Virginibus Puerisque
Robert Louis Stevenson

Part 2 out of 3

disease, nor Stillicide a crime. But though I would not
willingly part with such scraps of science, I do not set the
same store by them as by certain other odds and ends that I
came by in the open street while I was playing truant. This
is not the moment to dilate on that mighty place of education,
which was the favourite school of Dickens and of Balzac, and
turns out yearly many inglorious masters in the Science of the
Aspects of Life. Suffice it to say this: if a lad does not
learn in the streets, it is because he has no faculty of
learning. Nor is the truant always in the streets, for if he
prefers, he may go out by the gardened suburbs into the
country. He may pitch on some tuft of lilacs over a burn, and
smoke innumerable pipes to the tune of the water on the
stones. A bird will sing in the thicket. And there he may
fall into a vein of kindly thought, and see things in a new
perspective. Why, if this be not education, what is? We may
conceive Mr. Worldly Wiseman accosting such an one, and the
conversation that should thereupon ensue:-

"How now, young fellow, what dost thou here?"

"Truly, sir, I take mine ease."

"Is not this the hour of the class? and should'st thou
not be plying thy Book with diligence, to the end thou mayest
obtain knowledge?"

"Nay, but thus also I follow after Learning, by your

"Learning, quotha! After what fashion, I pray thee? Is
it mathematics?"

"No, to be sure."

"Is it metaphysics?"

"Nor that."

"Is it some language?"

"Nay, it is no language."

"Is it a trade?"

"Nor a trade neither."

"Why, then, what is't?"

"Indeed, sir, as a time may soon come for me to go upon
Pilgrimage, I am desirous to note what is commonly done by
persons in my case, and where are the ugliest Sloughs and
Thickets on the Road; as also, what manner of Staff is of the
best service. Moreover, I lie here, by this water, to learn
by root-of-heart a lesson which my master teaches me to call
Peace, or Contentment."

Hereupon Mr. Worldly Wiseman was much commoved with
passion, and shaking his cane with a very threatful
countenance, broke forth upon this wise: "Learning, quotha!"
said he; "I would have all such rogues scourged by the

And so he would go his way, ruffling out his cravat with
a crackle of starch, like a turkey when it spread its

Now this, of Mr. Wiseman's, is the common opinion. A
fact is not called a fact, but a piece of gossip, if it does
not fall into one of your scholastic categories. An inquiry
must be in some acknowledged direction, with a name to go by;
or else you are not inquiring at all, only lounging; and the
work-house is too good for you. It is supposed that all
knowledge is at the bottom of a well, or the far end of a
telescope. Sainte-Beuve, as he grew older, came to regard all
experience as a single great book, in which to study for a few
years ere we go hence; and it seemed all one to him whether
you should read in Chapter xx., which is the differential
calculus, or in Chapter xxxix., which is hearing the band play
in the gardens. As a matter of fact, an intelligent person,
looking out of his eyes and hearkening in his ears, with a
smile on his face all the time, will get more true education
than many another in a life of heroic vigils. There is
certainly some chill and arid knowledge to be found upon the
summits of formal and laborious science; but it is all round
about you, and for the trouble of looking, that you will
acquire the warm and palpitating facts of life. While others
are filling their memory with a lumber of words, one-half of
which they will forget before the week be out, your truant may
learn some really useful art: to play the fiddle, to know a
good cigar, or to speak with ease and opportunity to all
varieties of men. Many who have "plied their book
diligently," and know all about some one branch or another of
accepted lore, come out of the study with an ancient and owl-
like demeanour, and prove dry, stockish, and dyspeptic in all
the better and brighter parts of life. Many make a large
fortune, who remain underbred and pathetically stupid to the
last. And meantime there goes the idler, who began life along
with them - by your leave, a different picture. He has had
time to take care of his health and his spirits; he has been a
great deal in the open air, which is the most salutary of all
things for both body and mind; and if he has never read the
great Book in very recondite places, he has dipped into it and
skimmed it over to excellent purpose. Might not the student
afford some Hebrew roots, and the business man some of his
half-crowns, for a share of the idler's knowledge of life at
large, and Art of Living? Nay, and the idler has another and
more important quality than these. I mean his wisdom. He who
has much looked on at the childish satisfaction of other
people in their hobbies, will regard his own with only a very
ironical indulgence. He will not be heard among the
dogmatists. He will have a great and cool allowance for all
sorts of people and opinions. If he finds no out-of-the-way
truths, he will identify himself with no very burning
falsehood. His way takes him along a by-road, not much
frequented, but very even and pleasant, which is called
Commonplace Lane, and leads to the Belvedere of Commonsense.
Thence he shall command an agreeable, if no very noble
prospect; and while others behold the East and West, the Devil
and the Sunrise, he will be contentedly aware of a sort of
morning hour upon all sublunary things, with an army of
shadows running speedily and in many different directions into
the great daylight of Eternity. The shadows and the
generations, the shrill doctors and the plangent wars, go by
into ultimate silence and emptiness; but underneath all this,
a man may see, out of the Belvedere windows, much green and
peaceful landscape; many firelit parlours; good people
laughing, drinking, and making love as they did before the
Flood or the French Revolution; and the old shepherd telling
his tale under the hawthorn.

Extreme BUSYNESS, whether at school or college, kirk or
market, is a symptom of deficient vitality; and a faculty for
idleness implies a catholic appetite and a strong sense of
personal identity. There is a sort of dead-alive, hackneyed
people about, who are scarcely conscious of living except in
the exercise of some conventional occupation. Bring these
fellows into the country, or set them aboard ship, and you
will see how they pine for their desk or their study. They
have no curiosity; they cannot give themselves over to random
provocations; they do not take pleasure in the exercise of
their faculties for its own sake; and unless Necessity lays
about them with a stick, they will even stand still. It is no
good speaking to such folk: they CANNOT be idle, their nature
is not generous enough; and they pass those hours in a sort of
coma, which are not dedicated to furious moiling in the gold-
mill. When they do not require to go to the office, when they
are not hungry and have no mind to drink, the whole breathing
world is a blank to them. If they have to wait an hour or so
for a train, they fall into a stupid trance with their eyes
open. To see them, you would suppose there was nothing to
look at and no one to speak with; you would imagine they were
paralysed or alienated; and yet very possibly they are hard
workers in their own way, and have good eyesight for a flaw in
a deed or a turn of the market. They have been to school and
college, but all the time they had their eye on the medal;
they have gone about in the world and mixed with clever
people, but all the time they were thinking of their own
affairs. As if a man's soul were not too small to begin with,
they have dwarfed and narrowed theirs by a life of all work
and no play; until here they are at forty, with a listless
attention, a mind vacant of all material of amusement, and not
one thought to rub against another, while they wait for the
train. Before he was breeched, he might have clambered on the
boxes; when he was twenty, he would have stared at the girls;
but now the pipe is smoked out, the snuff-box empty, and my
gentleman sits bolt upright upon a bench, with lamentable
eyes. This does not appeal to me as being Success in Life.

But it is not only the person himself who suffers from
his busy habits, but his wife and children, his friends and
relations, and down to the very people he sits with in a
railway carriage or an omnibus. Perpetual devotion to what a
man calls his business, is only to be sustained by perpetual
neglect of many other things. And it is not by any means
certain that a man's business is the most important thing he
has to do. To an impartial estimate it will seem clear that
many of the wisest, most virtuous, and most beneficent parts
that are to be played upon the Theatre of Life are filled by
gratuitous performers, and pass, among the world at large, as
phases of idleness. For in that Theatre, not only the walking
gentlemen, singing chambermaids, and diligent fiddlers in the
orchestra, but those who look on and clap their hands from the
benches, do really play a part and fulfil important offices
towards the general result. You are no doubt very dependent
on the care of your lawyer and stockbroker, of the guards and
signalmen who convey you rapidly from place to place, and the
policemen who walk the streets for your protection; but is
there not a thought of gratitude in your heart for certain
other benefactors who set you smiling when they fall in your
way, or season your dinner with good company? Colonel Newcome
helped to lose his friend's money; Fred Bayham had an ugly
trick of borrowing shirts; and yet they were better people to
fall among than Mr. Barnes. And though Falstaff was neither
sober nor very honest, I think I could name one or two long-
faced Barabbases whom the world could better have done
without. Hazlitt mentions that he was more sensible of
obligation to Northcote, who had never done him anything he
could call a service, than to his whole circle of ostentatious
friends; for he thought a good companion emphatically the
greatest benefactor. I know there are people in the world who
cannot feel grateful unless the favour has been done them at
the cost of pain and difficulty. But this is a churlish
disposition. A man may send you six sheets of letter-paper
covered with the most entertaining gossip, or you may pass
half an hour pleasantly, perhaps profitably, over an article
of his; do you think the service would be greater, if he had
made the manuscript in his heart's blood, like a compact with
the devil? Do you really fancy you should be more beholden to
your correspondent, if he had been damning you all the while
for your importunity? Pleasures are more beneficial than
duties because, like the quality of mercy, they are not
strained, and they are twice blest. There must always be two
to a kiss, and there may be a score in a jest; but wherever
there is an element of sacrifice, the favour is conferred with
pain, and, among generous people, received with confusion.
There is no duty we so much underrate as the duty of being
happy. By being happy, we sow anonymous benefits upon the
world, which remain unknown even to ourselves, or when they
are disclosed, surprise nobody so much as the benefactor. The
other day, a ragged, barefoot boy ran down the street after a
marble, with so jolly an air that he set every one he passed
into a good humour; one of these persons, who had been
delivered from more than usually black thoughts, stopped the
little fellow and gave him some money with this remark: "You
see what sometimes comes of looking pleased." If he had
looked pleased before, he had now to look both pleased and
mystified. For my part, I justify this encouragement of
smiling rather than tearful children; I do not wish to pay for
tears anywhere but upon the stage; but I am prepared to deal
largely in the opposite commodity. A happy man or woman is a
better thing to find than a five-pound note. He or she is a
radiating focus of goodwill; and their entrance into a room is
as though another candle had been lighted. We need not care
whether they could prove the forty-seventh proposition; they
do a better thing than that, they practically demonstrate the
great Theorem of the Liveableness of Life. Consequently, if a
person cannot be happy without remaining idle, idle he should
remain. It is a revolutionary precept; but thanks to hunger
and the workhouse, one not easily to be abused; and within
practical limits, it is one of the most incontestable truths
in the whole Body of Morality. Look at one of your
industrious fellows for a moment, I beseech you. He sows
hurry and reaps indigestion; he puts a vast deal of activity
out to interest, and receives a large measure of nervous
derangement in return. Either he absents himself entirely
from all fellowship, and lives a recluse in a garret, with
carpet slippers and a leaden inkpot; or he comes among people
swiftly and bitterly, in a contraction of his whole nervous
system, to discharge some temper before he returns to work. I
do not care how much or how well he works, this fellow is an
evil feature in other people's lives. They would be happier
if he were dead. They could easier do without his services in
the Circumlocution Office, than they can tolerate his
fractious spirits. He poisons life at the well-head. It is
better to be beggared out of hand by a scapegrace nephew, than
daily hag-ridden by a peevish uncle.

