Algernon Charles Swinburne.

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

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useless, and poor Francis could not bear even
to look at her misery. So Mr. Harewood (who
was really unfit to walk himself) and one of the
sailors had to carry her up to the house. The
funeral takes place to-morrow; I trust my
brother may be able to attend, but really he
seems at times perfectly broken down in health
and everything.



XVII

LADY MIDHURST TO LADY CHEYNE

Ashton Hildred. June 6th.

MY DEAREST CHILD:

I WOULD not let your mother go, or she would
have been with you before this. It must have
done her harm. She is not well enough even to
write ; we have had to take her in hand. It is
a bad time for us all; we must live it down as
we best may. I thought of advising your father
to be with you before the funeral, but she would
hardly like him to leave her. I shall start my-
self to-morrow, and take you home with me.
You had better not go to Lidcombe. With us
you will at least have thorough quiet, and time
to recover by degrees. Now no doubt you are
past being talked to. I only hope those people
do their best for you. It is well now that noth-
ing ever came between poor Cheyne and you.
I suppose you have had as quiet and unbroken a
time since your marriage as any one ever does
get. The change is sharp ; all changes are that
turn upon a death. I know, too, that he loved



Love's Cross-currents

you very truly, and was always good, just, and
tender to all he knew; a man to be seriously
and widely regretted. It may be that you are
just now inclining to believe you will never get
over the pain of such a loss. Now, in my life, I
have lost many people and many things I would
have given much to keep. I have repented and
lamented much that I have done, and more that
has happened to me sometimes through my
own fault. But one thing I do know, and would
have you lay to heart that nobody living need
retain in his dictionary the word irretrievable.
Strike it out, I advise you ; I erased it from mine
long ago. Self-reproach and the analysis of
regret are most idle things. Abstain at least
from confidences and complaints. Bear what
you have to bear steadily, with locked teeth as it
were. This minute may be even graver than you
think. I know how expansion follows on the
thaw of sudden sorrow. I am always ready to
hear and help you to the best of my poor old
powers ; but, even to me, I would not have you
overflow too much. I write in all kindness and
love to you, my poor child, and I know my sort
of counselling is harsh, heathen, mundane I
can hardly help your way of looking at it. No
one is sorrier than I am ; no one would give more
to recall irrevocable things. But once again I
assure you what cannot be recalled may be
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A Year's Letters

retrieved. Only the retrieving must come from
you: show honour and regard to Cheyne's
memory by controlling and respecting yourself
to begin with. If you have some floating desire
to make atonement of any kind, atone in that
way. But if you have any such feeling, there is
a morbid nerve ; you should labour to deaden
it by no means to stimulate.

I am more thankful than I can say that you
have Reginald with you. The boy is affection-
ate, and not of an unhealthy nature. He ought
to be of use and comfort ; I am sure he is good
for you. I can well believe you see no more of
others than you can help. It was nice for me to
hear from any quarter that Redgie had done his
part well. There ought always to be a bond
between you two. Family ties are invaluable
where they are anything: and neither of you
could have a better stay in any time of need
than the other. As to friendships of a serious
nature (very deeply serious that is) between
man and man, or between woman and woman,
I have no strong belief in their existence none
whatever in their possible usefulness.

I shall be with you in two days at latest ; will
you understand if I ask you to wait for me ? Till
I come, do nothing for yourself ; say nothing to
anybody. For your mother's sake and mine,
who have some claims to be thought of I add
141



Love's Cross-currents

no other name; I don't want to appeal on any
grounds but these; but you know why you
should spare her. Restraint and reserve at
present will be well made up to you afterwards.
I can imagine you may want some one to lean
upon; I dare say it is hard now to be shut up
and self-reliant ; but I would not on any account
have you expand in a wrong direction. I could
wish to write you a softer-toned letter of com-
fort than this ; but one thing I must say : do not
let your grief hurry you even for one minute
beyond the reach of advice. As for comfort,
my dearest child, what can I well say ? I have
always hated condolence myself: where it is
anything, it is bad helpless and senseless at
best. A grievous thing has happened; we can
say no more when all comment has been run
through. To us for some time I say to us,
callous as you are now thinking me the loss
and misfortune will seem even greater than they
are. You have the worst of it. Nevertheless,
it is not the end of all things. The world will
dispense with us some day ; but it shall not while
we can hold out. Things must go on when we
have dropped off ; but, while we can, let us keep
up with life. These are cold scraps enough to
feed regret with; but they are at least solid of
their kind, which is more than I would say of
some warmer and lighter sorts of moral diet.
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A Year's Letters

