Soldier and Gamester_
Those who read only for their amusement seem to me more reasonable than
those who read only in order to discover errors; and I may say at once
that I write for the former, without troubling myself about the
erudition of the critics. What does chronological order matter, or an
exact narrative, if only this sketch succeeds in giving a perfect
impression of its original?
I write, with something of Plutarch's freedom, a life more amazing than
any which that author has left us; an inimitable character whose
radiance covers faults which it would be vain to dissemble; an
illustrious personality whose vices and virtues are inextricably
interwoven, and seem as rare in their perfect harmony as they are
brilliant in their contrast. In war, in love, at the gaming-table, and
in all the varied circumstances of a long career, Count de Grammont has
been the wonder of his age.
It is not for me to describe him as Bussy and Saint-Evremond have tried
to do; his own words shall tell the pleasant story of sieges and
battles, and of his not less glorious stratagems in love or at play.
Louis XIII. reigned, and Cardinal Richelieu governed the kingdom. Great
men were in command of little armies, and these little armies won great
achievements. The fortunes of powerful houses depended on the minister's
favour. His vast projects were establishing the formidable grandeur of
the France of to-day. But matters of police were a trifle neglected; the
highways were unsafe, and theft went unpunished. Youth, entering on
life, took what part it chose; everyone might be a knight; everyone who
could became a beneficed priest. The sacred and military callings were
not distinguished by their dress, and the Chevalier de Grammont adorned
them both at the siege of Trin.
Many deeds of daring marked this siege of Trin; there had been great
fatigues and many losses. But of boredom, after De Grammont's arrival,
there was never any throughout the army; no more weariness in the
trenches, no more dulness among the generals. Everywhere, this man
sought and carried joy.
Some vainly imitated him; others more wisely sought his friendship.
Among these was Matta, a fellow of infinite frankness, probity, and
naturalness, and of the finest discernment and delicacy. A friendship
was quickly established between the two; they agreed to live together,
sharing expenses, and began to give a series of sumptuous and elegant
banquets, at which they found the cards marvellously profitable. The
chevalier became the fashion, and it was considered bad form to
contravene his taste.
But the greatest prosperity is not always the most lasting. Lavish
expenditure such as theirs begins to be felt when the luck changes, and
the chevalier soon had to call his genius to aid him in maintaining his
honourable reputation. Rejecting Matta's suggestion of retrenchment and
reforms as contrary to the honour of France, Grammont laid before him
the better way. He proposed to invite Count de Cameran, a wealthy and
eager player, to supper on the following evening. Matta objected their
"Have you not a grain of imagination?" continued the chevalier. "Order a
supper of the best. He will pay. But listen first to the simple
precautions which I mean to take. You command the Guards, don't you?
Well, have fifteen or twenty men, under your Sergeant Laplace, lying in
some quiet place between here and headquarters."
"Great heavens!" cried Matta. "An ambush? You mean to rob the unhappy
man? I cannot go so far as that!"
"Poor simpleton that you are!" was the reply. "Look fairly at the facts.
There is every appearance that we shall gain his money. The Piedmontese,
such as he is, are honest enough, but are by nature absurdly suspicious.
He commands the cavalry. Well, you are a man who cannot rule your
tongue, and it is ten to one that some of your jests will make him
anxious. If he were to take into his head that he was being cheated,
what might not happen? He usually has eight or ten mounted men attending
him, and we must guard against his natural resentment at losing."
"Give me your hand, dear chevalier," said Matta, "and forgive me for
having doubted you. How wonderful you are! It had never occurred to me
before that a player at the card-table should be backed by a detachment
of infantry outside."
The supper passed most agreeably, Matta drinking more than usual to
stifle some remaining scruples. The chevalier, brilliant as ever, kept
his guest in continual merriment, whom he was soon to make so serious;
and Cameran's ardour was divided between the good cheer on the table and
the play that was to follow. Meanwhile, the trusty Laplace drew up his
men in the darkness.
De Grammont, calling to mind the many deceits that had at various times
been practised upon him, steeled his heart against sentimental weakness;
and Matta, unwilling spectator of violated hospitality, went to sleep in
an easy-chair. Play began for small sums, but rose to higher stakes; and
presently Matta was awakened by the loud indignation of their
unfortunate guest to find the cards flying through the air.