And what, in God's name, is all this pother about? For
what cause do they embitter their own and other people's
lives? That a man should publish three or thirty articles a
year, that he should finish or not finish his great
allegorical picture, are questions of little interest to the
world. The ranks of life are full; and although a thousand
fall, there are always some to go into the breach. When they
told Joan of Arc she should be at home minding women's work,
she answered there were plenty to spin and wash. And so, even
with your own rare gifts! When nature is "so careless of the
single life," why should we coddle ourselves into the fancy
that our own is of exceptional importance? Suppose
Shakespeare had been knocked on the head some dark night in
Sir Thomas Lucy's preserves, the world would have wagged on
better or worse, the pitcher gone to the well, the scythe to
the corn, and the student to his book; and no one been any the
wiser of the loss. There are not many works extant, if you
look the alternative all over, which are worth the price of a
pound of tobacco to a man of limited means. This is a
sobering reflection for the proudest of our earthly vanities.
Even a tobacconist may, upon consideration, find no great
cause for personal vainglory in the phrase; for although
tobacco is an admirable sedative, the qualities necessary for
retailing it are neither rare nor precious in themselves.
Alas and alas! you may take it how you will, but the services
of no single individual are indispensable. Atlas was just a
gentleman with a protracted nightmare! And yet you see
merchants who go and labour themselves into a great fortune
and thence into the bankruptcy court; scribblers who keep
scribbling at little articles until their temper is a cross to
all who come about them, as though Pharaoh should set the
Israelites to make a pin instead of a pyramid: and fine young
men who work themselves into a decline, and are driven off in
a hearse with white plumes upon it. Would you not suppose
these persons had been whispered, by the Master of the
Ceremonies, the promise of some momentous destiny? and that
this lukewarm bullet on which they play their farces was the
bull's-eye and centrepoint of all the universe? And yet it is
not so. The ends for which they give away their priceless
youth, for all they know, may be chimerical or hurtful; the
glory and riches they expect may never come, or may find them
indifferent; and they and the world they inhabit are so
inconsiderable that the mind freezes at the thought.


BY a curious irony of fate, the places to which we are
sent when health deserts us are often singularly beautiful.
Often, too, they are places we have visited in former years,
or seen briefly in passing by, and kept ever afterwards in
pious memory; and we please ourselves with the fancy that we
shall repeat many vivid and pleasurable sensations, and take
up again the thread of our enjoyment in the same spirit as we
let it fall. We shall now have an opportunity of finishing
many pleasant excursions, interrupted of yore before our
curiosity was fully satisfied. It may be that we have kept in
mind, during all these years, the recollection of some valley
into which we have just looked down for a moment before we
lost sight of it in the disorder of the hills; it may be that
we have lain awake at night, and agreeably tantalised
ourselves with the thought of corners we had never turned, or
summits we had all but climbed: we shall now be able, as we
tell ourselves, to complete all these unfinished pleasures,
and pass beyond the barriers that confined our recollections.

The promise is so great, and we are all so easily led
away when hope and memory are both in one story, that I
daresay the sick man is not very inconsolable when he receives
sentence of banishment, and is inclined to regard his ill-
health as not the least fortunate accident of his life. Nor
is he immediately undeceived. The stir and speed of the
journey, and the restlessness that goes to bed with him as he
tries to sleep between two days of noisy progress, fever him,
and stimulate his dull nerves into something of their old
quickness and sensibility. And so he can enjoy the faint
autumnal splendour of the landscape, as he sees hill and
plain, vineyard and forest, clad in one wonderful glory of
fairy gold, which the first great winds of winter will
transmute, as in the fable, into withered leaves. And so too
he can enjoy the admirable brevity and simplicity of such
little glimpses of country and country ways as flash upon him
through the windows of the train; little glimpses that have a
character all their own; sights seen as a travelling swallow
might see them from the wing, or Iris as she went abroad over
the land on some Olympian errand. Here and there, indeed, a
few children huzzah and wave their hands to the express; but
for the most part it is an interruption too brief and isolated
to attract much notice; the sheep do not cease from browsing;
a girl sits balanced on the projecting tiller of a canal boat,
so precariously that it seems as if a fly or the splash of a
leaping fish would be enough to overthrow the dainty
equilibrium, and yet all these hundreds of tons of coal and
wood and iron have been precipitated roaring past her very
ear, and there is not a start, not a tremor, not a turn of the
averted head, to indicate that she has been even conscious of
its passage. Herein, I think, lies the chief attraction of
railway travel. The speed is so easy, and the train disturbs
so little the scenes through which it takes us, that our heart
becomes full of the placidity and stillness of the country;
and while the body is borne forward in the flying chain of
carriages, the thoughts alight, as the humour moves them, at
unfrequented stations; they make haste up the poplar alley
that leads toward the town; they are left behind with the
signalman as, shading his eyes with his hand, he watches the
long train sweep away into the golden distance.

Moreover, there is still before the invalid the shock of
wonder and delight with which he will learn that he has passed
the indefinable line that separates South from North. And
this is an uncertain moment; for sometimes the consciousness
is forced upon him early, on the occasion of some slight
association, a colour, a flower, or a scent; and sometimes not
until, one fine morning, he wakes up with the southern
sunshine peeping through the PERSIENNES, and the southern
patois confusedly audible below the windows. Whether it come
early or late, however, this pleasure will not end with the
anticipation, as do so many others of the same family. It
will leave him wider awake than it found him, and give a new
significance to all he may see for many days to come. There
is something in the mere name of the South that carries
enthusiasm along with it. At the sound of the word, he pricks
up his ears; he becomes as anxious to seek out beauties and to
get by heart the permanent lines and character of the
landscape, as if he had been told that it was all his own - an
estate out of which he had been kept unjustly, and which he
was now to receive in free and full possession. Even those
who have never been there before feel as if they had been; and
everybody goes comparing, and seeking for the familiar, and
finding it with such ecstasies of recognition, that one would
think they were coming home after a weary absence, instead of
travelling hourly farther abroad.

It is only after he is fairly arrived and settled down in
his chosen corner, that the invalid begins to understand the
change that has befallen him. Everything about him is as he
had remembered, or as he had anticipated. Here, at his feet,
under his eyes, are the olive gardens and the blue sea.
Nothing can change the eternal magnificence of form of the
naked Alps behind Mentone; nothing, not even the crude curves
of the railway, can utterly deform the suavity of contour of
one bay after another along the whole reach of the Riviera.
And of all this, he has only a cold head knowledge that is
divorced from enjoyment. He recognises with his intelligence
that this thing and that thing is beautiful, while in his
heart of hearts he has to confess that it is not beautiful for
him. It is in vain that he spurs his discouraged spirit; in
vain that he chooses out points of view, and stands there,
looking with all his eyes, and waiting for some return of the
pleasure that he remembers in other days, as the sick folk may
have awaited the coming of the angel at the pool of Bethesda.
He is like an enthusiast leading about with him a stolid,
indifferent tourist. There is some one by who is out of
sympathy with the scene, and is not moved up to the measure of
the occasion; and that some one is himself. The world is
disenchanted for him. He seems to himself to touch things
with muffled hands, and to see them through a veil. His life
becomes a palsied fumbling after notes that are silent when he
has found and struck them. He cannot recognise that this
phlegmatic and unimpressionable body with which he now goes
burthened, is the same that he knew heretofore so quick and
delicate and alive.

He is tempted to lay the blame on the very softness and
amenity of the climate, and to fancy that in the rigours of
the winter at home, these dead emotions would revive and
flourish. A longing for the brightness and silence of fallen
snow seizes him at such times. He is homesick for the hale
rough weather; for the tracery of the frost upon his window-
panes at morning, the reluctant descent of the first flakes,
and the white roofs relieved against the sombre sky. And yet
the stuff of which these yearnings are made, is of the
flimsiest: if but the thermometer fall a little below its
ordinary Mediterranean level, or a wind come down from the
snow-clad Alps behind, the spirit of his fancies changes upon
the instant, and many a doleful vignette of the grim wintry
streets at home returns to him, and begins to haunt his
memory. The hopeless, huddled attitude of tramps in doorways;
the flinching gait of barefoot children on the icy pavement;
the sheen of the rainy streets towards afternoon; the
meagreanatomy of the poor defined by the clinging of wet
garments; the high canorous note of the North-easter on days
when the very houses seem to stiffen with cold: these, and
such as these, crowd back upon him, and mockingly substitute
themselves for the fanciful winter scenes with which he had
pleased himself a while before. He cannot be glad enough that
he is where he is. If only the others could be there also; if
only those tramps could lie down for a little in the sunshine,
and those children warm their feet, this once, upon a kindlier
earth; if only there were no cold anywhere, and no nakedness,
and no hunger; if only it were as well with all men as it is
with him!

For it is not altogether ill with the invalid, after all.
If it is only rarely that anything penetrates vividly into his
numbed spirit, yet, when anything does, it brings with it a
joy that is all the more poignant for its very rarity. There
is something pathetic in these occasional returns of a glad
activity of heart. In his lowest hours he will be stirred and
awakened by many such; and they will spring perhaps from very
trivial sources; as a friend once said to me, the "spirit of
delight" comes often on small wings. For the pleasure that we
take in beautiful nature is essentially capricious. It comes
sometimes when we least look for it; and sometimes, when we
expect it most certainly, it leaves us to gape joylessly for
days together, in the very home-land of the beautiful. We may
have passed a place a thousand times and one; and on the
thousand and second it will be transfigured, and stand forth
in a certain splendour of reality from the dull circle of
surroundings; so that we see it "with a child's first
pleasure," as Wordsworth saw the daffodils by the lake side.
And if this falls out capriciously with the healthy, how much
more so with the invalid. Some day he will find his first
violet, and be lost in pleasant wonder, by what alchemy the
cold earth of the clods, and the vapid air and rain, can be
transmuted into colour so rich and odour so touchingly sweet.
Or perhaps he may see a group of washerwomen relieved, on a
spit of shingle, against the blue sea, or a meeting of flower-
gatherers in the tempered daylight of an olive-garden; and
something significant or monumental in the grouping, something
in the harmony of faint colour that is always characteristic
of the dress of these southern women, will come borne to him
unexpectedly, and awake in him that satisfaction with which we
tell ourselves that we are the richer by one more beautiful
experience. Or it may be something even slighter: as when the
opulence of the sunshine, which somehow gets lost and fails to
produce its effect on the large scale, is suddenly revealed to
him by the chance isolation - as he changes the position of
his sunshade - of a yard or two of roadway with its stones and
weeds. And then, there is no end to the infinite variety of
the olive-yards themselves. Even the colour is indeterminate
and continually shifting: now you would say it was green, now
gray, now blue; now tree stands above tree, like "cloud on
cloud," massed into filmy indistinctness; and now, at the
wind's will, the whole sea of foliage is shaken and broken up
with little momentary silverings and shadows. But every one
sees the world in his own way. To some the glad moment may
have arrived on other provocations; and their recollection may
be most vivid of the stately gait of women carrying burthens
on their heads; of tropical effects, with canes and naked rock
and sunlight; of the relief of cypresses; of the troubled,
busy-looking groups of sea-pines, that seem always as if they
were being wielded and swept together by a whirlwind; of the
air coming, laden with virginal perfumes, over the myrtles and
the scented underwood; of the empurpled hills standing up,
solemn and sharp, out of the green-gold air of the east at

There go many elements, without doubt, to the making of
one such moment of intense perception; and it is on the happy
agreement of these many elements, on the harmonious vibration
of many nerves, that the whole delight of the moment must
depend. Who can forget how, when he has chanced upon some
attitude of complete restfulness, after long uneasy rolling to
and fro on grass or heather, the whole fashion of the
landscape has been changed for him, as though the sun had just
broken forth, or a great artist had only then completed, by
some cunning touch, the composition of the picture? And not
only a change of posture - a snatch of perfume, the sudden
singing of a bird, the freshness of some pulse of air from an
invisible sea, the light shadow of a travelling cloud, the
merest nothing that sends a little shiver along the most
infinitesimal nerve of a man's body - not one of the least of
these but has a hand somehow in the general effect, and brings
some refinement of its own into the character of the pleasure
we feel.

