(Continued from p.
BACK IN ITALY. 1854-1859.
Garibaldi, the tallow-merchant, arrived in Genoa. He had amassed
sufficient money to purchase the little island of Caprera, on the
coast of Sardinia, and thither he now betook himself to await the
course of events, and to mature those plans which have since defied
all military speculation and astonished Europe. About this time the
Austrian Emperor violated the terms of that treaty which bound him
to respect the Venetian frontier, and invaded Sardinia. The moment
anxiously expected by all true patriots had arrived—there was a
pretext for attacking Austria; what might not that attack lead to? Venice, Verona, Milan, might be wrested from the oppressor.
Thousands in each of these cities were ready for rebellion. Thousands in Sardinia were ready to march to their rescue. Cavour,
the many-sided, the astute, the patriotic premier of Italy, was
ready to organize relations with France. Napoleon III. was ready to
march with a splendid army to "fight for an idea,"—that "idea" of
liberty which the nation had determined should become, ere long, a
fact. Victor Emmanuel, the "Ré galantuomo," was ready to place
himself at the head of his cavalry; Garibaldi, the darling of the
people, the blameless patriot, was ready with the magic of his
presence to spread that wild contagious enthusiasm which it is
impossible to describe to those who have not felt it, and to sweep,
as he alone can, the winds and waves of revolution into the channel
of national conquest and glory.
Ere the first shot was fired Garibaldi hastened to Turin, and
offered his services to the king. Victor Emmanuel received his great
subject with open arms; for he himself is a brave soldier at
heart—a man who hates ceremony and diplomacy of all kinds, although
wise enough to see their absolute necessity; a man of views most
direct and simple, of instincts strong and passionate, of
single-hearted devotion to the good of Italy, of folly and weakness
most undoubted, and yet of a character so undisguised and simple
that his very want of self-respect will sometimes elicit a
sympathetic Evviva! from his really affectionate people. With
Garibaldi the king was an idea. He accepts a constitutional monarchy
as the purest form of republicanism. "You," said he to an Englishman,
"are the freest people in the world;" and he accepts the king as
the embodiment of the nation's honour. "The 'king,' meaning the
kingly office,' does no wrong, he must never be blamed: the
Egyptians, who were the first people who understood how to govern,
always praised their kings." But apart from this view, Garibaldi is
warmly attached to the king's person, and silences all scandals and
other abuse of his royal master with the words, "I have seen the
king fight for Italy!"
At the commencement of the war Garibaldi wore the Peildmontese
uniform, as general of the Chasseurs of the Alps, with orders to
recruit ad libitum. The flower of Italian youth flocked to his
standard, impatient for action; but they were soon checked. The Piedmontese generals, Cialdini and La Marmora, were growing jealous
of the brilliant and "irregular" leader. He was hampered in every
way, promised supplies which never arrived, marched and
counter-marched, obliged to co-operate in imbecile plans, condemned
to hopeless inaction. He longed to throw off the stiff uniform, and
sighed for the loose shirt and grey trousers, and the liberty of
action without which his genius seemed paralyzed. Suddenly leaving
his "chasseurs" at Romagnano, he pushed for the king's
head-quarters, and praying for an interview, begged his majesty to
release him from the regular army, and allow him to make war with
his "chasseurs" when and were he chose. The king smiled, and taking
him by the hand, bade him follow the bent of his genius, adding, "I
have only one regret, that of not being able to follow you!"
In five hours the general was again at the head of his "chasseurs." No more slow marches—no more dullness or inaction—a series of
exploits now began which, whilst they steadily crushed the
Austrians, compelled even the French officers to admit that the guerillero was a consummate general, and elicited the admiration of
Napoleon, who sent, in the most flattering manner, to congratulate
his irregular ally. We must remember that Garibaldi was acting with
a comparatively small force against the whole Austrian army. He
constantly opposed General Urban, seventeen thousand strong, with
five thousand or even two thousand chasseurs, and in every case
In this short and startling campaign all the Garibaldian
characteristics were brilliantly illustrated. Daring bravery,
indomitable will, inexhaustible artifice; indeed, against
overwhelming odds, the impudence and effrontery of Garibaldi's
tactics were such as could only be sanctioned by success. At Varese
he was surprised by Urban with seventeen thousand troops; there
seemed no chance of escape. Night came on, and the Austrian being
sure of his game, deferred the attack till morning. Garibaldi,
leaving two hundred sharpshooters on the walls to represent the
army, stole out in the dark and fell on the enemy's flank. The
infantry broke and fled in disorder, even the cavalry were
powerless, and the morning light displayed the scattered forces of
the Austrians, and the victorious chasseurs in pursuit. Once again
during the war was Garibaldi surrounded by Urban; he had occupied a
hill, and Urban was watching him in the plain below. All night the
camp fires blazed brightly on the hill; but at break of day, when
Urban came up the hill, he found no one there. On the 15th of
June, 1859, the famous advance on Brescia took place. Garibaldi
split up his little band into nine or ten columns, which advanced
from different sides all at once. If the Austrians had but known
there was nothing behind them! But they could not believe that
the guerillero would advance alone upon a place which even the allied
armies of France and Piedmont hesitated to attack. These were
doubtless the advanced pickets of the great army,—these ten handfuls
of men! On they came, with nothing really but their impudence to
back them; and as they came up a panic seized the enemy, and Brescia
was evacuated. At last a few red shirts seemed quite sufficient for
ordinary occasions, and towns were captured just on Nelson's own
principle of cutting out ships. Idra was taken thus. Eighteen men
were packed in an omnibus, preceded by Colonel Türr and Major
Bedmir in a cart. This was the besieging party. When they arrived the eighteen men garrisoned the town, and the two officers returned
for further instructions. When the general himself appeared, Urban
was heard to swear dreadfully, the soldiers crossed themselves,
declared the devil was leading the charge, and fled accordingly. Bergamo, Brescia, Lecco, Salo were gained in little short of a
month, and still Garibaldi was fresh, and the Austrians steadily
retreating. At the same time a fearful blow was struck by Victor
Emmanuel at Palestro, and by the French emperor at Magenta. In
Venice men were holding their breath—at any hour they might be
free; the deliverer was coming on with gigantic strides from the
ramparts of Verona; every cloud of dust on the white road was
watched with intense anxiety; firing was actually heard in the
distance, Garibaldi was coming! To-morrow Verona might be free,
when, like a sudden blight upon Paradise, fell the news of an
armistice between the allies and Austria, and like a great funeral
pall spread over the burning hearts of three millions of Italians
came the still more disastrous news of the "Provisional Peace" of Villafranca. This was Napoleon's doing. To suit his convenience the
question of Venetia was to be kept open. If Italy went on with the
war now she would have to fight France and Austria. There was no
choice. The king of Italy was in the deepest sorrow—Garibaldi was
furious—Cavour rather than sign the peace resigned. The people
seemed mostly paralyzed by this great national calamity; it is a
fact that many in Milan, Verona, and Venice, went mad, whilst
others, in a paroxysm of rage and disappointment, committed suicide.
Garibaldi issued a proclamation calling for a million of muskets,
with a broad hint that they would be wanted for Southern Italy in a
very short time; and with this bold and defiant protest retired to
SICILY. "GARIBALDI IS
Sicily and Naples, groaning under the misrule of the Bourbon king,
Francis II., did not share in the sorrow of Northern Italy. The
peace set Garibaldi at liberty, and it was well known that he was
now looking southward. But whatever he does now must be done
single-handed against the kingdom of Naples. No allies but the
people here. Victor Emmanuel hides his face, peeping through his
fingers perhaps. Could never think of deposing a neighbouring king
like himself; has no idea where Garibaldi is; supposes he is at
Genoa or Caprera; has not heard that Garibaldi on a certain
moonlight night seized two Sardinian steamers, crammed them with one
thousand and eighty volunteers, and steamed out of Genoa; if it is
true, thinks he may be going to land in the Romagna, and bother the
pope; cannot in the least say—who ever could say what Garibaldi was
going to do next? does not think it likely that he will take the Two
Sillies with one thousand and eighty men; perhaps had better stop
the expedition at once, and so gives directions to Admiral Persano
to sail after it immediately, and by all means—not to catch it.
Leaving Garibaldi to float quietly down the lovely western coast of
Italy, with the faint blue Apennines so clear upon the pale rose sky
of the early summer morning; and leaving his gallant crew, whom all
the beauties of the Mediterranean in spring could not preserve from
dreadful sea-sickness, so much so that the gallant Colonel Türr
prayed to be thrown overboard; and when asked by the general
whether he was ready to be shot, replied he should certainly prefer
that to remaining at sea. Skipping such-like harrowing details, let
us arrive in Italy before the volunteers, and take a rapid glance at
The news of Magenta and the Garibaldian victories had thrown the
Sicilians into a fever of excitement. Little jets of conspiracy were
continually breaking out and being cruelly extinguished. Our friends
who complain of the police in Hyde Park would perhaps have preferred Salvator Maniscalco to Sir Richard Mayne. This worthy head of police
would enter the houses of the disaffected nobility; smash their
looking-glasses, pull their wives and daughters out of bed, and burn
their farms. He invented an "Angelic" mask, an iron apparatus to be
screwed down on the head and crush the brain very slowly. He hung up
people by their waist till they died, and shot them without trial. When things come to this, it needs no prophet to foretell the
downfall of the powers that be. Secret communities were formed;
secret conspiracies matured. Palermo itself was on the point of
rising. Riso, a noble patriot, had organized a revolt. Twenty-seven
of the conspirators were surprised; escape was possible, but Riso,
cries to his companions, "One thing is yet wanting to our
country—martyrs!" and every one of them fight till they are cut to
pieces by the Neapolitan troops.
About this time a newspaper is introduced, in spite of the police,
containing an account of Garibaldi having set sail. The news runs
through the island like wildfire; numbers fly to the hills, and are
received by the country people; and little bands are organized, but
they have no arms. The streets of Palermo are crowded; the name of
Garibaldi is in every mouth; the secret committee has directed all
the people to turn out at a given hour to ascertain their unanimity; every one is on foot; the ladies wear the Piedmont colours. The
children in troops, sing out loud, "Garibaldi is coming, Garibaldi
is coming!" Maniscalco is furious. The soldiers are ordered out and
patrol the streets; they urge the people to shout "Long live
Francis II." Not a voice replies. Presently one cries out "Long live
Victor Emmanuel!" He falls pierced with bayonets; an indiscriminate
slaughter of an unarmed and defenceless people commences, and the
whole population rush to their homes. The next morning, as if by
magic, the walls and houses of Palermo are covered all over with
thousands of placards—"Garibaldi is coming." Not a Sicilian stirs
out the whole day, blinds and shutters are closed, the streets are
silent and deserted; but at even-fall the shutters are raised, and
thousands of eyes are bent towards the hills around Palermo from
whence is coming their salvation. One morning (13th of May, 1860) a
cry rings through the town, and is suddenly taken up by the whole
population, "Garibaldi is come!"
Quietly and rapidly the general had landed at Marsala, seized the
telegraph, and employed it to delude the Neapolitan military
committee at Trapani. Not a moment was lost. On their march towards Salemi they are joined by hundreds of volunteer peasantry; even the
priests side with the people, and preach the crusade of liberty.
Brother John, a young monk, is continually at the general's side; he
reminds him that the people are superstitious, that he himself is
excommunicated; tells him he must enter the nearest church, and in
the sight of all the people be blessed by a priest. At the church
door Garibaldi has uncovered his head and kneels down. Brother John
rushes to the altar, takes possession of the Holy Sacrament, comes
forth to the assembled multitude, and with hands spread above the
conqueror in solemn benediction, exclaims, "Let all behold! here is
the victor humbling himself before Him who alone giveth victory!" The troops are next blessed in the name of God, Italy, and Liberty,
and preceded by Garibaldi, the procession then moves on, whilst
Brother John bears on high the crucifix before them. The villages
through which they passed rang with acclamations; the people brought
provisions, and thronged about the deliverers; not a theft, not an
outrage was committed; it was well known that the smallest license
would be punished by instant death. "The cause of Liberty," said
Garibaldi, "was sacred; her children must be brave and pure." They
were marching rapidly to Calatafimi to meet the Neapolitans gathered
there in great force; the town is on a sloping hill; at some miles
from it they halt in the plain. The day is fearfully hot; they are
exhausted with a long march; in the distance, down the hill, come
the Neapolitans in overpowering numbers; ten minutes must elapse
before they come within range. "Let us take a little rest," says
Garibaldi, and following his example, they all sit down on the
ground. In another minute the Garibaldian call is sounded on the
horns. The enemy halts; a battery is placed in position to support
them, then they come on; the Garibaldians receive the first volley
sitting. "Now with the bayonet!" cries Garibaldi, and waving his
sword, rushes into their very midst. The fighting lasted several
hours; the Neapolitans fired all their shot away, and then threw
stones. A body of men, led by Garibaldi, completely exhausted,
towards the close of the day, staggered and fell down together. "What are we about now?" says the general. "We're only taking
breath," cry the poor fellows; "we'll begin again directly." Garibaldi alone stood erect, and immediately became a mark for the
Neapolitans; his men, on seeing this, instantly gathered round him. "This," says the general, "is the final charge." "It's been the
final charge all day," says one, joking. Indeed, the general had
often said so.
