Algernon Charles Swinburne.

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

. (page 4 of 13)
Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneLove's cross-currents; a year's letters, by Algernon Charles Swinburne → online text (page 4 of 13)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

patronizing you again; she will if you manage
her properly ; be quite the child with her, and, if


Love's Cross-currents

you can, be the fool with her husband ; but you
must play this stroke very delicately, just the
least push in the world, so as to try for a cannon
off the cushion ; touch these two very lightly so
as to get them into a nice place for you, when
you must choose your next stroke. I should
say, get the two balls into the middle pocket
if I thought there was a chance of your under-
standing. But I can hear you saying, " Middle
pocket ? such an absurd way of trying at wit !
and what does it mean after all?" My dear,
there is a moral middle pocket in every nice
well-regulated family ; always remember and act
on this. If Lord Cheyne or Mrs. Radworth, or
either of them, can but be got into it quietly,
there is your game. The lower pocket would
spoil all, however neatly you played for it ; but
this I know you will never understand. And
yet I assure you all the beauty of the game de-
pends on it.

If you don't like this style I should be very
sorry if you did, and it would give me the worst
opinion of your head I can only give you little
practical hints, on the chance of their being use-
ful. You know I never had any great liking for
my nephew Francis. His father was certainly
the stupider of my two brothers; and, my dear,
you have no idea what that implies. If you had
known your husband's father, your own great-


A Year's Letters

uncle, you would not believe me when I say his
brother was stupider. But John was ; I suppose
there never was a greater idiot than John.
Rather a clever idiot, too, and used to work and
live desperately hard on occasion; but, good
Heavens! And I can't help thinking the chil-
dren take after him in some things. Clara to be
sure is the image of her mother a portentous
image it is, and I do sometimes think one ought
to try and be sorry for Ernest Rad worth, but I
positively cannot ; and Frank is not without his
points of likeness to her. Still the father will
crop out, as people say nowadays in their ugly
slang. Keep an eye on the father, my dear, and
compare him with your husband when he does
turn up. I don't want you to be rude to any-
body, or to put yourself out of the way in the
least. Only not to trust either of those two
cousins too far. As for Cheyne's liking for
Clara Radworth, I wouldn't vex myself about
that. She cares more just now for the younger
bird I declare the woman makes me talk her
style, at sixty and a little over. There is cer-
tainly something very good about her, what-
ever we two may think. If you will hold her
off Redgie while he is in the house (do, for my
sake, I entreat of you) I will warrant your hus-
band against her. She will not try anything in
that quarter unless she has something else in


Love's Cross-currents

hand. Cheyne is an admirable double; any
pleasant sort of woman can attract him to her,
but no human power will attract him from you.
There is your comfort or your curse, as you
choose to make it. C. R. would never think of
him except as a background in one of her pict-
ures. He would throw out Redgie, for example,
beautifully, and give immense life and meaning
to the composition of her effects. But as I know
you have no other visitor at Lidcombe who is
human in any mentionable degree, I imagine
she will rest on her oars if you do but keep her
off my poor Redgie. You see I want you to
have a sight of them together, that you may
study and understand her on that ground only
I authorize you to invite her and Ernest while
Redgie is still with you (besides you will be
better able to help him if you see it beginning
again under your face) ; not in the least because
the Radworths* being there is a pretext for in-
viting Frank Cheyne, and Clara a good fire-
screen for you ; a Dieu ne plaise, I am not quite
such a liberal old woman as that.

But I want you to be light in your handling of
C. R. ; give her play: it will be a charming educa-
tion for you. If you do this even supposing
I am wrong about your husband's devotion to
you you are sure of him. Item: if you can
once come over her (but for Heaven's sake don't


A Year's Letters

irritate or really frighten her) she will be a
capital friend for you. Find out, too, how her
brother feels towards her, and write me word,
that I may form my own ideas as to him. If he
appreciates without overrating her there must
be some sense in him. She is one of those wom-
en who are usually overrated by the men, and
underrated by the women, capable of appreciat-
ing them. Mind you never take to despising
any character of that sort. I mean if there is a
character in the case.

