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this matter. None the less he is very bold, and will none of the Dawn;
but holds to it that Athene was, from the first, 'the clear pure height
of the Air, which is exceeding pure in Attica.'

Now, Father, as if all this were not enough, comes one Roscherus in,
with a mighty great volume on the Gods, and Furtwaenglerus, among
others, for his ally. And these doctors will neither with Rueckertus and
Hermannus, take Athene for 'wisdom in person;' nor with Welckerus
and Prellerus, for 'the goddess of air;' nor even, with Muellerus and
mathematical certainty, for 'the Morning-Red:' but they say that Athene
is the 'black thunder-cloud, and the lightning that leapeth therefrom'!
I make no doubt that other Alemanni are of other minds: _quot Alemanni
tot sententiae_.

Yea, as thou saidst of the learned heathen, _Oude gar allelois symphona_
_physiologousis_. Yet these disputes of theirs they call 'Science'!
But if any man says to the learned: 'Best of men, you are erudite,
and laborious and witty; but, till you are more of the same mind, your
opinions cannot be styled knowledge. Nay, they are at present of no
avail whereon to found any doctrine concerning the Gods' - that man is
railed at for his 'mean' and 'weak' arguments.

* Transliterated from Greek.

Was it thus, Father, that the heathen railed against thee? But I
must still believe, with thee, that these evil tales of the Gods were
invented 'when man's life was yet brutish and wandering' (as is the life
of many tribes that even now tell like tales), and were maintained in
honour of the later Greeks 'because none dared alter the ancient beliefs
of his ancestors.' Farewell, Father; and all good be with thee, wishes
thy well-wisher and thy disciple.




XVII. To Percy Bysshe Shelley.


Sir, - In your lifetime on earth you were not more than commonly curious
as to what was said by 'the herd of mankind,' if I may quote your own
phrase. It was that of one who loved his fellow-men, but did not in
his less enthusiastic moments overestimate their virtues and their
discretion. Removed so far away from our hubbub, and that world where,
as you say, we 'pursue our serious folly as of old,' you are, one may
guess, but moderately concerned about the fate of your writings and your
reputation. As to the first, you have somewhere said, in one of your
letters, that the final judgment on your merits as a poet is in the
hands of posterity, and that you fear the verdict will be 'Guilty,'
and the sentence 'Death.' Such apprehensions cannot have been fixed or
frequent in the mind of one whose genius burned always with a clearer
and steadier flame to the last. The jury of which you spoke has met: a
mixed jury and a merciful. The verdict is 'Well done,' and the sentence
Immortality of Fame. There have been, there are, dissenters; yet
probably they will be less and less heard as the years go on.

One judge, or juryman, has made up his mind that prose was your true
province, and that your letters will outlive your lays. I know not
whether it was the same or an equally well-inspired critic, who spoke
of your most perfect lyrics (so Beau Brummell spoke of his ill-tied
cravats) as 'a gallery of your failures.' But the general voice does not
echo these utterances of a too subtle intellect. At a famous University
(not your own) once existed a band of men known as 'The Trinity
Sniffers.' Perhaps the spirit of the sniffer may still inspire some of
the jurors who from time to time make themselves heard in your case.
The 'Quarterly Review', I fear, is still unreconciled. It regards your
attempts as tainted by the spirit of 'The Liberal Movement in English
Literature;' and it is impossible, alas! to maintain with any success
that you were a Throne and Altar Tory. At Oxford you are forgiven; and
the old rooms where you let the oysters burn (was not your founder,
King Alfred, once guilty of similar negligence?) are now shown to pious
pilgrims.

But Conservatives, 't is rumoured, are still averse to your opinions,
and are believed to prefer to yours the works of the Reverend Mr. Keble,
and, indeed, of the clergy in general. But, in spite of all this, your
poems, like the affections of the true lovers in Theocritus, are still
'in the mouths of all, and chiefly on the lips of the young.' It is in
your lyrics that you live, and I do not mean that every one could pass
an examination in the plot of "Prometheus Unbound" Talking of this
piece, by the way, a Cambridge critic finds that it reveals in you a
hankering after life in a cave - doubtless an unconsciously inherited
memory from cave-man. Speaking of cave-man reminds me that you once
spoke of deserting song for prose, and of producing a history of the
moral, intellectual, and political elements in human society, which, we
now agree, began, as Asia would fain have ended, in a cave.

