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For us it is enough to know that you were compelled to live by your
pen, and that in an age when the author of 'To Helen' and' The Cask
of Amontillado' was paid at the rate of a dollar a column. When such
poverty was the mate of such pride as yours, a misery more deep than
that of Burns, an agony longer than Chatterton's, were inevitable
and assured. No man was less fortunate than you in the moment of his
birth - _infelix opportunitate vitae_. Had you lived a generation later,
honour, wealth, applause, success in Europe and at home, would all have
been yours. Within thirty years so great a change has passed over the
profession of letters in America; and it is impossible to estimate the
rewards which would have fallen to Edgar Poe, had chance made him the
contemporary of Mark Twain and of 'Called Back.' It may be that your
criticisms helped to bring in the new era, and to lift letters out of
the reach of quite unlettered scribblers. Though not a scholar, at least
you had a respect for scholarship. You might still marvel over such
words as 'objectional' in the new biography of yourself, and might ask
what is meant by such a sentence as 'his connection with it had inured
to his own benefit by the frequent puffs of himself,' and so forth.

Best known in your own day as a critic, it is as a poet and a writer of
short tales that you must live. But to discuss your few and elaborate
poems is a waste of time, so completely does your own brief definition
of poetry, 'the rhythmic creation of the beautiful,' exhaust your
theory, and so perfectly is the theory illustrated by the poems. Natural
bent, and reaction against the example of Mr. Longfellow, combined
to make you too intolerant of what you call the 'didactic' element in
verse. Even if morality be not seven-eighths of our life (the exact
proportion as at present estimated), there was a place even on the
Hellenic Parnassus for gnomic bards, and theirs in the nature of the
case must always be the largest public.

'Music is the perfection of the soul or the idea of poetry,' so you
wrote; 'the vagueness of exaltation aroused by a sweet air (which should
be indefinite and never too strongly suggestive), is precisely what we
should aim at in poetry.' You aimed at that mark, and struck it again
and again, notably in 'Helen, thy beauty is to me,' in 'The Haunted
Palace,' 'The Valley of Unrest,' and 'The City in the Sea.' But by some
Nemesis which might, perhaps, have been foreseen, you are, to the world,
the poet of one poem - 'The Raven:' a piece in which the music is highly
artificial, and the 'exaltation' (what there is of it) by no means
particularly 'vague.' So a portion of the public know little of Shelley
but the 'Skylark,' and those two incongruous birds, the lark and the
raven, bear each of them a poet's name _vivu' per ora virum_. Your
theory of poetry, if accepted, would make you (after the author of
'Kubla Khan') the foremost of the poets of the world; at no long
distance would come Mr. William Morris as he was when he wrote 'Golden
Wings,' 'The Blue Closet,' and 'The Sailing of the Sword;' and, close
up, Mr. Lear, the author of 'The Yongi Bongi Bo,' and the lay of the
'Jumblies.'

On the other hand Homer would sink into the limbo to which you consigned
Moliére. If we may judge a theory by its results, when compared with the
deliberate verdict of the world, your aesthetic does not seem to hold
water. The 'Odyssey' is not really inferior to 'Ulalume,' as it ought to
be if your doctrine of poetry were correct, nor 'Le Festin de Pierré to
'Undine.' Yet you deserve the praise of having been constant, in your
poetic practice, to your poetic principles - principles commonly deserted
by poets who, like Wordsworth, have published their aesthetic system.
Your pieces are few; and Dr. Johnson would have called you, like
Fielding, 'a barren rascal.' But how can a writer's verses be numerous
if with him, as with you, 'poetry is not a pursuit but a passion...
which cannot at will be excited with an eye to the paltry compensations
or the more paltry commendations of mankind!' Of you it may be said,
more truly than Shelley said it of himself, that 'to ask you for
anything human, is like asking at a gin-shop for a leg of mutton.'

Humanity must always be, to the majority of men, the true stuff of
poetry; and only a minority will thank you for that rare music which
(like the strains of the fiddler in the story) is touched on a single
string, and on an instrument fashioned from the spoils of the grave. You
chose, or you were destined

To vary from the kindly race of men;

and the consequences, which wasted your life, pursue your reputation.
For your stories has been reserved a boundless popularity, and that
highest success - the success of a perfectly sympathetic translation. By
this time, of course, you have made the acquaintance of your translator,
M. Charles Baudelaire, who so strenuously shared your views about Mr.
Emerson and the Transcendentalists, and who so energetically resisted
all those ideas of 'progress' which 'came from Hell or Boston.' On
this point, however, the world continues to differ from you and M.
Baudelaire, and perhaps there is only the choice between our optimism
and universal suicide or universal opium-eating. But to discuss your
ultimate ideas is perhaps a profitless digression from the topic of your
prose romances.