I have written you a shamefully long letter,
and hardly a word to the point in it I dare say
you think ; besides, I am not at all sure I should
have written part of it to a good young married
woman ; there is one comfort, you won't see what
I mean in the least. One thing you must take
on trust, that I do seriously with all my heart
hope and mean to serve you, my dear child, and
help you to live well and wisely and happily
as I must say you ought. Do take care of
Redgie ; I regard that boy as at least three years
younger than you instead of three years older.
Love to both of you, from your mother and
Your very affectionate




London, Jan. 25 tk.


I AM off to Lidcombe in a fortnight's time, and
shall certainly not return to Oxford (if I do at
all) till the summer term. I really wonder you
should think it worth while to dwell for a second
on what Lady Midhurst may choose to say : for I
cannot suppose you have any other grounds to
go on than this letter of hers ; and certainly I do
not intend to alter my plans in the least on ac-
count of her absurdities. You must remember
what our father used to say about her " impo-
tent incontinence of tongue." I should be
ashamed to let a vicious, virulent old aunt in-
fluence me in any way. I am fond of our
cousins, and enjoy being with them ; it is a nice
house to stay at, and, as long as we all enjoy
being there together, I cannot see why we
should listen to any spiteful and senseless .com-
mentaries. To meet you there will of course
make it all the pleasanter ; I need not fear that
you will take the overseer line with me, what-


A Year's Letters

ever our aunt's wisdom may suggest. As to
Amicia, I think she is very delightful to be with,
and fond of us all in a friendly amiable way;
and I know she is very beautiful and agreeable
to look at or talk to, which never spoils any-
thing; but as to falling in love, you must have
the sense to know that nobody over eighteen, or
out of a bad French novel, would run his head
into such a mess : to say nothing of the absurdity
or the villainy of such a thing. It all conies of
the ridiculous and infamous sort of reading
which I have no doubt the dear aunt privately
indulges in. I do hope you will never quote her
authority to me again, even in chaff. I never
can believe that she really had the bringing up
of Amicia in her own hands; it is wonderful
how little of the Midhurst mark has been left on
her. I suppose her father was a nicer sort of
fellow to begin with ; for as to our cousin Mrs.
Stanford, one can hardly suppose that she be-
queathed Amy an antidote to her own blood.
I am sure her son has enough of the original
stamp on him: I do not wonder at Lady M.'s
liking for him, considering. You decidedly
need not be in the least afraid of any excessive
intimacy between us. Redgie Hare wood has
been some weeks in town it seems, and I have
met him two or three times. I agree with you
that he is just what he used to be, only on a.


Love's Cross-currents

growing scale. At school I remember he used
simply to fldner nine days out of ten, and on the
tenth either get into some serious row, or turn
up with a decent set of verses for once in a way.
I dare say he will be rather an available sort of
inmate at Lidcombe; you will have to put up
with him at all events if you go, for I believe he
is there already. Really, if you can get on with
him at first, I think you will find there are worse
fellows going. It appears, for one thing, that
his admiration of you is immense. He does me
the honour to seek me out, rather with a view I
suppose of getting me to talk about you. That
meeting here in London, after his final flight from
Oxford mists in the autumn term, seems to have
done for him just now. So, if you ever begin
upon the subject of Amicia to me, I shall retort
upon you with that desirable brother of hers.
I should like to see old Harewood's face if his
son were ever to treat him to such a rhapsody as
was inflicted upon me the last time Reginald
was in my rooms here.

I start next week, so probably I shall be at
Lord Cheyne's before you. Come as soon as
you can after me, and take care of Ernest. Do
as you like for the rest, but pray write no more
Midhurst letters at second-hand to

Your affectionate brother,




Lidcombe, Feb. ist.

