Algernon Charles Swinburne.

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

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There is Reginald's knock; but this shall go
to-day, and I will not touch it again.



Ashton Hildred, May izth.


You are, without exception, the best fun I
know. I have been laughing for the last two
hours over your letter and its enclosure. You
are not to fly out at me, mind; I regard you
with all just esteem, I think all manner of good
things of you, but you are fun, you will allow.
Old friends may remark on such points of char-
acter, and yet draw no blood.

Now, my dear Redgie, what do you think I
got by post exactly three days before this epistle
of yours, with Clara's valuable bit of English
prose composition so neatly inserted? I am
humane, and will not let your brains tingle with
curiosity for a minute. I got this; a note (not
ill worded by any means) from my affectionate
and anxious niece, C. R., enclosing your last
letter to her. She threw herself upon me
(luckily the space between us softened the shock
of her weight, enabling me to bear up) with full

A Year's Letters

confidence and gratitude. I could explain and
advise; I could support and refresh. I was to
say whether she were right or not. To Mr.
Radworth she could not turn for sustenance or
counsel. Ought a wife to would a wife be
justified if she did do so and so ? Through all
this overture to her little performance one could
hear thrill the tone of British matronhood,
tremulously strong and tenderly secure. I did
think it was all over with some of you, but found
rapid relief. She put it to me; was she to
notice it? Was she to try to bring you to
reason, appealing to the noble mismanaged
nature of you? Could she treat your letter as
merely insulting or insane ? My private answer
came at once Decidedly she could not ; but I
never wrote it down it went off in a little laugh,
quietly. She wound up with an intimation that
I was thus taken into confidence in order to give
me a just and clear idea of her conduct and posi-
tion ; this she owed to herself (the debt was well
paid, and I receipted it by return of post), but
she would rather say as little of your folly as she
could avoid. Of course, she put it twice as
prettily, and in a very neat, soft way; but I
give you the real upshot. She understood
Clara, you see, did that I felt warmly and
fondly towards you ; she was aware that I could
not but know the way in which your conduct

Love's Cross-currents

would affect her, Clara ; and on your account, on
mine (by no means, I need not say, on her own),
she now felt various things in the sensation
line eminently creditable to her.

I drew breath after this, and then laid hold of
your letter. It did not upset me, you will like
to hear; indeed, I compliment you on such a
" selfless " and stainless form of devotion. You
play Launcelot in a suit of Arthur's armour or
rather in his new clothes after the well-known
cut of modern tailordom, which I grieve to see
are already cast wear, or how should you come
by them ? The vividness and loftiness of view
throughout is idyllic. In effect, considering
your heat of head and violence of sentiment, I
think you behave and write nicely, nobly
even, if you like to be told so. It is right you
should take things in the way you do, now you
are first plunged into them. I am glad you do
persuade yourself of the justice and reality of
your passionate paradoxes and crude concep-
tions about social rights and wrongs. Naturally,
being in love, like the bad specimen you are,
you find institutions criminal, and revolt de-
sirable. It is better, taking your age into ac-
count, than trying to sneak under shelter of
them within reach of the forbidden fruit. Storm
the place if you can, but no shooting behind
walls ; a good plan for you, as I am glad you see.

A Year's Letters

Altogether, if you are cracked, I should say you
have no unsound side; a fool you may be, but
you get through your fooleries like a gentleman.
You are " brave enough " too, as you said ; it was
no coward's letter, that one. I should not for-
give you otherwise; but I was always sure, so
far, of my old Redgie you never had any of
the makings of a coward about you. I like the
hopeless single-sighted daring of your proposals ;
also your way of feeling what disgrace would be.
Except in the vulgarest surface fashion, she, for
one, will never understand that never get to
see the gist of your first few lines, for instance,
as I do ; but don't you get on that ground again,
my dear boy. I like you all the better ; and that
has nothing to do with it, you see. In a word
allow that you were outside of all reason in writ-
ing the letter, and I will admit you have kept
well inside the lines of honour. So far, there is
nothing to forgive (which is tant soil pen lower-
ing), and not much to punish (which is at worst
painful). There is a school copy for you ; make
me an exercise in C.'s style on that head.