"Play no more, my poor count!" cried Matta, laughing at his transports
of rage. "Don't hope for a change of luck!"
Cameran insisted, however, and Matta was again aroused by a more furious
storm. "Stop playing!" he shouted. "Don't I tell you it is impossible
that you should win? We are cheating you!"
The Chevalier de Grammont, all the more annoyed at this ill-placed jest
because it had a certain appearance of truth, rebuked Matta for his rude
gaiety; but the losing player, reassured by Matta's frankness, refused
to be offended by him, and turned again to deal the cards. Cameran lost
fifteen hundred pistoles and paid them the next morning. Matta, severely
reprimanded for his dangerous impertinence, confessed that a brush
between the opposing forces outside would have been a diverting
conclusion to the evening.
_II.--A Complete Education_
"Tell me the story of your education," said Matta one evening, as the
intimacy of the two friends advanced. "The most trifling particulars of
a life like yours must be well worth knowing. But don't begin with an
enumeration of your ancestors, for I know you are wholly ignorant of
their name and rank."
"What poor jest is that?" replied the count. "Not all the world is as
ignorant as you. It was owing to my father's own choice that he was not
son of King Henry IV. His majesty desired nothing more than to recognise
him, but my treacherous parent was obdurate to the end. Think how the De
Grammonts would have stood if he had only kept to the truth. I see you
laugh, but it's as true as the Gospel.
"But to come to facts. I was sent to college with a view to the Church,
but as I had other views, I profited little. I was so fond of gaming
that my teachers lost their Latin in trying to teach it to me. Old
Brinon, who accompanied me as servant and governor, threatened me with
my mother's anger, but I rarely listened. I left college very much as I
entered it, though they considered that I knew enough for the living
which my brother had procured for me.
"He had just married the niece of the great Richelieu, to whom he wished
to present me. I arrived in Paris, and after enjoying for a few days the
run of the town in order to lose my rusticity, I put on a cassock to
appear at court in a clerical character. But my hair was well powdered
and dressed, my white boots and gilt spurs showed below, and the
cardinal was offended at what he took to be a slight on the tonsure.
"The costume, a compromise between Rome and the army, delighted the
court, but my brother pointed out that the time had come to choose
between them. 'On the one hand,' he said, 'by declaring for the Church
you may have great possessions and a life of idleness; on the other
hand, a soldier's life offers you slender pay, broken arms and legs, the
court's ingratitude, and at length, perhaps, the rank of camp-marshal,
with a glass eye and a wooden leg. Choose.'
"'I very well know,' I replied, 'that these two careers cannot be
compared as regards the comfort and convenience of life; but since it is
our duty to seek salvation first of all, I will renounce the Church that
I may save my soul--always on the understanding that I may keep my
benefice.' Neither my brother's remonstrances nor his authority could
shake my resolution, and I had even to go without my benefice.
"My mother, who hoped that I should be a saint in the Church, but feared
that in the world I should become a devil, or be killed in battle, was
at first inconsolable. But after I had somewhat acquired the manners of
the court and of society she idolised me, and kept me with her as long
as possible. At last the time came for my departure to the war, and the
faithful Brinon undertook to be responsible for my morals and welfare,
as well as for my safety on the field.
"Brinon and I fell out very soon. He had been entrusted with four
hundred pistoles for my charges, and I naturally wanted to have them.
Brinon refused to part with the money, and I was compelled to take it by
force. He made such ado about it I might have been tearing the heart
from his breast. From this point my spirits rose exceedingly.
"At last we reached Lyons. Two soldiers stopped us at the gate to take
us to the governor, and I ordered one of them to guide me to the best
hotel, while the other should take Brinon before the governor to give an
account of my journey and purpose. There is as good entertainment in
Lyons as in Paris, but, as usual, my soldier led me to the house of one
of his friends, praising it as the haunt of the best company. We came
thither, and I was left in the hands of the landlord, who was Swiss by
race, poisoner by profession, and robber by custom.
"Presently Brinon arrived, angrier than an aged monkey, and, finding me
preparing to go down to the company below, assured me that there were
none in the house but a dozen noisy gamblers, playing cards and dice.