You know, I hope, that we expect your sister
and Mr. Radworth in the course of the week ? I
have had the kindest letter from her, and it will
be a real pleasure to see something more of them
at last. I have always liked your brother-in-
law very much ; I never could understand your
objection to scientific men. They seem to me
the most quiet, innocuous, good sort of people
one could wish to see. I quite understand
Clara's preferring one to a political or poetical
kind of man. You and Reginald are oppressive
with your violent theories and enthusiasms, but
a nice peaceable spirit of research never puts
out anybody. I remember thinking Mr. Rad-
worth 's excitement and delight about his last
subject of study quite touching; I am sure I
should enter into his pursuits most ardently if I
were his wife. It is strange to me to remember
I have not seen either of them since they called
last at Ashton Hildred, a few months before

Love's Cross-currents

my marriage. I suspect your sister has a
certain amount of contempt for my age and
understanding; all I hope is that I shall not
disgrace myself in the eyes of such a clever per-
son as she is. Clara is one of the people I have
always been a little in awe of; and I quite be-
lieve, if the truth were known, you are rather
of the same way of feeling yourself. However,
I look to you to help me, and I dare say she will
be lenient on the whole. Her letter was very

I suppose you have heard of Reginald's
arrival ? He is wild at the notion of seeing your
sister again. I never saw anybody so excited or
so intense in his way of expressing admiration.
It seems she is his idea of perfect grace and
charm ; I am very glad he has such a good one,
but he is dreadfully unflattering to me in the
meantime, and wants to form everybody upon
her model. I hope you are not so inflammable
on European matters as he seems to be; but I
know you used to be worse. Since he has taken
up with Italy, there is no living with him on
conservative terms. Last year he was in such
a state of mind about Garibaldi and the Sicilian
business that he would hardly take notice of
such insignificant people as we are. My hus-
band has gone through all that stage (he says
he has), and is now rather impatient of the sort


A Year's Letters

of thing; he has become a steady ally, on
principle, of strong governments. No doubt,
as he says, men come to see things differently
at thirty, and understand their practical bear-
ing; but nothing will get Reginald to take a
sane view of the question, or (as Cheyne puts it)
to consider possibilities and make allowance for
contingent results. So, you see, you are wanted
dreadfully to keep peace between the factions.
Redgie is quite capable of challenging his
brother-in-law to mortal combat on the issue of
the Roman question.

Lord Cheyne is busy just now with some
private politics of his own, about which he
admits of no advice. If he should ever take his
seat, and throw his weight openly into the scale
of his party, I suppose neither you nor Reginald
would ever speak to either of us ? I wish there
were no questions in the world; but after all I
think they hardly divide people as much as they
threaten to do. So we must hope to retain our
friends as long as they will endure us, in spite of
opinions, and make the most of them in the
interval. We look for you on the fifth.

Believe me, ever your affectionate cousin,




Ashton Hildred, Feb. aist.

OH, if you were but five or six years younger
(you know you were at school six years ago, my
dear boy)! what a letter I would write your
tutor! Upon my word I should like of all
things to get you a good sound flogging. It is
the only way to manage you, I am persuaded. I
wish to Heaven I had the handling of you:
when I think how sorry we all were for you when
you were a boy and your father used to flog you !
You wrote me the comicallest letters in those
days; I have got some still. If I had only
known how richly you deserved it! Captain
Harewood always let you off too easily, I have
not an atom of doubt. How any one can be
such a mere school-boy at your age I cannot
possibly conceive. People have no business to
treat you like a man. You are nothing but a
great dull dunce of a fifth-form boy (lower fifth,
if you please), and ought to be treated like one.
You don't look at things in a grown-up way.


A Year's Letters

I want to know what on earth took you to
Lidcombe when those Radworths were there?
Of course you can't say. Now I tell you, you
had bettef have put that harebrained absurd
boy's head of yours into a wasps' nest do you
remember a certain letter of yours to me, nine
years ago, about wasps, and what a jolly good
swishing you got for running your head into a
nest of them, against all orders ? you thought it
no end of a chouse then (I kept your letter, you
see ; I do keep children's letters sometimes, they
are such fun I could show you some of Amicia's
that are perfect studies) to be birched for getting
stung, though it was only a good wholesome
counter-irritant; if all the smart had been in
your face, I have no doubt you would have been
quite ill for a week ; luckily your dear good father
knew of a counter-cure for inflammation of the
skin. Well, I can tell you now that what you
suffered at that tender age was nothing to what
you will have to bear now if you don't run at
once. Neither the stinging of wasps nor the
stinging of birch rods is one-quarter so bad as
the hornets' stings and vipers' bites you are
running the risk of. You will say I can't know
that, not having your experience as to one in-
fliction at least; but I have been stung, and I
have been talked of; and if any quantity of
whipping you ever got made you smart more
6 69

Love's Cross-currents

than the latter process has made me, all I can
say is that between your father and the birch
you must assuredly have got your deserts for
once, in a way to satisfy even me if I had seen it.
I hope you have, once or twice, in your younger
days ; if so, you must have been flogged within
an inch of your life.