So much for you ; now for her side ; and I do
beg you to read this patiently, and do me justice
as far as you can. You send me her answer to
your letter in a rapture of admiration, with a
view of altering and ennobling my estimate of
her, which you know to be hitherto of a


Love's Cross-currents

moderate kind. I am to read and kindle, ac-
knowledge and adore. Is she not noble? Let
us see. Ought we not to do honour to such
grand honesty and purity, such a sublime good-
ness? I am not over sure. You write to me
as to your first best friend (and effectively, my
dear old child, I don't think you have a better
one I do feel parental on your score), wishing
to set my mistakes right and bring me to an
equitable and generous tone of mind : you do me
the honour to think me capable of conversion,
worthy to worship if I did but see the altar as it
really stands. Being such as I am, I cannot but
appreciate greatness and high devotion if I can
but be brought face to face with them. That I
think is what you mean, or rather what you had
floating in your head when you wrote to me.
Well, we must hope you were right. I am no
doubt flattered; and will try to be deserving.
Then, I must now see things as you do, and
admit the sublimities of behaviour you have
made out in C. R. to be real discoveries, and not
flies in your telescope. Her noble letter to you
a letter so fearless of misconception, so gently
worded, so devoted, and so just must compel
me to allow this much. Wait; you shall have
my poor verdict as to that by-and-by.

But now, what have you to say about her
letter to me? Why do you suppose she sends


A Year's Letters

me your epistle to her ? I should like to know.
To me, honestly, it does seem like a resolution to
be quit of all personal damage, or risk, or other
moral discomfort ; also it does seem very like a
keen Apprehension very laudably keen of a
chance given her to right herself, or to raise her-
self in my judgment, by submitting the whole
matter to me. I, as arbitress, must decide, on
receiving such an appeal from her, backed by
such proofs, that she had gone on splendidly
was worthy of all manner of praise and that
you, as a crazy boy in the " salad days" of sen-
timent, were alone blameworthy. Now, frank-
ly, do you believe she had any other meaning ?
Why need she appeal to me at all? Certainly
I am her nearest female relation. Aprbs? And
we have always been on the nicest terms. What
then? There was no call for her to refer to
anybody. She is old enough, at all events (and
that she will hardly deny, or insinuate a denial
of), to manage by herself for herself. Do you
imagine she wrote on your account ; applied to
me for your sake ? I do not. How could I help
her ? How could I settle you ? Favour me by
considering that. One thing I could do, and
that she knew well enough. I could change my
mind as to her (she was always clever enough to
know what my honest opinion of her was) and
prevent, by simply expressing approval, if not

Love's Cross-currents

applause, of her, any chance of annoyance she
might otherwise have run the risk of. Do you
see? it was no bad stroke; just the kind of
sharpness you know I always gave her credit for.
Very well played too by forwarding me ) your
letter; she was aware I should hardly have re-
lied on extracts or summaries of her making,
and was not such a fool as to appeal to me in a
vague virtuous way. Upon the whole, as it
seemed to her, she could not fail to come out
admirably from the test in my eyes. I confess,
for the sort of woman, she is far-sighted and
sharp-sighted. Only, there is one thing to be
taken into account ; that I have known both her
and you since you were the tiniest thinking ani-
mals possible. She was not hard upon you;
not in the least. I was to draw all the inferences
for myself.

And now for her letter to you. Luckily I had
read all this before I came to it. And after all
I am surprised ; not admiringly by any means.
I looked for better of her, considering. As she
could not decently assume alarm and anger, and
was not the woman to write in the simple
Anglican fashion, you see there was nothing for
it but to mix audacity with principle. She be-
gins fairly on that score : the opening is not bad.
But how could you swallow the manner? Was
there ever such a way of writing? The chaff,