And if the external conditions are thus varied and
subtle, even more so are those within our own bodies. No man
can find out the world, says Solomon, from beginning to end,
because the world is in his heart; and so it is impossible for
any of us to understand, from beginning to end, that agreement
of harmonious circumstances that creates in us the highest
pleasure of admiration, precisely because some of these
circumstances are hidden from us for ever in the constitution
of our own bodies. After we have reckoned up all that we can
see or hear or feel, there still remains to be taken into
account some sensibility more delicate than usual in the
nerves affected, or some exquisite refinement in the
architecture of the brain, which is indeed to the sense of the
beautiful as the eye or the ear to the sense of hearing or
sight. We admire splendid views and great pictures; and yet
what is truly admirable is rather the mind within us, that
gathers together these scattered details for its delight, and
makes out of certain colours, certain distributions of
graduated light and darkness, that intelligible whole which
alone we call a picture or a view. Hazlitt, relating in one
of his essays how he went on foot from one great man's house
to another's in search of works of art, begins suddenly to
triumph over these noble and wealthy owners, because he was
more capable of enjoying their costly possessions than they
were; because they had paid the money and he had received the
pleasure. And the occasion is a fair one for self-
complacency. While the one man was working to be able to buy
the picture, the other was working to be able to enjoy the
picture. An inherited aptitude will have been diligently
improved in either case; only the one man has made for himself
a fortune, and the other has made for himself a living spirit.
It is a fair occasion for self-complacency, I repeat, when the
event shows a man to have chosen the better part, and laid out
his life more wisely, in the long run, than those who have
credit for most wisdom. And yet even this is not a good
unmixed; and like all other possessions, although in a less
degree, the possession of a brain that has been thus improved
and cultivated, and made into the prime organ of a man's
enjoyment, brings with it certain inevitable cares and
disappointments. The happiness of such an one comes to depend
greatly upon those fine shades of sensation that heighten and
harmonise the coarser elements of beauty. And thus a degree
of nervous prostration, that to other men would be hardly
disagreeable, is enough to overthrow for him the whole fabric
of his life, to take, except at rare moments, the edge off his
pleasures, and to meet him wherever he goes with failure, and
the sense of want, and disenchantment of the world and life.

It is not in such numbness of spirit only that the life
of the invalid resembles a premature old age. Those
excursions that he had promised himself to finish, prove too
long or too arduous for his feeble body; and the barrier-hills
are as impassable as ever. Many a white town that sits far
out on the promontory, many a comely fold of wood on the
mountain side, beckons and allures his imagination day after
day, and is yet as inaccessible to his feet as the clefts and
gorges of the clouds. The sense of distance grows upon him
wonderfully; and after some feverish efforts and the fretful
uneasiness of the first few days, he falls contentedly in with
the restrictions of his weakness. His narrow round becomes
pleasant and familiar to him as the cell to a contented
prisoner. Just as he has fallen already out of the mid race
of active life, he now falls out of the little eddy that
circulates in the shallow waters of the sanatorium. He sees
the country people come and go about their everyday affairs,
the foreigners stream out in goodly pleasure parties; the stir
of man's activity is all about him, as he suns himself inertly
in some sheltered corner; and he looks on with a patriarchal
impersonality of interest, such as a man may feel when he
pictures to himself the fortunes of his remote descendants, or
the robust old age of the oak he has planted over-night.

In this falling aside, in this quietude and desertion of
other men, there is no inharmonious prelude to the last
quietude and desertion of the grave; in this dulness of the
senses there is a gentle preparation for the final
insensibility of death. And to him the idea of mortality
comes in a shape less violent and harsh than is its wont, less
as an abrupt catastrophe than as a thing of infinitesimal
gradation, and the last step on a long decline of way. As we
turn to and fro in bed, and every moment the movements grow
feebler and smaller and the attitude more restful and easy,
until sleep overtakes us at a stride and we move no more, so
desire after desire leaves him; day by day his strength
decreases, and the circle of his activity grows ever narrower;
and he feels, if he is to be thus tenderly weaned from the
passion of life, thus gradually inducted into the slumber of
death, that when at last the end comes, it will come quietly
and fitly. If anything is to reconcile poor spirits to the
coming of the last enemy, surely it should be such a mild
approach as this; not to hale us forth with violence, but to
persuade us from a place we have no further pleasure in. It
is not so much, indeed, death that approaches as life that
withdraws and withers up from round about him. He has
outlived his own usefulness, and almost his own enjoyment; and
if there is to be no recovery; if never again will he be young
and strong and passionate, if the actual present shall be to
him always like a thing read in a book or remembered out of
the far-away past; if, in fact, this be veritably nightfall,
he will not wish greatly for the continuance of a twilight
that only strains and disappoints the eyes, but steadfastly
await the perfect darkness. He will pray for Medea: when she
comes, let her either rejuvenate or slay.

And yet the ties that still attach him to the world are
many and kindly. The sight of children has a significance for
him such as it may have for the aged also, but not for others.
If he has been used to feel humanely, and to look upon life
somewhat more widely than from the narrow loophole of personal
pleasure and advancement, it is strange how small a portion of
his thoughts will be changed or embittered by this proximity
of death. He knows that already, in English counties, the
sower follows the ploughman up the face of the field, and the
rooks follow the sower; and he knows also that he may not live
to go home again and see the corn spring and ripen, and be cut
down at last, and brought home with gladness. And yet the
future of this harvest, the continuance of drought or the
coming of rain unseasonably, touch him as sensibly as ever.
For he has long been used to wait with interest the issue of
events in which his own concern was nothing; and to be joyful
in a plenty, and sorrowful for a famine, that did not increase
or diminish, by one half loaf, the equable sufficiency of his
own supply. Thus there remain unaltered all the disinterested
hopes for mankind and a better future which have been the
solace and inspiration of his life. These he has set beyond
the reach of any fate that only menaces himself; and it makes
small difference whether he die five thousand years, or five
thousand and fifty years, before the good epoch for which he
faithfully labours. He has not deceived himself; he has known
from the beginning that he followed the pillar of fire and
cloud, only to perish himself in the wilderness, and that it
was reserved for others to enter joyfully into possession of
the land. And so, as everything grows grayer and quieter
about him, and slopes towards extinction, these unfaded
visions accompany his sad decline, and follow him, with
friendly voices and hopeful words, into the very vestibule of
death. The desire of love or of fame scarcely moved him, in
his days of health, more strongly than these generous
aspirations move him now; and so life is carried forward
beyond life, and a vista kept open for the eyes of hope, even
when his hands grope already on the face of the impassable.

Lastly, he is bound tenderly to life by the thought of
his friends; or shall we not say rather, that by their thought
for him, by their unchangeable solicitude and love, he remains
woven into the very stuff of life, beyond the power of bodily
dissolution to undo? In a thousand ways will he survive and
be perpetuated. Much of Etienne de la Boetie survived during
all the years in which Montaigne continued to converse with
him on the pages of the ever-delightful essays. Much of what
was truly Goethe was dead already when he revisited places
that knew him no more, and found no better consolation than
the promise of his own verses, that soon he too would be at
rest. Indeed, when we think of what it is that we most seek
and cherish, and find most pride and pleasure in calling ours,
it will sometimes seem to us as if our friends, at our
decease, would suffer loss more truly than ourselves. As a
monarch who should care more for the outlying colonies he
knows on the map or through the report of his vicegerents,
than for the trunk of his empire under his eyes at home, are
we not more concerned about the shadowy life that we have in
the hearts of others, and that portion in their thoughts and
fancies which, in a certain far-away sense, belongs to us,
than about the real knot of our identity - that central
metropolis of self, of which alone we are immediately aware -
or the diligent service of arteries and veins and
infinitesimal activity of ganglia, which we know (as we know a
proposition in Euclid) to be the source and substance of the
whole? At the death of every one whom we love, some fair and
honourable portion of our existence falls away, and we are
dislodged from one of these dear provinces; and they are not,
perhaps, the most fortunate who survive a long series of such
impoverishments, till their life and influence narrow
gradually into the meagre limit of their own spirits, and
death, when he comes at last, can destroy them at one blow.

NOTE. - To this essay I must in honesty append a word or
two of qualification; for this is one of the points on which a
slightly greater age teaches us a slightly different wisdom:

A youth delights in generalities, and keeps loose from
particular obligations; he jogs on the footpath way, himself
pursuing butterflies, but courteously lending his applause to
the advance of the human species and the coming of the kingdom
of justice and love. As he grows older, he begins to think
more narrowly of man's action in the general, and perhaps more
arrogantly of his own in the particular. He has not that same
unspeakable trust in what he would have done had he been
spared, seeing finally that that would have been little; but
he has a far higher notion of the blank that he will make by
dying. A young man feels himself one too many in the world;
his is a painful situation: he has no calling; no obvious
utility; no ties, but to his parents. and these he is sure to
disregard. I do not think that a proper allowance has been
made for this true cause of suffering in youth; but by the
mere fact of a prolonged existence, we outgrow either the fact
or else the feeling. Either we become so callously accustomed
to our own useless figure in the world, or else - and this,
thank God, in the majority of cases - we so collect about us
the interest or the love of our fellows, so multiply our
effective part in the affairs of life, that we need to
entertain no longer the question of our right to be.

And so in the majority of cases, a man who fancies
himself dying, will get cold comfort from the very youthful
view expressed in this essay. He, as a living man, has some
to help, some to love, some to correct; it may be, some to
punish. These duties cling, not upon humanity, but upon the
man himself. It is he, not another, who is one woman's son
and a second woman's husband and a third woman's father. That
life which began so small, has now grown, with a myriad
filaments, into the lives of others. It is not indispensable;
another will take the place and shoulder the discharged
responsibility; but the better the man and the nobler his
purposes, the more will he be tempted to regret the extinction
of his powers and the deletion of his personality. To have
lived a generation, is not only to have grown at home in that
perplexing medium, but to have assumed innumerable duties. To
die at such an age, has, for all but the entirely base,
something of the air of a betrayal. A man does not only
reflect upon what he might have done in a future that is never
to be his; but beholding himself so early a deserter from the
fight, he eats his heart for the good he might have done
already. To have been so useless and now to lose all hope of
being useful any more - there it is that death and memory
assail him. And even if mankind shall go on, founding heroic
cities, practising heroic virtues, rising steadily from
strength to strength; even if his work shall be fulfilled, his
friends consoled, his wife remarried by a better than he; how
shall this alter, in one jot, his estimation of a career which
was his only business in this world, which was so fitfully
pursued, and which is now so ineffectively to end?