However that may be, I assure you I have
been talked within an inch of mine more than
once. And so will you if you go on. I entreat
and implore you to take my silly old word for it.
Of course I am well enough aware you don't
mind ; boys never do till they are eaten up body
and bones. But you really (as no doubt you
were often told in the old times of Dr. Birken-
shaw) you really must be made to mind, my
dear Redgie. It is a great deal worse for a man
than for a woman to get talked about in such a
way as you two will be. If there was any real
danger for your cousin you don't suppose I
would let Amicia have you both in the house at
once ? But as you are the only person who can
possibly come to harm through this nonsensical
business, I can only write to you and bore you to
death. I have no doubt you are riding with
Clara at this minute ; or writing verses Amicia
sent me your last seaside sonnet detestable it
was; or boating; or doing something dreadful.
It is really exceedingly bad for you: I wish to


A Year's Letters

goodness you had a profession, or were living in
London at least. If you could but hear me
talking you over with Mr. Stanford! and the
heavy smiling sort of way in which he "regrets
that young Harewood should be wasting his
time in that lamentable manner believes there
was some good in him at one time, but this
miserable vie de fldneur, Lady Midhurst" (I
always bow when he speaks French in his fear-
ful accent, and that stops him), "would ruin
any boy. Is very glad Amicia should see some-
thing of him now and then, but if he is always
to be on those terms with his father most dis-
graceful," and so forth. Now, do be good for
once, and think it over. I don't mean what
your stepfather says (at least, the man who
ought to have been your stepfather, if your
filial fondness will forgive me for the hint), but
the way people will look at it. I suppose I
should pique you dreadfully if I were to tell you
that nobody in the whole earth imagines for a
second that there is a serious side to the business.
You are not a compromising sort of person you
won't be for some years yet; and you cannot
compromise Clara. She knows that. So does
Amicia. So does Ernest Radworth even, or he
ought, if he has anything behind his spectacles
whatever, which I have always felt uncertain of.
I wonder if I may give you a soft light sugges-

Love's Cross-currents

tion or two about the object of your vows and
verse? I take my courage in both hands and
begin. C. R. (you will remember I saw nearly
as much of her when she was a girl as I did of
Amicia, and I always made a point of getting
my nephews and nieces off by heart) is one of
the cleverest stupid women I know, but nothing
more. Her tone is, distinctly, bad. She has
the sense to know this, but not to improve it.
The best thing I have ever noticed about her is
that, under these circumstances, she resolves to
make the most of it. And I quite allow she is
very effective when at her best very taking,
especially with boys. When she was quite little,
she was the delight of male playfellows; girls
always detested her, as women do now. (You
may put down my harsh judgment of her to the
score of my being a woman, if you think one
can be a woman at my age a thing I believe to
be impossible, if one has had the very smallest
share of brains to start with.) She can't be
better than her style, but she won't be worse.
I prefer Amicia, I must say; but, when one
thinks she might have been like Lady Frances
Law I assure you I do Clara justice when I
recollect the existence of that woman, or
Lucretia Fielding (you must have seen her at
Lidcombe) ; but, if I had had a niece like that,
I should have died of her. A rapid something in


A Year's Letters

phobia neptiphobia would it be? I suppose
not; it sounds barbaric, but my Greek was al-
ways very shaky. I learned .of my husband ; he
had been consul at some horrible hole or other ;
but, anyhow, it would have carried me off in
ten days, at the outside. And I hope she would
have been hanged.