As for what is called spiritual comfort, I would
have you by all means take and use it, if you
can get it, and if the flavour of it is natural to
you: I know the way most people have of prof-
fering and pressing it upon one ; for my part I
never pretended to deal in it. I know only what
I think and feel myself ; I do not profess to keep
moral medicines on hand against a time of
sickness. Heaven knows I would give much, or
do much, or bear much, to heal you. But indeed
at these times.when one must speak (as I have
now to do), I prefer things of the cold sharp
taste to the faint tepid mixtures of decocted sen-
timent which religious or verbose people serve
out so largely and cheaply. I may be the worse
comforter for this ; but to me comments, either
pious or tender, usually leave a sickly sense after
them, as of some flat, unwholesome drug. I am
not preaching paganism ; I would have you seek
all reasonable comfort or support wherever it
seems good to you. But I for one cannot write
or talk about hopes of reunion, better life,
expiation, faith, and such other things. I believe
that those who cannot support themselves can-
not be supported. Those who say they are up-
held by faith say they are upheld by a kind of
energy natural to them. This I do entirely
allow; and a good working quality it is. But
any one who is utterly without self-reliance will
143



Love's Cross-currents

collapse. There can be nothing capable of
helping the helpless. So you must be satisfied
with the best I can give you in the way of
comfort.

I see well enough that I am heathenish and
hard. But I know your trouble is a great one,
and I will not play with it. It would be easy to
write after the received models, if the thing were
not so serious. Time will help us; there is no
other certain help. Some day when you are old
enough to reconsider past sorrows you will admit
that there was a touch of truth in my shreds of
pagan consolation. Stoicism is not an exploded
system of faith. It may be available still when
resignation in the modern sense breaks down.
Resign yourself by all means to the unavoidable ;
take patiently what will come; refuse yourself
the relaxation of complaint. Have as little as
you can to do with fear, or repentance, or retro-
spection of any kind. Fear is unprofitable; to
look back will weaken your head. As to repent-
ance, it never did good or undid harm. Do not
persuade yourself either that your endurance of
things that are is in any way a sacrifice of Chris-
tian resignation offered to the supreme powers.
That is the unhealthy side of patience ; the forti-
tude of the feeble. Be content to endure without
pluming yourself on a sense of submission. For,
indeed, submission without compulsion can
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A Year's Letters

never be anything but the vicious virtue of slug-
gards. We submit because we must, and had
better not flatter ourselves with the fancy that
we submit out of goodness. If we could fight
our fate we all would. It is not the desire to
resist that we fail in, but the means ; we have
no fighting material. It would not be rebellion,
but pure idiocy or lunacy, for us to begin
spluttering and kicking against the pricks ; but,
on the other hand, that is no reason why we
should grovel and blubber. It is a child's game
to play at making a virtue of necessity. I say
that if we could rebel against what happens to
us we would rebel. Christian or heathen, no
man would really submit to sorrow if he could
help it. Neither you nor I would, and there-
fore do not try to believe you are resigned, as
people call it, to God's will in the strict religious
sense. For if submission means anything that
a Stoic had not it means something that no one
ever had or ought to have. Courage, taking
the word how you will, I have always put at the
head of the virtues. Any sort of faith or humil-
ity that interferes with it, or impairs its work-
ing power, I have no belief in.

But, above all things, I would have you

always keep as much as you can of liberty.