THE changes wrought by death are in themselves so sharp
and final, and so terrible and melancholy in their
consequences, that the thing stands alone in man's experience,
and has no parallel upon earth. It outdoes all other
accidents because it is the last of them. Sometimes it leaps
suddenly upon its victims, like a Thug; sometimes it lays a
regular siege and creeps upon their citadel during a score of
years. And when the business is done, there is sore havoc
made in other people's lives, and a pin knocked out by which
many subsidiary friendships hung together. There are empty
chairs, solitary walks, and single beds at night. Again, in
taking away our friends, death does not take them away
utterly, but leaves behind a mocking, tragical, and soon
intolerable residue, which must be hurriedly concealed. Hence
a whole chapter of sights and customs striking to the mind,
from the pyramids of Egypt to the gibbets and dule trees of
mediaeval Europe. The poorest persons have a bit of pageant
going towards the tomb; memorial stones are set up over the
least memorable; and, in order to preserve some show of
respect for what remains of our old loves and friendships, we
must accompany it with much grimly ludicrous ceremonial, and
the hired undertaker parades before the door. All this, and
much more of the same sort, accompanied by the eloquence of
poets, has gone a great way to put humanity in error; nay, in
many philosophies the error has been embodied and laid down
with every circumstance of logic; although in real life the
bustle and swiftness, in leaving people little time to think,
have not left them time enough to go dangerously wrong in

As a matter of fact, although few things are spoken of
with more fearful whisperings than this prospect of death, few
have less influence on conduct under healthy circumstances.
We have all heard of cities in South America built upon the
side of fiery mountains, and how, even in this tremendous
neighbourhood, the inhabitants are not a jot more impressed by
the solemnity of mortal conditions than if they were delving
gardens in the greenest corner of England. There are
serenades and suppers and much gallantry among the myrtles
overhead; and meanwhile the foundation shudders underfoot, the
bowels of the mountain growl, and at any moment living ruin
may leap sky-high into the moonlight, and tumble man and his
merry-making in the dust. In the eyes of very young people,
and very dull old ones, there is something indescribably
reckless and desperate in such a picture. It seems not
credible that respectable married people, with umbrellas,
should find appetite for a bit of supper within quite a long
distance of a fiery mountain; ordinary life begins to smell of
high-handed debauch when it is carried on so close to a
catastrophe; and even cheese and salad, it seems, could hardly
be relished in such circumstances without something like a
defiance of the Creator. It should be a place for nobody but
hermits dwelling in prayer and maceration, or mere born-devils
drowning care in a perpetual carouse.

And yet, when one comes to think upon it calmly, the
situation of these South American citizens forms only a very
pale figure for the state of ordinary mankind. This world
itself, travelling blindly and swiftly in over-crowded space,
among a million other worlds travelling blindly and swiftly in
contrary directions, may very well come by a knock that would
set it into explosion like a penny squib. And what,
pathologically looked at, is the human body with all its
organs, but a mere bagful of petards? The least of these is
as dangerous to the whole economy as the ship's powder-
magazine to the ship; and with every breath we breathe, and
every meal we eat, we are putting one or more of them in
peril. If we clung as devotedly as some philosophers pretend
we do to the abstract idea of life, or were half as frightened
as they make out we are, for the subversive accident that ends
it all, the trumpets might sound by the hour and no one would
follow them into battle - the blue-peter might fly at the
truck, but who would climb into a sea-going ship? Think (if
these philosophers were right) with what a preparation of
spirit we should affront the daily peril of the dinner-table:
a deadlier spot than any battle-field in history, where the
far greater proportion of our ancestors have miserably left
their bones! What woman would ever be lured into marriage, so
much more dangerous than the wildest sea? And what would it
be to grow old? For, after a certain distance, every step we
take in life we find the ice growing thinner below our feet,
and all around us and behind us we see our contemporaries
going through. By the time a man gets well into the
seventies, his continued existence is a mere miracle, and when
he lays his old bones in bed for the night, there is an
overwhelming probability that he will never see the day. Do
the old men mind it, as a matter of fact? Why, no. They were
never merrier; they have their grog at night, and tell the
raciest stories; they hear of the death of people about their
own age, or even younger, not as if it was a grisly warning,
but with a simple childlike pleasure at having outlived some
one else; and when a draught might puff them out like a
guttering candle, or a bit of a stumble shatter them like so
much glass, their old hearts keep sound and unaffrighted, and
they go on, bubbling with laughter, through years of man's age
compared to which the valley at Balaklava was as safe and
peaceful as a village cricket-green on Sunday. It may fairly
be questioned (if we look to the peril only) whether it was a
much more daring feat for Curtius to plunge into the gulf,
than for any old gentleman of ninety to doff his clothes and
clamber into bed.

Indeed, it is a memorable subject for consideration, with
what unconcern and gaiety mankind pricks on along the Valley
of the Shadow of Death. The whole way is one wilderness of
snares, and the end of it, for those who fear the last pinch,
is irrevocable ruin. And yet we go spinning through it all,
like a party for the Derby. Perhaps the reader remembers one
of the humorous devices of the deified Caligula: how he
encouraged a vast concourse of holiday-makers on to his bridge
over Baiae bay; and when they were in the height of their
enjoyment, turned loose the Praetorian guards among the
company, and had them tossed into the sea. This is no bad
miniature of the dealings of nature with the transitory race
of man. Only, what a chequered picnic we have of it, even
while it lasts! and into what great waters, not to be crossed
by any swimmer, God's pale Praetorian throws us over in the

We live the time that a match flickers; we pop the cork
of a ginger-beer bottle, and the earthquake swallows us on the
instant. Is it not odd, is it not incongruous, is it not, in
the highest sense of human speech, incredible, that we should
think so highly of the ginger-beer, and regard so little the
devouring earthquake? The love of Life and the fear of Death
are two famous phrases that grow harder to understand the more
we think about them. It is a well-known fact that an immense
proportion of boat accidents would never happen if people held
the sheet in their hands instead of making it fast; and yet,
unless it be some martinet of a professional mariner or some
landsman with shattered nerves, every one of God's creatures
makes it fast. A strange instance of man's unconcern and
brazen boldness in the face of death!

We confound ourselves with metaphysical phrases, which we
import into daily talk with noble inappropriateness. We have
no idea of what death is, apart from its circumstances and
some of its consequences to others; and although we have some
experience of living, there is not a man on earth who has
flown so high into abstraction as to have any practical guess
at the meaning of the word LIFE. All literature, from Job and
Omar Khayam to Thomas Carlyle or Walt Whitman, is but an
attempt to look upon the human state with such largeness of
view as shall enable us to rise from the consideration of
living to the Definition of Life. And our sages give us about
the best satisfaction in their power when they say that it is
a vapour, or a show, or made out of the same stuff with
dreams. Philosophy, in its more rigid sense, has been at the
same work for ages; and after a myriad bald heads have wagged
over the problem, and piles of words have been heaped one upon
another into dry and cloudy volumes without end, philosophy
has the honour of laying before us, with modest pride, her
contribution towards the subject: that life is a Permanent
Possibility of Sensation. Truly a fine result! A man may
very well love beef, or hunting, or a woman; but surely,
surely, not a Permanent Possibility of Sensation! He may be
afraid of a precipice, or a dentist, or a large enemy with a
club, or even an undertaker's man; but not certainly of
abstract death. We may trick with the word life in its dozen
senses until we are weary of tricking; we may argue in terms
of all the philosophies on earth, but one fact remains true
throughout - that we do not love life, in the sense that we
are greatly preoccupied about its conservation; that we do
not, properly speaking, love life at all, but living. Into
the views of the least careful there will enter some degree of
providence; no man's eyes are fixed entirely on the passing
hour; but although we have some anticipation of good health,
good weather, wine, active employment, love, and self-
approval, the sum of these anticipations does not amount to
anything like a general view of life's possibilities and
issues; nor are those who cherish them most vividly, at all
the most scrupulous of their personal safety. To be deeply
interested in the accidents of our existence, to enjoy keenly
the mixed texture of human experience, rather leads a man to
disregard precautions, and risk his neck against a straw. For
surely the love of living is stronger in an Alpine climber
roping over a peril, or a hunter riding merrily at a stiff
fence, than in a creature who lives upon a diet and walks a
measured distance in the interest of his constitution.

There is a great deal of very vile nonsense talked upon
both sides of the matter: tearing divines reducing life to the
dimensions of a mere funeral procession, so short as to be
hardly decent; and melancholy unbelievers yearning for the
tomb as if it were a world too far away. Both sides must feel
a little ashamed of their performances now and again when they
draw in their chairs to dinner. Indeed, a good meal and a
bottle of wine is an answer to most standard works upon the
question. When a man's heart warms to his viands, he forgets
a great deal of sophistry, and soars into a rosy zone of
contemplation. Death may be knocking at the door, like the
Commander's statue; we have something else in hand, thank God,
and let him knock. Passing bells are ringing all the world
over. All the world over, and every hour, some one is parting
company with all his aches and ecstasies. For us also the
trap is laid. But we are so fond of life that we have no
leisure to entertain the terror of death. It is a honeymoon
with us all through, and none of the longest. Small blame to
us if we give our whole hearts to this glowing bride of ours,
to the appetites, to honour, to the hungry curiosity of the
mind, to the pleasure of the eyes in nature, and the pride of
our own nimble bodies.

We all of us appreciate the sensations; but as for caring
about the Permanence of the Possibility, a man's head is
generally very bald, and his senses very dull, before he comes
to that. Whether we regard life as a lane leading to a dead
wall - a mere bag's end, as the French say - or whether we
think of it as a vestibule or gymnasium, where we wait our
turn and prepare our faculties for some more noble destiny;
whether we thunder in a pulpit, or pule in little atheistic
poetry-books, about its vanity and brevity; whether we look
justly for years of health and vigour, or are about to mount
into a bath-chair, as a step towards the hearse; in each and
all of these views and situations there is but one conclusion
possible: that a man should stop his ears against paralysing
terror, and run the race that is set before him with a single
mind. No one surely could have recoiled with more heartache
and terror from the thought of death than our respected
lexicographer; and yet we know how little it affected his
conduct, how wisely and boldly he walked, and in what a fresh
and lively vein he spoke of life. Already an old man, he
ventured on his Highland tour; and his heart, bound with
triple brass, did not recoil before twenty-seven individual
cups of tea. As courage and intelligence are the two
qualities best worth a good man's cultivation, so it is the
first part of intelligence to recognise our precarious estate
in life, and the first part of courage to be not at all
abashed before the fact. A frank and somewhat headlong
carriage, not looking too anxiously before, not dallying in
maudlin regret over the past, stamps the man who is well
armoured for this world.

