Algernon Charles Swinburne.

Love's cross-currents; a year's letters, by Algernon Charles Swinburne online

. (page 11 of 13)
Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneLove's cross-currents; a year's letters, by Algernon Charles Swinburne → online text (page 11 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

a smell of blossom and honey in her hair. No
one on earth is so infinitely good as she is.
Her fingers leave a taste of violets on the lips.
She is greater in her mind and spirit than men
with great names. Only she never lets her
greatness of heart out in words. I don't think
now that her eyes are hazel. She has in her
the royal scornful secret of a great silence.
Her hair and eyelashes change colour in the
sun. I shall never come to know all she thinks
of. I believe she is doing good somewhere
with her thoughts. She is a great angel, and
has charge of souls. She has clear thick eye-

Love's Cross-currents

brows that grow well down, coming full upon
the upper lid, with no gap such as there is
above some women's eyes before you come to
the brow. They have an inexplicable beauty
of meaning in them, and the shape of the arch
of them looks tender. She has charge of me
for one. I must have been a beast or a fool
if there had not been such a face as that in the
world. She has the texture and colour of rose-
leaves crushed deep into the palms of her
hands. She can forgive and understand and
be angry at the right time: things that women
never can do. You know Lady Midhurst is
set dead against her, and full of the most in-
fernal prejudice. The best of them are cruel
and dull about each other. I let out at her
(Lady M., that is), one day when we spoke of
it, and she stopped me. "She is always very
good to you," she said; which is true enough.
" You and your sister are her children, and she
always rather hated Frank and me for your
sakes. I like her none the worse, for my part.
I don't know that she is so far wrong about
you. Once I could have wanted her to like
me, but we must put up with people's deficien-
cies. It is very unreasonable, of course, but
she does not like me in the least, I quite know" :
and the way she smiled over this no one could
understand without knowing her. " Only there


A Year's Letters

is one thing to be sorry about : that hard pointed
way of handling things leaves her with the
habit of laughter that shrinks up the heart she
has by inches." Those words stuck to me.
" If she believed or felt more than she does, her
cleverness and kindness would work so much
better. As it is, one can never go to her for
warmth or rest; and one cannot live on the
sharp points of phrases. She has edges in her
eyes, and thorns in her words. That perpetual
sardonic patience which sits remarking on
right and wrong with cold folded hands and
equable observant eyes, half contemptuous in
an artistic way of those who choose either
that cruel tolerance and unmerciful compassion
for good and bad that long tacit inspection,
as of a dilettante cynic bidden report critically
on the creatures in the world, that custom of
choosing her point of view where she can see
the hard side of things glitter and the hard side
of characters refract light in her eyes, till she
comes (if one durst say so) to patronize God
by dint of despising men oh, it gets horrid
after a time! It takes the heart out of all
great work. Her world would stifle the Gari-
baldis. It is all dust and sand, jewels and iron,
dead metal and stone, and dry sunshine: like
some fearful rich no-man's land. I could as
soon read the 'Chartreuse de Parme' as listen


Love's Cross-currents

to her talk long; it is Stendhal diluted and
transmuted; and I never could read cynicism."
You see how her thoughts get hold of one; I
was reminded of her first words, and the whole
thing came back on me. She said just that;
I know the turn of her eyes and head as she
spoke, and how her cheeks and neck quivered
here and there. Then she made all excuses,
the gentlest wise allowances; you see what a
mind and spirit she has. She keeps always
splendid and right. She can understand un-
kindness to herself, you see; never dreaming
that nothing can be so unnatural as that; but
not a dry ignoble tone of heart and narrow
hardness of eye. Not to love greatness and
abhor baseness, each for its own sake that is
the sort of thing she finds unforgivable and in-
comprehensible. She would make all things
that are not evil and have not to be gone right
at and fought with till they give in brave and
just, full of the beauty of goodness and a noble
liberty: all men fit men to honour, and all
women fit women to adore.