Fortunately you gave us 'Adonai, and 'Hellas' instead of this treatise,
and we have now successfully written the natural history of Man for
ourselves. Science tells us that before becoming cave-dweller he was
a brute; Experience daily proclaims that he constantly reverts to his
original condition. _L'homme est un méchant animal_, in spite of
your boyish efforts to add pretty girls 'to the list of the good, the
disinterested, and the free.'

Ah, not in the wastes of Speculation, nor the sterile din of Politics,
were 'the haunts meet for thee.' Watching the yellow bees in the ivy
bloom, and the reflected pine forest in the water-pools, watching the
sunset as it faded, and the dawn as it fired, and weaving all fair and
fleeting things into a tissue where light and music were at one, that
was the task of Shelley! 'To ask you for anything human,' you said, 'was
like asking for a leg of mutton at a gin-shop.' Nay, rather, like asking
Apollo and Hebe, in the Olympian abodes, to give us beef for ambrosia,
and port for nectar. Each poet gives what he has, and what he can offer;
you spread before us fairy bread, and enchanted wine, and shall we turn
away, with a sneer, because, out of all the multitudes of singers,
one is spiritual and strange, one has seen Artemis unveiled? One, like
Anchises, has been beloved of the Goddess, and his eyes, when he looks
on the common works of common men, are, like the eyes of Anchises, blind
with excess of light. Let Shelley sing of what he saw, what none saw but
Shelley!

Notwithstanding the popularity of your poems (the most romantic of
things didactic), our world is no better than the world you knew. This
will disappoint you, who had 'a passion for reforming it.' Kings and
priests are very much where you left them. True, we have a poet who
assails them, at large, frequently and fearlessly; yet Mr. Swinburne has
never, like 'kind Hunt,' been in prison, nor do we fear for him a charge
of treason. Moreover, chemical science has discovered new and ingenious
ways of destroying principalities and powers. You would be interested in
the methods, but your peaceful Revolutionism, which disdained physical
force, would regret their application.

Our foreign affairs are not in a state which even you would consider
satisfactory; for we have just had to contend with a Revolt of Islam,
and we still find in Russia exactly the qualities which you recognised
and described. We have a great statesman whose methods and eloquence
somewhat resemble those you attribute to Laon and Prince Athanase. Alas!
he is a youth of more than seventy summers; and not in his time will
Prometheus retire to a cavern and pass a peaceful millennium in twining
buds and beams.

In domestic affairs most of the Reforms you desired to see have been
carried. Ireland has received Emancipation, and almost everything else
she can ask for. I regret to say that she is still unhappy; her wounds
unstanched, her wrongs unforgiven. At home we have enfranchised the
paupers, and expect the most happy results. Paupers (as Mr. Gladstone
says) are 'our own flesh and blood,' and, as we compel them to be
vaccinated, so we should permit them to vote. Is it a dream that Mr.
Jesse Collings (how you would have loved that man!) has a Bill for
extending the priceless boon of the vote to inmates of Pauper Lunatic
Asylums? This may prove that last element in the Elixir of political
happiness which we have sought in vain. Atheists, you will regret to
hear, are still unpopular; but the new Parliament has done something for
Mr. Bradlaugh. You should have known our Charles while you were in the
'Queen Mab' stage. I fear you wandered, later, from his robust condition
of intellectual development.

As to your private life, many biographers contrive to make public as
much of it as possible. Your name, even in life, was, alas! a kind of
_ducdame_ to bring people of no very great sense into your circle. This
curious fascination has attracted round your memory a feeble folk of
commentators, biographers, anecdotists, and others of the tribe.
They swarm round you like carrion-flies round a sensitive plant, like
night-birds bewildered by the sun. Men of sense and taste have written
on you, indeed; but your weaker admirers are now disputing as to whether
it was your heart, or a less dignified and most troublesome organ, which
escaped the flames of the funeral pyre. These biographers fight terribly
among themselves, and vainly prolong the memory of 'old unhappy far-off
things, and _sorrows_ long ago.' Let us leave them and their squabbles
over what is unessential, their raking up of old letters and old
stories.