Give up all for that ; sacrifice it to nothing to

no religious theory, to no moral precept. All

US



Love's Cross-currents

slavishness, whether of body or of spirit, leaves
a taint where it touches. It is as bad to be
servile to God as it is to be servile to man.
Accept what you must accept, and dbey where
you must obey; but make no pretence of a
"freewill offering." That sort of phrase and
that sort of feeling I hold in real abhorrence.
Weak people and cowards play with such ex-
pressions and sentiments just as children do
with tin soldiers. It is their substitute for seri-
ous fighting; because they cannot struggle, they
say and believe they would not if they could;
most falsely. Give in to no such fancies : cherish
no such forms of thought. Liberty and courage
of spirit are better worth keeping than any
indulgence in hope and penitence. I suppose
this tone of talk is unchristian; I know it is
wholesome though, for all that. God knows,
our scope of possible freedom is poor and small
enough ; that is no reason why we should labour
to circumscribe it further. We are beaten upon
by necessity every day of our lives: we cannot
get quit of circumstances ; we cannot better the
capacities born with us ; all the less on that very
account need we try to impair them. Because
we are all purblind, more or less, must we pluck
out our eyes to be led about by the ear ? Is it
any comfort, when we look through spectacles
that show us nothing but shapeless blurs and
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A Year's Letters

blots, to be told we ought to see clearly by their
help, and must at least take it for granted that
others do? Rather I would have you endure
as much as you can, and hope for as little as
you can. All wise and sober courage ends in
that. Do, in Heaven's name, try to keep free
of false hopes and feeble fears. Face things as
they are ; think for yourself when you think of
life and death, joy and sorrow, right and wrong.
These things are dark by the nature of them;
it is useless saying they can be lit up by a candle
held in your eyes. You are only the blinder;
they are none the clearer. What liberty to
act and think is left us, let us keep fast hold of;
what we cannot have, let us agree to live with-
out.

This is a strange funeral sermon for me to
preach to you across a grave so suddenly opened.
Only once or twice in the many years of one's
life the time comes for speaking out, if one will
see it these are matters I seldom think over
and never talk about, wishing to keep my head
and eyes clear. But my mind was made up, if
I did write to you, to keep back nothing I had
to say, and affect nothing I had not to say.
You are worth counsel and help, such as I can
give ; the occasion, too, is worth open and truth-
ful speech. I do not pray that you may have
strength sent you; you must take your own



Love's Cross-currents

share of work and endurance ; you have to make
your strength for yourself. I say again, time
will help you, and we should survive this among
other lamentable things. But for me, now that
I have said my say and prayed my prayers over
the dead, I shall not preach on this text again.
What my love and thought for you can do in
the way of honest help has been done. If you
want more in this time of your danger and
sorrow, you will not ask it of me^ Suppose I
were now dying, I could not add a word more to
leave you by way of comfort or comment. For
once I have written fully, and shown you what
I really think and look for as to these matters.
I shall never open up again in the same way to
any one while I live. I have unpacked my bag
for you; now I put it away for good, under lock
and seal. When we meet, and as long as we live
together, let us do the best we can in silence.

I add no message ; all that would be said you
know without that. It could only weaken you
and sharpen the pain of the day to you to receive
tender words and soft phrases copied out to no
purpose. I have told your mother she had best
not write forgive me if you regret it. Indeed, I
doubt whether she would have tried. When you
are here, we must all manage to gain in strength
and sense. If this letter of mine strikes cold
upon your sorrow, I can but hope you may find,
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A Year's Letters

in good time, something or some one able really
to soothe and support you better than I can.
Meantime, if you read it with patience, I hope it
may help to settle you ; save you from the useless
self-torture of penitent perplexity and the mis-
ery of a petted retrospect; and lighten your
head, at all events, of some worry, if it cannot
just now affect you at heart for the better, as
other comforters might profess to do. No one,
to my thinking, can "help the heart" wise
phrase of a wiser poet than your brother ever
will make.

There, I suppose, you must suffer at present.
How things are to go with us later on, I cannot
say or see. But while you live, and whatever
you do, believe at least in the love I have for
you.



XVIII

LADY MIDHURST TO FRANCIS CHEYNE

Ashton Hildred. July 28th.