That is what she is. Only if I were to write
for ever, and find you in heavy reading for cen-
turies, I should never get to express a thing
about her. Fancy any one talking about that
little Rochelaurier girl. She does, and to me,
or did till I made her see it was no use, and I


A Year's Letters

didn't like it as chaff. Philomene is a good
pretty child, and as to heart and mind believes
in Pius Iscariot and the vermin run to earth
this year at Gaeta. They think my father
might put up with that. He used to admire
the men of December till they did something
to frighten the ruminant British bull at his
fodder, and set that sweet animal lowing and
thrusting out volunteer bayonets, by way of
horns, in brute self-defence. I remember well
how he spoke once of the Beauharnais to me, b
propos of my reading Chatiments one vacation.
It was before you went down, I think, that we
had a motion up about that pickpocket. My
father believes in the society that was saved;
he holds tight to the salvation-by-damnation
theory. "A strong man and born master"
all that style of thing, you know. Liberty
means cheese to one's bread, then honey, then
turtle-fat. Libre a vous, MM. les doctrinaires!
What infinite idiocy and supreme imbecility
to get hanged, burnt, crucified, for one's cause!
You want proof you are a fool ? you are beat-
en; all's said. The smoke of the martyr's pile
is the refutation of the martyr in the nostrils
of a pig. And when people have ideas like
that, and act on them, how can one expect
them to see the simplest things rightly? How
should they know a great spirit or noble in-

Love's Cross-currents

tellect from a base little one? Souls don't
carry badges for such people to know them by ;
and whatever does not walk in uniform or
livery they cannot take into account. As to
me, and I suppose all men who are not spoilt
or fallen stolid are much the same, when I see
a great goodness I know it when I meet my
betters I want to worship them at once, and I
can always tell when any one is born my better.
When I fall in with a nature and powers above
me, I cannot help going down before it. I do
like admiring; service of one's masters must be
good for one, it is so perfectly pleasant. Then,
too, one can never go wrong on this tack. I
feel my betters in my blood ; they send a heat
and sting all through one at first sight. And
the delight of feeling small and giving in when
one does get sight of them is beyond words it
seems to me all the same whether they beat
one in wisdom and great gifts and power, or in
having been splendid soldiers or great exiles,
or just in being beautiful. It is just as reason-
able to worship one sort as the other; they are
all one's betters, and were made for one to
come down on one's knees to, clearly enough.
Victor Hugo or Miss Cherbury the actress,
Tennyson or a fellow who rode in the Bala-
klava charge when you and I were in the fifth
form, we must knock under and be thankful

A Year's Letters

for having them over our heads somewhere in
the world; and small thanks to us. But when
men who are by no means our betters won't
do so much as this, and want to walk into us
for doing it, I don't see at all that one is bound
to stand that. So that if I am ever to be
turned out of my way, it won't be by anything
my father may say or do.

I suspect you repent of writing and reading
by this time ; but please remember how you did
go into me last year about Eleanor; and you
know by this time there was not so much even
for a fellow in love to say about her.
Yours always,


Ashton Hildred. Jan. 14th. 1862


I AM writing to-day instead of our grand-
mother. She is very unwell, and wants you
to hear from us. They will not let her trouble
or exert herself in any way, but she is bent on
your getting a word; so, as I am well enough
to write, I must take her place. I am afraid
she is upset on your account. I think she has
even exchanged letters with your father about
it. They seem to fear something very bad for
you. You know by this time how much we
both love you, and ought to care a little for us.
I know I must not talk now as if I could fall
back on self-esteem or self-reliance. I don't
the least want to appeal in that style, but just
to plead with you as well as I may. I am
stupid enough, too, and can't put things well;
only, except the people here at home, you are
the one person left me that I may let myself
love. I am very grateful to you, and I beg

A Year's Letters

you to let me come in this way to you. You
must see that there is nobody now that I love
as well. I want you to remember as I do how
good you were once. If I am ill it comes of
miserable thought. You talk of her com-
passionate noble nature. Dearest, if she has
any mercy, let her show it and save you. It
is cruel to make people play with poison in this
way. I would not blame her for worlds. I
want to thank her and keep good friends, but
she must not let you run to ruin. Think what
imaginable good end can there be to this? I
suppose she is infinitely clever and brave, as
you say, but how can she face things for you?
Every one would say the horridest things. Do
you want shame for her ? It would break your
life up at the beginning. I have no right to
accuse should have none anyhow >.but one
has always a right to be sorry. I see you could
not be happy even if all were given up on both
sides. Don't let her give all up. I dare say
she might; and that of course is braver than
any treason. If you knew my own great
misery! Sometimes I feel the whole air hot
about me; I should like to cry and moan out
loud, or beat myself. I am not old, and if I
live all my time out I shall never feel as if my
face had a natural look. I wish I were very
old, and gone foolish. I was false in every


