Abbildungen der Seite

ical biography. Time, who has a way poet, and excellent for us and for all of arranging all things for good, has time, and that if any poet or other arthe skill to obliterate the man who ate tist can keep the peepers and botanizand drank and slept and quarrelled, ers and straw-raking biographers out of and ran short of money, and beat his his back garden he is doing what is wife or neglected his children, and who proper to his dignity as a poet or ardied miserably, and is buried by the tist and what is essential to his proper side of a pork-butcher, and leaves us poetical or artistic reputation. And if only the only figure we want-namely, we bear these important facts in mind the poet in his pomps. There is in our approach of the work of almost Chaucer. Who is concerned with, any writer it does not require in us say, "the struggles of his early days," any extraordinary critical gifts to disor with, say again, his “fight for recog- cover and make sure of a just and wellnition.” Such phrases put by the side nigh exact view of his work, or to say of such a lucent name have an air bor- of it with more or less certitude what dering on the preposterous. It is so posterity will say of it. We have it on with Shakespeare, for whom, thank the authority of Burns that the man's Heaven, as William Shakespeare, hu- the gold. But the man is gold or dross man man, we have but the slightest only to himself. The poet is gold to acquaintance. What we may really us, or dross, ultimately and only out of learn for a surety of Milton in his ca- his poetry. If we are to know all pacity as a man who lived in a house that is to be known about poetry, and and took his meals and bickered with if it is to have its just and right effect his daughters, we must always disso- upon us, we must give up weeping and ciate and fend-off, and keep far away wailing and breaking our hearts over from the mighty-mouthed inventor of the private sorrows of poets. It is no harmonies. And so we might con- more terrible a thing that Chatterton tinue. Even Tennyson and Browning should have committed suicide than and Mr. Swinburne are nothing to us that the late Mr. Whittaker Wright

For the best that we can should have so dreadfully taken his hope for them out of such a considera- own life. The only matter for us is, tion is that they have been good men, What did Chatterton leave us, and do and as we all know, though good men we know it and use it for what it is be rare, poets are the rarer. In the worth? Chatterton was a human becase of Mr. Swinburne we have an in- ing, Mr. Whittaker Wright was a human stance of a great poet and a great man being. The death of the one was as of letters achieving what one might dreary an affair as the death of the consider almost impossible in a news- other. Humanly speaking, it is as termongering, paragraph-peddling, gossip- rible that one Flute, a bellows-maker, chewing age--namely, the keeping of or one Bottom, a weaver, should die for his private man's affairs to himself. the lack of bread, as it is terrible that Nobody can put his finger on lines of the finest poet of them all should die Swinburne and say, Here we have evi- for the same lack. We are therefore dence of this, that, or t’other condition pleased to find that, broadly speaking, of the physical man or this, that, or the introduction, which we were bound t'other condition of the physical man's to have with the present volume, is a aches and pains or finances, or friend. reticent and detailless introduction. ships or hatreds, and so on and so The writer of it, Mr. Wilfrid Meynell, is forth. And we say, further, that this probably in as good a position to offer is excellent for Mr. Swinburne the the whole facts about Francis

as men.



[ocr errors]

Thompson's life as a man as anybody To stall the gray rat and the carrion. is ever likely to be. Yet he has refrained, and it is to his credit that he

Statelily lodge. Mother of mysteries! has refrained, even though he may

There is no harm in Mr. Meynell's have refrained only out of a sort of

kn edege that Thompson had seen instinct But in Mr. Meynell's introduction we find a striking example of

the inside of dissecting-rooms. It is no

reflection upon Thompson himself or the inadvisability of biographical

upon anybody else that he began life as knowledge, and of the destructive and

a medical student. On the other hand, dangerous effect of that knowledge

when one finds those who loved him when criticism or elucidation is toward. On p. 9 of Mr. Meynell's biographical

and who had personal ties with him,

reading dissecting-rooms into such note we discover these words:

writing, the danger and harmfulness of A definite reminiscence of the dissect- biographical detail become plainly aping-room at Manchester may certainly

parent It is equally so in all kindred be discovered in his (Thompson's] allu

matters. For example, there is a poem sion (in An Anthem of Earth) to the

We heart as

in this collection called “Daisy." Arras'd in purple like the house of

should hesitate to call it a considerable kings,

poem for a poet of Thompson's attainthe regal heart that comes at last ments, but we should be content to To stall the gray rat, and the carrion- read it for what it is worth. Its value, worm

to say the least, is not enhanced by Statelily lodge.