An English critic (probably a Northerner at heart) has described them
as 'Hawthorne and delirium tremens.' I am not aware that extreme
orderliness, masterly elaboration, and unchecked progress towards a
predetermined effect are characteristics of the visions of delirium. If
they be, then there is a deal of truth in the criticism, and a good
deal of delirium tremens in your style. But your ingenuity, your
completeness, your occasional luxuriance of fancy and wealth of
jewel-like words, are not, perhaps, gifts which Mr. Hawthorne had at
his command. He was a great writer - the greatest writer in prose fiction
whom America has produced. But you and he have not much in common,
except a certain mortuary turn of mind and a taste for gloomy allegories
about the workings of conscience.

I forbear to anticipate your verdict about the latest essays of American
fiction. These by no means follow in the lines which you laid down about
brevity and the steady working to one single effect. Probably you would
not be very tolerant (tolerance was not your leading virtue) of Mr. Roe,
now your countrymen's favourite novelist. He is long, he is didactic,
he is eminently uninspired. In the works of one who is, what you were
called yourself, a Bostonian, you would admire, at least, the acute
observation, the subtlety, and the unfailing distinction. But, destitute
of humour as you unhappily but undeniably were, you would miss, I fear,
the charm of 'Daisy Miller.' You would admit the unity of effect secured
in 'Washington Square,' though that effect is as remote as possible from
the terror of 'The House of Usher' or the vindictive triumph of 'The
Cask of Amontillado.'

Farewell, farewell, thou sombre and solitary spirit: a genius tethered
to the hack-work of the press, a gentleman among _canaille_, a poet
among poetasters, dowered with a scholar's taste without a scholar's
training, embittered by his sensitive scorn, and all unsupported by his
consolations.




XV. To Sir Walter Scott, Bart.

Rodono, St. Mary's Loch:
Sept. 5, 1885.

Sir, - In your biography it is recorded that you not only won the favour
of all men and women; but that a domestic fowl conceived an affection
for you, and that a pig, by his will, had never been severed from your
company. If some Circe had repeated in my case her favourite miracle
of turning mortals into swine, and had given me a choice, into that
fortunate pig, blessed among his race, would I have been converted! You,
almost alone among men of letters, still, like a living friend, win
and charm us out of the past; and if one might call up a poet, as the
scholiast tried to call Homer, from the shades, who would not, out of
all the rest, demand some hours of your society? Who that ever meddled
with letters, what child of the irritable race, possessed even a tithe
of your simple manliness, of the heart that never knew a touch of
jealousy, that envied no man his laurels, that took honour and wealth
as they came, but never would have deplored them had you missed both and
remained but the Border sportsman and the Border antiquary?

Were the word 'genial' not so much profaned, were it not misused in easy
good-nature, to extenuate lettered and sensual indolence, that worn old
term might be applied, above all men, to 'the Shirra.' But perhaps we
scarcely need a word (it would be seldom in use) for a character so
rare, or rather so lonely, in its nobility and charm as that of Walter
Scott. Here, in the heart of your own country, among your own grey
round-shouldered hills (each so like the other that the shadow of one
falling on its neighbour exactly outlines that neighbour's shape), it is
of you and of your works that a native of the Forest is most frequently
brought in mind. All the spirits of the river and the hill, all the
dying refrains of ballad and the fading echoes of story, all the memory
of the wild past, each legend of burn and loch, seem to have combined
to inform your spirit, and to secure themselves an immortal life in your
song. It is through you that we remember them; and in recalling them, as
in treading each hillside in this land, we again remember you and bless
you.