And not only well armoured for himself, but a good friend
and a good citizen to boot. We do not go to cowards for
tender dealing; there is nothing so cruel as panic; the man
who has least fear for his own carcase, has most time to
consider others. That eminent chemist who took his walks
abroad in tin shoes, and subsisted wholly upon tepid milk, had
all his work cut out for him in considerate dealings with his
own digestion. So soon as prudence has begun to grow up in
the brain, like a dismal fungus, it finds its first expression
in a paralysis of generous acts. The victim begins to shrink
spiritually; he develops a fancy for parlours with a regulated
temperature, and takes his morality on the principle of tin
shoes and tepid milk. The care of one important body or soul
becomes so engrossing, that all the noises of the outer world
begin to come thin and faint into the parlour with the
regulated temperature; and the tin shoes go equably forward
over blood and rain. To be overwise is to ossify; and the
scruple-monger ends by standing stockstill. Now the man who
has his heart on his sleeve, and a good whirling weathercock
of a brain, who reckons his life as a thing to be dashingly
used and cheerfully hazarded, makes a very different
acquaintance of the world, keeps all his pulses going true and
fast, and gathers impetus as he runs, until, if he be running
towards anything better than wildfire, he may shoot up and
become a constellation in the end. Lord look after his
health, Lord have a care of his soul, says he; and he has at
the key of the position, and swashes through incongruity and
peril towards his aim. Death is on all sides of him with
pointed batteries, as he is on all sides of all of us;
unfortunate surprises gird him round; mim-mouthed friends and
relations hold up their hands in quite a little elegiacal
synod about his path: and what cares he for all this? Being a
true lover of living, a fellow with something pushing and
spontaneous in his inside, he must, like any other soldier, in
any other stirring, deadly warfare, push on at his best pace
until he touch the goal. "A peerage or Westminster Abbey!"
cried Nelson in his bright, boyish, heroic manner. These are
great incentives; not for any of these, but for the plain
satisfaction of living, of being about their business in some
sort or other, do the brave, serviceable men of every nation
tread down the nettle danger, and pass flyingly over all the
stumbling-blocks of prudence. Think of the heroism of
Johnson, think of that superb indifference to mortal
limitation that set him upon his dictionary, and carried him
through triumphantly until the end! Who, if he were wisely
considerate of things at large, would ever embark upon any
work much more considerable than a halfpenny post card? Who
would project a serial novel, after Thackeray and Dickens had
each fallen in mid-course? Who would find heart enough to
begin to live, if he dallied with the consideration of death?

And, after all, what sorry and pitiful quibbling all this
is! To forego all the issues of living in a parlour with a
regulated temperature - as if that were not to die a hundred
times over, and for ten years at a stretch! As if it were not
to die in one's own lifetime, and without even the sad
immunities of death! As if it were not to die, and yet be the
patient spectators of our own pitiable change! The Permanent
Possibility is preserved, but the sensations carefully held at
arm's length, as if one kept a photographic plate in a dark
chamber. It is better to lose health like a spendthrift than
to waste it like a miser. It is better to live and be done
with it, than to die daily in the sickroom. By all means
begin your folio; even if the doctor does not give you a year,
even if he hesitates about a month, make one brave push and
see what can be accomplished in a week. It is not only in
finished undertakings that we ought to honour useful labour.
A spirit goes out of the man who means execution, which out-
lives the most untimely ending. All who have meant good work
with their whole hearts, have done good work, although they
may die before they have the time to sign it. Every heart
that has beat strong and cheerfully has left a hopeful impulse
behind it in the world, and bettered the tradition of mankind.
And even if death catch people, like an open pitfall, and in
mid-career, laying out vast projects, and planning monstrous
foundations, flushed with hope, and their mouths full of
boastful language, they should be at once tripped up and
silenced: is there not something brave and spirited in such a
termination? and does not life go down with a better grace,
foaming in full body over a precipice, than miserably
straggling to an end in sandy deltas? When the Greeks made
their fine saying that those whom the gods love die young, I
cannot help believing they had this sort of death also in
their eye. For surely, at whatever age it overtake the man,
this is to die young. Death has not been suffered to take so
much as an illusion from his heart. In the hot-fit of life,
a-tip-toe on the highest point of being, he passes at a bound
on to the other side. The noise of the mallet and chisel is
scarcely quenched, the trumpets are hardly done blowing, when,
trailing with him clouds of glory, this happy-starred, full-
blooded spirit shoots into the spiritual land.


IT seems as if a great deal were attainable in a world
where there are so many marriages and decisive battles, and
where we all, at certain hours of the day, and with great
gusto and despatch, stow a portion of victuals finally and
irretrievably into the bag which contains us. And it would
seem also, on a hasty view, that the attainment of as much as
possible was the one goal of man's contentious life. And yet,
as regards the spirit, this is but a semblance. We live in an
ascending scale when we live happily, one thing leading to
another in an endless series. There is always a new horizon
for onward-looking men, and although we dwell on a small
planet, immersed in petty business and not enduring beyond a
brief period of years, we are so constituted that our hopes
are inaccessible, like stars, and the term of hoping is
prolonged until the term of life. To be truly happy is a
question of how we begin and not of how we end, of what we
want and not of what we have. An aspiration is a joy for
ever, a possession as solid as a landed estate, a fortune
which we can never exhaust and which gives us year by year a
revenue of pleasurable activity. To have many of these is to
be spiritually rich. Life is only a very dull and ill-
directed theatre unless we have some interests in the piece;
and to those who have neither art nor science, the world is a
mere arrangement of colours, or a rough footway where they may
very well break their shins. It is in virtue of his own
desires and curiosities that any man continues to exist with
even patience, that he is charmed by the look of things and
people, and that he wakens every morning with a renewed
appetite for work and pleasure. Desire and curiosity are the
two eyes through which he sees the world in the most enchanted
colours: it is they that make women beautiful or fossils
interesting: and the man may squander his estate and come to
beggary, but if he keeps these two amulets he is still rich in
the possibilities of pleasure. Suppose he could take one meal
so compact and comprehensive that he should never hunger any
more; suppose him, at a glance, to take in all the features of
the world and allay the desire for knowledge; suppose him to
do the like in any province of experience - would not that man
be in a poor way for amusement ever after?

One who goes touring on foot with a single volume in his
knapsack reads with circumspection, pausing often to reflect,
and often laying the book down to contemplate the landscape or
the prints in the inn parlour; for he fears to come to an end
of his entertainment, and be left companionless on the last
stages of his journey. A young fellow recently finished the
works of Thomas Carlyle, winding up, if we remember aright,
with the ten note-books upon Frederick the Great. "What!"
cried the young fellow, in consternation, "is there no more
Carlyle? Am I left to the daily papers?" A more celebrated
instance is that of Alexander, who wept bitterly because he
had no more worlds to subdue. And when Gibbon had finished
the DECLINE AND FALL, he had only a few moments of joy; and it
was with a "sober melancholy" that he parted from his labours.

Happily we all shoot at the moon with ineffectual arrows;
our hopes are set on inaccessible El Dorado; we come to an end
of nothing here below. Interests are only plucked up to sow
themselves again, like mustard. You would think, when the
child was born, there would be an end to trouble; and yet it
is only the beginning of fresh anxieties; and when you have
seen it through its teething and its education, and at last
its marriage, alas! it is only to have new fears, new
quivering sensibilities, with every day; and the health of
your children's children grows as touching a concern as that
of your own. Again, when you have married your wife, you
would think you were got upon a hilltop, and might begin to go
downward by an easy slope. But you have only ended courting
to begin marriage. Falling in love and winning love are often
difficult tasks to overbearing and rebellious spirits; but to
keep in love is also a business of some importance, to which
both man and wife must bring kindness and goodwill. The true
love story commences at the altar, when there lies before the
married pair a most beautiful contest of wisdom and
generosity, and a life-long struggle towards an unattainable
ideal. Unattainable? Ay, surely unattainable, from the very
fact that they are two instead of one.

"Of making books there is no end," complained the
Preacher; and did not perceive how highly he was praising
letters as an occupation. There is no end, indeed, to making
books or experiments, or to travel, or to gathering wealth.
Problem gives rise to problem. We may study for ever, and we
are never as learned as we would. We have never made a statue
worthy of our dreams. And when we have discovered a
continent, or crossed a chain of mountains, it is only to find
another ocean or another plain upon the further side. In the
infinite universe there is room for our swiftest diligence and
to spare. It is not like the works of Carlyle, which can be
read to an end. Even in a corner of it, in a private park, or
in the neighbourhood of a single hamlet, the weather and the
seasons keep so deftly changing that although we walk there
for a lifetime there will be always something new to startle
and delight us.

There is only one wish realisable on the earth; only one
thing that can be perfectly attained: Death. And from a
variety of circumstances we have no one to tell us whether it
be worth attaining.

A strange picture we make on our way to our chimaeras,
ceaselessly marching, grudging ourselves the time for rest;
indefatigable, adventurous pioneers. It is true that we shall
never reach the goal; it is even more than probable that there
is no such place; and if we lived for centuries and were
endowed with the powers of a god, we should find ourselves not
much nearer what we wanted at the end. O toiling hands of
mortals! O unwearied feet, travelling ye know not whither!
Soon, soon, it seems to you, you must come forth on some
conspicuous hilltop, and but a little way further, against the
setting sun, descry the spires of El Dorado. Little do ye
know your own blessednes; for to travel hopefully is a better
thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.


"Whether it be wise in men to do such actions or no, I am
sure it is so in States to honour them." - SIR WILLIAM TEMPLE.

THERE is one story of the wars of Rome which I have
always very much envied for England. Germanicus was going
down at the head of the legions into a dangerous river - on
the opposite bank the woods were full of Germans - when there
flew out seven great eagles which seemed to marshal the Romans
on their way; they did not pause or waver, but disappeared
into the forest where the enemy lay concealed. "Forward!"
cried Germanicus, with a fine rhetorical inspiration,
"Forward! and follow the Roman birds." It would be a very
heavy spirit that did not give a leap at such a signal, and a
very timorous one that continued to have any doubt of success.
To appropriate the eagles as fellow-countrymen was to make
imaginary allies of the forces of nature; the Roman Empire and
its military fortunes, and along with these the prospects of
those individual Roman legionaries now fording a river in
Germany, looked altogether greater and more hopeful. It is a
kind of illusion easy to produce. A particular shape of
cloud, the appearance of a particular star, the holiday of
some particular saint, anything in short to remind the
combatants of patriotic legends or old successes, may be
enough to change the issue of a pitched battle; for it gives
to the one party a feeling that Right and the larger interests
are with them.

If an Englishman wishes to have such a feeling, it must
be about the sea. The lion is nothing to us; he has not been
taken to the hearts of the people, and naturalised as an
English emblem. We know right well that a lion would fall
foul of us as grimly as he would of a Frenchman or a Moldavian
Jew, and we do not carry him before us in the smoke of battle.
But the sea is our approach and bulwark; it has been the scene
of our greatest triumphs and dangers; and we are accustomed in
lyrical strains to claim it as our own. The prostrating
experiences of foreigners between Calais and Dover have always
an agreeable side to English prepossessions. A man from
Bedfordshire, who does not know one end of the ship from the
other until she begins to move, swaggers among such persons
with a sense of hereditary nautical experience. To suppose
yourself endowed with natural parts for the sea because you
are the countryman of Blake and mighty Nelson, is perhaps just
as unwarrantable as to imagine Scotch extraction a sufficient
guarantee that you will look well in a kilt. But the feeling
is there, and seated beyond the reach of argument. We should
consider ourselves unworthy of our descent if we did not share
the arrogance of our progenitors, and please ourselves with
the pretension that the sea is English. Even where it is
looked upon by the guns and battlements of another nation we
regard it as a kind of English cemetery, where the bones of
our seafaring fathers take their rest until the last trumpet;
for I suppose no other nation has lost as many ships, or sent
as many brave fellows to the bottom.

