Algernon Charles Swinburne.

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

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the matter I suppose his ideas of a baby
which is neither zoophyte nor fossil are rather
of the vaporous and twilight order of thought
and bring him down for the christianizing
part of the show, if he will condescend so far.
He could take a note or two on the process of
animal development by stages, and the de-
cidedly misty origin of that comic species to
which our fat present sample of fleshly goods
may belong.

About Reginald : I may as well now say, once
for all, that I think I can promise to relieve you
for good of any annoyance in that quarter. We

A Year's Letters

must both of us by this time be really glad of any
excuse to knock his folly about you on the head.
Here is my plan of action, to be played out if
necessary; if you have a better, please let me
know of it in time, before I shuffle and deal;
you see I show you my hand in the most per-
fectly frank way. That dear good Armande,
who really has an exquisite comprehension of
us all and our small difficulties, has got (Heaven
I hope knows how, but I need hardly say I
don't) a set of old letters out of the hands of the
stmillant and seductive M. de Saverny fils, and
put them into mine, where you cannot doubt
they are in much better keeping. Octave is
not exactly the typical braggart, but there is
a dash in him of that fearful man in Madame
Bovary the first lover, I mean; varnished of
course, and well kept down, but the little grain
of that base nature does leaven and flavour the
whole man. He will never have, never so
much as understand, the splendid courtesy and
noble reticence of a past age. His father had
twice his pretensions and less than half his
pretension; and so it will be with all the race.
Knowing as you do now that the papers exist,
you must feel reasonably glad to be well out
of his hands. Not, of course, my dear niece,
that I could for one second conceive you have
what people would call any reason to be glad


Love's Cross-currents

of such a thing, or that I would, in the remotest
way, insinuate that there was even so much as
seeming indiscretion on one side. But when you
permitted Octave to open up on that tack, you
were not old or stupid enough to see, what duller
eyes could hardly have missed of, the use your
innocence might be put to a thing, to me,
touching and terrible to think of. Cleverness,
like goodness, makes the young less quick to
apprehend wrong or anticipate misconstruction
than stupid old people are. In this case my
heavy-headed experience might have been a
match for your rapid bright sense. I have
hardly looked at your correspondence ; had not
other eyes been there before mine, nothing, of
course, could induce me to look now ; but I know
Madame de Rochelaurier well enough to be sure
she has not skipped a word. I must look over
my hand, you see, as it is. It was hard enough
to get them from her at all, as you may imagine ;
I hardly know myself how I did get it done ; mais
on a ses moyens. What I have seen, in the
meantime, is quite enough to show me that one
of these letters would fall like a flake of thawed
ice on the most feverish of a boy's rhapsodies.
With the least of these small ink-and-paper pills,
I will undertake to clear your suitor's head at
once, and bring him to a sane and sound view of
actual things. I know what boys want. They


A Year's Letters

will bear with any imaginable antecedent except
one which makes their own grand passion look
like a pale late proof taken off at a second or
third impression. All the proofs before letters
you left in Octave's hands long ago your senti-
ment (excuse, but this is the way he will take it)
has come down now to the common print. Show
him what the old friend really was to you, and
he will congeal at once. I don't imagine you
ever meant actually to let him thaw and distil
into a tender dew of fine feeling at your feet;
you would no doubt always have checked him
in time if he would always have let you. But
then, upon the whole, it is as well to have a
weapon at hand. I believe he has grown all but
frantic of late, and has wild notions of the
future amusing to you no doubt while they
last, but not good to allow of. Now, I should
not like to lay the Saverny letters before him,
and refrigerate his ideas by that process; one
had rather dispense with it while one can ; but
sooner than let his derangement grow to con-
firmed mania and become the practical ruin of
him, I must use my medicines. I know, after
he had taken them, he would be sensible again,
and give up his dream of laws broken and lives
united. Still, I had rather suppress and swamp
altogether the Saverny - Rochelaurier episode,
and all that hangs on to it rather escape being