It is not 'Sixty Years Since' the echo of Tweed among his pebbles fell
for the last time on your ear; not sixty years since, and how much is
altered! But two generations have passed; the lad who used to ride from
Edinburgh to Abbotsford, carrying new books for you, and old, is still
vending, in George Street, old books and new. Of politics I have not the
heart to speak. Little joy would you have had in most that has befallen
since the Reform Bill was passed, to the chivalrous cry of 'burke Sir
Walter.' We are still very Radical in the Forest, and you were taken
away from many evils to come. How would the cheek of Walter Scott, or
of Leyden, have blushed at the names of Majuba, The Soudan, Maiwand, and
many others that recall political cowardice or military incapacity!
On the other hand, who but you could have sung the dirge of Gordon,
or wedded with immortal verse the names of Hamilton (who fell with
Cavagnari), of the two Stewarts, of many another clansman, brave among
the bravest! Only he who told how

The stubborn spearmen still made good
Their dark impenetrable wood

could have fitly rhymed a score of feats of arms in which, as at
M'Neill's Zareeba and at Abu Klea,

Groom fought like noble, squire like knight,
As fearlessly and well.

Ah, Sir, the hearts of the rulers may wax faint, and the voting classes
may forget that they are Britons; but when it comes to blows our
fighting men might cry, with Leyden,

My name is little Jock Elliot,
And wha daur meddle wi' me!

Much is changed, in the country-side as well as in the country; but
much remains. The little towns of your time are populous and excessively
black with the smoke of factories - not, I fear, at present very
flourishing. In Galashiels you still see the little change-house and the
cluster of cottages round the Laird's lodge, like the clachan of Tully
Veolan. But these plain remnants of the old Scotch towns are almost
buried in a multitude of 'smoky dwarf houses' - a living poet, Mr.
Matthew Arnold, has found the fitting phrase for these dwellings, once
for all. All over the Forest he waters are dirty and poisoned: I think
they are filthiest below Hawick; but this may be mere local prejudice in
a Selkirk man. To keep them clean costs money; and, though improvements
are often promised, I cannot see much change for the better. Abbotsford,
luckily, is above Galashiels, and only receives the dirt and dyes of
Selkirk, Peebles, Walkerburn, and Innerlethen. On the other hand,
your ill-omened later dwelling, 'the unhappy palace of your race,'
is overlooked by villas that prick a cockney ear among their larches,
hotels of the future. Ah, Sir, Scotland is a strange place. Whisky is
exiled from some of our caravanserais, and they have banished Sir John
Barleycorn. It seems as if the views of the excellent critic (who wrote
your life lately, and said you had left no descendants, _le pauvre
homme_) were beginning to prevail. This pious biographer was greatly
shocked by that capital story about the keg of whisky that arrived at
the Liddesdale farmer's during family prayers. Your Toryism also was an
offence to him.

Among these vicissitudes of things and the overthrow of customs, let
us be thankful that, beyond the reach of the manufacturers, the Border
country remains as kind and homely as ever. I looked at Ashiestiel some
days ago: the house seemed just as it may have been when you left it for
Abbotsford, only there was a lawn-tennis net on the lawn, the hill on
the opposite bank of the Tweed was covered to the crest with turnips,
and the burn did not sing below the little bridge, for in this arid
summer the burn was dry. But there was still a grilse that rose to a big
March brown in the shrunken stream below Elibank. This may not interest
you, who styled yourself

No fisher,
But a well-wisher
To the game!

Still, as when you were thinking over Marmion, a man might have 'grand
gallops among the hills' - those grave wastes of heather and bent that
sever all the watercourses and roll their sheep-covered pastures from
Dollar Law to White Combe, and from White Combe to the Three Brethren
Cairn and the Windburg and Skelf-hill Pen. Yes, Teviotdale is pleasant
still, and there is not a drop of dye in the water, _purior electro_, of
Yarrow. St. Mary's Loch lies beneath me, smitten with wind and rain - the
St. Mary's of North and of the Shepherd. Only the trout, that see a
myriad of artificial flies, are shyer than of yore. The Shepherd could
no longer fill a cart up Meggat with trout so much of a size that the
country people took them for herrings.

The grave of Piers Cockburn is still not desecrated: hard by it lies,
within a little wood; and beneath that slab of old sandstone, and the
graven letters, and the sword and shield, sleep 'Piers Cockburn and
Marjory his wife.' Not a hundred yards off was the castle door where
they hanged him; this is the tomb of the ballad, and the lady that
buried him rests now with her wild lord.

Oh, wat ye no my heart was sair,
When I happit the mouls on his yellow hair;
Oh, wat ye no my heart was wae,
When I turned about and went my way! (1)

Here too hearts have broken, and there is a sacredness in the shadow and
beneath these clustering berries of the rowan-trees. That sacredness,
that reverent memory of our old land, it is always and inextricably
blended with our memories, with our thoughts, with our love of you.
Scotchmen, methinks, who owe so much to you, owe you most for the
example you gave of the beauty of a life of honour, showing them what,
by Heaven's blessing, a Scotchman still might be.