But I had become ungovernable since I had secured the money, and sent
him off to sup and sleep, ordering the horses for the hour before dawn.
My money began to tingle in my pocket from the moment when Brinon spoke
of the cards.
"The public room below was crowded with the most astonishing figures. I
had expected well-dressed folk, and here were German and Swiss chapmen
playing backgammon with the manners of cattle. One especially was
pointed out to me by my host as a horse-dealer from Basle, who was
willing to play high, and was always ready to pay his losses. This was
sufficient. I immediately proposed to ruin that horse-dealer. I stood
behind him and studied his play, which was inconceivably bad.
"We dined side by side, and when the worst meal I have ever taken was
finished, everyone disappeared, with the exception of my Swiss and the
landlord. After a little conversation I proposed a game, and,
apologising for the great liberty he was taking, the horse-dealer
consented. I won, and won again. Brinon entered to interrupt us, and I
turned him out of the room. The play continued in my favour until the
little Swiss, having passed over the stakes, apologised again, and would
have retired. That, however, was not what I wanted. I offered to stake
all my winnings in one throw. He made a good deal of difficulty over it,
but at last consented, and won. I was annoyed, and staked again. Again
he won. There was no more bad play now. Throw after throw, without
exception, went in his favour, until all my money was gone. Then he
rose, apologetic as ever, wished me good-night, and left the house. Thus
my education was completed."
"But what did you do then?" Matta inquired.
"Brinon hadn't given me all the money."
_III.--The Restoration Court_
The Chevalier de Grammont had visited England at the time when that
proud nation lay under Cromwell's yoke, and all was sad and serious in
the finest city of the world. But he found a very different scene the
next time he crossed the Channel. The joy of the Restoration was
everywhere. The very people who had solemnly abjured the Stuart line
were feasting and rejoicing on its return.
He arrived about two years after Charles II. had ascended the throne,
and his welcome at the English court mitigated his sorrows at leaving
France. It was indeed a happy retreat for an exile of his character.
Accustomed as he was to the grandeur of the French court, he was
surprised at the refinement and majesty of that of England. The king was
second to none in bodily or in mental graces, his temperament was
agreeable and familiar. Capable of everything when affairs of state were
urgent, he was unable to apply himself in times of ease; his heart was
often the dupe, and oftener still the slave, of his affections. The Duke
of York was of a different character. His courage was reputed
indomitable, his word inviolable, and his economy, pride, and industry
were praised by all.
The Duke of Ormonde enjoyed the confidence and esteem of his royal
master. The magnitude of his services, his high birth and personal
merit, and the sacrifices which he had made in following the fortunes of
Charles II. justified his elevation to be master of the king's
household, first gentleman of the chamber, and governor of Ireland. He
was, so to speak, the Marshal de Grammont of the English court. The Duke
of Buckingham and the Count of St. Albans were in England what they had
been in France; the former, spirited and fiery, dissipating ingloriously
his immense possessions; the other, without notable talent, having risen
from indigence to a considerable fortune, which his losses at play and
abundant hospitality seemed only to increase.
Lord Berkeley, who later became Lord Falmouth, was the king's confidant
and favourite, though a man of no great gifts, either physical or
intellectual; but the native nobility of his mind was shown in an
unprecedented disinterestedness, so that he cared for nothing but the
glory of his master. So true-hearted was he, that no one would have
taken him to be a courtier.
The eldest of the Hamiltons was the best-dressed man at court. He was
handsome, and had those happy talents which lead to fortune and to the
victories of love. He was the most assiduous and polished of courtiers;
no one danced or flirted more gracefully, and these are no small merits
in a court which lives on feasts and gallantry. The handsome Sydney,
less dangerous than he seemed, had too little vivacity to make good the
promise of his features.
Strangely enough, it was on the little Jermyn, nephew and adopted son of
the aged St. Albans, that all good fortunes showered. Backed by his
uncle's wealth, he had made a brave show at the court of the Princess of
Orange, and, as is so often the case, magnificent equipments had made a
way for love. True, he was a courageous and well-bred man, but his
personal attractions were slight; he was small, with a big head and
short legs, and though his features were not disagreeable, his gait and
manner were affected. His wit was limited to a few expressions, which he
used indiscriminately in raillery and in wooing; yet on these poor
advantages was founded a formidable success in gallantry. His reputation
was well established in England before ever he arrived. If a woman's
mind be prepared, the way is open to her heart, and Jermyn found the
ladies of the English court favourably disposed.