The day ended in the complete rout of the Neapolitans. The Garibaldian lost a hundred and ten men and sixteen officers, and
after the last charge dropped down exhausted on the field and slept
soundly amongst the heaps of dead and wounded. The Neapolitans now
fell back upon Palermo, guarding all the approaches. As they were
twenty-seven thousand strong, and Garibaldi had but seven hundred
and fifty regulars and about two thousand peasants, a direct
encounter must be declined—all the regular roads must be avoided. It
was the general's plan to drop upon the town from the hills. By
forced marches over the most rugged and impassable mountain passes
with incredible speed, the army of deliverance made its way, meeting
with nothing but the wild goat and the startled eagle. Suddenly on
the heights round Palermo appeared the Garibildian outposts; they
spread themselves out for miles in single files to produce the
impression of an immense army, but in fact the army was all
outposts. The Neapolitans knew better than to beard the lion in his
den by attacking the guerillero in the mountains; and strongly
fortifying the Ponte dell Amiraglio, which was the key of their
position, waited patiently. Garibaldi announced his intention of
taking Palermo on the 27th of May, and requested Ebor, the Times
correspondent, to join his camp and write an account of his
On the 27th of May, thirty men were sent to storm the Admiral's
bridge, which was carried ultimately by the arrival of the veterans
under Türr and Bixio. The road was now open to Palermo, but that
road was swept with grapeshot from the concentrated fire of four
Neapolitan batteries. On that road stood Garibaldi, Türr, and Ebor,
the Times correspondent. Under the eyes of the general the first
column passed into Palermo. The inhabitants threw out mattresses and
furniture for barricades. The Toledo and many wide streets were
carried at the point of the bayonet. Garibaldi and staff took up
their abode in the Piazza Bologna, and sat down to dinner in the
palace. At that moment the bombardment began from the castle and
ships in the harbour, at the same time a Neapolitan column retook
the Toledo. The Garibaldians were flying in disorder, when the
general, leaving his soup, said, "Come along, gentlemen, we must
stop them ourselves." And after having stopped them by retaking
three barricades, he returned to dinner. On the third day the
Sardinian flag was floating over Palermo the Fortunate. Garibaldi
proclaimed himself Dictator of Sicily; instructions were received
from Naples for the royal troops to evacuate the place, until which
time Garibaldi held them as prisoners of war. "It was really a
curious sight," writes Alexander Dumas, "to see twenty thousand
Neapolitans, provided with forty pieces of cannon, confined within
their forts, their barracks, and their ships, and guarded by eight
hundred Garibaldians, who brought them their rations twice a day!"
All day long the town rang with rejoicings, the peasants flocked in
from the mountains, and the noise of drums and drilling and
bugle-calls resounded in all the squares. The price of red cloth or
red anything rose; the linen-drapers had never driven such a trade
before; the streets looked like fields sown over with poppies; the
ladies wore red spencers and red feathers; red ribbons and red
shirts could not be made fast enough. At night the town blazed with
illuminations, and crowds were always to be found bellowing under
the general's window. Meanwhile he lived very quietly in the
viceroy's palace, and was waited on by the viceroy's servants. They
could not understand that he ate nothing but soup, vegetables, and a
little meat once a day, drank nothing but water, slept on a hard
bed, and would not suffer them to call him "Your Excellency." He
allowed himself eight francs a day; but although in principle he was
very severe upon injudicious alms-giving, his heart was so soft that
the beggars always got his money from him before evening, and the
dictator, who had just handed over 1,200,000l. to his poor-law
officers, had continually to borrow small sums from his friends,
which were always paid back the next day. The following inventory of
the "Invincible Dictator's" wardrobe at this time has been
preserved to us:—"One old Piedmontese general's uniform—a relic of
his campaigns on the Lakes, two pairs of grey trousers, an old felt
hat, two red shirts, a few pocket handkerchiefs, two neckties, a
sabre and a revolver, and a purse usually without the metal lining."
On the 20th of July was struck the last decisive blow against the
Neapolitan power in Sicily. The battle of Milazzo was the hardest
fight that had yet taken place, and it nearly cost Italy the life of
her hero. The Neapolitans under Bosco, and vastly superior in
number, fought with desperate valour, and the losses on both sides
were very heavy. Garibaldi at one moment was surrounded by four
dragoons, who summoned him to surrender; but he instantly drew his
sword, and seizing the bridle of one of the foeman, cried, "Surrender
yourself; I am Garibaldi." At that moment Colonel Missori rode up,
shot three of the Neapolitans with his revolver, and the horse of
the fourth, and so saved the general's life. Bosco, who had boasted
that he would annihilate Garibaldi and his ragged volunteers, was
now obliged to walk to the place of embarkation, through a double
row of these same filibusters, at the head of his own defeated army,
leaving in the hands of the enemy forty-four guns, half a field
battery, ninety-four mules, forty-five horses, and quantities of
NAPLES. "GARIBALDI IS
The Cabinet of Piedmont was watching the Sicilian campaign ; it was
plain in a few days Garibaldi would cross over to Naples. The French
Emperor had half promised to protect Francis II., and wrote an
autograph letter to Victor Emmanuel to ask him, if possible, to
persuade Garibaldi not to attack Naples. Victor Emmanuel wrote to
Garibaldi, protesting against the invasion of Naples; but the
general, easily tracing French influence, replied that "his mission
was too noble to be relinquished; he had sworn to Italy to
accomplish it; his programme was the same; he would not sheath his
sword till Victor Emmanuel was King of Italy."
The news of Milazzo struck terror and astonishment into the heart of
Francis II. "This," cried the poor little king, who had been brought
up in ignorance of the true state of his government, and inherited a
throne on the point of crumbling to pieces, "this is the hand of
God. Ah! what have I done that my people should hate me, and the
world conspire against me?" He called Don Liborio, his prime
minister. "What do you advise me to do?"
"I advise your majesty to put yourself at the head of your army and
march into Calabria."
The king paused for a moment. "That," said he, "I will do after our
first success, but not before."
"In so important a crisis, then," added the premier, "I should
further advise your majesty to consult your ministers at every
"Tell the ministers," replied the king, "that by the constitution
of 1848 I am empowered to make peace and war as I please, and that I
intend to maintain my rights."
Thereupon Don Liborio Romano resigned, and visiting Alexander Dumas'
yacht, then lying in the Bay of Naples, declared himself ready to
co-operate with Garibaldi. Meanwhile recruits were pouring into
Sicily from the Calabrian coast. They brought tidings of the state
of feeling round Naples. The wildest excitement prevailed there. A
small party and all the military, consisting of a well-organized
army of eighty thousand men, stood by Francis. The masses were in
favour of revolution, and an influential party in Naples itself,
consisting of ex-Neapolitan ministers and the avowed patriots, were
ready to co-operate with the Dictator. Very quietly a small band,
under Major Missori, left Sicily one dark night, and before daybreak
landed on the Italian coast near Scylla. They made their way into
the mountains, spreading everywhere the fires of insurrection, and
by their manœuvres persuading the Neapolitan troops who were out
to arrest them, that the whole population of Sicily had landed armed
to the teeth, with Garibaldi at their head. The news reached the
unfortunate king, who sent to offer Garibaldi fifty million francs,
and the whole Neapolitan navy to take Venice with, if he would
consent to stop the invasion. An attempt to arrest the earth's
motion might have been more successful.
On the 18th of August, Garibaldi embarked, with four thousand men,
for the conquest of the kingdom of Naples. The Neapolitan fleet was
hovering the coast; but he succeeded in landing most of his troops
on that solitary part of the coast where the mountains of Aspramonte
run down abruptly to the sea. As the last men were landing, the
enemy came down upon them, seized their ships, cutting them off from
all hopes of retreat, and forcing them to retire into the mountains. The news of the capture of Reggio rapidly followed, and was borne to
Naples on the wings of the wind. "Cæsar," in the words of
Suetonius, "had landed, and had announced his arrival with a clap of
thunder." There was no time to lose. On marched the little band,
raising the villages through which they passed, until the cry of "Garibaldi and Victor Emmanuel" flew from promontory to promontory
along the Calabrian coast, and was echoed far inland.
On the 6th, at the news of Garibaldi's approach, the king fled from
Naples, leaving it, however, strongly garrisoned with Neapolitan
troops. On the 6th, Garibaldi received the following telegram from
Liborio Romano, the ex-prime minister,—"To the invincible Dictator
of the Two Sicilies. Naples expects you with anxiety, to confide to
you her future destinies."
On the 7th, Garibaldi announced his intention of entering Naples. He
was now at Salerno, distant only a short railway journey from the
capital. Leaving his troops there he advanced alone to take Naples. The storming of the capital was on this wise. At nine o'clock in the
morning of the 7th, the general left Salerno in a special train of
only four carriages. These contained some staff-officers, a few
National Guards, and a few English amateurs. The train very soon had
to stop—the vast populations of the Torre del Greco, Resina, and
Portici turned out, covered the lines, climbed on the train, and
even crowded the engine. Again the train began to move on slowly—the
people running along the lines in a state of perfectly frantic
excitement; and then, at a snail's pace, the carriages of the
invading army approached Naples. Inside the station, by means of
temporary barricades and a strong guard extemporised on the spot,
some order was maintained. Outside, the scene baffled all power of
description: horses and carriages, apparently piled on the top of
each other, with masses of human beings piled on the top of them;
ladies covered with the Sardinian colours, on foot, on horseback, on
donkeys, or crushed to pieces; swarms of lazzarones with a bit of
red somewhere; gaping Neapolitan gensdarmes and stupified national
guards; rival committees with rival flags inextricably mixed up
together; rival partisans and discordant shouts of "Viva Garibaldi!" "Viva Victor Emmanuel!" "Viva l'Italia!" all the din blended
together with drums, trumpets, and a pandemonium of brass
instruments, attempting Garibaldi's Hymn in a hundred different
places; and, as a kind of background to this turbulent scene, the Castello Nuevo and the
St. Elmo fortresses, dark, silent, bristling
with cannon, and crowded with sullen Neapolitan soldiers, who alone
took no part in the festival of liberty, but prepared gloomily to
point the cannon upon the principal streets, light the matches, and
wait the word of command to fire. Such were some prominent
characteristics of the scene outside. In the enclosure of the
station four two-horse carriages were waiting. Majors Missori and
Mille alone rode forward on horseback as rapidly as they could. Garibaldi and Cosenz followed in the first carriage amidst deafening
shouts. As they came under the guns of the Castello Nuevo, the
artillerymen pointed them, and then stood ready with the lighted
match. At that supreme moment the general's voice was heard above
the din —"Slower, slower!—drive slower!" And again, as the agitated
driver hardly seemed to understand, with that voice not accustomed
to command twice, "Slower!" Then, as the carriage nearly stopped
under the muzzles of the enemy's guns, and the officers were now
plainly heard exhorting the men to fire, the general stood upright
in his carriage, with one hand on his breast, and looked steadfastly
at the artillerymen. The fate of Italy trembled in the balance; a
silence seemed to fall on the excited crowd; the suspense hardly
lasted a minute. Three times the order to fire was repeated, and at
the third the artillerymen flung down their matches, waved their
caps wildly in the air, and shouted, "Viva Garibaldi!"
The general had won again.
H. R. HAWEIS.
(To be concluded in our next.)
THE MISFORTUNES OF FREDERIC PICKERING.
something almost grand in the rash courage with which Fred Pickering
married his young wife, and something quite grand in her devotion in
marrying him. She had not a penny in the world, and he, when
he married her, had two hundred and fifty pounds,—and no profession.
She was the daughter of parents whom she had never seen, and had
been brought up by the kindness of an aunt, who died when she was
eighteen. Distant friends then told her that it was her duty
to become a governess; but Fred Pickering intervened, and Mary
Crofts became Mary Pickering when she was nineteen years old.