(1) Lord Napier and Ettrick points out to me that, unluckily, the
tradition is erroneous. Piers was not executed at all. William Cockburn
suffered in Edinburgh. But the _Border Minstrelsy_ overrides history.

_Criminal Trials in Scotland_ by Robert Pitcairn, Esq. Vol. i. part I.
p. 144, A. D. 1530. 17 Jac. V.

May 16. William Cokburne of Henderland, convicted (in presence of the
King) of high treason committed by him in bringing Alexander Forestare
and his son, Englishmen, to the plundering of Archibald Somervile; and
for treasunably bringing certain Englishmen to the lands of Glenquhome;
and for common theft, common reset of theft, out-putting and in-putting
thereof. Sentence. For which causes and crimes he has forfeited his
life, lands, and goods, movable and immovable; which shall be escheated
to the King. Beheaded.

Words, empty and unavailing - for what words of ours can speak our
thoughts or interpret our affections! From you first, as we followed the
deer with King James, or rode with William of Deloraine on his midnight
errand, did we learn what Poetry means and ali the happiness that is in
the gift of song. This and more than may be told you gave us, that
are not forgetful, not ungrateful, though our praise be unequal to our
gratitude. _Fungor inani munere!_




XVI. To Eusebius of Caesarea.

(Concerning the Gods of the Heathen.)


Touching the Gods of the Heathen, most reverend Father, thou art not
ignorant that even now, as in the time of thy probation on earth, there
is great dissension. That these feigned Deities and idols, the work of
men's hands, are no longer worshipped thou knowest; neither do men eat
meat offered to idols. Even as spoke that last Oracle which murmured
forth, the latest and the only true voice from Delphi, even so 'the
fair-wrought court divine hath fallen; no more hath Phoebus his home,
no more his laurel-bough, nor the singing well of water; nay, the
sweet-voiced water is silent.' The fane is ruinous, and the images of
men's idolatry are dust.

Nevertheless, most worshipful, men do still dispute about the beginnings
of those sinful Gods: such as Zeus, Athene, and Dionysus: and marvel
how first they won their dominion over the souls of the foolish peoples.
Now, concerning these things there is not one belief, but many;
howbeit, there are two main kinds of opinion. One sect of philosophers
believes - as thyself, with heavenly learning, didst not vainly
persuade - that the Gods were the inventions of wild and bestial folk,
who, long before cities were builded or life was honourably ordained,
fashioned forth evil spirits in their own savage likeness; ay, or in the
likeness of the very beasts that perish. To this judgment, as it is set
forth in thy Book of the Preparation for the Gospel, I, humble as I
am, do give my consent. But on the other side are many and learned men,
chiefly of the tribes of the Alemanni, who have almost conquered the
whole inhabited world. These, being unwilling to suppose that the
Hellenes were in bondage to superstitions handed down from times of
utter darkness and a bestial life, do chiefly hold with the heathen
philosophers, even with the writers whom thou, most venerable, didst
confound with thy wisdom and chasten with the scourge of small cords of
thy wit.

Thus, like the heathen, our doctors and teachers maintain that the Gods
of the nations were, in the beginning, such pure natural creatures as
the blue sky, the sun, the air, the bright dawn, and the fire; but, as
time went on, men, forgetting the meaning of their own speech and no
longer understanding the tongue of their own fathers, were misled and
beguiled into fashioning all those lamentable tales: as that Zeus, for
love of mortal women, took the shape of a bull, a ram, a serpent, an
ant, an eagle, and sinned in such wise as it is a shame even to speak
of.

Behold, then, most worshipful, how these doctors and learned men argue,
even like the philosophers of the heathen whom thou didst confound. For
they declare the Gods to have been natural elements, sun and sky and
storm, even as did thy opponents; and, like them, as thou saidst, 'they
are nowise at one with each other in their explanations.' For of old
some boasted that Hera was the Air; and some that she signified the love
of woman and man; and some that she was the waters above the Earth; and
others that she was the Earth beneath the waters; and yet others
that she was the Night, for that Night is the shadow of Earth: as if,
forsooth, the men who first worshipped Hera had understanding of these
things! And when Hera and Zeus quarrel unseemly (as Homer declareth),
this meant (said the learned in thy days) no more than the strife
and confusion of the elements, and was not in the beginning an idle
slanderous tale.