Love's Cross-currents

mixed up in the matter at all, if I can. There
is a better way, supposing you like to take it.
Something you will see must be done ; suppose
you do this. Write a quiet word to Reginald,
in a way to put an end to all this folly for good.
Say he must leave off writing ; we know (thanks
to your own excellent feeling and sense) that
he does write. Lay it on your husband, if you
like but make it credible. Leave no room for
appeal. Put it in this way, suppose, as you
could do far better than I can for you. That
an intimacy cannot last which cannot exist
without exciting unpleasant, unfriendly remark.
That you have no right, no reason, and no wish
to be offered up in the Iphigenia manner for the
sake of arousing the adverse winds of rumour
and scandal to the amusement of a matronly
public. That you are sorry to d6sillusionner
even "a fool of his folly," and regret any vexa-
tion you may give, but do not admit (I would
just intimate this much, as I am sure you can
so well afford to do) that he ever had reason
for his unreason. That, in a word, for your sake
and his and other people's, you must pass for
the present from intimates into strangers, and
may hope, if both please, to lapse again in
course of time from strangers into friends. I
think this will do for the ground-plan add any
intimation or decoration you like, I for one will

A Year's Letters

never find or indicate a fault. Only be un-
answerable, leave no chance of room for resist-
ance or reply, shut him up, as you say, at once
on any plea, and I will accept your point of
action and act after it he need never, and never
shall, be made wiser on the subject than you
please. The old letters shall never have an-
other chance of air or light. If you don't like
writing to silence him, I can but use them faute
de mieux for, of course, the boy must be
brought up short; but I think my way is the
better and more graceful. Do not you ?

It is a pity that in putting a stop to folly we
must make an end of pleasant intercourse and
the friendly daily habits of intimate acquaint-
ance. I can quite imagine and appreciate the
sort of regret with which one resigns oneself to
any such rupture. For my part it is simply
the canon of our Church about men's grand-
mothers which keeps me safe on Platonic terms
with our friend. Some day I shall console and
revenge myself by writing a novel fit to beat
M. Feydeau out of the field on that tender topic.
Figure to yourself the exquisite effects that
might so well be made. The grandmother
might at last see my hero's ardour cooling after
a bright brief interval of birdlike pleasure and
butterfly love volupte supreme et touchante
ou les rides se fondent sous les baisers et les lois

Love's Cross-currents

s'effacent sous les larmes all that style; and
when compelled to unclasp her too tender arms
from the neck of her jeune premier, the vener-
able lady might sadly and resignedly pass him
on, shall we suppose to his aunt ? A pathetic
intrigue might be worked out, by which she
would (without loving him) seduce her son-in-
law so as to leave the coast clear for the grand-
son who had forsaken her, and with a heart
wrung to the core by self -devoted love prepare
her daughter's mind to accept a nephew's hom-
age: finally see the young people made happy
in each other and an assenting uncle, and take
arsenic, or, at sight of her work completed,
die of a cerebral congestion (one could make
more surgery out of that), invoking on the heads
of child and grandchild a supreme benediction,
baptized in the sacred tears which drop on
the grave of her own love. Upon my word
I think it an idea which might bear splendid
fruit in the hands of a great realistic novelist.
I see my natural profession now, but I fear too

In good earnest I am sorry this must be the
end. A year ago I was too glad to enlist your
kindness on Reginald's behalf; and I can see
how that kindness led you in time to put up with
his folly. I am sure I can but feel the more
tenderly and thankfully towards you if indeed

A Year's Letters

you have ever come to regret for a moment that
things were as they are. I have no right to
reproach, and no heart: no one has the right;
no one should have the heart. You know
my lifelong abhorrence of the rampant Briton,
female or male ; and my perfect disbelief in the
peculiar virtue of the English hearth and home.
There is no safeguard against the natural sense
of liking. But the time to count up and pay
down comes for us all ; we have no pleasures of
our own ; we hold no comforts but on sufferance.
Things are constant only to division and decline.
The quiet end of a friendship I have at times
thought sadder than the stormiest end of a love-
match. Chi saf But I do know which I had
rather keep by me while I can. It is a pity you
two poor children are not to be given more play,
or to see much more of each other. He will miss
his friend, her sense and grace and wit, the
exquisite companionship of her, when he has
done with the fooleries of sentiment. You, I
must rather hope for his sake, may miss the sight
of him for a time, the ardent ways and eager
faiths and fancies, all the freshness and colour
and fervour of his time and temperament ; per-
haps even a little the face and eyes and hair;
ce sont la des choses qui ne gatent jamais rien ;
we never know when we begin or cease to care for
such things. I too have had everything hand-