Such were the heroes of the court. As for the beauties, one could not
turn without seeing some of them. Those of greatest repute were Lady
Castlemaine (later Duchess of Cleveland), Lady Chesterfield, Lady
Shrewsbury, with a hundred other stars of this shining constellation;
but Miss Hamilton and Miss Stewart outshone them all. The new queen
added but little to its brilliancy, either personally or by the members
of her suite.
Into this society, then, the Chevalier de Grammont entered. He was
familiar with everyone, adapted himself readily to their customs,
enjoyed everything, praised everything, and was delighted to find the
manners of the court neither coarse nor barbarous. With his natural
complacency, instead of the impertinent fastidiousness of which other
foreigners had been guilty, he delighted the whole of England.
At first he paid court to the king, with whom he found favour. He played
high, and rarely lost. He was soon in so much request that his presence
at a dinner or reception had to be secured eight or ten days beforehand.
These unintermitted social duties wearied him, but he acceded to them as
inevitable, keeping himself free, however, for supper at home. The hour
of these exquisite little suppers was irregular, because it depended on
the course of play; the company was small, but well-chosen. The pick of
the courtiers accepted his invitations, and the celebrated
Saint-Evremond, a fellow exile, was always of the party. De Grammont was
his hero, and Saint-Evremond used to make prudent little lectures on his
"Here you are," he would say, "in the most agreeable and fortunate
circumstances which a man of your humour could find. You are the delight
of a youthful, lively and gallant court. The king makes you one of every
pleasant party. You play every night to morning, without knowing what it
is to lose. You spend lavishly, but your fortune is multiplying itself
beyond your wildest dreams. My dear Chevalier, leave well alone. Don't
renew your ancient follies. Keep to your gaming; amass money; do not
interfere with love." And De Grammont would laugh at his mentor as the
"Cato of Normandy."
_IV.--The Chevalier's Marriage_
The Hamilton family lived next to court, in a large house where the most
distinguished people in London, and among them the Chevalier de
Grammont, were to be found daily. Everyone agreed that Miss Hamilton
deserved a sincere and worthy attachment; her birth was of the highest
and her charms were universally acknowledged. Her figure was beautiful,
every movement was gracious, and the ladies of the court were led by her
taste in dress and in coiffure. Affecting neither vivacity nor
deliberation in speech, she said as much as was needed, and no more.
After seeing her, the Chevalier wasted no more time elsewhere.
The English court was at this time seething with amorous intrigues, and
the Chevalier and his friends were involved in many a risky adventure.
The days were spent in hunting, the nights in dancing and at play. One
of the most splendid masquerades was devised by the queen herself. In
this spectacle, each dancer was to represent a particular nation; and
you may imagine that the tailors and dressmakers were kept busy for many
days. During these preparations, Miss Hamilton took a fancy to ridicule
two very pushing ladies of the court.
Lady Muskerry, like most great heiresses, was without physical
endowments. She was short, stout, and lame, and her features were
disagreeable; but she was the victim of a passion for dress and for
dancing. The queen, in her kindness to the public, never omitted to make
Lady Muskerry dance at a court ball; but it was impossible to introduce
her into a superb pageant such as the projected masquerade.
To this lady, then, when the queen was sending her invitations, Miss
Hamilton addressed a fac-simile note, commanding her attendance in the
character of a Babylonian; and to another, a Miss Blague, who was
extremely blonde with a most insipid tint, she sent several yards of the
palest yellow ribbon, requesting her to wear it in her hair. The jest,
which succeeded admirably, was characteristic of Miss Hamilton's playful
During a season at Tunbridge Wells, and another a Bath, the brilliant
Chevalier, admired by all and more successful than ever at play,
prosecuted his suit. Then, almost all the merry courtier-lovers fell at
once into the bonds of marriage. The beautiful Miss Stewart married the
Duke of Richmond; the invincible little Jermyn fell to a conceited lady
from the provinces; Lord Rochester took a melancholy heiress; George
Hamilton married the lovely Miss Jennings; and, lastly, the Chevalier de
Grammont, as the reward of a constancy which he had never shown before,
and which he has never practised since, became the possessor of the
charming Miss Hamilton.