To all which, most worshipful, thou didst answer wisely: saying that
Hera could not be both night, and earth, and water, and air, and the
love of sexes, and the confusion of the elements; but that all these
opinions were vain dreams, and the guesses of the learned. And why - thou
saidst - even if the Gods were pure natural creatures, are such foul
things told of them in the Mysteries as it is not fitting for me to
declare. 'These wanderings, and drinkings, and loves, and corruptions,
that would be shameful in men, why,' thou saidst, 'were they attributed
to the natural elements; and wherefore did the Gods constantly show
themselves, like the sorcerers called were-wolves, in the shape of
the perishable beasts?' But, mainly, thou didst argue that, till the
philosophers of the heathen were agreed among themselves, not all
contradicting each the other, they had no semblance of a sure foundation
for their doctrine.

To all this and more, most worshipful Father, I know not what the
heathen answered thee. But, in our time, the learned men who stand to it
that the heathen Gods were in the beginning the pure elements, and that
the nations, forgetting their first love and the significance of their
own speech, became confused and were betrayed into foul stories about
the pure Gods - these learned men, I say, agree no whit among themselves.
Nay, they differ one from another, not less than did Plutarch and
Porphyry and Theagenes, and the rest whom thou didst laugh to scorn.
Bear with me, Father, while I tell thee how the new Plutarchs and
Porphyrys do contend among themselves; and yet these differences of
theirs they call 'Science'!

Consider the goddess Athene, who sprang armed from the head of Zeus,
even as - among the fables of the poor heathen folk of seas thou never
knewest - goddesses are fabled to leap out from the armpits or feet of
their fathers. Thou must know that what Plato, in the 'Cratylus,' made
Socrates say in jest, the learned among us practise in sad earnest. For,
when they wish to explain the nature of any God, they first examine
his name, and torment the letters thereof, arranging and altering them
according to their will, and flying off to the speech of the Indians and
Medes and Chaldeans, and other Barbarians, if Greek will not serve their
turn. How saith Socrates? 'I bethink me of a very new and ingenious idea
that occurs to me; and, if I do not mind, I shall be wiser than I should
be by to-morrow's dawn. My notion is that we may put in and pull out
letters at pleasure and alter the accents.' Even so do our learned - not
at pleasure, maybe, but according to certain fixed laws (so they
declare); yet none the more do they agree among themselves. And I deny
not that they discover many things true and good to be known; but,
as touching the names of the Gods, their learning, as it standeth, is
confusion. Look, then, at the goddess Athene: taking one example out of
hundreds. We have dwelling in our coasts Muellerus, the most erudite
of the doctors of the Alemanni, and the most golden-mouthed. Concerning
Athene, he saith that her name is none other than, in the ancient tongue
of the Brachmanae, _Ahana'_, which, being interpreted, means the Dawn.
'And that the morning light,' saith he, 'offers the best starting-point;
for the later growth of Athene has been proved, I believe, beyond the
reach of doubt or even cavil.' (1)

(1) 'The Lesson of Jupiter.' - _Nineteenth Century_, October, 1885.

Yet this same doctor candidly lets us know that another of his nation,
the witty Benfeius, hath devised another sense and origin of Athene,
taken from the speech of the old Medes. But Muellerus declares to us
that whosoever shall examine the contention of Benfeius 'will be bound,
in common honesty, to confess that it is untenable.' This, Father, is
one for Benfeius, as the saying goes. And as Muellerus holds that these
matters 'admit of almost mathematical precision,' it would seem
that Benfeius is but a _Dummkopf_, as the Alemanni say, in their own
language, when they would be pleasant among themselves.

Now, wouldst thou credit it? despite the mathematical plainness of
the facts, other Alemanni agree neither with Muellerus, nor yet with
Benfeius, and will neither hear that Athene was the Dawn, nor yet that
she is 'the feminine of the Zend _Thra'eta'na athwya'na_.' Lo, you! how
Prellerus goes about to show that her name is drawn not from _Ahana'_
and the old Brachmanae, nor _athwya'na_ and the old Medes, but from 'the
root _aith_*, whence _aither_*, the air, or _ath_*, whence _anthos_*, a
flower.' Yea, and Prellerus will have it that no man knows the verity of


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