A Year's Letters

as you others call it, is so poor, so ugly and
paltry the tone of rebuke such a dead failure ;
the air of sad satisfaction so ill put on; the
touches of sentiment so wretchedly coloured. I
wondej she could do no better ; she gets up her
effects with trouble enough, and is not a fool.
As to the magnanimous bits I do really want
to know if it has never crossed your mind for a
second that they were absolute impertinences ?
Were you quite taken in by that talk about
"man who trusted and respected," "just self-
esteem," "used generously," and such like?
"Received more than she has given"! "Not
the only creditor"! why, my poor boy, I tell
you again she married the man tooth and nail;
took him as a kite takes a chaffinch. Certainly
he wanted her ; but as to having wind enough to
run her down! It upsets me to write about it.
Throw him over! It is perfect impudence to
imagine she can make any living creature above
twelve suppose that regard for Ernest keeps her
what one calls a good wife. She looks it when
you come upon them anywhere. But your age
has no eyes. Sense of duty ? she cares for the
duties and devotions no more than I should care
for her reputation if she were not unhappily my
relative. It is a grievous thing to see you tak-
ing to such a plat (Target rechaufie. For pure
street slang it is, not even the jargon of a ra-

Love's Cross-currents

tional society. Do you know what ruin means ?
or compromise even? And she is not the
woman, by nature or place, to risk becoming
tarte in the slightest degree. She is thoroughly
equable and cautious, beyond a certain point.
The landmark is a good bit on this side of serious
love-making; hardly outside the verge of com-
mon sentiment. I assure you there is nothing
to be made of her in any other way. She will
keep you on and off eternally to no further

Upon the whole I don't know that her letter
could well have been a worse piece of work than
it is. Why, if you would but observe it, she
runs over into quotation before she gets a good
start; and I never saw this modern fashion of
mournful, satirical, introspective writing more
ungraciously assumed. Her sad smiles crack,
and show the enamel. You know how an old
wretch with her face glazed looks if she ventures
to laugh or cry ? at least you can imagine if you
will think of me with a coating of varnish on
my cheeks and lips, listening to you for five
minutes. Well, just in the same way the dried
paint of her style splits and spoils the whole look
of her letter at the tender semi-rident passages.
It is too miserably palpable. Don't you see her
trying to write up to tradition ? say what she
has to say in the soft pungent manner she thinks

A Year's Letters

proper to her part as a strong-minded, clear-
headed, somewhat rapid humourist (don't sup-
pose I meant to write vapid), with a touch of
the high-minded unpretentious social martyr?
I must tell you a bit of verse I kept thinking of
while I ran over this epistle of hers Musset,
you know

Triste! oh, triste en v6rite" !
Triste, abb6 ? Vous avez le vin triste ?

If you had but the wit to take it in that way,
and answer her accordingly ! Elle a I' amour triste,
like most of her sort. For you must allow she is
making love, though in the unpractical way. If
I could but see an end of this dolorous kind of
verbal virtue and compromised sentiment this
tender tension of the moral machine, worse for
the nerves than the headiest draughts of raw
sensation! But it all comes of your books; I
thank Heaven we were reared on sounder stuff.
Confess that her American sermons were too
much for you. As for Aboulfadir, I never was
so nearly hysterical since the decease of your
grandfather. I actually saw her looking out the
bit. And your initials on the slip of paper, you
remember? Oh, you utter idiot!

Allow me one more question before you tear
me up. Has it yet struck you what her last

Love's Cross-currents

words mean? "You can never show this";
that is, in Heaven's name forward this to old
Aunt Midhurst next time she writes spitefully
about me. Now, Reginald, I will not have bad
language. You know she meant that; the
woman capable of inditing that letter must be
capable of thinking it good enough to influence
any reader, upset any prejudice. You were to
send it (you must admit you did), and it was to
complete the grand work of refutation begun a
week before by her appeal to me on the occasion
of your letter. Now, I do hope you see : it was
really a passable stroke of wit. The whole thing*
was cooked with a view to its being served
up stewed in the same sauce. No doubt, after
the great conception, her brain swelled with the
sense of supreme diplomacy. Perhaps a man
might have been taken in. Evidently a boy was.
For my part I think it personally insulting to
have supposed my opinion of her was to be
affected by such a cheap specimen of the scene-
shifter's professional knack. I see as well as
ever how she wants to play her hand out.

I give you a month, my dear boy, to get over
your rage at me; then I shall expect you to
behave equably. Till that time I suppose I
must let you "chew the thrice-turned cud of
wrath." Otherwise I should beg you not to
make one of the south-coast party I hear of.