The town has lately yawned a weary laugh over an enemy of yours, who has
produced two heavy volumes, styled by him 'The Real Shelley.' The real
Shelley, it appears, was Shelley as conceived of by a worthy gentleman
so prejudiced and so skilled in taking up things by the wrong handle
that I wonder he has not made a name in the exact science of Comparative
Mythology. He criticises you in the spirit of that Christian Apologist,
the Englishman who called you 'a damned Atheist' in the post-office at
Pisa. He finds that you had 'a little turned-up nose,' a feature no less
important in his system than was the nose of Cleopatra (according to
Pascal) in the history of the world. To be in harmony with your nose,
you were a 'phenomenal' liar, an ill-bred, ill-born, profligate, partly
insane, an evil-tempered monster, a self-righteous person, full of
self-approbation - in fact you were the Beast of this pious Apocalypse.
Your friend Dr. Lind was an embittered and scurrilous apothecary, 'a bad
old man.' But enough of this inopportune brawler. For Humanity, of which
you hoped such great things, Science predicts extinction in a night of
Frost. The sun will grow cold, slowly - as slowly as doom came on Jupiter
in your 'Prometheus,' but as surely. If this nightmare be fulfilled,
perhaps the Last Man, in some fetid hut on the ice-bound Equator, will
read. by a fading lamp charged with the dregs of the oil in his cruse,
the poetry of Shelley. So reading, he, the latest of his race, will not
wholly be deprived of those sights which alone (says the nameless Greek)
make life worth enduring. In your verse he will have sight of sky,
and sea, and cloud, the gold of dawn and the gloom of earthquake and
eclipse, he will be face to face, in fancy, with the great powers that
are dead, sun, and ocean, and the illimitable azure of the heavens. In
Shelley's poetry, while Man endures, all those will survive; for your
'voice is as the voice of winds and tides,' and perhaps more deathless
than all of these, and only perishable with the perishing of the human
spirit.




XVIII. To Monsieur de Moliére, Valet de Chambre du Roi.


Monsieur, - With what awe does a writer venture into the presence of the
great Moliére! As a courtier in your time would scratch humbly (with his
comb!) at the door of the Grand Monarch, so I presume to draw near your
dwelling among the Immortals. You, like the king who, among all his
titles, has now none so proud as that of the friend of Moliére - you
found your dominions small, humble, and distracted; you raised them to
the dignity of an empire: what Louis XIV. did for France you achieved
for French comedy; and the ba'ton of Scapin still wields its sway though
the sword of Louis was broken at Blenheim. For the King the Pyrenees,
or so he fancied, ceased to exist; by a more magnificent conquest you
overcame the Channel. If England vanquished your country's arms, it was
through you that France _ferum victorem cepit_, and restored the dynasty
of Comedy to the land whence she had been driven. Ever since Dryden
borrowed 'L'Etourdi,' our tardy apish nation has lived (in matters
theatrical) on the spoils of the wits of France.

In one respect, to be sure, times and manners have altered. While
you lived, taste kept the French drama pure; and it was the congenial
business of English playwrights to foist their rustic grossness and
their large Fescennine jests into the urban page of Moliére. Now they
are diversely occupied; and it is their affair to lend modesty
where they borrow wit, and to spare a blush to the cheek of the Lord
Chamberlain. But still, as has ever been our wont since Etherege saw,
and envied, and imitated your successes - still we pilfer the plays of
France, and take our _bien_, as you said in your lordly manner, wherever
we can find it. We are the privateers of the stage; and it is rarely,
to be sure, that a comedy pleases the town which has not first been
'cut out' from the countrymen of Moliére. Why this should be, and what
'tenebriferous star' (as Paracelsus, your companion in the 'Dialogues
des Morts,' would have believed) thus darkens the sun of English humour,
we know not; but certainly our dependence on France is the sincerest
tribute to you. Without you, neither Rotrou, nor Corneille, nor 'a
wilderness of monkeys' like Scarron, could ever have given Comedy to
France and restored her to Europe.