MY DEAR FRANK:

I WOULD not have you write to Amicia about
those minor arrangements you speak of. Mat-
ters had better be settled with me, or by means
of your sister. We know you will do all you can
in the best possible way ; and she is not yet well
enough to bear worry. I fear, indeed, that she
has more to bear physically than we had thought
of. She keeps getting daily more white and
wretched, and we hardly know how to handle
her. When she arrived, she had a sort of
nervous look of strength, which begins now to
fail her completely; spoke little, except to me,
but fed and slept like a rationally afflicted per-
son. Now I see her get purplish about the eyes,
and her cheeks going in perceptibly. It will
take years to set her straight if this is to go on.
She is past all medicine of mine. I dare say
she will begin to develope a spiritual tendency
she reads the unwholesomest books. The truth
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A Year's Letters

is, she is far too young to be a widow. That
grey and cynical condition of life sits well only
upon shoulders of thirty or forty. She is between
shadow and sun, in the dampest place there is.
Mist and dew begin to tell upon her brain : there
is the stuff of a conversion in her just now. I
tell you this because you have known her so
well, and were such good friends with her 'that
you will be able to take my meaning. I am
sure you do want to hear, and sincerely wish
all things right with her again. I hope they
may be in time we must take them as they
are now. Meantime, it is piteous enough to see
her. She comes daily to sit with me for hours,
and has a way of looking up and sighing be-
tween whiles which is grievous to me. Again,
at times, I seem to have glimpses of some
avowal or appeal risen almost to her lips, and
as suddenly resigned. Her words have tears
in them somehow, even when she talks peace-
ably. I had no suspicion of so deep or keen a
regard on her part. Our poor Edmund can
hardly have given her as much, one would say.
But who knows what he had in him ? He was
strange always, with his gentle cold manner,
and had rare qualities. "I forget things," she
said one day on a sudden to me I never know
what she does think of. Another time, " I wish
one could see backwards."
15*



Love's Cross-currents

I am glad you went at once to Lidcombe ; you
will make them a good lord there. Edmund
always hung loose on the place. Some day, I
suppose, you will have to marry, but you are full
young as yet. I should like to see what the
house will hold in ten years' time, but do not
much expect the luck. Early deaths age people
who hear of them. I feel the greyer for this
month's work. They tell me you have had
Captain Harewood to help you in settling down
and summing-up. As he was, in a manner, your
guardian for a year or two after the death of
your father, I suppose he is the man for such
work. I believe he had always a good clear
head and practical wit. That wretched boy of
his doubtless lost his chance of inheriting it
through my fault. We came in there and spoilt
the blood. I fancy you have something of the
same good gift. It is one I have always covet-
ed, and always failed of, that ready and steady
capacity for decisive work. Your mother was a
godsend to our family we never had the least
touch of active sense among us. All my
brother's, now, was loose muddled good sense,
running over into nonsense when he fell to work.
The worst of him was his tendency to vacuous
verbose talk; he was nearly as long-breathed,
and as vague in his chatter, as I am. Not such
a thorn in the flesh of correspondents, though, I
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A Year's Letters

imagine. I hear Reginald is with his father at
Plessey. The place is just endurable in these
hot months, but always gives me a notion of
thawing-time and webbed feet. It is vexatious,
not being able to send for the boy here. Amy
would be all the better for him; but of course
it is past looking for. She talks of him now
and then in a very tender and grateful way.
"Redgie was very good; I wonder what his
wife will be?" she said, once. There was no
chance of such luck for him in sight, I suggest-
ed ; but she turned to me with singular eyes, and
said, " I should like her if she would marry him
soon." She has a carte de visile of him, which
is made much of. Her husband never would sit
for one, I recollect. It seems Redgie was useful
when nobody else could have done much good.
Those few days were, hideous. I never shall
forget that white dried face of hers, and the
heavy look of all her limbs. Poor child, I had
to talk her into tears. She had the ways of old
people for some time after. Even now she is
bad enough; worse, as I told you, in some
things. It is great amiability to express such
feeling about turning her out as you do. No
help for it, you know. She would have had
more to bear at Lidcombe; and you will soon
fit well into the old place. Very fond of it she
certainly was, and some day, perhaps, I may



Love's Cross-currents

take her over to see you. That will be years
hence. Your wife must be good to the dowagers
I dare say she will. It will be curious to meet
there anyhow. One thing is a pity, that Amicia
can never have a child to keep her company;
for I think she can hardly marry again, young as
she is. A daughter would have done you no
harm, and left her with one side of life filled up
she would have made a perfect mother. I
used to think she had much of the social type of
Englishwoman. It is such a broken-up sort of
life that one anticipates for her. And there
was such a tender eager delight in affection,
such a soft and warm spirit, such pure pleasure
in being and doing good it is the most deli-
cious nature I know. But you know her, too.
Love to your sister from both, if she is still with
you. Or did they leave when the Plessey people
went?