* * * * *
Our Old Home
On the election of Franklin Pierce as President of the United
States, Hawthorne was appointed consul at Liverpool, whither
he sailed in 1853, resigning in 1857 to go to Rome, and
returning to America four years later. "Our Old Home" is the
fruit of this period spent in England. It was written at
Concord, and first appeared serially during 1863 in the
"Atlantic Monthly." Although "Our Old Home" gave no little
offence to English readers, nevertheless it exhibits the
author as keenly observant of their characteristics and life.
The Liverpool Consulate of the United States, in my day, was located in
Washington Buildings, in the neighbourhood of some of the oldest docks.
Here in a stifled and dusky chamber I spent wearily four good years of
my existence. Hither came a great variety of visitors, principally
Americans, but including almost every other nationality, especially the
distressed and downfallen ones. All sufferers, or pretended ones, in the
cause of Liberty sought the American Consulate in hopes of bread, and
perhaps to beg a passage to the blessed home of Freedom.
My countrymen seemed chiselled in sharper angles than I had imagined at
home. They often came to the Consulate in parties merely to see how
their public servant was getting on with his duties.
No people on earth have such vagabond habits as ourselves. A young
American will deliberately spend all his resources in an aesthetic
peregrination of Europe. Often their funds held out just long enough to
bring them to the doors of my Consulate. Among these stray Americans I
remember one ragged, patient old man, who soberly affirmed that he had
been wandering about England more than a quarter of a century, doing his
utmost to get home, but never rich enough to pay his passage.
I recollect another queer, stupid, fat-faced individual, a country
shopkeeper from Connecticut, who had come over to England solely to have
an interview with the queen. He had named one of his children for her
majesty, and the other for Prince Albert, and had transmitted
photographs of them to the illustrious godmother, which had been
acknowledged by her secretary. He also had a fantastic notion that he
was rightful heir to a rich English estate. The cause of this particular
insanity lies deep in the Anglo-American heart. We still have an
unspeakable yearning towards England, and I might fill many pages with
instances of this diseased American appetite for English soil. A
respectable-looking woman, exceedingly homely, but decidedly New
Englandish, came to my office with a great bundle of documents,
containing evidences of her indubitable claim to the site on which all
the principal business part of Liverpool has long been situated.
All these matters, however, were quite distinct from the real business
of that great Consulate, which is now woefully fallen off. The technical
details I left to the treatment of two faithful, competent English
subordinates. An American has never time to make himself thoroughly
qualified for a foreign post before the revolution of the political
wheel discards him from his office. For myself, I was not at all the
kind of man to grow into an ideal consul. I never desired to be burdened
with public influence, and the official business was irksome. When my
successor arrived, I drew a long, delightful breath.
These English sketches comprise a few of the things that I took note of,
in many escapes from my consular servitude. Liverpool is a most
convenient point to get away from. I hope that I do not compromise my
American patriotism by acknowledging that in visiting many famous
localities, I was often conscious of a fervent hereditary attachment to
the native soil of our forefathers, and felt it to be our Old Home.
_II.--A Sentimental Experience_
There is a small nest of a place in Leamington which I remember as one
of the cosiest nooks in England. The ordinary stream of life does not
run through this quiet little pool, and few of the inhabitants seem to
be troubled with any outside activities.
Its original nucleus lies in the fiction of a chalybeate well. I know
not if its waters are ever tasted nowadays, but it continues to be a
resort of transient visitors. It lies in pleasant Warwickshire at the
very midmost point of England, surrounded by country seats and castles,
and is the more permanent abode of genteel, unoccupied, not very wealthy
My chief enjoyment there lay in rural walks to places of interest in the
neighbourhood. The high-roads are pleasant, but a fresher interest is to
be found in the footpaths which go wandering from stile to stile, along
hedges and across broad fields, and through wooded parks. These by-paths
admit the wayfarer into the very heart of rural life. Their antiquity
probably exceeds that of the Roman ways; the footsteps of the aboriginal
Britons first wore away the grass, and the natural flow of intercourse
from village to village has kept the track bare ever since. An American
farmer would plough across any such path. Old associations are sure to
be fragrant herbs in English nostrils, but we pull them up as weeds.