Fred himself, our hero, was six years older, and should have known
better and have conducted his affairs with more wisdom. His
father had given him a good education, and had articled him to an
attorney at Manchester. While at Manchester he had written
three or four papers in different newspapers, and had succeeded in
obtaining admission for a poem in the Free Trader, a
Manchester monthly magazine which was expected to do great things as
the literary production of Lancashire. These successes,
joined, no doubt, to the natural bent of his disposition, turned him
against the law; and when he was a little more than twenty-five,
having then been four years in the office of the Manchester
attorney, he told his father that he did not like the profession
chosen for him, and that he must give it up. At that time he
was engaged to marry Mary Crofts; but of this fact he did not tell
his father. Mr. Pickering, who was a stern man,—one not given
at any time to softnesses with his children,—when so informed by his
son, simply asked him what were his plans. Fred replied that
he looked forward to a literary career,—that he hoped to make
literature his profession. His father assured him that he was
a silly fool. Fred replied that on that subject he had an
opinion of his own by which he intended to be guided. Old
Pickering then declared that in such circumstances he should
withdraw all pecuniary assistance; and young Pickering upon this
wrote an ungracious epistle, in which he expressed himself quite
ready to take upon himself the burden of his own maintenance.
There was one and only one further letter from his father, in which
he told his son that the allowance made to him would be henceforth
stopped. Then the correspondence between Fred and the
Ex-governor, as Mary used to call him, was brought to a close.
Most unfortunately there died at this time an old maiden
aunt, who left four hundred pounds a piece to twenty nephews and
nieces, of whom Fred Pickering was one. The possession of this
sum of money strengthened him in his rebellion against his father.
Had he had nothing on which to begin, he might probably even yet
have gone to the old house at home, and have had something of a
fatted calf killed for him, in spite of the ungraciousness of his
letter. As it was he was reliant on the resources which
Fortune had sent to him, thinking that they would suffice till he
had made his' way to a beginning of earning money. He thought
it all over for full half-an-hour, and then came to a decision.
He would go to Mary,—his Mary,—to Mary who was about to enter the
family of a very vulgar tradesman as governess to six young children
with a salary of twenty-five pounds per annum, and ask her to join
him in throwing all prudence to the wind. He did go to Mary;
and Mary at last consented to be as imprudent as himself, and she
consented without any of that confidence which animated him.
She consented simply because he asked her to do so, knowing that she
was doing a thing so rash that no father or mother would have
"Fred," she had said, half laughing as she spoke, "I am
afraid we shall starve if we do."
"Starving is bad," said Fred I quite admit that; but there
are worse things than starving. For you to be a governess at
Mrs. Boullem's is worse. For me to write lawyers' letters all
full of lies is worse. Of course we may come to grief. I
dare say we shall come to grief. Perhaps we shall suffer
awfully,—be very hungry and very cold. I am quite willing to
make the worst of it. Suppose that we die in the street!
Even that,—the chance of that with the chance of success on the
other side, is better than Mrs. Bullem's. It always seems to
me that people are too much afraid of being starved."
"Something to eat and drink is comfortable," said Mary.
"I don't say that it is essential."
"If you will dare the consequences with me, I will gladly
dare them with you," said Fred, with a whole rhapsody of love in his
eyes. Mary had not been proof against this. She had
returned the rhapsody of his eyes with a glance of her own, and
then, within six weeks of that time, they were married. There
were some few things to be bought, some little bills to be paid, and
then there was the fortnight of honeymooning among the Lakes in
June. "You shall have that, though there were not another shot
in the locker," Fred had said, when his bride that was to be had
urged upon him the prudence of settling down into a small lodging
the very day after their marriage. The fortnight of
honeymooning among the Lakes was thoroughly enjoyed, almost without
one fearful look into the future. Indeed Fred, as he would sit
in the late evening on the side of a mountain, looking down upon the
lakes, and watching the fleeting brightness of the clouds, with his
arm round his loving wife's waist and her head upon his shoulder,
would declare that he was glad that he had nothing on which to
depend except his own intellect and his own industry. "To make
the score off his own bat; that should be a man's ambition, and it
is that which Nature must have intended for a man. She could
never have meant that we should be bolstered up, one by another,
from generation to generation." "You shall make the score off
your own bat," Mary had said to him. Though her own heart
might give way a little as she thought, when alone, of the danger of
the future, she was always brave before him. So she enjoyed
the fortnight of her honeymooning, and when that was over set
herself to her task with infinite courage. They went up to
London in a third-class carriage, and, on their arrival there, went
at once to lodgings which had been taken for them by a friend in
Museum-street. Museum-street is not cheering by any special
merits of its own; but lodgings there were found to be cheap, and it
was near to the great library by means of which, and the treasures
there to be found, young Pickering meant to make himself a famous
He had had his literary successes at Manchester, as has been
already stated, but they had not been of a remunerative nature.
He had never yet been paid for what he had written. He reaped,
however, this reward, that the sub-editor of a Manchester newspaper
gave him a letter to a gentleman connected with a London periodical,
which might probably be of great service to him. It is at any
rate a comfort to a man to know that he can do something towards a
commencement of the work that he has in hand,—that there is a step
forward which he can take. When Fred and Mary sat down to
their tea and broiled ham on the first night, the letter of
introduction was a great comfort to them, and much was said about
it. The letter was addressed to Roderick Billings, Esq.,
Office of the Lady Bird, 99 Catherine-street, Strand. By ten
o'clock on the following morning Fred Pickering was at the office of
the Lady Bird, and there learned that Mr. Billings never came to the
office, or almost never. He was on the staff of the paper, and
the letter should be sent to him. So Fred Pickering returned
to his wife; and as he was resolved that no time should be lost, he
began a critical reading of Paradise Lost, with a note book and
pencil beside him, on that very day.
They were four months in London, during which they never saw
Mr. Billings or any one else connected with the publishing world,
and these four months were very trying to Mrs. Pickering. The
study of Milton did not go on with unremitting ardour. Fred
was not exactly idle, but he changed from one pursuit to another,
and did nothing worthy of note except a little account of his
honeymooning tour in verse. In this poem the early loves of a
young married couple were handled with much delicacy and some pathos
of expression, so that Mary thought that her husband would assuredly
drive Tennyson out of the field. But no real good had come
from the poem by the end of the four months, and Fred Pickering had
sometimes been very cross. Then he had insisted more than once
or twice, more than four times or five times, on going to the
theatre; and now at last his wife had felt compelled to say that she
would not go there with him again. They had not means, she
said, for such pleasures. He did not go without her, but
sometimes of an evening he was very cross. The poem had been
sent to Mr. Billings, with a letter, and had not as yet been sent
back. Three or four letters had been written to Mr. Billings,
and one or two very short answers had been received. Mr.
Billings had been out of town. "Of course all the world is out
of town in September," said Fred; "what fools we were to think of
beginning just at this time of the year!" Nevertheless he had
urged plenty of reasons why the marriage should not be postponed
till after June. On the first of November, however, they found
that they had still a hundred and eighty pounds left. They
looked their affairs in the face cheerfully, and Fred taking upon
his own shoulders all the blame of their discomfiture up to the
present moment, swore that he would never be cross with his darling
Molly again. After that he went out with a letter of
introduction from Mr. Billings to the sub-editor of a penny
newspaper. He had never seen Mr. Billings; but Mr. Billings
thus passed him on to another literary personage. Mr. Billings
in his final very short note communicated to Fred his opinion that
he would find "work on the penny daily press easier got."
For months Fred Pickering hung about the office of the
Morning Comet. November went, and December, and January,
and he was still hanging about the office of the Daily Comet.
He did make his way to some acquaintance with certain persons on the
staff of the Comet, who earned their bread, if not absolutely
by literature, at least by some work cognate to literature.
And when he was asked to sup with one Tom Wood on a night in
January, he thought that he had really got his foot upon the
threshold. When he returned home that night, or I should more
properly say on the following morning, his wife hoped that many more
such preliminary suppers might not be necessary for his success.
At last he did get employment at the office of the Daily Comet.
He attended there six nights a week, from ten at night till three in
the morning, and for this he received twenty shillings a week.
His work was almost altogether mechanical, and after three nights
disgusted him greatly. But he stuck to it, telling himself
that as the day was still left to him for work he might put up with
drudgery during the night. That idea, however, of working day
and night soon found itself to be a false one. Twelve o'clock
usually found him still in bed. After his late breakfast he
walked out with his wife, and then;—well, then he would either write
a few verses or read a volume of an old novel.
"I must learn shorthand writing," he said to his wife, one
morning when he came home.
"Well, dear, I have no doubt you would learn it very
"I don't know that; I should have begun younger. It's a
thousand pities that we are not taught anything useful when we are
at school. Of what use is Latin and Greek to me?"
"I heard you say once that it would be of great use to you
"Ah, that was when I was dreaming of what will never come to
pass when I was thinking of literature as a high vocation." It
had already come to him to make such acknowledgments as this.
"I must think about mere bread now. If I could report I might,
at any rate, gain a living. And there have been reporters who
have risen high in the profession. Dickens was a reporter I
must learn, though I suppose it will cost me twenty pounds."
He paid his twenty pounds and did learn shorthand writing.
And while he was so doing he found he might have learned just as
well by teaching himself out of a book. During the period of
his tuition in this art he quarrelled with his employers at the
Daily Comet, who, as he declared, treated him with an indignity
which he could not bear. "They want me to fetch and carry, and
be a menial," he said to his wife. He thereupon threw up his
employment there. "But now you will get an engagement as a
reporter," his wife said. He hoped that he might get an
engagement as a reporter; but, as he himself acknowledged, the world
was all to begin again. He was at last employed, and made his
first appearance at a meeting of discontented tidewaiters, who were
anxious to petition Parliament for some improvement in their
position. He worked very hard in his efforts to take down the
words of the eloquent leading tidewaiter; whereas he could see that
two other reporters near him did not work at all. And yet he
failed. He struggled at this work for a month, and failed at
last. "My hand is not made for it," he said to his wife,
almost in an agony of despair. "It seems to me as though
nothing would come within my reach." "My dear," she said, "a
man who can write the Braes of Birken"—the Braes of Birken
was the name of his poem on the joys of honeymooning—"must not be
ashamed of himself because he cannot acquire a small mechanical
skill." "I am ashamed of myself all the same," said Fred.
Early in April they looked their affairs in the face again,
and found that they had still in hand something just over a hundred
pounds. They had been in London nine months, and when they had
first come up they had expressed to each other their joint
conviction that they could live very comfortably on forty shillings
a week. They had spent nearly double that over and beyond what
he had earned, and after all they had not lived comfortably.
They had a hundred pounds left on which they might exist for a year,
putting aside all idea of comfort; and then;—and then would come
that starving of which Fred had once spoken so gallantly, unless
some employment could in the meantime be found for him. And,
by the end of the year, the starving would have to be done by
three,—a development of events on which he had not seemed to
calculate when he told his dearest Mary that after all there were
worse things in the world than starving.
But before the end of this month there came upon them a gleam
of comfort, which might be cherished and fostered till it should
become a whole midday sun of nourishing heat. His friend of
the Manchester Free Trader had become the editor of the
Salford Reformer, a new weekly paper which had been established
with the view of satisfying certain literary and political wants
which the public of Salford had long experienced, and among these
wants was an adequate knowledge of what was going on in London.
Fred Pickering was asked whether he would write the London letter,
once a week, at twenty shillings a week. Write it! Ay,
that he would. There was a whole heaven of joy in the idea.
This was literary work. This was the sort of thing that he
could do with absolute delight. To guide the public by his own
wit and discernment, as it were from behind a mask,—to be the motive
power and yet unseen,—this had ever been his ambition. For
three days he was in an ecstacy, and Mary was ecstatic with him.
For the first time it was a joy to him that the baby was coming.
A pound a week earned would of itself prolong their means of support
for two years, and a pound a week so earned would surely bring other
pounds. "I knew it was to be done," he said, in triumph, to
his wife, "if one only had the courage to make the attempt."
The morning of the fourth day somewhat damped his joy, for there
came a long letter of instruction from the Salford editor, in which
there were hints of certain difficulties. He was told in this
letter that it would be well that he should belong to a London club.