Mr. Meynell's statement that Daisy Which remind us of the American

was a village girl who lived at a place

called Storington and the rest of it. critic-surely he must have been an American who said that he believed

It is the poem which is our concern for that Shakespeare's father must have

better or worse, and not information

about Daisy. We shall not elaborate been a butcher, and that

this theory of ours in the present place, There is a destiny which shapes our because we believe that Mr. Meynell ends

has been really thinking only for his was a reminiscence of the days when poet and endeavoring to do for him the young William was employed in the

such kindly service as he might. But uncongenial business of sharpening

as Thompson is in effect a comparaskewers. Mr. Meynell must not be of

tively unknown poet, and the beauty fended with us. He has performed a

and greatness of him are as yet only difficult and delicate task with discre- partially appreciated even by lovers of tion and sympathy, and he knows that poetry, we shall take this opportunity it is Thompson's poetry which is

of recommending to our readers the peThompson's greatness, and that Thomp

ruşal and study of the poems contained son's private affairs are no concern of

in the volume prior to the perusal of anybody's. Yet how woefully he goes

Mr. Meynell's note. The work of sewrong in the matter of this passage:

lection has been admirably done, and,

premising that very few of ThompHis heart is builded

son's real poems lend themselves to For pride, for potency, infinity,

adequate representation by extract, we All heights, all deeps, and all immensities,

may say that Mr. Meynell's choice inArrased with purple like the house of

cludes the bulk of Thompson's finer kings,

passages and complete shorter poems. The book is one to possess and to keep at hand, and on the whole Thompson is fortunate in that practically the first

The Academy.

volume of selections from his work should have been prepared by so competent and loving a critic.


Lichfield has at last discharged its his conversation, to correct Macaulay's debt to Boswell by erecting a statue of injustice: but it is Boswell himself who him opposite to that of Johnson. If has finally triumphed over his critic. England owes Garrick and Johnson to There is always, to be sure, a considLichfield, that city owes the fame of erable number of people who gather her two greatest sons to Boswell. I their knowledge of literature from crithave advisedly bracketed the greatest ical essays rather than from the books actor with the greatest moralist and criticized; and with that class Macauman of letters of the eighteenth cen- lay's word will always be law. The tury; for had it not been for Boswell genuine lovers of letters and of real how little would the nineteenth and history do now, I believe, without extwentieth centuries have known of ception owe their immeasurable debt to either! Garrick would have become a the man who sacrificed everything, promere name like Betterton, or Kemble, fession, family, friends, personal conor Kean; while Johnson would proba- fort, to the worship of intellect, and to bly have secured no more than the rep- the faithful record of its sayings and utation of Hume. I do not suppose doings. In the abandonment of Bosthat Garrick was a better actor than well's devotion to a high and spiritual Sir Henry Irving or Mr. Forbes-Robert- object, and in the rigor of his self-disci. son; does anyone imagine that either of pline (tempered, "bien entendu,” by octhese players will be a familiar figure casional orgies) there are genius and a hundred and fifty years hence? It heroism, if in any man those qualities was Garrick's luck to be born in the reside. Consider who James Boswell same town and educated at the same was, and what his prospects were. He school as Johnson; and it was John- was the son of a living Scottish judge, son's luck to pick up Boswell. There who was also the laird of a considerfore Lichfield does well to "raise the able estate, and he was a member of tardy bust” to the buried merit of the the Scotch and English Bars. He was Scotsman, whom her inhabitants wel- married to a young wife, and had a comed in 1776 with "great civility." In son and two daughters. He had some the whole range of literature there is practice as an advocate in Edinburgh, no grosser instance of the failure of and appeared before the House of one man of genius to appreciate an- Lords in more than one celebrated other than Macaulay's caricature of cause, notably the Douglas peerage Boswell. The “bêtise" is the more in- case. As a rising lawyer and the heir explicable as Macaulay was more than of Auchinleck, Boswell would be furhalf Scottish, and could not have been nished with letters of introduction to animated by the racial prejudice which the small but powerful Scottish set in was still current in London seventy London, which included Bute, Argyll, years ago. Carlyle did something by Wedderburn, and Dundas. A young his essay, and Jowett did something by man of good social position and bril


liant professional prospects has many devout Discipleship seemed nothing interests to draw him away from the more than a mean Spanielship, in the worship of another's intellect. Besides, general eye.” those who were nearest and dearest to Is it not always so with the Disci. Boswell did everything in their power ple? To the superficial and scornful to detach him from Johnson. Mrs. of his own day he is a mean Spaniel; Boswell hated Johnson, as an untidy posterity immortalizes him in bronze man, who dropped wax upon her bed- or marble.