Love's Cross-currents

word and thought I had. I cannot kill my-
self, you see, even by writing it down. Think-
ing of it only hurts, without doing harm ; I want
to be done harm to. I never spoke to you at
Portsmouth. If you never did know, you see
now. I thought you all knew. I seemed to
myself to have the eyes of a woman who has
been cheating and lying to some one just dead.
I was penitent enough to have had the mark
on me. It would be better than playing false,
to leave her husband. But then she takes you
your life and all. I do think she must not
be let. I hate repeating what was said vicious-
ly; and God knows I must not talk or think
scandal : but Madame de Rochelaurier, her own
friend and yours, says things about her and M.
de Saverny; it is no unkindness of my grand-
mother's. She does not like Clara now, but
she is clear of all that, quite. And there were
letters, certainly. Madame de Rochelaurier
said so; they were the cleverest she ever saw,
but not good to write. It was two or three
years ago; M. de Saverny let her see them. It
was base and wretched, and he keeps them.
He is a detestable man; but you cannot get
over that. I believe no harm of her; only you
will not let her take you from us. You must
see it would be the end of all our pleasure and
hope. People would laugh too. If you want

A Year's Letters

to stand by C., as you say, how can you begin
by helping people to scandal? I am so sorry
for you, I know you are too fond of her and
good to her, and would never give her up ; and
I am not fit to help. Still, whatever I am, I
do know there must be right and wrong some-
how in the world. You should not make so
much misery. I don't mean as to the people
nearest you both. On your side of course I
cannot tell you how to look at things; and as
to hers I can only be sorry, and am very. But
you know, after all, my mother is something
to you while she lives; you are my very own
brother and dearest one friend. I wish you
might see her. She is so full of the tenderest
beautiful ways. I know what she hears hurts
her. She shows little, but she cried when our
grandmother gave her letters to read. You
might be so good to us, for we can never do
anything or be much to you. If evil comes of
this I shall think we were all born to it. There
will be no one left to think of or speak to with-
out some afterthought or aftertaste of memory
and shame. The names nearest ours will have
stings in them to make us wince. It is not good
for us to try and face the world. It has beaten
all that ever took heart to stand up against it.
Surely there is something just and good in it,
whatever we think or say, let it look ever so

Love's Cross-currents

unfair and press ever so hard. I write this as
well as I can, but it is very hard to write. I
cannot make way any further: my head and
hand and eyes ache, and the sight of the words
written down makes me feel sick; the letters
seem to get in at my eyes and burn behind
them. You must be good and bear with my

With all our loves, I remain

Your affectionate sister,

A. C.



London, Jan. igih.

I WILL wait for you till your own time ; only,
my dearest, I will not have you wait out of pity
or fear. All that is done with : my time is here,
with me ; I have the day by the hand, and hold
it by the hair. We have counted all and found
nothing better than love. I do just hope there
may be something for me to give up or go with-
out: I see nothing yet. You are so far much
better to me than all I ever knew of. I sit and
make your face out between *the words, and
stop writing to look. You ought to have given
me that broken little turquoise thing you used
to have hung to your watch. I wonder all men
who ever saw you do not come to get you away
from me fight me for you at least ; for I shall
never let you out of my hands when I have you
well in them. If one had seen you and let you
slip! I knew I should get you some day or die.
Because I was never the least worth it. Be-
cause you need not have been so good, when


Love's Cross-currents

you were so beautiful that nothing you did
could set you off. But you know I loved you
ages first. When I was a boy, and got sight of
you, I knew stupidly somehow you were the
best thing there was. You were very perfect
as a child; I know the clear look of your tem-
ples under the hair; and the fresh delicious
tender girl's hair drawn off and made a crown
with. I want to know what one was to have
done without that? I don't think you cared
about me a year ago- not the least, my love
that is now. I had to play Palomydes to your
Iseult a good bit ; but are you ever going to be
afraid of the old king in Cornwall after this?
as if we were not any one's match, and any-
thing we please.