Such work as was now expected from him could hardly be done under
favourable circumstances unless he did belong to a club. "But
as everybody now-a-days does belong to a club, you will soon get
over that difficulty." So said the editor. And then the
editor in his instructions greatly curtailed that liberty of the pen
which Fred specially wished to enjoy. He had anticipated that
in his London letter he might give free reins to his own political
convictions, which were of a very liberal nature, and therefore
suitable to the Safford Reformer. And he had a
theological bias of his own, by the putting forward of which in
strong language among the youth of Salford, he had intended to do
much towards the clearing away of prejudice and the emancipation of
truth. But the editor told him that he should hardly touch
politics at all in his London letter, and never lay a finger on
religion. He was to tell the people of Salford what was coming
out at the different theatres, how the Prince and Princess looked on
horseback, whether the Thames embankment made proper progress, and
he was to keep his ears especially open for matters of social
interest, private or general. His style was to be easy and
colloquial, and above all things he was to avoid being heavy,
didactive, and profound. Then there was sent to him, as a
model, a column and a half cut out from a certain well-known
newspaper, in which the names of people were mentioned very freely.
"If you can do that sort of thing," said the editor, "we shall get
on together like a house on fire."
"It is a farrago of ill-natured gossip," he said, as he
chucked the fragment over to his wife.
"But you are so clever, Fred," said his wife. "You can
do it without the ill nature."
"I will do my best," he said; "but as for telling them about
this woman and that, I cannot do it. In the first place where
am I to learn it all?" Nevertheless, the London letter to the
Salford Reformer was not abandoned. Four or five such
letters were written, and four or five sovereigns were paid into his
little exchequer in return for so much work. Alas! after the
four or five there came a kindly-worded message from the editor to
say that the articles did not suit. Nothing could be better
than Pickering's language, and his ideas were manly and for the most
part good. But the Safford Reformer did not want that
sort of thing. The Salford Reformer felt that Fred
Pickering was too good for the work required. Fred for
twenty-four hours was broken-hearted. After that he was able
to resolve that he would take the thing up in the right spirit.
He wrote to the editor, saying that he thought that the editor was
right. The London letter required was not exactly within the
compass of his ability. Then he enclosed a copy of the
Braes of Birken, and expressed an opinion that perhaps that
might suit a column in the Salford Reformer,—one of those
columns which were furthest removed from the corner devoted to the
London letter. The editor replied that he would publish the
Braes of Birken if Pickering wished; but that they never paid
for poetry. Anything being better than silence Pickering
permitted the editor to publish the Braes of Birken in the
gratuitous manner suggested.
At the end of June, when they had just been twelve months in
London, Fred was altogether idle as far as any employment was
concerned. There was no going to the theatre now; and it had
come to that with him, in fear of his coming privations, that he
would discuss within his own heart the expediency of taking this or
that walk with reference to the effect it would have upon his shoes.
In those days he strove to work hard, going on with his Milton and
his note-book, and sitting for two or three hours a day over heavy
volumes in the reading-room at the Museum. When he first
resolved upon doing this there had come a difficulty as to the
entrance. It was necessary that he should have permission to
use the library, and for a while he had not known how to obtain it.
Then he had written a letter to a certain gentleman well known in
the literary world, an absolute stranger to him, but of whom he had
heard a word or two among his newspaper acquaintances, and had asked
this gentleman to give him, or to get for him, the permission
needed. The gentleman having made certain inquiry, having sent
for Pickering and seen him, had done as he was asked, and Fred was
free of the library.
"What sort of a man is Mr. Wickham Webb?" Mary asked him,
when he returned from the club at which, by Mr. Webb's appointment,
the meeting had taken place.
"According to my ideas he is the only gentleman whom I have
met since I have been in London," said Fred, who in these days was
"Was he civil to you?"
"Very civil. He asked me what I was doing up in London,
and I told him. He said that literature is the hardest
profession in the world. I told him that I thought it was,
but, at the same time, the most noble."
"What did he say to that?"
"He said that the nobler the task, it was always the more
difficult; and that, as a rule, it was not well that men should
attempt work too difficult for their hands because of its nobility."
"What did he mean by that, Fred?"
"I knew what he meant very well. He meant to tell me
that I had better go and measure ribbons behind a counter; and I
don't know but what he was right,"
"But yet you liked him?"
"Why should I have disliked him for giving me good advice?
I liked him because his manner was kind, and because he strove hard
to say an unpleasant thing in the pleasantest words that he could
use. Besides, it did me good to speak to a gentleman once
Throughout July not a shilling was earned, nor was there any
prospect of the earning of a shilling. People were then still
in town, but in another fortnight London would have emptied itself
of the rich and prosperous. So much Pickering had learned,
little as he was qualified to write the London letter for the
Safford Reformer. In the last autumn he had complained to
his wife that circumstances had compelled him to begin at the wrong
period of the year,—in the dull months when there was nobody in
London who could help him. Now the dull months were coming
round again, and he was as far as ever from any help. What was
he to do? "You said that Mr. Webb was very civil," suggested
his wife; "could you not write to him and ask him to help us?"
"He is a rich man, and that would be begging," said Fred. "I
would not ask him for money," said Mary; "but perhaps he can tell
you how you can get employment." The letter to Mr. Webb was
written, with many throes, and the destruction of much paper.
Fred found it very difficult to choose words which should describe
with sufficient force the extreme urgency of his position, but which
should have no appearance of absolute begging. "I hope you
will understand," he said, in his last paragraph, "that what I want
is simply work for which I may be paid, and that I do not care how
hard I work, or how little I am paid, so that I and my wife may
live. If I have taken an undue liberty in writing to you, I
can only beg you to pardon my ignorance."
This letter led to another interview between our hero and Mr.
Wickham Webb. Mr. Webb sent his compliments and asked Mr.
Pickering to come and breakfast with him. This kindness,
though it produced some immediate pleasure, created fresh troubles.
Mr. Wickham Webb lived in a grand house near Hyde Park, and poor
Fred was badly off for good clothes. "Your coat does not look
at all amiss," his wife said to him, comforting him; "and as for a
hat, why don't you buy a new one?" "I shan't breakfast in my
hat," said Fred; but look here;" and Fred exhibited his shoes.
"Get a new pair," said Mary. "No," said he; "I've sworn to
have nothing new till I've earned the money. Mr. Webb won't
expect to see me very bright, I dare say. When a man writes to
beg for employment, it must naturally be supposed that he will be
rather seedy about his clothes." His wife did the best she
could for him, and he went out to his breakfast.
Mrs. Webb was not there. Mr. Webb explained that she
had already left town. There was no third person at the table,
and before his first lamb chop was eaten, Fred had told the pith of
his story. He had a little money left, just enough to pay the
doctor who must attend upon his wife, and carry him through the
winter;—and then he would be absolutely bare. Upon this Mr.
Webb asked as to his relatives. "My father has chosen to
quarrel with me," said Fred. "I did not wish to be an
attorney, and therefore he has cast me out." Mr. Webb
suggested that a reconciliation might be possible; but when Fred
said at once that it was impossible, he did not recur to the
When the host had finished his own breakfast, he got up from
his chair, and, standing on the rug, spoke such words of wisdom as
were in him. It should be explained that Pickering, in his
letter to Mr. Webb, had enclosed a copy of the Braes of Birken,
another little poem in verse, and two of the London letters which he
had written for the Salford Reformer. "Upon my word,
Mr. Pickering, I do not know how to help you. I do not
"I am sorry for that, sir."
"I have read what you sent me, and am quite ready to
acknowledge that there is enough, both in the prose and verse, to
justify you in supposing it to be possible that you might hereafter
live by literature as a profession; but all who make literature a
profession should begin with independent means."
"That seems to be hard on the profession as well as on the
"It is not the less true; and is, indeed, true of most other
professions as well. If you had stuck to the law your father
would have provided you with the means of living till your
profession had become profitable."
"Is it not true that many hundred men in London live on
literature?" said our hero.
"Many hundred do so, no doubt. They are of two sorts,
and you can tell yourself whether you belong to either. There
are they who have learned to work in accordance with the directions
of others; the great bulk of what comes out to us almost hourly in
the shape of newspapers is done by them. Some are very highly
paid, many are paid liberally, and a great many are paid scantily.
There is that side of the profession, and you say that you have
tried it and do not like it. Then there's those who do their
work independently;—who write either books or articles which find
acceptance in magazines."
"It is that which I would try if the opportunity were given
"But you have to make your own opportunity," said Mr. Wickham
Webb. It is the necessity of the position that it should be
so. What can I do for you?"
"You know the editors of magazines."
"Granted that I do, can I ask a man to buy what he does not
want because he is my friend?"
"You could get your friend to read what I write."
It ended in Mr. Webb strongly advising Fred Pickering to go
back to his "father, and in his writing two letters of introduction
for him,—one to the editor of the International, a weekly
gazette of mixed literature, and the other to Messrs. Brook and
Boothby, publishers in St. James's-street. Mr. Webb, though he
gave the letters open to Fred, read them to him with the view of
explaining to him how little and how much they meant. "I do
not know that they can do you the slightest service," said he; "but
I give them to you, because you ask me. I strongly advise you
to go back to your father; but if you are still in town next spring,
come and see me again." Then the interview was over, and Fred
returned to his wife, glad to have the letters; but still with a
sense of bitterness against Mr. Webb. When one word of
encouragement would have made him so happy, might not Mr. Webb have
spoken it? Mr. Webb had thought that he had better not speak
any such word. And Fred, when he read the letters of
introduction over to his wife, found them to be very cold. "I
don't think I'll take them," he said.
But he did take them,—of course, on the very next day, and
saw Mr. Boothby, the publisher, after waiting for half-an-hour in
the shop. He swore to himself that the time was an hour and a
half, and became sternly angry at being so treated. It did not
occur to him that Mr. Boothby was obliged to attend to his own
business, and that he could not put his other visitors under the
counter, or into the cupboards, in order to make way for Mr.
Pickering. The consequence was that poor Fred was seen at his
worst, and that the Boothby an heart was not much softened towards
him. "There are so many men of this kind who want work," said
Mr. Boothby, "and so very little work to give them!"
"It seems to me," said Pickering, "that the demand for the
work is almost unlimited." As he spoke, he looked at a hole in
his boot, and tried to speak in a tone that should show that he was
above his boots.
"It may be so," said Boothby; "but if so, the demands do not
run in my way. I will, however, keep Mr. Webb's note by me,
and if I find I can do anything for you, I will.
Good-morning." Then Mr. Boothby got up from his chair, and
Fred Pickering understood that he was told to go away. He was
furious in his abuse of Boothby as he described the interview to his
wife that evening.
The editor of the International he could not get to
see; but he got a note from him. The editor sent his
compliments and would be glad to read the article to which Mr. W. W.
had alluded. As Mr. W. W. had alluded to no article, Fred saw
that the editor was not inclined to take much trouble on his behalf.
Nevertheless, an article should be sent. An article was
written to which Fred gave six weeks of hard work, and which
contained an elaborate criticism on the Samson Agonistes.
Fred's object was to prove that Milton had felt himself to be a
superior Samson,—blind, indeed, in the flesh, as Samson was blind,
but not blind in the spirit as was Samson when he crushed the
Philistines. The poet had crushed his Philistines with all his
intellectual eyes about him. Then there was a good deal said
about the Philistines of those days as compared with the other
Philistines, in all of which Fred thought that he took much higher
ground than certain other writers in magazines on the same subject.
The editor sent back his compliments, and said that the
International never admitted reviews of old books.
"Insensate idiot!" said Fred, tearing the note asunder, and then
tearing his own hair, on both sides of his head. "And these
are the men who make the world of letters! Idiot! thick-headed
"I suppose he has not read it," said Mary.
"Then why hasn't he read it? Why doesn't he do the work
for which he is paid? If he has not read it, he is a thief as
well as an idiot." Poor Fred had not thought much of his
chance from the International when he first got the editor's
note; but as he had worked at his Samson he had become very fond of
it, and golden dreams had fallen on him, and he had dared to whisper
to himself words of wondrous praise which might be forthcoming, and
to tell himself of inquiries after the unknown author of the great
article about the Philistines. As he had thought of this, and
as the dreams and the whispers had come to him, he had rewritten his
essay from the beginning, making it grander, bigger, more eloquent
than before. He became very eloquent about the Philistines,
and mixed with his eloquence some sarcasm which could not, he
thought, be without effect even in dull-brained heavy-livered
London. Yes; he had dared to hope. And then his
essay,—such an essay as this,—was sent back to him with a notice
that the International did not insert reviews of old books!
Hideous, brainless, meaningless idiot! Fred in his fury tore
his article into a hundred fragments; and poor Mary was employed,
during the whole of the next week, in making another copy of it from
the original blotted sheets, which had luckily been preserved.