A young spark, with lodgroom carpets by holding the candles ings in St. James's, and the entrée at upside down to make them burn, and Almacks, who "dives into Bolt Court, as a loud-talking bear, who took her to sip muddy coffee" (was it not tea ?) husband up to London. The old judge “with a cynical old man, and a sourhad the most perfect contempt for his tempered blind old woman (feeling the son's heroes. “That Boswell was il cups, whether they are full, with her hunter after spiritual Notabilities, that finger); and patiently endures contrahe loved such, and longed, and even dictions without end; too happy so he crept and crawled to be near them; may but be allowed to listen and live," that he first (in old Touchwood Auchin- deserves a statue, if ever man did. leck's phraseology) 'took on with Pa- There are some who allow Boswell's oli,' and then being off with the moral qualities of self-effacement and Corsican lanlouper' took on with a devotion, but who put him down as a schoolmaster, 'ane that keeped fool, a mere corkscrew of Johnson's schule, and ca'd it an academy'; that bottle of brains. No greater mistake he did all this, and could not help do- can be made, as those who will take ing it, we account a very singular the trouble to read Boswell's notes, and merit." So writes Carlyle; and a very will attend to what Boswell says to singular merit indeed it is for a man to Johnson as well as to what Johnson neglect opportunities in his profession says to Boswell, must admit. Boswell's and in society, to face the ridicule and literary judgments were just and jealousy of his wife, and to incur the acute; while in their ethical discussions contempt of his father, all for the sake he was as often in the right as his of improving himself and posterity by mentor; for instance, in the argument conversation with the greatest mind of about the effect of vice upon reputahis day. And then (perhaps in youth tion, when Dr. Johnson cynically and the hardest of all things to bear) there paradoxically maintained that nowas the chaff of friends and acquaint- body thought the worse of a public ances! Boswell is often represented as man for having debauched his neigha worldly sycophant, a lick-spittle, a bor's wife, or for having robbed, like toad-eater, in short a snob. As Carlyle Clive. Both men were Tories in politics; points out, the reverse is the truth: but with regard to the great question Boswell had, from a worldly point of of the day, the war with the American view, everything to lose and nothing to colonies, Boswell was on the side of gain by sticking to Johnson. “Bozzy, Chatham and Burke, while Johnson even among Johnson's friends and spe- was all for “twenty years of resolute cial admirers, seems rather to have government.” Most people would say been laughed at than envied; his offi- now that Boswell was right. Johnson cious, whisking, consequential ways, was quite aware of the social sacrifices the daily reproofs and rebuffs he un- which Boswell made, for no one had a derwent, could gain from the world no shrewder appreciation of the value of golden but only leaden opinions. His rank. On Boswell's admission that if he were asked on the same day to dine you he has a great respect for you, and with the first Duke in England, and will call on you to-morrow, and comwith the first man in Britain for gen- municate all he knows about Pope.' ius, he should hesitate which to prefer, Johnson: 'I shall not be in town toJohnson observed, “To be sure, sir, if morrow. I don't care to know about you were to dine only once, and it Pope.' Mrs. Thrale (surprised as I were never to be known where you was, and a little angry): 'I suppose, sir, dined, you would choose rather to dine Mr. Boswell thought, that as you are with the first man for genius; but to to write Pope's Life, you would wish to gain most respect, you should dine know about him.' Johnson: 'Wish: with the first Duke in England. For why, yes. If it rained knowledge I'd nine people in ten that you meet with hold out my hand; but I would not would have a higher opinion of you give myself the trouble to go in quest for having dined with a Duke; and the of it.'” Can anything be more delightgreat genius himself would receive you fully human? Sir Joshua Reynolds better, because you had been with the gave a dinner-party, at which “there great Duke." Johnson was conscious were several people by no means of of his own unpopularity in London so- the Johnsonian school, so that less atciety, for, as he said, “great lords and tention was paid to him than usual, ladies do not love to have their mouths which put him out of humor,” and he stopped.”. “Mrs. Montagu has dropped attacked Boswell with so much feme," he smilingly exclaimed: “now rocity that the Disciple kept away there are people whom one would like from the Master for a whole week. to drop, but by whom one does not like This is how they made it up at Langto be dropped.” Another sign of this ton's table:-“Boswell: 'But why treat was his constantly telling Boswell that me so before people who love neither he was a good-humored man, a well- you nor me?' Johnson: 'Well, I am bred man of the world, and constantly sorry for it. I'll make it up to you asking why people should mind his twenty different ways, as you please.' frankness. The Master repaid the sac- Boswell: 'I said to-day to Sir Joshua, rifices made by his Disciple in the only when he observed that you tossed me coin he had, his love and his conversa- sometimes—I don't care how often or tion. To say that he teased and buls how high he tosses me when only lied his admirer is to say that he was friends are present, for then I fall on human, and his humanness is John- soft ground; but I do not like falling son's greatest charm. Boswell had on stones, which is the case when enecalled on Lord Marchmont to ask him mies are present-I think this is a if he would supply Johnson with mate. pretty good image, sir.' Johnson: 'Sir, rials for the Life of Pope. The peer it is one of the happiest I have ever was of course delighted, and said that heard.'” Dr. Johnson's knowledge of as he was going into the City next day human nature was unrivalled. The he would on his return call on Johu- tale of Johnson's belaboring his son in the Temple. Elated by the suc- confessor is as good as that of Gil cess of his negotiation (which he had Blas and the Archbishp of Granada. undertaken without Johnson's knowl. Being ill, Johnson asked Langton edge), Boswell hurried down to Streat to tell him sincerely in what ham, where the following colloquy en- he thought his life was faulty. Langsued:—“Boswell: 'I have been at work ton brought a sheet of paper to the for you to-day, sir. I have been with bedside and began reading several texts Lord Marchmont. He bade me tell of Scripture, beginning with “Blessed

« ZurückWeiter »