Je serai grand, et toi riche,
Puisqt^e nous nous aimerons.

You shall scent me out the music to that
some day ; the song made of the sound of flow-
ers and colour of music : you ought to know the
notes that go to the other version of it. We
shall have such a love in our life that all the
ends of it will be sweet. You will not care too
much about the people that could be of no use
to you. Could a brother save you when you
wanted saving? Besides, I have hold of you.
The whole world has no claim or right in it any

A Year's Letters

longer to set against mine. Let those come
that want you, and see if I let go of you for
any man. There will not be an inch of time,
not a corner of our life, without some delicious
thing in it. Let them tell us what we are to
have instead if we give each other up. I shall
get to be worth something to you in time.
You say now you never found anything yet
that had the likeness of your mate. I have
much more of you than all the earth could de-
serve ; I should like to see myself jealous of old
fancies in a dead dream. That poor child at
A. H. writes me piteous little letters, in the
silliest helpless way, about the wrong of this
and the right of that ; she has been set upon and
stung by some poisonous tale-bearing or other ;
she wants one to forbear loving for others'
sake, and absolutely cites her own poor terri-
fied little repentance after her husband's death,
on remembering some unborn-baby-ghost of a
flirtation which she never told some innocu-
ous preference which sticks to the childish lit-
tle recollection like a sort of remorse. It is
pitiable enough, but too laughable as well ; for
on the strength of it she falls at once to quot-
ing vicious phrases and transcribing mere bat-
like infamies and stupidities of the owl-eyed
prurient sort, the base bitter talk of women
without even such a soul as serves for salt to
is 213

Love's Cross-currents

the carrion of their mind. We know where
such promptings start from. What is it to me,
if I am to be the man fit to match with you by
the right of my delight in you, that you have
tried to find help or love before we came to-
gether, and failed of it? Let them show me
letters to disprove that I love you, and I will
read them. Till they do that I mean to hold
to you, and make you hold to me. I thought
there had been more in her than one sees; but
she has a pliable, soft sort of mind, not unlike
her over-tender, cased-up, exotic sort of beauty.
I don't want women to carry the sign-mark of
them all over, even to the hair. Hers always
looks sensitive hair, and has changes of colour
in it. A woman should keep to the deep sweet
dark, with such a noble silence of colour in the
depth of it rich reserved hair, with a shadow
and a sense of its own that wants no gilt set-
ting of sunbeams to throw out the secret beauty
in it. I should like to see yours painted ; that
would beat the best of them. Promise I shall
have sight of it again soon. I want you as a
beggar wants bread to eat; I have the sort of
desire after your face that wounded men must
have after water. I wish there were some mark
of you carved on me that I might look at. Now
this is come to me, I wonder all day long at all
the world. Nobody else has this ; but they live

A Year's Letters

in a sort of way. I do think, at times, that last
year my poor little plaything of a sister and
your brother were almost ready to believe they
knew what it was as you hear children say.
They had the look and behaviour of a girl and
boy playing themselves into belief in their play.
And all the while we have drawn the lot and
can turn the prize over, toss and catch it in our
hands. All little loves are such poor food to
keep alive on: our great desire and delight-
infinite faith and truth and pleasure will last
our lives out without running short. You
know who says there are only three things any
lover has to say: Je t'aime; aime-moi; merci.
I say the last over for ever when I fall to writ-
ing. I thank you always with all my heart
and might, my darling, for being so perfect to
me. We will go to France. There will be
money. Write me word when you will. And
I love you. We will have a good fight with
the world if it comes in our way. Let us have
the courage of our love, knowing it for the best
thing there is. There is so little, after all has
been thought of, either to brave or* to resign.
I shall make you wear your hair the way we
like. Your sort of walk and motion and way
of sitting has just made me think of the doves
at Venice settling in the square, as we shall see
them before summer. There is a head like you

Love's Cross-currents

in San Zanipolo; a portrait head in the right
corner of a picture of the Virgin crowned: we
shall see that. Only it has thick curled gold
hair, like my sister's. You had that hair when
you sat to Carpaccio; you have had time to
grow perfecter in since. I can smell the sweet-
ness of the sea when I think of our journey. I
like signing my name, now it has to do with
you. My name is a chattel of yours, and yours
a treasure of mine. Let it be before spring;
and love me as well as you can.