There is nowhere such a background for heroism as the
noble, terrifying, and picturesque conditions of some of our
sea fights. Hawke's battle in the tempest, and Aboukir at the
moment when the French Admiral blew up, reach the limit of
what is imposing to the imagination. And our naval annals owe
some of their interest to the fantastic and beautiful
appearance of old warships and the romance that invests the
sea and everything sea-going in the eyes of English lads on a
half-holiday at the coast. Nay, and what we know of the
misery between decks enhances the bravery of what was done by
giving it something for contrast. We like to know that these
bold and honest fellows contrived to live, and to keep bold
and honest, among absurd and vile surroundings. No reader can
forget the description of the THUNDER in RODERICK RANDOM: the
disorderly tyranny; the cruelty and dirt of officers and men;
deck after deck, each with some new object of offence; the
hospital, where the hammocks were huddled together with but
fourteen inches space for each; the cockpit, far under water,
where, "in an intolerable stench," the spectacled steward kept
the accounts of the different messes; and the canvas
enclosure, six feet square, in which Morgan made flip and
salmagundi, smoked his pipe, sang his Welsh songs, and swore
his queer Welsh imprecations. There are portions of this
business on board the THUNDER over which the reader passes
lightly and hurriedly, like a traveller in a malarious
country. It is easy enough to understand the opinion of Dr.
Johnson: "Why, sir," he said, "no man will be a sailor who has
contrivance enough to get himself into a jail." You would
fancy any one's spirit would die out under such an
accumulation of darkness, noisomeness, and injustice, above
all when he had not come there of his own free will, but under
the cutlasses and bludgeons of the press-gang. But perhaps a
watch on deck in the sharp sea air put a man on his mettle
again; a battle must have been a capital relief; and prize-
money, bloodily earned and grossly squandered, opened the
doors of the prison for a twinkling. Somehow or other, at
least, this worst of possible lives could not overlie the
spirit and gaiety of our sailors; they did their duty as
though they had some interest in the fortune of that country
which so cruelly oppressed them, they served their guns
merrily when it came to fighting, and they had the readiest
ear for a bold, honourable sentiment, of any class of men the
world ever produced.

Most men of high destinies have high-sounding names. Pym
and Habakkuk may do pretty well, but they must not think to
cope with the Cromwells and Isaiahs. And you could not find a
better case in point than that of the English Admirals. Drake
and Rooke and Hawke are picked names for men of execution.
Frobisher, Rodney, Boscawen, Foul-Weather, Jack Byron, are all
good to catch the eye in a page of a naval history.
Cloudesley Shovel is a mouthful of quaint and sounding
syllables. Benbow has a bulldog quality that suits the man's
character, and it takes us back to those English archers who
were his true comrades for plainness, tenacity, and pluck.
Raleigh is spirited and martial, and signifies an act of bold
conduct in the field. It is impossible to judge of Blake or
Nelson, no names current among men being worthy of such
heroes. But still it is odd enough, and very appropriate in
this connection, that the latter was greatly taken with his
Sicilian title. "The signification, perhaps, pleased him,"
says Southey; "Duke of Thunder was what in Dahomey would have
been called a STRONG NAME; it was to a sailor's taste, and
certainly to no man could it be more applicable." Admiral in
itself is one of the most satisfactory of distinctions; it has
a noble sound and a very proud history; and Columbus thought
so highly of it, that he enjoined his heirs to sign themselves
by that title as long as the house should last.

But it is the spirit of the men, and not their names,
that I wish to speak about in this paper. That spirit is
truly English; they, and not Tennyson's cotton-spinners or Mr.
D'Arcy Thompson's Abstract Bagman, are the true and typical
Englishmen. There may be more HEAD of bagmen in the country,
but human beings are reckoned by number only in political
constitutions. And the Admirals are typical in the full force
of the word. They are splendid examples of virtue, indeed,
but of a virtue in which most Englishmen can claim a moderate
share; and what we admire in their lives is a sort of
apotheosis of ourselves. Almost everybody in our land, except
humanitarians and a few persons whose youth has been depressed
by exceptionally aesthetic surroundings, can understand and
sympathise with an Admiral or a prize-fighter. I do not wish
to bracket Benbow and Tom Cribb; but, depend upon it, they are
practically bracketed for admiration in the minds of many
frequenters of ale-houses. If you told them about Germanicus
and the eagles, or Regulus going back to Carthage, they would
very likely fall asleep; but tell them about Harry Pearce and
Jem Belcher, or about Nelson and the Nile, and they put down
their pipes to listen. I have by me a copy of BOXIANA, on the
fly-leaves of which a youthful member of the fancy kept a
chronicle of remarkable events and an obituary of great men.
Here we find piously chronicled the demise of jockeys,
watermen, and pugilists - Johnny Moore, of the Liverpool Prize
Ring; Tom Spring, aged fifty-six; "Pierce Egan, senior, writer
OF BOXIANA and other sporting works" - and among all these,
the Duke of Wellington! If Benbow had lived in the time of
this annalist, do you suppose his name would not have been
added to the glorious roll? In short, we do not all feel
warmly towards Wesley or Laud, we cannot all take pleasure in
PARADISE LOST; but there are certain common sentiments and
touches of nature by which the whole nation is made to feel
kinship. A little while ago everybody, from Hazlitt and John
Wilson down to the imbecile creature who scribbled his
register on the fly-leaves of BOXIANA, felt a more or less
shamefaced satisfaction in the exploits of prize-fighters.
And the exploits of the Admirals are popular to the same
degree, and tell in all ranks of society. Their sayings and
doings stir English blood like the sound of a trumpet; and if
the Indian Empire, the trade of London, and all the outward
and visible ensigns of our greatness should pass away, we
should still leave behind us a durable monument of what we
were in these sayings and doings of the English Admirals.

Duncan, lying off the Texel with his own flagship, the
VENERABLE, and only one other vessel, heard that the whole
Dutch fleet was putting to sea. He told Captain Hotham to
anchor alongside of him in the narrowest part of the channel,
and fight his vessel till she sank. "I have taken the depth
of the water," added he, "and when the VENERABLE goes down, my
flag will still fly." And you observe this is no naked Viking
in a prehistoric period; but a Scotch member of Parliament,
with a smattering of the classics, a telescope, a cocked hat
of great size, and flannel underclothing. In the same spirit,
Nelson went into Aboukir with six colours flying; so that even
if five were shot away, it should not be imagined he had
struck. He too must needs wear his four stars outside his
Admiral's frock, to be a butt for sharp-shooters. "In honour
I gained them," he said to objectors, adding with sublime
illogicality, "in honour I will die with them." Captain
Douglas of the ROYAL OAK, when the Dutch fired his vessel in
the Thames, sent his men ashore, but was burned along with her
himself rather than desert his post without orders. Just
then, perhaps the Merry Monarch was chasing a moth round the
supper-table with the ladies of his court. When Raleigh
sailed into Cadiz, and all the forts and ships opened fire on
him at once, he scorned to shoot a gun, and made answer with a
flourish of insulting trumpets. I like this bravado better
than the wisest dispositions to insure victory; it comes from
the heart and goes to it. God has made nobler heroes, but he
never made a finer gentleman than Walter Raleigh. And as our
Admirals were full of heroic superstitions, and had a
strutting and vainglorious style of fight, so they discovered
a startling eagerness for battle, and courted war like a
mistress. When the news came to Essex before Cadiz that the
attack had been decided, he threw his hat into the sea. It is
in this way that a schoolboy hears of a half-holiday; but this
was a bearded man of great possessions who had just been
allowed to risk his life. Benbow could not lie still in his
bunk after he had lost his leg; he must be on deck in a basket
to direct and animate the fight. I said they loved war like a
mistress; yet I think there are not many mistresses we should
continue to woo under similar circumstances. Trowbridge went
ashore with the CULLODEN, and was able to take no part in the
battle of the Nile. "The merits of that ship and her gallant
captain," wrote Nelson to the Admiralty, "are too well known
to benefit by anything I could say. Her misfortune was great
IN THE FULL TIDE OF HAPPINESS." This is a notable expression,
and depicts the whole great-hearted, big-spoken stock of the
English Admirals to a hair. It was to be "in the full tide of
happiness" for Nelson to destroy five thousand five hundred
and twenty-five of his fellow-creatures, and have his own
scalp torn open by a piece of langridge shot. Hear him again
at Copenhagen: "A shot through the mainmast knocked the
splinters about; and he observed to one of his officers with a
smile, `It is warm work, and this may be the last to any of us
at any moment;' and then, stopping short at the gangway,
added, with emotion, `BUT, MARK YOU - I WOULD NOT BE ELSEWHERE

I must tell one more story, which has lately been made
familiar to us all, and that in one of the noblest ballads in
the English language. I had written my tame prose abstract, I
shall beg the reader to believe, when I had no notion that the
sacred bard designed an immortality for Greenville. Sir
Richard Greenville was Vice-Admiral to Lord Thomas Howard, and
lay off the Azores with the English squadron in 1591. He was
a noted tyrant to his crew: a dark, bullying fellow
apparently; and it is related of him that he would chew and
swallow wineglasses, by way of convivial levity, till the
blood ran out of his mouth. When the Spanish fleet of fifty
sail came within sight of the English, his ship, the REVENGE,
was the last to weigh anchor, and was so far circumvented by
the Spaniards, that there were but two courses open - either
to turn her back upon the enemy or sail through one of his
squadrons. The first alternative Greenville dismissed as
dishonourable to himself, his country, and her Majesty's ship.
Accordingly, he chose the latter, and steered into the Spanish
armament. Several vessels he forced to luff and fall under
his lee; until, about three o'clock of the afternoon, a great
ship of three decks of ordnance took the wind out of his
sails, and immediately boarded. Thence-forward, and all night
long, the REVENGE, held her own single-handed against the
Spaniards. As one ship was beaten off, another took its
place. She endured, according to Raleigh's computation,
"eight hundred shot of great artillery, besides many assaults
and entries." By morning the powder was spent, the pikes all
broken, not a stick was standing, "nothing left overhead
either for flight or defence;" six feet of water in the hold;
almost all the men hurt; and Greenville himself in a dying
condition. To bring them to this pass, a fleet of fifty sail
had been mauling them for fifteen hours, the ADMIRAL OF THE
HULKS and the ASCENSION of Seville had both gone down
alongside, and two other vessels had taken refuge on shore in
a sinking state. In Hawke's words, they had "taken a great
deal of drubbing." The captain and crew thought they had done
about enough; but Greenville was not of this opinion; he gave
orders to the master gunner, whom he knew to be a fellow after
his own stamp, to scuttle the REVENGE where she lay. The
others, who were not mortally wounded like the Admiral,
interfered with some decision, locked the master gunner in his
cabin, after having deprived him of his sword, for he
manifested an intention to kill himself if he were not to sink
the ship; and sent to the Spaniards to demand terms. These
were granted. The second or third day after, Greenville died
of his wounds aboard the Spanish flagship, leaving his
contempt upon the "traitors and dogs" who had not chosen to do
as he did, and engage fifty vessels, well found and fully
manned, with six inferior craft ravaged by sickness and short
of stores. He at least, he said, had done his duty as he was
bound to do, and looked for everlasting fame.