Love's Cross-currents

some about me, and I have had losses. You see,
my dear, the flowers (and weeds) will grow over
all this in good time. One thing and one time
we may be quite sure of seeing the day when
we shall have well forgotten everything. It is
not uncomfortable, as one gets old, to recollect
that we shall not always remember. The years
will do without us; and we are not fit to keep
the counsel of the Fates. In good time we shall
be out of the way of things, and have nothing in
all the world to desire or deplore. When recollec-
tion makes us sorry, we can remember that we
shall forget. I never did much harm, or good
perhaps, in my life ; so at least I think and hope ;
but I should be sorry to suppose I had to live
for ever in sight of the memory of it. Few could
rationally like to face that likelihood if they
once realized it. There is no fear ; for a time is
sure to come which will have to take no care of
the best of us, as our time has to take none of
plenty who were better. I showed you, now
some eighteen months since, when it first ap-
peared, I think, that most charming song of
" Love and Age," the one bit of verse that I have
liked well enough for years to dream even of cry-
ing over; the sweetest, noblest piece of simple
sense and manly music, to my poor thinking,
that this age of turbulent metrical machinery
has ever turned out; and it, by-the-by, hardly

A Year's Letters

belongs to you. Your people have not the
secret of such clear pure language, such plain
pellucid words and justice of feeling. Since my
first reading of it, the cadences that open and
close it come back perpetually into my ears like
the wash of water on shingle up and down, when
I think of times gone or coming. I never cov-
eted a verse till I read that in " Gryll Grange " ;
there is in it such an exquisite absence of the
wrong thing and presence of the right thing
throughout just enough words for the thought
and just enough thought for the matter ; a wise,
sweet, strong piece of work. We shall leave
the years to come nothing much better than
that. What is said there about love and time
and all the rest of it is the essence, incomparably
well distilled, of all that we can reasonably want
or mean to say. We must let things pass ; when
their time is come for going, or when if they stay
they can but turn to poison, we must help them
to be gone. And then we had best forget.

It is a dull, empty end ; a blank upshot ; but
you know what good authority we have for
saying there are no such things as catastrophes.
I admit it is rather a case of girl's head and
fish's tail ; but you must see how deep and acute
that eye of Balzac's was for such things. His
broad maxims are the firmest-footed and least
likely to slip of any great thinker's I know;
16 229

Love's Cross-currents

they have such tough root and tight hold on
facts. As to our year's work and wages, we
may all say truly enough, Le de"noument c'est
qu'il n'y a pas de de'noument. I prophesied
that last year, when there first seemed to be a
likelihood of some domestic romance getting
under way. The point of such things, as I told
Amy, is just that they come to nothing. There
were very pretty scandalous materials; the
making of an excellent roman de mceurs in-
time et tant soit peu scabreux. Amy and your
brother, you doubtless remember, gave symp-
toms of being touched, as flirting warmed to
feeling; they had begun playing the game of
cousins with an over-liberal allowance of senti-
ment. Redgie again was mad to upset con-
ventions and vindicate his right of worship-
ping you; had no idea, for his part, of keeping
on the sunny side of elopement. Joli manage!
one might have said at first sight knowing
this much, and not knowing what English-
women are here well known to be. And here
we are at the last chapter with no harm done
as yet. You end as model wife, she as model
mother; you wind up your part with a suitor
to dismiss, she hers with a baby to bring up.
All is just as it was, as far as we all go ; the one
difference, lamentable enough as it is, between
this and last year is the simple doing of chance,

A Year's Letters

and quite outside of any doing of ours. But
for poor Edmund's accidental death, which I
am fatalist enough to presume must have hap-
pened anyhow, we should all be just where we
were. Not an event in the whole course of
things; not, I think, so much as an incident;
very meagre stuff for a French workman to be
satisfied with. We must be content never to
make a story, and may instead reflect with
pride what a far better thing it is to live in the
light of English feeling and under the rule of
English habit.