I remember such a path, which connects Leamington with the small village
of Lillington. The village consists chiefly of one row of dwellings,
growing together like the cells of a honeycomb, without intervening
gardens, grass-plots, orchards, or shade trees. Beyond the first row
there was another block of small, old cottages with thatched roofs. I
never saw a prettier rural scene. In front of the whole row was a
luxuriant hawthorne hedge, and belonging to each cottage was a little
square of garden ground. The gardens were chock-full of familiar,
bright-coloured flowers. The cottagers evidently loved their little
nests, and kindly nature helped their humble efforts with its flowers,
moss, and lichens.
Not far from these cottages a green lane turned aside to an ideal
country church and churchyard. The tower was low, massive, and crowned
with battlements. We looked into the windows and beheld the dim and
quiet interior, a narrow space, but venerable with the consecration of
many centuries. A well-trodden path led across the churchyard. Time
gnaws an English gravestone with wonderful appetite. And yet this, same
ungenial climate has a lovely way of dealing with certain horizontal
monuments. The unseen seeds of mosses find their way into the lettered
furrows, and are made to germinate by the watery sunshine of the English
sky; and by-and-bye, behold, the complete inscription beautifully
embossed in velvet moss on the marble slab! I found an almost illegible
stone very close to the church, and made out this forlorn verse.
And poorly died;
And no one cried.
From Leamington, the road to Warwick is straight and level till it
brings you to an arched bridge over the Avon. Casting our eyes along the
quiet stream through a vista of willows, we behold the grey magnificence
of Warwick Castle. From the bridge the road passes in front of the
Castle Gate, and enters the principal street of Warwick.
Proceeding westward through the town, we find ourselves confronted by a
huge mass of rock, penetrated by a vaulted passage, which may well have
been one of King Cymbeline's gateways; and on the top of the rock sits a
small, old church, communicating with an ancient edifice that
looks down on the street. It presents a venerable specimen of the
timber-and-plaster style of building; the front rises into many gables,
the windows mostly open on hinges; the whole affair looks very old, but
the state of repair is perfect.
On a bench, enjoying the sunshine, and looking into the street, a few
old men are generally to be seen, wrapped in old-fashioned cloaks and
wearing the identical silver badges which the Earl of Leicester gave to
the twelve original Brethren of Leicester's Hospital--a community which
exists to-day under the modes established for it in the reign of Queen
Elizabeth. This sudden cropping-up of an apparently dead and buried
state of society produces a picturesque effect.
The charm of an English scene consists in the rich verdure of the
fields, in the stately wayside trees, and in the old and high
cultivation that has humanised the very sods. To an American there is a
kind of sanctity even in an English turnip-field.
After my first visit to Leamington, I went to Lichfield to see its
beautiful cathedral, and because it was the birthplace of Dr. Johnson,
with whose sturdy English character I became acquainted through the good
offices of Mr. Boswell. As a man, a talker, and a humorist, I knew and
loved him. I might, indeed, have had a wiser friend; the atmosphere in
which he breathed was dense, and he meddled only with the surface of
life. But then, how English!
I know not what rank the cathedral of Lichfield holds among its sister
edifices. To my uninstructed vision it seemed the object best worth
gazing at in the whole world.
Seeking for Johnson's birthplace, I found a tall and thin house, with a
roof rising steep and high. In a corner-room of the basement, where old
Michael Johnson may have sold books, is now what we should call a
dry-goods store. I could get no admittance, and had to console myself
with a sight of the marble figure sitting in the middle of the Square
with his face turned towards the house. A bas-relief on the pedestal
shows Johnson doing penance in the market-place of Uttoxeter for an act
of disobedience to his father, committed fifty years before.
The next day I went to Uttoxeter on a sentimental pilgrimage to see the
very spot where Johnson had stood. How strange it is that tradition
should not have kept in mind the place! How shameful that there should
be no local memorial of this incident, as beautiful and touching a
passage as can be cited out of any human life!