Some one said to me the other day that they considered
this story to be of a pestilent example. I am not inclined to
imagine we shall ever be put into any practical difficulty
from a superfluity of Greenvilles. And besides, I demur to
the opinion. The worth of such actions is not a thing to be
decided in a quaver of sensibility or a flush of righteous
commonsense. The man who wished to make the ballads of his
country, coveted a small matter compared to what Richard
Greenville accomplished. I wonder how many people have been
inspired by this mad story, and how many battles have been
actually won for England in the spirit thus engendered. It is
only with a measure of habitual foolhardiness that you can be
sure, in the common run of men, of courage on a reasonable
occasion. An army or a fleet, if it is not led by quixotic
fancies, will not be led far by terror of the Provost Marshal.
Even German warfare, in addition to maps and telegraphs, is
not above employing the WACHT AM RHEIN. Nor is it only in the
profession of arms that such stories may do good to a man. In
this desperate and gleeful fighting, whether it is Greenville
or Benbow, Hawke or Nelson, who flies his colours in the ship,
we see men brought to the test and giving proof of what we
call heroic feeling. Prosperous humanitarians tell me, in my
club smoking-room, that they are a prey to prodigious heroic
feelings, and that it costs them more nobility of soul to do
nothing in particular, than would carry on all the wars, by
sea or land, of bellicose humanity. It may very well be so,
and yet not touch the point in question. For what I desire is
to see some of this nobility brought face to face with me in
an inspiriting achievement. A man may talk smoothly over a
cigar in my club smoking-room from now to the Day of Judgment,
without adding anything to mankind's treasury of illustrious
and encouraging examples. It is not over the virtues of a
curate-and-tea-party novel, that people are abashed into high
resolutions. It may be because their hearts are crass, but to
stir them properly they must have men entering into glory with
some pomp and circumstance. And that is why these stories of
our sea-captains, printed, so to speak, in capitals, and full
of bracing moral influence, are more valuable to England than
any material benefit in all the books of political economy
between Westminster and Birmingham. Greenville chewing
wineglasses at table makes no very pleasant figure, any more
than a thousand other artists when they are viewed in the
body, or met in private life; but his work of art, his
finished tragedy, is an eloquent performance; and I contend it
ought not only to enliven men of the sword as they go into
battle, but send back merchant clerks with more heart and
spirit to their book-keeping by double entry.

There is another question which seems bound up in this;
and that is Temple's problem: whether it was wise of Douglas
to burn with the ROYAL OAK? and by implication, what it was
that made him do so? Many will tell you it was the desire of

"To what do Caesar and Alexander owe the infinite
grandeur of their renown, but to fortune? How many men has
she extinguished in the beginning of their progress, of whom
we have no knowledge; who brought as much courage to the work
as they, if their adverse hap had not cut them off in the
first sally of their arms? Amongst so many and so great
dangers, I do not remember to have anywhere read that Caesar
was ever wounded; a thousand have fallen in less dangers than
the least of these he went through. A great many brave
actions must be expected to be performed without witness, for
one that comes to some notice. A man is not always at the top
of a breach, or at the head of an army in the sight of his
general, as upon a platform. He is often surprised between
the hedge and the ditch; he must run the hazard of his life
against a henroost; he must dislodge four rascally musketeers
out of a barn; he must prick out single from his party, as
necessity arises, and meet adventures alone."

Thus far Montaigne, in a characteristic essay on GLORY.
Where death is certain, as in the cases of Douglas or
Greenville, it seems all one from a personal point of view.
The man who lost his life against a henroost, is in the same
pickle with him who lost his life against a fortified place of
the first order. Whether he has missed a peerage or only the
corporal's stripes, it is all one if he has missed them and is
quietly in the grave. It was by a hazard that we learned the
conduct of the four marines of the WAGER. There was no room
for these brave fellows in the boat, and they were left behind
upon the island to a certain death. They were soldiers, they
said, and knew well enough it was their business to die; and
as their comrades pulled away, they stood upon the beach, gave
three cheers, and cried "God bless the king!" Now, one or two
of those who were in the boat escaped, against all likelihood,
to tell the story. That was a great thing for us; but surely
it cannot, by any possible twisting of human speech, be
construed into anything great for the marines. You may
suppose, if you like, that they died hoping their behaviour
would not be forgotten; or you may suppose they thought
nothing on the subject, which is much more likely. What can
be the signification of the word "fame" to a private of
marines, who cannot read and knows nothing of past history
beyond the reminiscences of his grandmother? But whichever
supposition you make, the fact is unchanged. They died while
the question still hung in the balance; and I suppose their
bones were already white, before the winds and the waves and
the humour of Indian chiefs and Spanish governors had decided
whether they were to be unknown and useless martyrs or
honoured heroes. Indeed, I believe this is the lesson: if it
is for fame that men do brave actions, they are only silly
fellows after all.

It is at best but a pettifogging, pickthank business to
decompose actions into little personal motives, and explain
heroism away. The Abstract Bagman will grow like an Admiral
at heart, not by ungrateful carping, but in a heat of
admiration. But there is another theory of the personal
motive in these fine sayings and doings, which I believe to be
true and wholesome. People usually do things, and suffer
martyrdoms, because they have an inclination that way. The
best artist is not the man who fixes his eye on posterity, but
the one who loves the practice of his art. And instead of
having a taste for being successful merchants and retiring at
thirty, some people have a taste for high and what we call
heroic forms of excitement. If the Admirals courted war like
a mistress; if, as the drum beat to quarters, the sailors came
gaily out of the forecastle, - it is because a fight is a
period of multiplied and intense experiences, and, by Nelson's
computation, worth "thousands" to any one who has a heart
under his jacket. If the marines of the WAGER gave three
cheers and cried "God bless the king," it was because they
liked to do things nobly for their own satisfaction. They
were giving their lives, there was no help for that; and they
made it a point of self-respect to give them handsomely. And
there were never four happier marines in God's world than
these four at that moment. If it was worth thousands to be at
the Baltic, I wish a Benthamite arithmetician would calculate
how much it was worth to be one of these four marines; or how
much their story is worth to each of us who read it. And mark
you, undemonstrative men would have spoiled the situation.
The finest action is the better for a piece of purple. If the
soldiers of the BIRKENHEAD had not gone down in line, or these
marines of the WAGER had walked away simply into the island,
like plenty of other brave fellows in the like circumstances,
my Benthamite arithmetician would assign a far lower value to
the two stories. We have to desire a grand air in our heroes;
and such a knowledge of the human stage as shall make them put
the dots on their own i's, and leave us in no suspense as to
when they mean to be heroic. And hence, we should
congratulate ourselves upon the fact that our Admirals were
not only great-hearted but big-spoken.

The heroes themselves say, as often as not, that fame is
their object; but I do not think that is much to the purpose.
People generally say what they have been taught to say; that
was the catchword they were given in youth to express the aims
of their way of life; and men who are gaining great battles
are not likely to take much trouble in reviewing their
sentiments and the words in which they were told to express
them. Almost every person, if you will believe himself, holds
a quite different theory of life from the one on which he is
patently acting. And the fact is, fame may be a forethought
and an afterthought, but it is too abstract an idea to move
people greatly in moments of swift and momentous decision. It
is from something more immediate, some determination of blood
to the head, some trick of the fancy, that the breach is
stormed or the bold word spoken. I am sure a fellow shooting
an ugly weir in a canoe has exactly as much thought about fame
as most commanders going into battle; and yet the action, fall
out how it will, is not one of those the muse delights to
celebrate. Indeed it is difficult to see why the fellow does
a thing so nameless and yet so formidable to look at, unless
on the theory that he likes it. I suspect that is why; and I
suspect it is at least ten per cent of why Lord Beaconsfield
and Mr. Gladstone have debated so much in the House of
Commons, and why Burnaby rode to Khiva the other day, and why
the Admirals courted war like a mistress.


THROUGH the initiative of a prominent citizen, Edinburgh
has been in possession, for some autumn weeks, of a gallery of
paintings of singular merit and interest. They were exposed
in the apartments of the Scotch Academy; and filled those who
are accustomed to visit the annual spring exhibition, with
astonishment and a sense of incongruity. Instead of the too
common purple sunsets, and pea-green fields, and distances
executed in putty and hog's lard, he beheld, looking down upon
him from the walls of room after room, a whole army of wise,
grave, humorous, capable, or beautiful countenances, painted
simply and strongly by a man of genuine instinct. It was a
complete act of the Human Drawing-Room Comedy. Lords and
ladies, soldiers and doctors, hanging judges, and heretical
divines, a whole generation of good society was resuscitated;
and the Scotchman of to-day walked about among the Scotchmen
of two generations ago. The moment was well chosen, neither
too late nor too early. The people who sat for these pictures
are not yet ancestors, they are still relations. They are not
yet altogether a part of the dusty past, but occupy a middle
distance within cry of our affections. The little child who
looks wonderingly on his grandfather's watch in the picture,
is now the veteran Sheriff EMERITIS of Perth. And I hear a
story of a lady who returned the other day to Edinburgh, after
an absence of sixty years: "I could see none of my old
friends," she said, "until I went into the Raeburn Gallery,
and found them all there."

It would be difficult to say whether the collection was
more interesting on the score of unity or diversity. Where
the portraits were all of the same period, almost all of the
same race, and all from the same brush, there could not fail
to be many points of similarity. And yet the similarity of
the handling seems to throw into more vigorous relief those
personal distinctions which Raeburn was so quick to seize. He
was a born painter of portraits. He looked people shrewdly
between the eyes, surprised their manners in their face, and
had possessed himself of what was essential in their character
before they had been many minutes in his studio. What he was
so swift to perceive, he conveyed to the canvas almost in the
moment of conception. He had never any difficulty, he said,
about either hands or faces. About draperies or light or
composition, he might see room for hesitation or afterthought.
But a face or a hand was something plain and legible. There
were no two ways about it, any more than about the person's
name. And so each of his portraits are not only (in Doctor
Johnson's phrase, aptly quoted on the catalogue) "a piece of
history," but a piece of biography into the bargain. It is
devoutly to be wished that all biography were equally amusing,
and carried its own credentials equally upon its face. These
portraits are racier than many anecdotes, and more complete
than many a volume of sententious memoirs. You can see
whether you get a stronger and clearer idea of Robertson the
historian from Raeburn's palette or Dugald Stewart's woolly
and evasive periods. And then the portraits are both signed
and countersigned. For you have, first, the authority of the
artist, whom you recognise as no mean critic of the looks and
manners of men; and next you have the tacit acquiescence of
the subject, who sits looking out upon you with inimitable
innocence, and apparently under the impression that he is in a
room by himself. For Raeburn could plunge at once through all
the constraint and embarrassment of the sitter, and present
the face, clear, open, and intelligent as at the most
disengaged moments. This is best seen in portraits where the
sitter is represented in some appropriate action: Neil Gow
with his fiddle, Doctor Spens shooting an arrow, or Lord
Bannatyne hearing a cause. Above all, from this point of
view, the portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Lyon is notable. A
strange enough young man, pink, fat about the lower part of
the face, with a lean forehead, a narrow nose and a fine
nostril, sits with a drawing-board upon his knees. He has
just paused to render himself account of some difficulty, to
disentangle some complication of line or compare neighbouring
values. And there, without any perceptible wrinkling, you
have rendered for you exactly the fixed look in the eyes, and
the unconscious compression of the mouth, that befit and
signify an effort of the kind. The whole pose, the whole
expression, is absolutely direct and simple. You are ready to
take your oath to it that Colonel Lyon had no idea he was
sitting for his picture, and thought of nothing in the world
besides his own occupation of the moment.