"Pearls before swine!" Fred said to himself, as he slowly made his
way up to the library of the Museum on the last day of that week.
That was in the end of October. He had not then earned
a single shilling for many months, and the nearer prospect of that
starvation of which he had once spoken so cheerily was becoming
awfully frightful to him. He had said that there were worse
fates than to starve. Now, as he looked at his wife, and
thought of the baby that was to be added to them, and counted the
waning heap of sovereigns, he began to doubt whether there was in
truth anything worse than to starve. And now, too, idleness
made his life more wretched to him than it had ever been. He
could not bring himself to work when it seemed to him that his work
was to have no result; literally none.
"Had you not better write to your father?" said Mary.
He made no reply, but went out and walked up and down Museum-street.
He had been much disgusted by the treatment he had received
from Mr. Boothby the publisher; but in November he brought himself
to write to Mr. Boothby, and ask him whether some employment could
not be found. "You will perhaps remember Mr. Wickham Webb's
letter," wrote Fred, "and the interview which I had with you last
July." His wife had wished him to speak more civilly, and to
refer to the pleasure of the interview. But Fred had declined
to condescend so far. There were still left to them some
A fortnight afterwards, when December had come, he got a
reply from Mr. Boothby, in which he was asked to call at a certain
hour at the shop in St. James's-street. This he did, and saw
the great man again. The great man asked him whether he could
make an index to an historical work. Fred of course replied
that he could do that,—that or anything else. He could make
the index; or, if need was, write the historical work itself.
That, no doubt, was his feeling. Ten pounds would be paid for
the index, if it was approved. Fred was made to understand
that payment was to depend altogether on approval of the work.
Fred took away the sheets confided to him without any doubt as to
the ultimate approval. It would be odd indeed if he could not
make an index. "That young man will never do any good," said
Mr. Boothby to his foreman, as Fred took his departure. "He
thinks he can do everything, and I doubt very much whether he can do
anything as it should be done."
Fred worked very hard at the index, and the baby was born to
him as he was doing it. A fortnight, however, finished the
index, and if he could earn money at the rate of ten pounds a
fortnight he might still live. So he took his index to St.
James's-street, and left it for approval. He was told by the
foreman that if he would call again in a week's time he should hear
the result. Of course he called on that day week. The
work had not yet been examined, and he must call again after three
days. He did call again; and Mr. Boothby told him that his
index was utterly useless,—that, in fact, it was not an index at
all. "You couldn't have looked at any other index, I think,"
said Mr. Boothby.
"Of course you need not take it," said Fred; "but I believe
it to be as good an index as was ever made." Mr. Boothby,
getting up from his chair, declared that there was nothing more to
be said. The gentleman for whom the work had been done begged
that Mr. Pickering should receive five pounds for his labour,—which
unfortunately had been thus thrown away. And in saying, this
Mr. Boothby tendered a five, pound note to Fred. Fred pushed
the note away from him, and left the room with a tear in his eye.
Mr. Boothby saw the tear, and ten pounds was sent to Fred on the
next day, with the gentleman's compliments. Fred sent the ten
pounds back. There was still a shot in the locker, and he
could not as yet take money for work that he had not done.
By the end of January Fred had retreated with his wife and
child to the shelter of a single small bedroom. Hitherto there
had been a sitting-room and a bedroom; but now there was but five
pounds between him and that starvation which he had once almost
coveted, and every shilling must be strained to the utmost.
His wife's confinement had cost him much of his money, and she was
still ill. Things were going very badly with him, and among
all the things that were bad with him, his own idleness was probably
the worst. When starvation was so near to him, he could not
seat himself in the Museum library and read to any good purpose.
And, indeed, he had no purpose. Milton was nothing to him now,
as his lingering shillings became few, and still fewer. He
could only sit brooding over his misfortunes, and cursing his fate.
And every day, as he sat eating his scraps of food over the morsel
of fire in his wife's bedroom, she would implore him to pocket his
pride and write to his father. "He would do something for us,
so that baby should not die," Mary said to him. Then he went
into Museum-street, and bethought himself whether it would not be a
manly thing for him to cut his throat. At any rate there would
be much relief in such a proceeding.
One day as he was sitting over the fire while his wife still
lay in bed, the servant of the house brought up word that a
gentleman wanted to see him. "A gentleman! what gentleman?"
The girl could not say who was the gentleman, so Fred went down to
receive his visitor at the door of the house. He met an old
man of perhaps seventy years of age, dressed in black, who with much
politeness asked him whether he was Mr. Frederic Pickering.
Fred declared himself to be that unfortunate man, and explained that
he had no apartment in which to be seen. "My wife is in bed
upstairs, ill; and there is not a room in the house to which I can
ask you." So the old gentleman and Fred walked up
Museum-street and had their conversation on the pavement. "I
am Mr. Burnaby, for whose book you made an index," said the old man.
Mr. Burnaby was an author well known in those days, and Fred, in the
midst of his misfortunes, felt that he was honoured by the visit.
"I was sorry that my index did not suit you," said Fred.
"It did not suit at all," said Mr. Burnaby. "Indeed it
was no index. An index should comprise no more than words and
figures. Your index conveyed opinions, and almost criticism."
"If you suffered inconvenience, I regret it much," said Fred.
"I was punished at any rate by my lost labour."
"I do not wish you to be punished at all," said Mr. Burnaby,
"and therefore I have come to you with the price in my hand. I
am quite sure that you worked hard to do your best." Then Mr.
Burnaby's fingers went into his waistcoat pocket, and returned with
a crumpled note.
"Certainly not, Mr. Burnaby," said Fred. "I can take
nothing that I have not earned."
"Now, my dear young friend, listen to me. I know that
you are poor."
"I am very poor."
"And I am rich."
"That has nothing to do with it. Can you put me in the
way of earning anything by literature? I will accept any such
kindness as that at your hand but nothing else."
"I cannot. I have no means of doing so."
"You know so many authors;—and so many publishers."
"Though I knew all the authors and all the publishers, what
can I do? Excuse me if I say that you have not served the
apprenticeship that is necessary."
"And do all authors serve apprenticeships?"
"Certainly not. And it may be that you will rise to
wealth and fame without apprenticeship ;—but if so, you must do it
After that they walked silently together half the length of
the street before Fred spoke again. "You mean," said he, "that
a man must be either a genius or a journeyman."
"Yes, Mr. Pickering; that, or something like it, is what I
Fred told Mr. Burnaby his whole story, walking up and down
Museum-street,—even to that early assurance given to his young bride
that there were worse things in the world than starvation. And
then Mr. Burnaby asked him what were his present intentions.
"I suppose we shall try it," said Pickering, with a forced laugh.
"Try what?" said Mr. Burnaby.
"Starvation," said Fred.
"What; with your baby,—with your wife and baby? Come;
you must take my ten pound note at any rate. And while you are
spending it, write home to your father. Heaven and earth! is a
man to be ashamed to tell his father that he has been wrong?"
When Fred said that his father was a stern man, and one whose heart
would not be melted into softness at the tale of a baby's
sufferings, Mr. Burnaby went on to say that the attempt should at
any rate be made. "There can be no doubt what duty requires of
you, Mr. Pickering. And, upon my word, I do not see what other
step you can take. You are not, I suppose, prepared to send
your wife and child to the poor-house." Then Fred Pickering
burst into tears, and Mr. Burnaby left him at the corner of Great
Russel-street, after cramming the ten-pound note into his hand.
To send his wife and child to the poor-house! In all
his misery that idea had never before presented itself to Fred
Pickering. He had thought of starvation, or rather of some
high-toned extremity of destitution, which might be borne with an
admirable and perhaps sublime magnanimity. But how was a man
to bear with magnanimity a poor-house jacket, and the union mode of
hair-cutting? It is not easy for a man with a wife and baby to
starve in this country, unless he be one to whom starvation has come
very gradually. Fred saw it all now. The police would
come to him, and take his wife and baby away into the workhouse, and
he would follow them. It might be that this was worse than
starvation, but it lacked all that melodramatic grandeur to which he
had looked forward almost with satisfaction.
"Well," said Mary to him, when he returned to her bedside,
"who was it? Has he told you of anything? Has he brought
you anything to do?"
"He has given me that," said Fred, throwing the bank note on
to the bed,—out of charity. I may as well go out into the
streets and beg now. All the pride has gone out of me."
Then he sat over the fire crying, and there he sat for hours.
"Fred," said his wife to him, "if you do not write to your
father tomorrow I will write."
He went again to every person connected in the slightest
degree with literature of whom he had the smallest knowledge; to Mr.
Roderick Billings, to the teacher who had instructed him in
shorthand writing, to all those whom he had ever seen among the
newspapers, to the editor of the International, and to Mr.
Boothby. Four different visits he made to Mr. Boothby, in
spite of his previous anger, but it was all to no purpose. No
one could find him employment for which he was suited. He
wrote to Mr. Wickham Webb, and Mr. Wickham Webb sent him a
five-pound note. His heart was, I think, more broken by his
inability to refuse charity than by anything else that had occurred
His wife had threatened to write to his father, but she had
not carried her threat into execution. It is not by such means
that a young wife overcomes her husband. He had looked sternly
at her when she had so spoken, and she had known that she could not
bring herself to do such a thing without his permission. But
when she fell ill, wanting the means of nourishment for her child,
and in her illness begged of him to implore succour from his father
for her baby when she should be gone, then his pride gave way, and
he sat down and wrote his letter. When he went to his
ink-bottle it was dry. It was nearly two months since he had
made any attempt at working in that profession to which he had
intended to devote himself.
He wrote to his father, drinking to the dregs the bitter cup
of broken pride. It always seems to me that the prodigal son
who returned to his father after feeding with the swine suffered but
little mortification in his repentant submission. He does,
indeed, own his unworthiness, but the calf is killed so speedily
that the pathos of the young man's position is lost in the hilarity
of the festival. Had he been compelled to announce his coming
by post; had he been driven to beg permission to return, and been
forced to wait for a reply, his punishment, I think, would have been
more severe. To Fred Pickering the punishment was very severe,
and indeed for him no fatted calf was killed at last. He
received without delay a very cold letter from his father, in which
he was told that his father would consider the matter. In the
meanwhile thirty shillings a week should be allowed him. At
the end of a fortnight he received a further letter, in which he was
informed that if he would return to Manchester he would be taken in
at the attorney's office which he had left. He must not,
however, hope to become himself an attorney; he must look forward to
be a paid attorney's clerk, and in the meantime his father would
continue to allow him thirty shillings a week. "In the present
position of affair," said his father, "I do not feel that anything
would be gained by our seeing each other." The calf which was
thus killed for poor Fred Pickering was certainly by no means a
Of course he had to do as he was directed. He took his
wife and baby back to Manchester, and returned with sad eyes and
weary feet to the old office which he had in former days not only
hated but despised. Then he had been gallant and gay among the
other young men, thinking himself to be too good for the society of
those around him; now he was the lowest of the low, if not the
humblest of the humble.
He told his whole story by letters to Mr. Burnaby, and
received some comfort from the kindness of that gentleman's replies.
"I still mean," he said, in one of those letters, "to return some
day to my old aspirations; but I will endeavour first to learn my
trade as a journeyman of literature."