_III.--The English Vanity Fair_
One summer we found a particularly delightful abode in one of the oases
that have grown up on the wide waste of Blackheath. A friend had given
us pilgrims and dusty wayfarers his suburban residence, with all its
conveniences, elegances, and snuggeries, its lawn and its cosy
garden-nooks. I already knew London well, and I found the quiet of my
temporary haven more attractive than anything that the great town could
offer. Our domain was shut in by a brick wall, softened by shrubbery,
and beyond our immediate precincts there was an abundance of foliage.
The effect was wonderfully sylvan and rural; only we could hear the
discordant screech of a railway-train as it reached Blackheath. It gave
a deeper delight to my luxurious idleness that we could contrast it with
the turmoil which I escaped.
Beyond our own gate I often went astray on the great, bare, dreary
common, with a strange and unexpected sense of desert freedom. Once,
about sunset, I had a view of immense London, four or five miles off,
with the vast dome in the midst, and the towers of the Houses of
Parliament rising up into the smoky canopy--a glorious and sombre
picture, but irresistibly attractive.
The frequent trains and steamers to Greenwich have made Blackheath a
playground and breathing-place for Londoners. Passing among these
holiday people, we come to one of the gateways of Greenwich Park; it
admits us from the bare heath into a scene of antique cultivation,
traversed by avenues of trees. On the loftiest of the gentle hills which
diversify the surface of the park is Greenwich Observatory. I used to
regulate my watch by the broad dial-plate against the Observatory wall,
and felt it pleasant to be standing at the very centre of time and
The English character is by no means a lofty one, and yet an observer
has a sense of natural kindness towards them in the lump. They adhere
closer to original simplicity; they love, quarrel, laugh, cry, and turn
their actual selves inside out with greater freedom than Americans would
consider decorous. It was often so with these holiday folk in Greenwich
Park, and I fancy myself to have caught very satisfactory glimpses of
Arcadian life among the cockneys there.
After traversing the park, we come into the neighbourhood of Greenwich
Hospital, an establishment which does more honour to the heart of
England than anything else that I am acquainted with. The hospital
stands close to the town, where, on Easter Monday, it was my good
fortune to behold the festivity known as Greenwich Fair.
I remember little more of it than a confusion of unwashed and shabbily
dressed people, such as we never see in our own country. On our side of
the water every man and woman has a holiday suit. There are few sadder
spectacles than a ragged coat or a soiled gown at a festival.
The unfragrant crowd was exceedingly dense. There were oyster-stands,
stalls of oranges, and booths with gilt gingerbread and toys for the
children. The mob were quiet, civil, and remarkably good-humoured,
making allowance for the national gruffness; there was no riot. What
immensely perplexed me was a sharp, angry sort of rattle sounding in all
quarters, until I discovered that the noise was produced by a little
instrument called "the fun of the fair," which was drawn smartly against
people's backs. The ladies draw their rattles against the young men's
backs, and the young men return the compliment. There were theatrical
booths, fighting men and jugglers, and in the midst of the confusion
little boys very solicitous to brush your boots. The scene reminded me
of Bunyan's description of Vanity Fair.
These Englishmen are certainly a franker and simpler people than
ourselves, from peer to peasant; but it may be that they owe those manly
qualities to a coarser grain in their nature, and that, with a fine one
in ours, we shall ultimately acquire a marble polish of which they are
From Greenwich the steamers offer much the most agreeable mode of
getting to London. At least, it might be agreeable except for the soot
from the stove-pipe, the heavy heat of the unsheltered deck, the
spiteful little showers of rain, the inexhaustible throng of passengers,
and the possibility of getting your pocket picked.
A notable group of objects on the bank of the river is an assemblage of
walls, battlements, and turrets, out of the midst of which rises one
great, greyish, square tower, known in English history as the Tower.
Under the base of the rampart we may catch a glimpse of an arched
water-entrance; it is the Traitor's Gate, through which a multitude of
noble and illustrious personages have entered the Tower on their way to
Later, we have a glimpse of the holy Abbey; while that grey, ancestral
pile on the opposite side of the river is Lambeth Palace. We have passed
beneath half a dozen bridges in our course, and now we look back upon
the mass of innumerable roofs, out of which rise steeples, towers,
columns, and the great crowning Dome--look back upon that mystery of the
world's proudest city, amid which a man so longs and loves to be, not,
perhaps, because it contains much that is positively admirable and
enjoyable, but because the world has nothing better.
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