A Year's Letters

Also, if you did go, to stick close to your sister.
As it is, I see you will join the rest, and waste
your time and wits, besides sinking chin-deep in
Platonic sloughs of love. Some day I may
succeed in pulling you out. I dare say it ought
to be a comfort to me to reflect that you are
doing no great harm ; dirtier you might get, but
scarcely wetter. The quagwater of sentiment
will soak you to the bone. In earnest, if you
go to Portsmouth or elsewhere with the Cheynes,
you are to let me hear now and then. I hope
there is enough love or liking between us two to
stand a little sharp weather between whiles.
Even though I am unbearably vicious and
shamefully stupid with regard to your cousin,
you ought to try and overlook it. Recollect my
age, I entreat you. Can you expect sound judg-
ment and accurate relish of the right thing from
such an old critic as I am ? You might as well
hope to make me see her beauty with your eyes
as appreciate her goodness in your fashion. And
then, bad as I may be, we have been friends too
long to break off. If I had ever had a son in my
younger years things would have gone differ-
ently; as it was, I have always had to put up
with you instead. A bad substitute you make,
too; but somehow one gets used to that. If I
could have taken you with me from the first,
and reared you under shelter of your mother

Love's Cross-currents

(nice work I should have had of it, by-the-by;
but all that labour fell to your father's share), I
would have broken you in better. I would, re-
gardless of all expense in birch; though as to
that the Captain did his duty to you liberally, I
will say. When you were born I could not
realize your mother's age to myself in the least ;
I myself was only thirty-eight (look me out in
the dates, if you won't take my word for it),
and I could not make her out old enough to
have a son. Besides, I had always hungered
after a boy. So I took to you from the begin-
ning in an idiotic way, and by this time no
doubt my weakness is developing into senile
dotage. I don't say I always stood by you;
but you must remember, my dear Redgie, I
could not always. Your ill-luck was mine as to
that, and your mother's too. I wish I could
have kept by you when you did want some of
us at hand; not that I suppose the softest-
hearted boy feels deeply the want of a super-
incumbent grandmother. Still, we should all
have got on the better for it, I conceive. No
doubt, too, I have not always done the best for
you only my best : but that I did always want
to do. In a word, you know I love you as
dearly as need be : and you may as well put up
with me for fault of a better.

Take this into account when you feel furious,

A Year's Letters

and endeavour to make the best you can of me.
I perceive this letter is running to seed, and
my tattle fast lapsing into twaddle. After all, I
don't suppose my poor shots at the pathetic
will bring down much game of the sentimental
kind. I might bubble and boil over with feeling
long enough (I suspect) before you melted.
Besides, what does it matter, I should be glad to
know ? However, I do trust you will be as good
a boy as you can, and not bring me to an un-
timely grave in the flower of my wrinkles.



Portsmouth. May 28th.

Do not write, and do not persist in trying to
speak to me again. If you care for any of us,
you will not stay here. I can do nothing. When
my husband speaks to me, it turns me hot and
sick with fear. I am ashamed of every breath I
draw. If you cannot have mercy, do, for God's
sake,' think of your own honour. If you stay
here, you may as well show this letter at once.
I wish Cheyne would kill me. But, even if he
saw what I am thinking of when I look at him, I
believe he would not. He is so fearfully good to
me. Oh, if I were to die, I should never forget
that ! I don't know that it matters much what
I do. I have broken my faith to him in thought,
and, if justice were done, I ought to be put away
from him. I look at my hand while I write, and
think it ought to be cut off my ring burns. I
cannot think how things can be as dreadful as
they are. I suppose, if I can live through this,
I shall live to see them become worse. If I


A Year's Letters

could but see what to do, I should be content
with any wretchedness ^ I never meant to be a
bad wife. When I woke this morning, I felt
mad. People would say there was nothing to
repent of ; but I know. It is worse not to love
him than it would be to leave him. What have
you done to me ? for I never lied and cheated till
now. After such horrible falsehood and treason
I don't see what crime is to stop me. If I had
known that another woman was like me at
heart I could not have borne to let her look at
me. I feel as if I must go away and hide my-
self. If only something would give me an
excuse for going home! At least, if I must stay
with my husband, I implore you to leave me.
Tell your sister you must go. Say you are
tired. Or go to London to-morrow with Cheyne
and don't return. You can so easily excuse
yourself from the sailing party. He stays in
town one night, and comes down in time for it
the day after. You can make a pretext for re-
maining. If you have any pity, you will. I
have nothing to help me in the world. It would
kill me to appeal to Reginald. No one could
understand. I am sure, if you knew how I do
want and trust to be kept right, and what a
fearful life I have of it with this sense of a secret
wearing me out, you would be sorry for me.
And if you love me so much, knowing what you