Although the collection did not embrace, I understand,
nearly the whole of Raeburn's works, it was too large not to
contain some that were indifferent, whether as works of art or
as portraits. Certainly the standard was remarkably high, and
was wonderfully maintained, but there were one or two pictures
that might have been almost as well away - one or two that
seemed wanting in salt, and some that you can only hope were
not successful likenesses. Neither of the portraits of Sir
Walter Scott, for instance, were very agreeable to look upon.
You do not care to think that Scott looked quite so rustic and
puffy. And where is that peaked forehead which, according to
all written accounts and many portraits, was the
distinguishing characteristic of his face? Again, in spite of
his own satisfaction and in spite of Dr. John Brown, I cannot
consider that Raeburn was very happy in hands. Without doubt,
he could paint one if he had taken the trouble to study it;
but it was by no means always that he gave himself the
trouble. Looking round one of these rooms hung about with his
portraits, you were struck with the array of expressive faces,
as compared with what you may have seen in looking round a
room full of living people. But it was not so with the hands.
The portraits differed from each other in face perhaps ten
times as much as they differed by the hand; whereas with
living people the two go pretty much together; and where one
is remarkable, the other will almost certainly not be

One interesting portrait was that of Duncan of
Camperdown. He stands in uniform beside a table, his feet
slightly straddled with the balance of an old sailor, his hand
poised upon a chart by the finger tips. The mouth is pursed,
the nostril spread and drawn up, the eyebrows very highly
arched. The cheeks lie along the jaw in folds of iron, and
have the redness that comes from much exposure to salt sea
winds. From the whole figure, attitude and countenance, there
breathes something precise and decisive, something alert,
wiry, and strong. You can understand, from the look of him,
that sense, not so much of humour, as of what is grimmest and
driest in pleasantry, which inspired his address before the
fight at Camperdown. He had just overtaken the Dutch fleet
under Admiral de Winter. "Gentlemen," says he, "you see a
severe winter approaching; I have only to advise you to keep
up a good fire." Somewhat of this same spirit of adamantine
drollery must have supported him in the days of the mutiny at
the Nore, when he lay off the Texel with his own flagship, the
VENERABLE, and only one other vessel, and kept up active
signals, as though he had a powerful fleet in the offing, to
intimidate the Dutch.

Another portrait which irresistibly attracted the eye,
was the half-length of Robert M'Queen, of Braxfield, Lord
Justice-Clerk. If I know gusto in painting when I see it,
this canvas was painted with rare enjoyment. The tart, rosy,
humorous look of the man, his nose like a cudgel, his face
resting squarely on the jowl, has been caught and perpetuated
with something that looks like brotherly love. A peculiarly
subtle expression haunts the lower part, sensual and
incredulous, like that of a man tasting good Bordeaux with
half a fancy it has been somewhat too long uncorked. From
under the pendulous eyelids of old age the eyes look out with
a half-youthful, half-frosty twinkle. Hands, with no pretence
to distinction, are folded on the judge's stomach. So
sympathetically is the character conceived by the portrait
painter, that it is hardly possible to avoid some movement of
sympathy on the part of the spectator. And sympathy is a
thing to be encouraged, apart from humane considerations,
because it supplies us with the materials for wisdom. It is
probably more instructive to entertain a sneaking kindness for
any unpopular person, and, among the rest, for Lord Braxfield,
than to give way to perfect raptures of moral indignation
against his abstract vices. He was the last judge on the
Scotch bench to employ the pure Scotch idiom. His opinions,
thus given in Doric, and conceived in a lively, rugged,
conversational style, were full of point and authority. Out
of the bar, or off the bench, he was a convivial man, a lover
of wine, and one who "shone peculiarly" at tavern meetings.
He has left behind him an unrivalled reputation for rough and
cruel speech; and to this day his name smacks of the gallows.
It was he who presided at the trials of Muir and Skirving in
1793 and 1794; and his appearance on these occasions was
scarcely cut to the pattern of to-day. His summing up on Muir
began thus - the reader must supply for himself "the growling,
blacksmith's voice" and the broad Scotch accent: "Now this is
the question for consideration - Is the panel guilty of
sedition, or is he not? Now, before this can be answered, two
things must be attended to that require no proof: FIRST, that
the British constitution is the best that ever was since the
creation of the world, and it is not possible to make it
better." It's a pretty fair start, is it not, for a political
trial? A little later, he has occasion to refer to the
relations of Muir with "those wretches," the French. "I never
liked the French all my days," said his lordship, "but now I
hate them." And yet a little further on: "A government in any
country should be like a corporation; and in this country it
is made up of the landed interest, which alone has a right to
be represented. As for the rabble who have nothing but
personal property, what hold has the nation of them? They may
pack up their property on their backs, and leave the country
in the twinkling of an eye." After having made profession of
sentiments so cynically anti-popular as these, when the trials
were at an end, which was generally about midnight, Braxfield
would walk home to his house in George Square with no better
escort than an easy conscience. I think I see him getting his
cloak about his shoulders, and, with perhaps a lantern in one
hand, steering his way along the streets in the mirk January
night. It might have been that very day that Skirving had
defied him in these words: "It is altogether unavailing for
your lordship to menace me; for I have long learned to fear
not the face of man;" and I can fancy, as Braxfield reflected
on the number of what he called GRUMBLETONIANS in Edinburgh,
and of how many of them must bear special malice against so
upright and inflexible a judge, nay, and might at that very
moment be lurking in the mouth of a dark close with hostile
intent - I can fancy that he indulged in a sour smile, as he
reflected that he also was not especially afraid of men's
faces or men's fists, and had hitherto found no occasion to
embody this insensibility in heroic words. For if he was an
inhumane old gentleman (and I am afraid it is a fact that he
was inhumane), he was also perfectly intrepid. You may look
into the queer face of that portrait for as long as you will,
but you will not see any hole or corner for timidity to enter

Indeed, there would be no end to this paper if I were
even to name half of the portraits that were remarkable for
their execution, or interesting by association. There was one
picture of Mr. Wardrop, of Torbane Hill, which you might palm
off upon most laymen as a Rembrandt; and close by, you saw the
white head of John Clerk, of Eldin, that country gentleman
who, playing with pieces of cork on his own dining-table,
invented modern naval warfare. There was that portrait of
Neil Gow, to sit for which the old fiddler walked daily
through the streets of Edinburgh arm in arm with the Duke of
Athole. There was good Harry Erskine, with his satirical nose
and upper lip, and his mouth just open for a witticism to pop
out; Hutton the geologist, in quakerish raiment, and looking
altogether trim and narrow, and as if he cared more about
fossils than young ladies; full-blown John Robieson, in
hyperbolical red dressing-gown, and, every inch of him, a fine
old man of the world; Constable the publisher, upright beside
a table, and bearing a corporation with commercial dignity;
Lord Bannatyne hearing a cause, if ever anybody heard a cause
since the world began; Lord Newton just awakened from
clandestine slumber on the bench; and the second President
Dundas, with every feature so fat that he reminds you, in his
wig, of some droll old court officer in an illustrated nursery
story-book, and yet all these fat features instinct with
meaning, the fat lips curved and compressed, the nose
combining somehow the dignity of a beak with the good nature
of a bottle, and the very double chin with an air of
intelligence and insight. And all these portraits are so pat
and telling, and look at you so spiritedly from the walls,
that, compared with the sort of living people one sees about
the streets, they are as bright new sovereigns to fishy and
obliterated sixpences. Some disparaging thoughts upon our own
generation could hardly fail to present themselves; but it is
perhaps only the SACER VATES who is wanting; and we also,
painted by such a man as Carolus Duran, may look in holiday
immortality upon our children and grandchildren.

Raeburn's young women, to be frank, are by no means of
the same order of merit. No one, of course, could be
insensible to the presence of Miss Janet Suttie or Mrs.
Campbell of Possil. When things are as pretty as that,
criticism is out of season. But, on the whole, it is only
with women of a certain age that he can be said to have
succeeded, in at all the same sense as we say he succeeded
with men. The younger women do not seem to be made of good
flesh and blood. They are not painted in rich and unctuous
touches. They are dry and diaphanous. And although young
ladies in Great Britain are all that can be desired of them, I
would fain hope they are not quite so much of that as Raeburn
would have us believe. In all these pretty faces, you miss
character, you miss fire, you miss that spice of the devil
which is worth all the prettiness in the world; and what is
worst of all, you miss sex. His young ladies are not womanly
to nearly the same degree as his men are masculine; they are
so in a negative sense; in short, they are the typical young
ladies of the male novelist.

To say truth, either Raeburn was timid with young and
pretty sitters; or he had stupefied himself with
sentimentalities; or else (and here is about the truth of it)
Raeburn and the rest of us labour under an obstinate blindness
in one direction, and know very little more about women after
all these centuries than Adam when he first saw Eve. This is
all the more likely, because we are by no means so
unintelligent in the matter of old women. There are some
capital old women, it seems to me, in books written by men.
And Raeburn has some, such as Mrs. Colin Campbell, of Park, or
the anonymous "Old lady with a large cap," which are done in
the same frank, perspicacious spirit as the very best of his
men. He could look into their eyes without trouble; and he
was not withheld, by any bashful sentimentalism, from
recognising what he saw there and unsparingly putting it down
upon the canvas. But where people cannot meet without some
confusion and a good deal of involuntary humbug, and are
occupied, for as long as they are together, with a very
different vein of thought, there cannot be much room for
intelligent study nor much result in the shape of genuine
comprehension. Even women, who understand men so well for
practical purposes, do not know them well enough for the
purposes of art. Take even the very best of their male
creations, take Tito Melema, for instance, and you will find
he has an equivocal air, and every now and again remembers he
has a comb at the back of his head. Of course, no woman will
believe this, and many men will be so very polite as to humour
their incredulity.


THE regret we have for our childhood is not wholly
justifiable: so much a man may lay down without fear of public
ribaldry; for although we shake our heads over the change, we
are not unconscious of the manifold advantages of our new
state. What we lose in generous impulse, we more than gain in
the habit of generously watching others; and the capacity to
enjoy Shakespeare may balance a lost aptitude for playing at
soldiers. Terror is gone out of our lives, moreover; we no
longer see the devil in the bed-curtains nor lie awake to
listen to the wind. We go to school no more; and if we have
only exchanged one drudgery for another (which is by no means
sure), we are set free for ever from the daily fear of
chastisement. And yet a great change has overtaken us; and
although we do not enjoy ourselves less, at least we take our
pleasure differently. We need pickles nowadays to make
Wednesday's cold mutton please our Friday's appetite; and I
can remember the time when to call it red venison, and tell
myself a hunter's story, would have made it more palatable
than the best of sauces. To the grown person, cold mutton is
cold mutton all the world over; not all the mythology ever
invented by man will make it better or worse to him; the broad
fact, the clamant reality, of the mutton carries away before
it such seductive figments. But for the child it is still
possible to weave an enchantment over eatables; and if he has
but read of a dish in a story-book, it will be heavenly manna
to him for a week.

If a grown man does not like eating and drinking and
exercise, if he is not something positive in his tastes, it


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