TEN years ago the
readers of the magazines and critical reviews could hardly fail to
encounter unfavourable strictures on what was called the "Spasmodic
School of Poetry." The three or four writers supposed to constitute
that "school" were, at the period referred to, passing through the
fires of exhortation, reproof, and parody. The nickname was the
invention of a brilliant poet and wit—recently gone to his rest; and
it had a nickname's best prosperity—it stuck. That this said
nickname had, in some rough obvious manner, hit off the salient
characteristics and defects of the "school," was evident from the
favour with which it was received. The quaint brain of Professor Aytoun shaped the happy phrase; and immediately thereafter the three
or four writers were everywhere recognised as "spasmodists," just
as, since Mr. Bright, in his speech a short while ago, alluded to
the cave of Adullarn and its inhabitants, Lords Grosvenor and Elcho,
Messrs. Horsman and Lowe have been "Adullamites," or "Dwellers in
the Cave," to all the world. Nothing tells like a nickname which
catches the popular ear, and which is called out at every street
corner. The nickname "Spasmodic School" grew popular, and in a
short time it became the critical stock-in-trade of provincial
newspapers, just as if they had been its sole inventors and had
taken out a patent for its exclusive use. For a while no one of the
writers could air himself in public in a volume of verse, however
staid and hum-drum, without the cry of "spasmodist" being raised,
here, there, and everywhere, so loudly that he was glad to retreat
again into his shell. All this is a matter of ten years ago. For
seven years past the magazine reader has heard nothing of the
"Spasmodic school,"—it is the lost pleiad of the critical firmament. Oblivion distributeth her poppies with an equal hand.
too, has been forgotten in these years. The nicknamed and the
nicknames sleep in the same forgetfulness of reviews—like foemen in
The reviews are powerful, but they are not omnipotent; and a man's
work exists, after the reviewers have said their best and their
worst about it, precisely as it is. On the whole there is nothing
more curious than the fluctuations of literary reputations. A poet
comes into fashion very much as crinoline came into fashion, is
universally quoted as crinoline was universally worn, and in due
time makes way for a new favourite. Wordsworth's fame was of slow
and cedar-like growth; but it attracted a larger number of pilgrims
fifteen years ago than it does now. Byron sank after his death, and
is slowly rising to be permanently recognised, not as the greatest
poet, but as the greatest intellectual force and portent of his
time. His poetry was but the brilliant hectic-coloured blossom; the
wholesome fruit we were destined never to see. Had he lived, it is
plainly visible in the closing cantos of Don Juan, he would have
deserted poetry for prose fiction, and been our second Fielding, and
our greater. Keats culminated ten years ago on the publication of
his Life by Lord Houghton, and leads at present a sort of pale
lunar rainbow existence in the pages of his imitators. Several years
since the Quarterly Review spoke of Robert Browning as a man
possessed of some slight tincture of poetic individuality, and was
good enough to quote with approval passages from Paraselsus and
Bells and Pomegranates; to day he is regarded by many as the
most original of living poets, original in merit and defect, in
music, thought, and dramatic instinct. The Laureate has long
been popular, but he is popular not so much from the essential
merits of his verse as from his exquisite form, exquisite finish, and the wonderful
way in which he reflects the culture, the sentiment, the refined
lazy scepticism made amiable only by its sadness, the vague
aspirations of English society. He holds the mirror up to the time,
but it is an enchanted one and reflects but noble faces. People will
weary of his finish as they weary of pictures executed on ivory;
and he will be succeeded by some far stormier and less perfectly
balanced spirit. While noticing this ebb and flow of poetical
reputations it may not be too much to infer that the oblivion to
which the "Spasmodic School" has been consigned for the last few
years has been to a considerable extent undeserved. At all events,
leaving the other writers whom this matter may concern to shift for
themselves, I am anxious to speak for a few pages concerning Sydney
Dobell, by far the most important member of the "school," and whom
not a few fairly intelligent persons in England and America consider
to have written some of the noblest poetry of our day. In the courts
of law, when a man conceives that justice has not been done, it is
competent for him to call for a new trial. In the interest of Sydney
Dobell I move for a new trial in the courts of criticism.
Originality, as it is called, is, in popular estimation, a first
merit in a writer but then this originality may either attract or
repel. In itself originality is not necessarily a merit. The
colour-blind man is original in a world of men gifted with normal
powers of vision. To a sane individual there is nothing more
frightfully original than the seething brain of a madman. Our dreams
are more original than our waking moments, but they are, on the
whole, less wise. The feeling of strangeness with which one
occasionally, for the first time, peruses a book does not usually go
for much. It is frequently the mere foreign-looking husks and
wrappings of the matter—the wampum-belt and scalp-tuft of the Pawnee
Indian, the bear-skin and snow-shoes of the Esquimaux―rather than
the matter itself. The highest beauty does not dazzle at first, it
more frequently seems a simple plainness. The writers who strike you
as original are never original enough, just as the man who strikes
you as cunning has not been cunning enough to hide his cunning. All
the colours sleep in a beam of pure white light. The generations of
books are like the generations of men, the one begets the other, and
not unfrequently the features of an ancestor recur in a descendant
of today. Absolute originality, even were it possible, would be of
no effect. An absolutely original book would resemble the scenery of
the moon. It would be a world without an atmosphere. In reading such
a book one would be reft away from the mighty aids of association
and use and wont. In the sense of newness and strangeness Australia
is the most original country on the planet, and it is the least
interesting. In the same sense Asia and Europe are the least
original and the most interesting. The strange kangaroo of the one
continent is nothing to the homely sparrow of the other, which has
been man's companion and chirped on his thatch during six
millenniums. In poetry the gaudy parrot is as nothing compared with
the brown lark. It is astonishing, when one reflects on it, to what
few and simple root-ideas the entire poetry of the world may be
traced. I am, I was, I love, I hate, I suffer, I am glad, I must
die—these lie at the bottom of all song. After the death of Abel the
first family had pretty nearly gone the round of all possible
experiences. In the primordial elements of human experience there is
nothing trite—except to the trite; and the only faithful originality
comes out of an entire and noble apprehension of those primordial
elements, and the man who can to that noble apprehension give
musical utterance is a poet, and a sufficiently original one, too,
for all purposes. The generations of singing birds pass, but the
music of the spring mornings goes on, although it has hardly changed
a note since Adam. Originality is not a thing which a man can put on
like a cloak to masquerade in. It is, if he have it at all, the pure
outcome of his personality—the clear, unobscured, unobstructed,
utterance of his nature—that which is to himself special and
peculiar like the tone of his voice and the play of his features—an
undefinable something of which he is in the profoundest unconsciousness, but by which he is made recognisable and is set apart
from other men. Thus it comes about that the original man is the
least conscious of being original. It is easy for a beauty to be
beautiful, it is easy for an original man to be original. And the undefinable something which sets a man apart from his fellows is the
most valuable thing in the world; it is absolutely priceless. You
cannot forecast its next manifestation any more than you can
conceive of a new colour. It cannot be imitated, it can never be
forged; no counterfeit by any possibility can ever pass current—and
yet every man and woman is born into the world with some proportion
of it more or less. To this pure, clear, natural note of the soul
all the world listens—for a whole grove of clever mocking-birds, no
one cares. Nature makes the Koh-i-Noor, and Birmingham will turn you
out a bushel of imitations. And it is this special and individual
something in great writers which, above all things, subserves a
noble culture. These men bring a new thing into the world with them,
and when they die they leave it as an inheritance. Scott writes, and
the historic past is no longer pale and cold, but warm and
many-coloured. Wordsworth writes, and ever after the solitariest
place breathes an austere contentment, and to the thoughtful man
there is no such thing as utter loneliness in the world. Keats
writes, and the coldness of Greek marble is faintly tinged with
passion. In modern culture all the poets are represented by their
English poet and critic.
And in the sense of having something personal and peculiar, some new
thing to supplement and enrich modern culture, Sydney Dobell is
fairly entitled to be considered an original poet. I have remarked
elsewhere that Chaucer and Spenser are the fountain-heads of all
succeeding English poetry. Chaucer is the father of the humorous,
kindly, dramatic, genially-lyrical men; Spenser of the intense,
allegorical, didactic, remote, and, by comparison, unsocial men. Shakespeare, Dryden, Burns, Byron, Browning, draw descent from
Chaucer. Milton, Young, Wordsworth, Shelley, and Tennyson from
Spenser. Sydney Dobell too is of the line and stock of Spenser. His
mental constitution is high, solitary, disdainful. His genius is of
an ascetic and fakir kind. He stands apart from his fellows, and
wraps himself up in the mantle of his own thoughts. He is terribly
self-conscious; he is the slave of ideas; he writes for a purpose,
and as if under a certain compulsion. There is nothing he hates so
intensely as commonplace; nothing he loves so intensely as
beauty—the more ideal the better; and in his fine music a quick ear
will not unfrequently detect a stridulous tone, as if the string
from which it is drawn were a trifle too tightly strung. In whatever
he writes, whether he is purely and simply beautiful, or haughty as
Apollo conscious of glowing limbs, or grotesque or extravagant, you
will find nothing done at haphazard; he knows precisely the why and
the wherefore, and will be able to render you a sufficient reason
for everything. If it be at all admissible, now that the word has
been so foully fingered and misused, to call a man earnest, that man
is Sydney Dobell. He is essentially a missionary. He has neither
written for the mere enjoyment of writing, nor for money, nor for
fame, but mainly because he has a doctrine to preach, a cause to
plead; and his doctrine he has preached in ears too long accustomed
to sounding brasses and tinkling cymbals to give heed to high
discourse. Mr. Carlyle preaches hero-worship, Mr. Dobell preaches
genius-worship. At bottom the two doctrines are essentially the
same, only the one man abides in the practical, the other in the
ideal. In Mr. Dobell conception genius, poetic genius more
especially, is ever a new revelation to man. To him the poet is the
Teacher, bringing to his fellows new ideas of truth, beauty, and
morality. In his mind the great poet is the most perfect human
being, and as the greater includes the less, he is at the same time
the true legislator and ruler. That as such he is not recognised by
men,—why then the worse for men. Mr. Dobell would have the world sit
at the feet of the poets, and shape everything, not only private
conduct, but parliaments, statute-books, home and foreign policies,
according to their behests. In his idea a poem should go forth like
the proclamation of a king; adverse critics he regards as rebels
against lawful authority, and would probably have them executed
forthwith. To such a writer it will be at once evident that poetry
is no holiday pastime, but a most solemn and responsible duty, to
the proper discharge of which everything must be brought of best,
noblest, and bravest. To such a man no labour can be too severe, no
study too intense, no experience too bitter: poverty, pain, death
itself would be even welcome, if so be he could perfect his art, and
thereby save, or help to save, a world previously out of joint. And
the poet must not only be true to other men, he must be true to
himself. Never arrogant, he should be always dignified; he must
remember that there is no greatness beyond his own; that this
complex visible world, with its capitals and standing armies, is
based upon ideas, and that in the ideal department of things he is a
king, enforcing and abrogating at his pleasure. Above all, he must
remember that as an apostle of the highest, it behoves him to take
heed to his walk and conversation. He has not only to write poems,
he must also live poems. The song should be pure and noble, and so
should also the life of the singer be. As poetry is above ordinary
prose, so should his morality be above ordinary morality.
This idea of the poet and the poetic life cannot be regarded
otherwise than as a high one. Without some such basement of belief
one cannot see how, more especially in these times, the poetic life
can be conducted at all; but as, in order that the tree shall leaf,
and blossom, and bear fruit, it is necessary that the root should be
hidden away underground, deep-sunken in life-giving soil; so, in
like manner, if the poet would go on prosperously with his work, it
is essential that his belief and theories concerning himself and his
art should be buried in the silent depths of his nature; that he
should quietly draw spiritual sustenance from these, and in no wise
obtrude them on the world. We have nothing to do with the food which
the athlete devours, we have only to do with the results,—the mighty
limbs, the iron sinews. There is nothing with which a poet has less
need to concern himself than with poets and poetry, and here it is
where Mr. Dobell has to some extent gone astray. Poetry is not, or
at all events should not be, a Narcissus in love with his own
shadow, and eternally gazing upon it. It has to do with everything
except itself; it is the divine light in which we see heroism, duty,
love, beauty, death. It is not the hero, it is only the song which
celebrates the exploits of the hero. Women are not specially
interesting to women, poets are not specially interesting to poets;
Mr. Dobell seems to have forgotten this, and in Balder, his longest
book, and with all defects, this primal one included, his greatest,
he concerns himself with a poet from first to last, gives his
soliloquies, his notions concerning his art, quotes the songs he
sung at intervals, the scraps of verse with which he hung the walls
of his chamber, tells us what books he purposed to write, and
through which he meant to regenerate the world. Balder is the
longest poem of our time, with the exception perhaps of Festus; and
apart from the exquisite songs of Amy, which if extracted would of
themselves make a mournful anthology, there are not in its entire
length a dozen pages of purely human interest. It contains wonderful
things, it has passages of marvellous subtlety and music, but these
fail to make pleasing the stupendous egotism. Now it is evident that
if you wish to cure a sick man you must give him a medicine which it
is possible for him to take, and if you wish by means of a poem to
make the world better, you must needs write a poem which it will be
possible for the world to read. Balder is to the large majority of
persons simply unreadable, and this not from any defect of genius,
but because it is based upon an erroneous theory. In Balder too one
is perpetually conscious of a certain compulsion, of effort; there
is a lack of spontaneity, of easy, unconscious, unconscious result,
as of an Æolian harp sighing to the caprices of intermittent wind. At times the writer almost ceases to be a poet, and becomes a
pamphleteer. In all Mr. Dobell's books intellectual subtlety plays
him false; not unfrequently the dialectician overrides the poet. When opportunity offers he ceases singing to argue,
Like some budge doctor of the Stoic fur;
and the matters over which he subtilizes are the most filmy and
intangible. He will unravel you a thread of morning gossamer, he
will dissect you an ephemeron, he will lay you bare the heart of a
mote of the sunbeam. When he grapples with a subject both he and
it, like hawk
and heron, disappear in the distance. He defines everything to the
vanishing point, and beyond it. All this kind of thing seems
trifling to a reader of normal instincts. You can respect a
whirlwind when it sinks a ship or blows down a house; you cannot
when it merely makes a spire of dust and straws at the corner of a
street. Mr. Dobell's remarkable subtlety is in his art rather a
hindrance than an aid, and is so for several reasons. In the first
place, he has an entire and abiding horror of commonplace; and
although it may be seen leading easily and definitely to results, he
cannot bear to walk, for ever so short a distance, in a beaten path. Above all things he will be independent, original, and
self-sustained. He will lie under poetic obligations to no one. He
will not only build his house after his own plan, but he insists in
providing his materials out of his own quarries and forests. Had it
been possible he would have invented a language of his own. He is
continually "seeking out a new path for himself," a task which
Goethe was happy in not having forced upon him. He will always stand
on virgin soil; and as the red Indian retires into his aboriginal
forests when he smells the watchfire of the white settler, Mr.