You will give Frank my best love and ex-
cuses in the name of us all. He must write to
me before too long. For yourself accept this
as I mean it ; act as you like or think wise, and
believe me at all times

Your most affectionate aunt,




Lidcombe, Feb. i$th.


I SHALL be clear of this place to-morrow; I
am going for a fortnight or so to Blocksham.
I quite agree it will be best for me not to have
the pleasure of seeing Amicia. You will, I
hope, tell her how thoroughly and truly glad
I am; and that if I could have known earlier
how things were to turn out it would have
simply saved me some unpleasant time. As
to meeting, when it can be pleasant to her, I
shall be very grateful for leave to come and
till then it is quite good enough to hear of her
doing well again. Only one thing could add
to my perfectly sincere pleasure at this change
to know I had been able to bring it about
by my own will and deed ; as I would have done
long since. I hope she will get all right again,
and the sooner for being back here. I shall
not pretend to suppose you don't know now
that I care more about her and what happens

A Year's Letters

to her than about most things in the world.
If all goes well with her nothing will go far
wrong with me while I live. I dare say I shall
do well enough for the professions yet, when I
fall to and try a turn with them ; and I cannot
say, honestly, how thankful I am to be well rid
of a name and place that I never could have
been glad of.

We have more to thank you for than your
kindness as to this. I have seen my sister
since you wrote, and she has shown me some
part of your letter. I do not think we shall
have any more trouble at home. My brother-
in-law knows nothing of it. She has written I
believe to Reginald; I must say she was angry
enough, but insists on no notice. If she were
ever to find home all but too comfortless to
put up with, I could not well wonder; she has
little there to look to or lean upon. We are
out of the fighting times, but if M. de Saverny
or any other man living were to try and make
base use of her kindness and innocence, I sup-
pose no one could well blame or laugh at me
if I exacted atonement from him. As it is, I
declare if he comes in her way, and I find he
has not kept entire silence as to the letters
written when she was too young and too good
to dream what baseness and stupidity there is
among people, I will prevent him from going

Love's Cross-currents

about and holding up his head again as a man
of honour. Any one from this time forth who
gives her any trouble by writing or by word of
mouth shall at once answer to me for it. I
have no right to say that I believe or do not
believe she has never felt a regret or a wish.
She is answerable to no man for that. I do
say she has given nobody reason to think of
her, or a right to speak of her, except with all
honour and if necessary I wish people to
know I intend to stand by what I say.

She is quite content, and I believe deter-
mined, to see no more of R. H. for some time;
quite ready too to allow that accident and a
time of trouble let him perhaps too much into
the secret of an uncongenial household life, and
that she was over ready to look for companion-
ship where it was hardly wise to look for it.
Few men (as she says) at his age could have had
the sense or chivalrous feeling to understand
all and presume upon nothing. She said it
simply, but in a way to make any one ashamed
of mistaking for an instant such a quiet noble
nature as she has. I have only now to thank
you for helping us both to get quit of the mat-
ter without trouble or dispute. I should be
ashamed to thank you for doing my sister the
simple justice not to misconstrue her share in
it. If there ever was any evil-speaking, I hope

A Year's Letters

and suppose it is now broken up for good. For
the rest, I have agreed to leave it at present in
your hands and hers but if ever she wants
help or defence, I shall, of course, be on the
outlook to give it. I have only to add mes-
sages from us both, and remain, my dear aunt,
Your affectionate nephew,




Lidcombe, Feb. 2$th.


FIRST salute the fellow-baby in my name,
and then you shall have news. I assume that
is done, and will begin. Two days here with
your father have put me up to the work there
is to do. I shall not take you into council as
to estate affairs, madame la baronne. When
the heir is come to ripe boyhood you may take
things in hand for yourself. Meantime we
shall keep you both in tutelage, and grow fat
on privy peculation ; so that if you find no holes
in the big Lidcombe cheese when you cut it,
it will not be the fault of our teeth. So much
for you and your bald imp ; but you want news,
I suppose, of friends. I called at Blocksham,
and saw the Rad worths in the flesh that is,
in the bones and cosmetics ; for the male is gone
to bone, and the female to paint. The poor
man calls aloud for an embalmer: the poor
woman cries pitifully for an enameller. They