Love's Cross-currents

know now, you ought to be sorry. It is too late
for me to get happy again, but I may come not
to feel such unbearable shame as I do now, and
shall while you stay. Promise you will not try
to see me. I wonder if God will be satisfied,
supposing you never do see me again ? I shall
have tried to be good. I think He ought to
have pity on me, too. But, if I live to grow old,
I shall want to see you then.



Portsmouth, June jd.

You will have heard, my dear aunt, of our
wretched loss, and the fearful bereavement of
poor Amicia. I wish I could give a reassuring
account of her, but she appears to be quite
broken ; it is miserable to see her. She sits for
whole hours in her own room ; I did hope at first
it was to seek the consolation of prayer, but that
comfort, I fear greatly, she is not yet capable of
feeling. She looks quite like death. I suggested
she should go into the room where he is lying,
and take her last look of him, but she turned
absolutely whiter than she was, shuddered, and
seemed quite sick. My brother is hardly less
overcome. On a servant addressing him yester-
day by his title, he actually sank into a chair,
and gave way in a manner which I could not but
regret. I am certain he would sacrifice worlds
to restore his cousin to life.

Mr. Harewood has been throughout most
kind. He has done all that the best friend of

Love's Cross-currents

our poor child could do. Amicia will hardly see
any one but him. Mr. Rad worth offered to
relieve him of some part of the wretched trouble
and business he has undertaken to spare dear
Amicia (Francis, I must tell you, seems in-
capable of moving) ; but he refuses to share it.
I cannot express to you the admiration we all
feel for his beautiful management of her, poor
child. Who could remember at such a time the
former folly which he must himself have for-
gotten? I am constantly reminded that you
alone always did him justice.

I suppose you will wish to know the sad
detail, and it had better perhaps be given at
once by me than by another. We had decided,
as you know, to take Saturday last as the day
of our projected sail. Francis seemed curiously
unwilling to go at first, and it was only at poor
Lord Cheyne's repeated request that he assented.
Amicia was very quiet, and I thought rather
depressed I have no doubt in consequence of
the sudden reaction from a continued strain on
her spirits. It was a very dull party altogether ;
only Mr. Harewood and poor Edmund seemed
to have any spirits to enjoy it. They talked
a great deal, especially about summer plans.
Quite suddenly, we heard ahead what I fancied
was the noise of the overfalls, and began passing
out of smooth water. I thought it looked

A Year's Letters

dangerous, but they would put inshore. Feeling
the waves run rapidly a little higher and higher,
I said something to Amicia, who I knew was a
bad sailor, and as she scarcely answered, but lay
back in the boat, I feared the discomfort to her
of rough water had begun. I stooped forward,
as well as I remember, to sign to my husband to
make Lord Cheyne look at her. Ernest, in his
nervous absent way, failed to catch my mean-
ing, and, in rising to speak to me, was pitched
forwards with a jerk, and came full against Mr.
Harewood, who was helping to shift a sail. Then
I really saw nothing more but that the sail-yard
(is it a yard they call the bit of wood a sail is
tied to? 1 ) swung round, and I screamed and
caught hold of Amicia, and next second I saw
poor Lord Cheyne in the water. He caught at
Francis, who was next him, and missed. Mr.
Harewood jumped in after him with his coat on,
but he could hardly make the least way because
of the ground swell. They had to pull him in
again almost stifled and I feared insensible.
Before I came to myself so as to see what any-
body was doing, they had got the body on board
and Francis and the sailors and Ernest were
trying to revive it. Amicia, who was shaking

1 NOTE ( ? by Lady Midhurst) . " Too ingenuous by half
for the situation."


Love's Cross-currents

dreadfully, kept hold of her brother, chafing
and kissing his face and hands. How we ever
got back God knows. Amicia seemed quite
stunned ; she never so much as touched her hus-
band's hand. When we came to get out, I
thought Francis and my husband would have
had to support her, but Mr. Radworth was quite

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