Dobell, on the approach of the ordinary and commonplace, retires
into the unpierced depths of his nature, where no one can follow
him, and where his subtlety is of non effect, for the reason that it
has no spectator. Then, again, Mr. Dobell is what Dr. Johnson would
have called a "metaphysical poet," and he has much in common with Cowley and Donne in past generations, and with Shelley in our own. Like these, he has a whole body of ingenious theories, whimsies, and
conceits on every subject under the sun to enforce, illustrate, and
uphold. In all this his amazing subtlety has ample play, but then in
the work he is beyond the sympathies of his readers. There is such
an entity doubtless as the pure spirit of life, but we have
knowledge of it only through the form it assumes. There is such a
thing as the spirit of poetry, but it is only recognisable in the
concrete—in a flower, in a lark's song, in a beautiful woman, in
some human experience more or less complex. Mr. Dobell's verse is
often not sufficiently "clothed upon;" it does not take palpable
form and substance, but abides in vague guesses and shadows of
things. It is too often like the night wind, a haunter of waste and
solitary places in which there is no human dwelling; a something of
which we are cognizant, but of which the imagination can form no
picture. And in common with earnest, eager, theoretical men, Mr.
Dobell volatile impracticability of mind is unregulated by humour. He is defective in that quick, saving sense of the ludicrous which
is a man's best safeguard from absurdity both in literature and in
social life. He has plenty of wit, the brilliant sparks of
Struck out from clashing swords in fight;―
but of humour, that other kind of love, with its tenderness and
sadness, without its fiery passion and pain, there is perhaps not
any very definite trace discoverable in his writings. He is, in
consequence, always too trenchant and grim-earnest; there is a lack
of ease, of rapid lightness of touch, of graceful sportiveness. It
is from this lack of humour, I take it, that Mr. Dobell is too
persistently dignified. The port of a king in a grand state
ceremonial is, simply laughable when transferred to his private
apartment, or to a walk in his palace grounds of a morning before
breakfast. Mr. Dobell has not learned how to unbend; he is always
in full uniform, never in mufti. Like Shelley, he is a great deal
too constantly poetical. Genius is the most precious of mental
gifts, gold is the most precious of metals; but as you cannot work
gold without an alloy, you cannot make much use of genius without an
intermixture of prosaic common-sense and mother-wit.
I have spoke thus frankly of what seems to me Mr. Dobell's defects,
in order that I may just as frankly speak of his merits. These are
very much higher than the general public appear at all to be aware. For intellectual force, poetic instinct, and vitality, he may claim
to be ranked, pari passu, with Alfred Tennyson and Robert Browning. He is in the best sense, as has been already indicated, an original
man. He is a poet; but he bears to other poets the likenesses and
differences that the birch bears to the elm and the oak. He is of
the same genus, but not the same species. Of all recent writers, he
seems to bear the closest resemblance to Shelley. He has much of
Shelley's levity, impracticability, exaggeration, and hectic
over-colour; he has all Shelley's subtlety, analytic habit and
power, splendour of imagery, dramatic instinct, and rich-flowing
lyrical impulse. There are as noble passages in the Roman as you
will find in Hellas; there is as intricate searching of dark bosoms
and moods in Balder as in the Cenci; there are lyrics in
Time of War which will mate with the Sensitive Plant and the
Skylark. And as, when a man is under strong emotion, there gleams on
his countenance an expression which is not ordinarily there, a look
of race, in which father, grandfather, and great-grandfather are
blended; so in Mr. Dobell's finer passages one discerns a something
native to himself and to none other; a something which finds its
analogue in sculpture rather than in painting; a purity as of the
undraped limbs of the marble nymph; a shining ethereal beauty, as of
the stalk of white lilies which female saints wear—clouds of cherubs
fluttering around their feet—as they rise into a heaven of blue and
gold, in mediæval Italian altar-pieces.
The Roman was published—the author yet very young—in the after-swell
of the revolutionary impulse of 1848. It had a great success, was
admired by quick, vivid, impulsive Charlotte Bronté; and was
regarded by all capable of forming a judgment in such matters, as
the work of a man certain to leave a name amongst the poetical
writers of his country. The work was thrown into a loose dramatic
form, and its energy, enthusiasm, and eloquence were considered
little less than marvellous. On the top of the first page the author
described his hero—"Vittorio Santo, a missionary of freedom. He has
gone out disguised as a monk to preach the unity of Italy, the
overthrow of the Austrian domination, and the restoration of a great
Roman Republic;" and from its subject it naturally became a pendant
to the Deformed Transformed of Byron and the Hellas of Shelley. The
scenes are nine in number, and tell no very closely-knit and
connected story: the monk is the main speaker throughout, and
although there is a monotony of eloquence inseparable somewhat from
the conception and plan, vigour and spirit never flag, and from
beginning to close the reader is carried stormily along. The tone is
a little too highly pitched all through; now and again there is a
slight tendency to extravagance; but apart from these defects of
youth, the delight in the exercise of a newly-discovered power, the
style is unexceptionable—the English is clear, vivid, nervous, and
without the slightest haze of obscurity; you are constantly reminded
of Byron in the swell and movements of the verse. The first scene
opens at evening on an ancient Italian battlefield, on which a
number of young men and maidens are dancing and singing. The monk is
standing by, and at length breaks in upon the dancers. He speaks to
them of Italy, his mother and theirs, and how the ground they dance
on is her grave. The speech is too long to quote, but its drift and
character will be gathered from the following:―
I pray you listen how I loved my mother,
And you will weep with me. She loved me,
And fed my soul with light. Morning and even
Praying, I sent that soul into her eyes,
And knew what heaven was though I was a child.
I grew in stature, and she grew in goodness.
I was a grave child; looking on her taught me
To love the beautiful: and I had thoughts
Of Paradise, when other men have hardly
Looked out of doors on earth. (Alas! alas!
That I have also learned to look on earth
When other men see heaven.) I toiled, but even
As I became more holy, she seemed holier;
Even as when climbing mountain-tops the sky
Grows ampler, higher, purer as ye rise.
Let me believe no more. No, do not ask me
How I repaid my mother. O thou saint,
That lookest on me day and night from heaven,
And smilest, I have given thee tears for tears,
Anguish for anguish, woe for woe. Forgive me
If, in the spirit of ineffable penance
In words, I waken up the guilt that sleeps.
Let not the sound afflict thine heaven, or colour
That pale, tear-blotted record which the angels
Keep of my sins. We left her. I and all
The brothers that her milk had fed. We left her—
And strange dark robbers with unwonted names
Abused her! bound her! pillaged her! profaned her!
Bound her clasped hands, and gagged the trembling lips
That pray'd for her lost children. And we stood
And she knelt to us, and we saw her kneel,
And looked upon her coldly and denied her!
Denied her in her agony—and counted
Before her sanguine eyes the gold that bought
Her pangs. We stood――
Here the revellers, thinking that a veritable mother of the flesh is
spoken of, break in on the monk and load him with reproaches and
execrations. He undeceives them―
You are my brothers. And my mother was
Yours. And each man amongst you day by day
Takes, bowing, the same price that sold my mother,
And does not blush. Her name is ROME. Look round,
And see those features which the sun himself
Can hardly leave for fondness. Look upon
Her mountain bosom where the very sky
Beholds with passion; and with the last proud
Imperial sorrow of dejected empire,
She wraps the purple round her outraged breast,
And even in fetters cannot be a slave.
Look on the world's best glory and worst shame.
They are some souls
That once took flesh and blood in Italy,
And thought it was a land to draw free breath in,
And drew it long, and died here and since live
Look on that mother and behold her sons!
Alas, she might be Rome if there were Romans!
Look on that mother! Wilt thou know that death
Can have no part in Beauty? Cast to-day
A seed into the earth, and it shall bear thee
The flowers that waved in the Egyptian hair
Of Pharaoh's daughter!
In such eloquent fashion storms on the passionate monk until,
recovering from his enthusiasm, he finds that with the exception of
Francesca the revellers have one by one stolen away. The monk
perceives her, and she, with all his words flaming in her heart,
I have heard much to-night
Of Roman deeds, of sages, and of heroes,
Of sons who loved, and sons who have betrayed.
Hath Rome no daughters to repeat her beauty,
Renew the model of old time, and teach
Her sons to love the mother in the child?
Was Rome, my father, built and peopled by
One sex? The very marble of your ruins
Looks masculine. In heart I roam about them;
But wheresoe'er my female soul peers in—
Even to the temple courts—some bearded image
Gives privilege. Doth Salique law entail
The heritage of glory? Is there nothing,
Nothing, my father, in the work of freedom
For woman's hand to do?
A long colloquy follows, Santo accepts her services, and we have the
result of it all in Scene iv. Francesca is alone, and in her
soliloquy she subtly and tenderly reveals a woman's undevotion to
abstractions, and her love for Santo.
And thou! Country!
Thou stern and awful god, of which my reason
Preaches infallibly, but which no sense
Bears witness to—I would thou hadst a shape.
It might be dwarf, deformed, maimed,—anything,
So it was thine; and it would stand to me
For beauty. And my soul should wait on it,
And I would train my fancies all about it,
Till growing to its fashion, and most nurtured
With smiles and tears they strengthened into love.
But, Santo, this indefinite dim presence
I cannot worship. O thou dear Apostle,
Oh what a patriot could Francesca be
If thou wert Rome.
Heart, have all thy will
Santo, I love thee! love thee! love thee! love thee!
Santo, I love thee! oh, thou wild word love!
Thou bird broke loose! I could say on and on,
And feel existence but to speak and hear.
Santo, I love thee! Hear, Francesca loves thee!
Santo, I love thee oh, my heart, my heart,
My heart, thou Arab mad with desert thirst
In sight of water.
Immediately on this, Ceco, a friend, approaches and informs
Francesca that Santo has been taken prisoner by the Austrians, and
is sentenced to be shot at dawn. What follows reads like a passage
from the old masters of the English drama. Francesca shows a
Tell me; tell all, ah Ceco—nay, look here
In the moonlight—Saints! I can use it!
Wild girl, how? Knowest thou not as well as I
Vittorio preaching to some Milanese
Who would be patriots if they knew but how,
Spent precious hours in which the German foe
Slipt from the snare? Whereat brave Roderigo―
A gallant sword—the greatest libertine
In Milan—seized him. In the castle dungeon
He lies since noon, and with the coming dawn
Dies, dies—who dies? Pray you, friend, say on;
I am not wont to wander.
This is well!
That last waltz spent me. Let me see, what gallant
Danced young Francesca down? Nay, he'll boast rarely
Yet it seems long ago—long, long ago.
Such dreamless sleep! Thou melancholy moon,
What! have I caught my death damp of the dews?
A gallant sword—the greatest libertine
In Milan?—yes, yes,—Roderigo,—yes―
He lies since noon—ay, in the castle dungeon,
And with the dawn—no, no, thou pitiless sun!
Thou durst not rise! oh sea, if thou hast waves,
A gallant sword—the greatest libertine
In Milan—ah—the greatest libertine?
Who says I am not fair? Ye gods! I curse you;
Why do ye tempt me?
It is over Ceco:
Ceco, I tell thee it is past, is past.
Santo is free. Look thou that horses wait
Near the east gate by sunrise.
In the next scene we are introduced to a number of students and
burghers in the common room, discussing the news of the day—notably
the rescue of this monk by Francesca.
(Count Grassi's child hath a fair face).