Ashton Hildred, Jan. joth.


I HAVE not yet made up my mind whether
or no you will be taken at unawares by the
news I have to send you. You must make up
yours to accept it with fortitude. Amy has
just enriched the nation, and impoverished your
brother, by the production of a child male.
In spite of her long depression and illness, it
is a very sufficient infant, admirable in all their
eyes here. Frank, I am sure, expected to hear
of this in time. While there was any doubt
as to the child's (I mean Amy's, and should say
the mother's) state of health, we could not re-
solve on publishing the prospect of her confine-
ment. I may all but say it was a game of
counter-chances. That it has come to no bad
end you will, I am sure, be as glad as we are.
Eight months of mourning were enough to
make one thoroughly anxious. -The boy does
us as much credit as anything so fat and fool-

Love's Cross-currents

ish, so red and ridiculous, as a new baby in
good health can do. I suppose we shall be
inundated with troubles because o this totally
idiotic fragment of flesh and fluff, which my
daughter has the front and face to assert re-
sembles its father's family such is the instant
fruit of sudden promotion to grandmother-
hood. And I am a great-grandmother; and
not sixty-two till the month after next. Ar-
mande will never allow me my rank as junior
again; yet I recollect her grown-up patronage
of your father and me when we were barely past
school age, and she barely out la dame aux
belles cousines I called her, and him le petit
Jean de what is it? Saintre*? I suppose my
son-in-law will be guardian. I do hope nobody
will feel upset at this our dear Frank is too
good a knight to grudge the baby its birth.
Poor little soft animal, one could wish for all
our sakes some of its belongings off the small
shoulder of it; but as it has chosen to come,
they must stick to it. Amy is in a noticeable
flutter of impatience to get the christening of
it well over; she has high views of the matter,
picked up of late in some religious quarter.
Edmund Reginald we mean to have it made
into, and I must have Redgie Harewood to
come and vow things for it he will make an
admirable surety for another boy's behaviour;

A Year's Letters

and the name will do very well to be washed
under unless, indeed, Frank would be chiv-
alrous enough to halve the charge; then we
might bracket his name with the poor father's.
Don't ask him if you think he would rather
keep off; we don't want felicitation, only for-
giveness ; that we must have. If I had not been
tricked and caught in the springe of a sudden
promise to take the weighty spiritual office on
myself, I should implore you to be godmother.
As it is, I suppose the sins and the sermons
must all come under my care. Break the news
as softly as you can; there must always be
something abrupt, questionable, vexatious, in
a business of the sort. It is hard to have to
oust one's friends and shift one's point of view
at a week's notice. However, here the child
is, and we must set about the management of
it. I shall make Frederick undertake the main
work at once as guardian and grandfather. He
writes to Lidcombe by this post. Amy is al-
ready better than she has been for months, and
very little pulled down, in spite of a complete
surprise. She makes a delicious double to her
baby, lying in a tumbled tortuous nest or net
of hair with golden linings, with tired relieved
eyes and a face that flashes and subsides every
five minutes with a weary pleasure she glit-
ters and undulates at every sight of the child

Love's Cross-currents

as if it were the sun and she water in the light
of it. You see how lyrical one may become
at an age when one's grandchildren have babies.
I should have thought her the kind of woman
to cry a fair amount of tears at such a time,
but happily she refrains from that ceremonial
diversion. She is the image of that quivering
rest which follows on long impassive trouble,
and the labour of days without deeds quiet,
full of life, eager and at ease. I imagine she
has no memory or feeling left her from the days
that were before yesterday. She and the baby
were born at one birth, and know each as much
as the other of the people and things that went
on before that.

Get your husband to take a human view of

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 11 13

Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneLove's cross-currents; a year's letters, by Algernon Charles Swinburne → online text (page 11 of 13)