XIX

FRANCIS CHEYNE TO MRS. RADWORTH

Lidcombe, Aug. z6th.

I DO not see how I can possibly stay here. If
you had not gone so soon we might have got on ;
now it is unbearable. There is a network of
lawyers' and over-lookers' business to be got
through still. I go about the place like a thief,
and people throw the title in my face like a
buffet at every turn. And I keep thinking of
Amicia; her rooms have the sound of her in
them. I went down to the lake at sunset and
took a pull by myself. The noise of the water
running off and drawing under was like some
one that sobs and chokes. I went home out of
all temper with things. And there was a letter
waiting from Aunt Midhurst that would have
made one half mad at the best of times. She
is right to strike if she pleases; but her sort of
talk hits hard. I felt hot and sick with the
sense of meanness when I had done. These
things are the worst one has to bear. She tells
me what to do ; gives news of Amicia that would
'55



Love's Cross-currents

kill one to think of, if thought did kill; mixes
allusions in a way that she only could have the
heart to do. I believe she knows or thinks the
worst, and always has. And there is nothing
one can say in reply to her. It is horrid to lie
at her mercy as we do. Their life in that house
must be intolerable. I can see Amy sitting
silent under her eyes and talk; sick and silent,
without crying, like a woman held fast and
forced to look on while some one else was under
torture. I know so well by myself how she
must take the suffering; with a blind, bruised
soul, and a sort of painful wonder and pity;
divided from herself; beaten and broken down
and tired out. If she were to go mad I should
know why. And I cannot come near her, and
you know how I love her. I would kill myself
to save her pain, and I know she is in pain hour-
ly, and I sit here where she used to be. If I had
never been born at all she would have been
happy enough with her husband alive. I tell
you, God knows how good she was to him. If
only one of their people here would insult me, I
should be thankful. But the place seems to
accept me, and they tolerate a new face ; I did
think some one would show vexation or sorrow
do or say something by way of showing they
remembered. I was Quixotic, I suppose, for
all the old things made way for me. Except
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A Year's Letters

the one day when Redgie Harewood came over
with his father; he did seem to think I had no
business here, and I never liked him so well.
You recollect how angry it made you. People
ought to remember. I was glad he would not
stay in the house. That was the only time any
one has treated me as I want to be treated.
I shall come and stay with you if you will have
me. I cannot go about yet, and I hate every
corner of this house. When I ride I do literally
feel now and then tempted to try and get
thrown. Last winter we were all here together,
and she used to sing at this time in this room.
The voice and the sound of her dress come and
go in my hearing. I see her face and all her
hair glitter and vibrate as she keeps singing.
Her hands and her throat go up and down, and
her eyes turn and shine. Then she leaves off
playing and comes to me, and I cannot see her
near enough; but I feel her hands touch me,
and hear her crying. I can do nothing but
dream in this way. I want my life and my love
back. I am wretched enough now, and she
must be unhappier than I am; she is so much
better. Her beautiful tender nature must be a
pain to her every day. I suppose she is sorry
for me. I would die to-day if I could make her
forget. My dear sister, you must let me write
to you as I can, and not mind what I say. I



Love's Cross-currents

could not well write to a man now ; and I never
was friends enough with any one to open out as
I can to you. I must get strength and sense in
time, or make an end somehow. I wish to God
I could give all this away and be rid of things at
once.




Plessey, Aug. 24th.

I WAS over at Lidcombe again last week.
Frank was to leave to-day for his sister's: the
Radworths have asked him for some time. I
am also pressed to go, but I hardly like being
with him. Unfair, I suppose, but reasonable
when one thinks of it. He is a good deal pulled
down, and makes very little of his succession:


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