Count Grassi's child hath a fair face! Fie, Lelio;
Why, what a traitor art thou!
Attend I say!
Count Rossi's lewdness is a proverb―
Lelio, for pity—there are bachelors here—
We are not all companions in misfortune!
For pity, Lelio!
You that shout for pity,
If you be Pity's followers, do her now
Your best allegiance. Good friends, I, her quæstor,
Claim tribute for her. A few tears will pay it.
Listen. The young Francesca, at the price
Of her fair body, bought the captive's life;
The priest is free. Do not cry out. Young Rossi
Craved instant payment. She in her superb
High loveliness, whose every look enhanced
The ransom, sent him from her, glad to grant
Another maiden hour for prayer and tears.
Francesca wore a poniard. She is now
A maid for ever.
(to one standing by).
How is that, sir?
The reader capable of appreciating beauty, passion, pathos, cannot
fail to recognise all these in the foregoing extracts, and the same
high qualities distinguish the other dramatic scenes. At the close,
the monk is tried by court-martial and condemned to be shot; and
behold above the heads of the Austrian platoon, drawn out for his
execution, the vision of a United Italy the dream of so many
Balder appeared some years after the publication of the
was not nearly so well received by the critics. In truth, the
gentlemen of the press did not seem to know very well what to make
of this new candidate for their suffrages; and as abuse of the book
was easier than laborious inquiries into its purport and meaning, it
was abused more vigorously and universally than almost any other
poetical effort of our time. And it must at once be admitted that
Balder is very singular, puzzling, and obscure. It lacks the action,
rapidity, and healthy human freshness of the Roman. Nor is it
written in the same vivid, simple English. The actors are
few—Balder, a poet; Amy, his wife; Dr. Paul, a medical man; an
artist; a servant—these are all. There is no action in it, and with
the exception of Scene xxiv., in which the poet and his wife pass
out into the fields, the whole tragedy transacts itself in-doors. Balder is continually writing or musing in his study and continually
through the open door comes the voice of Amy—Balder musing on his
coming poetic greatness to which nature had consented, to which the
elements had set their seals—Amy wailing of loneliness, of the
departure of love, of her dead child, of stagnant days and nights,
and madness creeping nearer and nearer. There is the hard selfish
soliloquy of the proud unnamable man, alternating with the sigh of
the broken-hearted woman and the sound of her falling tears. The
book is designed to show how fatally the egotism of genius clouds
and dwarfs the moral nature; how in the fierce thirst for power
love dies out, and the nature is left with the strength of an
archangel and the heartlessness and loneliness of a devil. But the
book is far too long, and the lesson might have been enforced after
some less painful fashion. Amy's tortures are lingering and
long-drawn-out; she is broken as it were upon a slow wheel. Balder
himself is fretful, unsocial, incomprehensible—and a considerable
bit of a prig as well. His soliloquies are with himself alone. At
his open window or at his study table he will talk by the hour about
his feelings; his ambitions; of "his having struck off one from the
weary score of human tasks;" of his intention to make "his staff the
solar centre of creation;" and of his "early-planned,
long-meditated, and slowly-written epic." He is a monstrosity, and
that most detestable of all monstrosities—polite, silvery-tongued as
Belial, who will never get into a healthy human anger with any one;
who will subtilize, argue, give a thousand exquisite reasons for
everything, and having made up his mind beforehand will take his own
way in the end. He will not get angry with you, he will sublimely
pity you like a god. He may be cruel, but he is always pleasant of
speech. Of Balder one does not know what to think, one cannot
conceive what motives actuate him, one cannot forecast his conduct
for a moment. He is utterly and hatefully inexplicable; and when at
the close, like some "rudderless ship whose course is a series of
accidents, he drifts into murder or appears about to drift into it,
you read in a sort of stupid protesting bewilderment. Altogether,
Balder is one of the most painful of books. There is in it an
atmosphere of stagnant formless woe, a crude misty misery, a
selfishness that might be felt; in reading it you grope, as it
were, through some solid breathless gloom. And yet if any one would
form a just estimate of the power and originality of Mr. Dobell's
genius, of the swift-cleaving character of his intellect, to this
book he must come and endure its pain. With all its gloom and horror
I do not know where else you will meet such sudden, unexpected,
exquisite sweetness; such radiant sunniness of nature; such lovely
lyrical trills, like the carol of a bird from the blossomed
apple-tree in the orchard heard through the silence of a house in
which a dead man is lying; such strokes of sharp pathos at which
the printed page disappears to slowly glimmer back. Out of the heavy
surrounding gloom Amy breaks into sudden song
Then came the cowslip
Like a dancer in the fair,
She spread her little mat of green
And on it danced she.
With a fillet bound about her brow,
A fillet round her happy brow,
A golden fillet round her brow,
And rubies in her hair.
There is nothing in Marlow, Webster, or Dekker, more frightful than
the close of this book. Balder is reading a scroll and talking to
himself of his "unthought of glory;" Amy rises suddenly, snatches
the scroll from his hand and throws it out of the open window into
Can it light up that pit down where I dwell
Out of the light of day and of the stars?
Out of the light o' the grave:—Ay, the dull earth
Below the dead is not so black with night
But the great day shall stir it! Is it well
That the dull earth below the dead hath life
And I am dark for ever? Is that well?
Is that well, husband? Husband, is it well?
Oh yes, thy glory; yes—he must have glory,
Yes, he must have his glory; he can stand
All day in the sun, but he must have his glory!
He has walked here up in the sunshine world,
He has been in the wind and the sweet rain.
And none cried "Upset the cup o' the honey time,
Upset the cup o' the honey time,"
And I am empty and dry.
I am his wife! This is my murderer!
Make way, make way, this is a murderer!
I am in hell, slain, lost, robbed, murdered, mad,
He did it, he!
He knows it.
Mad, mad, mad.
(Sinking in his arms in a swoon.)
Now, now, my soul! it must be ere she wake,
I will bear this alone; she shall not know
The hand that strikes—This hand! Nor man nor fiend
Would do thee harm but me! Now—now—yet oh!
That it must be now. That it had been while
The fire of madness burned her, and she swelled
And blackened like a burning house, once home
Now but a house in flames.
(Begins to divest her.)
How oft have I undone thy weeds as now,
And very softly, very silently
As now—and not more tenderly, no not
More tenderly, no, on thy bridal night.
No, not more tenderly. But oh, you heavens,
Wherefore and wherefore?
Here under her bosom
It cannot fail her. Hide thee, hide thee, Heart,
Poor fluttering bird, why wilt thou stir the lilies?
Dost thou not know me, who I am? Soft, soft;
Thou hast so often struggled in mine arms
Asleep, and I have wakened thee with kisses,
I pray thee do not struggle now, my child,
I cannot rouse thee from this dream.
If she should clasp her hands upon her breast
And moan! If she should feel through this thin trance
The cold steel ere it pierce, and call on me
For help!—but I will hold thee fast, my child,
Fast in these arms, altho' thou start and cry,
And shield thee from myself! If I strike ill
The first stroke, and she wake and strive for life;
If she should ope her eyes but once too late
And go forth to believe for ever more
I struck unkindly―
(Throws a kerchief over her face.)
No, she shall not see me,
And now thy living face is gone for ever,
And I have murdered thee before thy time.
Nor God, nor demon could have wrung from me
This moment, the last moment, only thou,
Oh, only thou―
(Frantically lifts the kerchief.)
Thou there, all there!
Help me, my child. Ay, look so beautiful,
'Tis well if this be heaven this is not
To kill thee—Now.
The power of this is indisputable, but how it all comes about, how
it evolves itself out of the body of the work, are not a little
England in Time of War is Mr. Dobell's latest work, and it is in
many respects his homeliest, simplest, and most delightful. There is
nothing of the enormous egotism of Balder about it, because from the
nature of the cases it deals with a variety of characters, and
touches on a multitude of interests. The book is mainly composed of
lyrics, but they are dramatic lyrics; only on one or two occasions
the writer speaks in his proper person, and an attempt is made to
give expression to every rank of English society in its relation to
the war then raging. In carrying out his idea the writer necessarily
passes from cot to castle, from milkmaid to merchant. The war lies
at the centre of each of these lyrics, but there is remarkable
variety in the people who utter them. There is the market-wife who
mixes Bible and newspaper, and who imagines that the armies of
Israel fought with bayonets and wore scarlet; the merriment of the
recruits' ball; the wail of the mad woman whose lover has been slain; the sorely-wounded officer slowly becoming convalescent, as he is
wheeled through the sunshine and over the primroses of English
spring. In these little songs there are for the most part an
abounding free-flowing music, a light airy gracefulness of touch, a
sunny playfulness at times which is almost humour, a homeliness and
sincerity of pathos which needs no fine words. Some of the humblest,
dealing with milkmaids and broken-hearted dying farmers, are more
poetical than the ambitious soliloquies in Balder.
Here is an exquisite lyric which has all the charm, simplicity, and
colour of an old ballad:—
The murmur of the mourning ghost
That keeps the shadowy kine,
Oh, Keith of Ravelston
The sorrows of thy line!
The merry path that leads
Down the golden morning hill
And thro' the silver meads.
The stile beneath the tree,
The maid that kept her mother's kine,
The song that sang she!
She sang her song, she kept her kine,
She sat beneath the thorn
When Andrew Keith of Ravelston
Rode thro' the Monday morn.
His henchmen sing, his hawk-bells ring,
His belted jewels shine!
Oh, Keith of Ravelston,
The sorrows of thy line!
Year after year, when Andrew came
Comes evening down the glade,
And still there sits a moonshine ghost
Where sat the sunshine maid,
Her misty hair is faint and fair,
She keeps the shadowy kine;
Oh, Keith of Ravelston,
The sorrows of thy line!
I lay my hand upon the stile,
The stile is lone and cold,
The burnie that goes babbling by
Says nought that can be told.
Yet, stranger! here, from year to year,
She keeps her shadowy kine;
Oh, Keith of Ravelston,
The sorrows of thy line!
Step out these steps, where Andrew stood—
Why blanch thy cheek for fear?
The ancient stile is not alone,
'Tis not the burn I bear!
She makes her immemorial moan,
She keeps her shadowy kine;
Oh, Keith of Ravelston,
The sorrows of thy line!
In this little poem are not the palpable and the impalpable, the
past and the present, subtly intermixed like day and night in
If a man's literary success be judged by the number of
editions his works have reached, and the number of readers he has
secured, then, when compared with many of his contemporaries, Mr.
Dobell's literary success does not seem considerable. And,
unquestionably, every sensible man must consider that popularity is
an important element in literary success. If you sing a song in
public, and if no one will listen to your singing, as a public
singer you have most certainly failed. If you say that you don't
care whether people listen or not, then why sing in public at all?
why not confine your melodious utterance to your private apartment,
and dedicate it to your own private delight? The Roman and
have reached second editions, England in Time of War is yet in its
first; Mr. Tupper is at present advertising the Bijou Edition of
Proverbial Philosophy, being something like the hundred and
twentieth thousand. I do not put these two statements together to
point a barren sneer at Mr. Tupper—that has been a great deal too
much the custom of late, and many of the writers who laugh the
loudest at Proverbial Philosophy would have been extremely puzzled
to have written it—but I bring them together to show that poetry of
the highest class may not find a public, while poetry of a far lower
grade is sometimes enormously successful in that respect. But then,
if devotedness of attachment is in these matters to be considered
and valued, the love of the six readers of the unpopular poet may
outweigh the love of a hundred readers of the popular one. In the
old Scottish days the King over the Water was pledged far seldomer,
but, when pledged, with a million times more enthusiasm than was
ever King George. In the palmy days of Byron and the Edinburgh
Review, Wordsworth was the least read but the most intensely loved
poet in England. It is curious how unpopular books are loved by the
men who like them and find spiritual sustenance in them. There is,
in reading such books, all the difference between dining at an
ordinary and in a private room with select friends. The Phantasties
of Mr. George MacDonald is a book but little talked about; but I
happen to know some six men to whom admiration for that most
exquisite of modern prose poems is a sort of bond of union. Mr.
Dobell has an audience, not so large as many, but more devoted than
most. Whether he is to the full aware of that devotedness, I cannot
say; but I am certain, knowing his serious and noble nature, that
whether his books are popular or the reverse is to him a matter of
no very considerable moment. He is one of the few men who can say,
and that too without the slightest suspicion of cant or insincerity,
that having done his work faithfully and well—being the matter in
which he has strict personal concern—he is not too anxious as to
what reception his work may meet—that being more specially the
concern of others.