A Year's Letters

get on well enough again by this time, I believe.
To use her own style, she is dead beat, and quite
safe; viciously resigned. I think we may look
for peace. She would have me racked if she
could, no doubt, but received me smiling from
the tips of her teeth outwards, and with a soft
dry pressure of the fingers. Not a hint of any-
thing kept back. Evidently, too, she holds
her brother well in leash. Frank pleased me:
he was courteous, quiet, without any sort of
affectation, dissembled or displayed. I gave
him sufficient accounts, and he was grateful;
could not have taken the position and played
a rather hard part more gracefully than he did.
We said little, and came away with all good
speed. The house is a grievous sort of place
now, and likely to stay so. I have no doubt
she will set all her wits to work and punish him
for her failure. She will hardly get up a seri-
ous affair again, or it might be a charity to
throw her some small animal by way of lighter
food. It would not surprise me if she fell to
philanthropic labour, or took some devotional
drug by way of stimulant. The bureau d'a-
mourettes is a bankrupt concern, you see: her
sensation-shop is closed for good. I prophesy
she will turn a decent worrying wife of the
simpler Anglican breed; home-keeping, sharp-
edged, earnestly petty and drily energetic.

Love's Cross-currents

Negro-worship now, or foreign missions, will
be about her mark; perhaps too a dash and
sprinkle of religious feeling, with the chill just
off; with a mild pinch of the old Platonic mixt-
ure now and then to flavour and leaven her
dead lump of life: I can imagine her stages
well enough for the next dozen or score of years.
Pity she had not more stock in hand to start

I have been at Plessey too ; one could not be
content with seeing half a result. Captain H.
was more gracious to me than you would be-
lieve. I suspect the man has wit enough to
see that but for my poor offices his boy would
be now off Heaven knows whither, and stuck
up to the ears in such a mess as nothing could
ever have scraped him thoroughly clean of.
He and Redgie are at last on the terms of an
armed peace very explosive terms, you know ;
but decent while they last, and preferable to a
tooth-and-nail system. I will say I behaved
admirably to him ; asked what plans he had for
our boy what he thought the right way to
take with him assented and consented, and
suggested and submitted; altogether, made
myself a model. It is a fact that at this day
he thinks Redgie might yet be, in time, bent
and twisted and melted down into the Church
mould of man cut close to the fit of a sur-

A Year.'s Letters

plice. Now I truly respect and enjoy a fin-
ished sample of clergy; no trade makes better
company; I have known them a sort of cross
between artist and diplomate which is charm-
ing. Then they have always about them a
suppressed sense of something behind some
hint of professional reserve which does not
really change them, but does colour them ; some-
thing which fails of being a check on their style,
but is exquisitely serviceable as a sauce to it.
A cleric who is also a man of this world, and
has nothing of the cross-bone type, is as per-
fect company as you can get or want. But
conceive Redgie at any imaginably remote date
coming up recast in that state out of the cru-
cible of time! I kept a bland face though, and
hardly sighed a soft semi-dissent. At least, I
said we might turn him to something good yet ;
that I did hope and think. The fatherly nerve
was touched; he warmed to me expressively.
I am sure now the poor man thought he had
been too hard on me all these years in his pri-
vate mind, put bitter constructions on very in-
nocent conduct of mine had something, after
all, to atone for on his side. He grew quite
softly confidential and responsive before our
talk was out. Ah, my dear, if you could see
what odd, tumbled, shapeless recollections it
brought up, to find myself friendly with him and

Love's Cross-currents

exchanging wishes and hopes of mine against
his, in all sympathy and reliance! I have not
earned a stranger sensation for years. Ages
ago, before any of your set were born, before
he married your mother: when he was quite
young, poor, excitable, stupid, and pleasant-
infinite ages ago, when the country and I were
in our thirties and he in his twenties, we used
to talk in that way. I felt ready to turn and
look round for things I had missed since I was
six years old. I should hardly have been taken
aback if my brothers had come in and we had

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Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneLove's cross-currents; a year's letters, by Algernon Charles Swinburne → online text (page 12 of 13)