While we owe to you, Monsieur, the beautiful advent of Comedy, fair and
beneficent as Peace in the play of Aristophanes, it is still to you that
we must turn when of comedies we desire the best. If you studied with
daily and nightly care the works of Plautus and Terence, if you 'let no
musty _bouquin_ escape you' (so your enemies declared), it was to some
purpose that you laboured. Shakespeare excepted, you eclipsed all who
came before you; and from those that follow, however fresh, we turn: we
turn from Regnard and Beaumarchais, from Sheridan: and Goldsmith,
from Musset and Pailleron and Labiche, to that crowded world of your
creations. 'Creations' one may well say, for you anticipated Nature
herself: you gave us, before she did, in Alceste a Rousseau who was a
gentleman not a lacquey; in a _mot_ of Don Juan's, the secret of the new
Religion and the watchword of Comte, _l'amour de l'humanité_.

Before you where can we find, save in Rabelais, a Frenchman with humour;
and where, unless it be in Montaigne, the wise philosophy of a secular
civilisalion? With a heart the most tender, delicate, loving, and
generous, a heart often in agony and torment, you had to make life
endurable (we cannot doubt it) without any whisper of promise, or hope,
or warning from Religion. Yes, in an age when the greatest mind of
all, the mind of Pascal, proclaimed that the only help was in voluntary
blindness, that the only chance was to hazard all on a bet at evens,
you, Monsieur, refused to be blinded, or to pretend to see what you
found invisible.

In Religion you beheld no promise of help. When the Jesuits and
Jansenists of your time saw, each of them, in Tartufe the portrait of
their rivals (as each of the laughable Marquises in your play conceived
that you were girding at his neighbour), you all the while were mocking
every credulous excess of Faith. In the sermons preached to Agnés we
surely hear your private laughter; in the arguments for credulity
which are presented to Don Juan by his valet we listen to the eternal
self-defence of superstition. Thus, desolate of belief, you sought for
the permanent element of life - precisely where Pascal recognised all
that was most fleeting and unsubstantial - in _divertissement_; in the
pleasure of looking on, a spectator of the accidents of existence, an
observer of the follies of mankind. Like the Gods of the Epicurean, you
seem to regard our life as a play that is played, as a comedy; yet how
often the tragic note comes in! What pity, and in the laughter what an
accent of tears, as of rain in the wind! No comedian has been so kindly
and human as you; none has had a heart, like you, to feel for his butts,
and to leave them sometimes, in a sense, superior to their tormentors.
Sganarelle, M. de Pourceaugnac, George Dandin, and the rest - our
sympathy, somehow, is with them, after all; and M. de Pourceaugnac is a
gentleman, despite his misadventures.

Though triumphant Youth and malicious Love in your plays may batter and
defeat Jealousy and Old Age, yet they have not all the victory, or you
did not mean that they should win it. They go off with laughter, and
their victim with a grimace; but in him we, that are past our youth,
behold an actor in an unending tragedy, the defeat of a generation. Your
sympathy is not wholly with the dogs that are having their day; you can
throw a bone or a crust to the dog that has had his, and has been taught
that it is over and ended. Yourself not unlearned in shame, in jealousy,
in endurance of the wanton pride of men (how could the poor player and
the husband of Céliméne be untaught in that experience?), you never
sided quite heartily, as other comedians have done, with young
prosperity and rank and power.

I am not the first who has dared to approach you in the Shades; for just
after your own death the author of 'Les Dialogues des Morts' gave you
Paracelsus as a companion, and the author of 'Le Jugement de Pluton'
made the 'mighty warder' decide that 'Moliére should not talk
philosophy.' These writers, like most of us, feel that, after all, the
comedies of the _Contemplateur_, of the translator of Lucretius, are a
philosophy of life in themselves, and that in them we read the lessons
of human experience writ small and clear.

What comedian but Moliére has combined with such depths - with the
indignation of Alceste, the self-deception of Tartufe, the blasphemy of
Don Juan - such wildness of irresponsible mirth, such humour, such wit!
Even now, when more than two hundred years have sped by, when so much
water has flowed under the bridges and has borne away so many trifles
of contemporary mirth (_cetera_ _fluminis ritu feruntur_), even now we
never laugh so well as when Mascarille and Vadius and M. Jourdain tread
the boards in the Maison de Moliére. Since those mobile dark brows
of yours ceased to make men laugh, since your voice denounced the
'demoniac' manner of contemporary tragedians, I take leave to think that
no player has been more worthy to wear the _canons_ of Mascarille or
the gown of Vadius than M. Coquelin of the Comédie Francaise. In him
you have a successor to your Mascarille so perfect, that the ghosts of
play-goers of your date might cry, could they see him, that Moliére had
come again. But, with all respect to the efforts of the fair, I doubt if
Mdlle. Barthet, or Mdme. Croizette herself, would reconcile the town
to the loss of the fair De Brie, and Madeleine, and the first, the true
Céliméne, Armande. Yet had you ever so merry a _soubrette_ as Mdme.
Samary, so exquisite a Nicole?