The upshot of all this is just that our dear
C. R. is one of the safest women alive. Not for
other people, mind ; not safe for you ; not sate by
any means for her husband ; but as safe for her-
self as I am, or as the Queen is. She knows her
place, and keeps to it ; and any average man or
woman who will just do that can do anything.
She is a splendid manager in her way a bad,
petty, rather unwise way, I must and do think ;
but she is admirable in it. Like a genre painter.
Her forte is Murillo beggar-boys; don't you sit
to her. A slight sketch now and then in the
Leech sporting manner is all very well. Even a
single study between whiles in the Callot style
may pass. But the gypsy sentiment I cannot
stand. Seriously, my dear Redgie, I will not
have it. When she has posed for the ordinary
fastish woman, she goes in for a sort of Madonna-
Gitana, a cross of Raphael with Bohemia. It
will not do for you.

Shall I tell you the real, simple truth once for
all ? I have a great mind, but I am really afraid


Love's Cross-currents

you will take to hating me. Please don't, my
dear boy, if you can help, for I had always a
great weakness for you, honestly. I hope you
will always be decently fond of me in the long
run, malgr6 all the fast St. Agneses in gypsy dom.
Well, then, she never was in love but once, and
never will be again. It was with my nephew
Edmund Amicia knows it perfectly when his
father was alive. She fought for the title and
the man with a dexterity and vigour and supple-
ness of intellect that was really beautiful in such
a girl as she was delicious to see. I have al-
ways done justice to her character since then.
My brother would not hear of cousins marrying,
probably because he had married one of our
mother's French connections, who must have
been a second cousin, at least, of his own. So
Cheyne had to give her up ; he was a moral and
social philosopher in those days, and an attach-
ment more or less was not much to him he was
off with her in no time. But, take my word for
it, at one time he had been on with her, and
things had gone some distance ; people began to
talk of her as Lady Cheyne that was to be. She
was a still better study after that defeat than
when in the thick of the fight. It steadied her
for life, and she married Ernest Radworth in six
months. Three years after my poor brother
died, and the year after that I married Edmund


A Year's Letters

to our dear good little Amicia, as I mean to mar-
ry you some day "to a Queen of Sheba.

When I say Clara's failure steadied her, you
know what I mean ; it made her much more fast
and loud than she was before helped in my
poor opinion to spoil her style, but that is beside
the question ; the real point is that it made her
sensible. She is wonderfully sensible for a clever
person who is (I must maintain) naturally
stupid, or she would have gone on a higher tack
altogether and been one of the most noticeable
people alive. It is exquisite, charming to an
old woman, to observe how thoroughly she is up
to all the points of all her games. She amuses
herself in all sorts of the most ingenious ways ;
makes that wretch Ernest's life an Egyptian
plague by constant friction of his inside skin
and endless needle-probings of his sore mental
places: enjoys all kinds of fun, sparingly and
heartily at once, like a thoroughly initiated
Epicurean (that woman is an esoteric of the
Garden) : and never for an instant slips aside
from the strait gate and narrow way, while she
has all the flowers and smooth paving of the
broad one at least all the enjoyment of them ;
or perhaps something better. She is sublime;
anything you like; but she is not wholesome.
If she were only the least bit cleverer than she
is I would never say a word. Indeed, it would


Love's Cross-currents

be the best training in the world for you to fall
into the hands of a real and high genius. But
you must wait. Show me Ath6nais de Montes-
pan and I will allow you any folly on her account ;
but with Louise de la Valliere I will not let you
commit yourself. You will say C. R. is some-
thing more than this last; I know she is; but
not enough. If you had had your English his-
tory well flogged into you, as it should have
been if I had had the managing of matters
and I should have if your father had not been
the most never mind you would have learnt
to appreciate her. She is quite Elizabethan,
weakened by a dash of Mary Stuart. At your
age you cannot possibly understand how any-
body can be at once excitable and cold. If you
will take my word for that fact, I will throw you
another small piece of experience into the
bargain. A person who does happen to com-
bine those two qualities has the happiest tem-
perament imaginable. She can enjoy herself,
her excitability secures that ; and she will never
enjoy herself too much or pay too high a price
for anything. These people are always ex-
ceedingly acute, unless they are absolute dunces,
and then they hardly count. I don't mean that
their acuteness prevents them from being fools,
especially if they have a strong stupid element
in them, as many clever excitable people have,


notamment ladite Marie, who was admirably

1 2 4 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13

Online LibraryAlgernon Charles SwinburneLove's cross-currents; a year's letters, by Algernon Charles Swinburne → online text (page 4 of 13)