Denounced, persecuted, and buried hugger-mugger two hundred years ago,
you are now not over-praised, but more worshipped, with more servility
and ostentation, studied with more prying curiosity than you may
approve. Are not the Moliéristes a body who carry adoration to
fanaticism? Any scrap of your handwriting (so few are these), any
anecdote even remotely touching on your life, any fact that may prove
your house was numbered 15 not 22, is eagerly seized and discussed by
your too minute historians. Concerning your private life, these men
often write more like malicious enemies than friends; repeating the
fabulous scandals of Le Boulanger, and trying vainly to support them by
grubbing in dusty parish registers. It is most necessary to defend you
from your friends - from such friends as the veteran and inveterate M.
Arséne Houssaye, or the industrious but puzzle-headed M. Loiseleur.
Truly they seek the living among the dead, and the immortal Moliére
among the sweepings of attorneys' offices. As I regard them (for I
have tarried in their tents) and as I behold their trivialities - the
exercises of men who neglect Moliérés works to write about Moliére's
great-grandmother's second-best bed - I sometimes wish that Moliére
were here to write on his devotees a new comedy, 'Les Moliéristes.' How
fortunate were they, Monsieur, who lived and worked with you, who saw
you day by day, who were attached, as Lagrange tells us, by the kindest
loyalty to the best and most honourable of men, the most open-handed in
friendship, in charity the most delicate, of the heartiest sympathy! Ah,
that for one day I could behold you, writing in the study, rehearsing
on the stage, musing in the lace-seller's shop, strolling through the
Palais, turning over the new books at Billaine's, dusting your ruffles
among the old volumes on the sunny stalls. Would that, through the
ages, we could hear you after supper, merry with Boileau, and with
Racine, - not yet a traitor, - laughing over Chapelain, combining to gird
at him in an epigram, or mocking at Cotin, or talking your favourite
philosophy, mindful of Descartes. Surely of all the wits none was ever
so good a man, none ever made life so rich with humour and friendship.




XIX. To Robert Burns.


Sir, - Among men of Genius, and especially among Poets, there are some to
whom we turn with a peculiar and unfeigned affection; there are others
whom we admire rather than love. By some we are won with our will, by
others conquered against our desire. It has been your peculiar fortune
to capture the hearts of a whole people - a people not usually prone to
praise, but devoted with a personal and patriotic loyalty to you and to
your reputation. In you every Scot who _is_ a Scot sees, admires, and
compliments Himself, his ideal self - independent, fond of whisky,
fonder of the lassies; you are the true representative of him and of his
nation. Next year will be the hundredth since the press of Kilmarnock
brought to light its solitary masterpiece, your Poems; and next year,
therefore, methinks, the revenue will receive a welcome accession from
the abundance of whisky drunk in your honour. It is a cruel thing for
any of your countrymen to feel that, where all the rest love, he can
only admire; where all the rest are idolators, he may not bend the knee;
but stands apart and beats upon his breast, observing, not adoring - a
critic. Yet to some of us - petty souls, perhaps, and envious - that loud
indiscriminating praise of 'Robbie Burns' (for so they style you in
their Change-house familiarity) has long been ungrateful; and, among the
treasures of your songs, we venture to select and even to reject. So it
must be! We cannot all love Haggis, nor 'painch, tripe, and thairm,'
and all those rural dainties which you celebrate as 'warm-reekin, rich!'
'Rather too rich,' as the Young Lady said on an occasion recorded by Sam
Weller.

Auld Scotland wants nae skinking ware
That jaups in luggies;
But, if ye wish her gratefu' prayer,
Gie her a Haggis!

You _have_ given her a Haggis, with a vengeance, and her 'gratefu' prayer' is
yours for ever. But if even an eternity of partridge may pall on the
epicure, so of Haggis too, as of all earthly delights, cometh satiety at
last. And yet what a glorious Haggis it is - the more emphatically rustic
and even Fescennine part of your verse! We have had many a rural bard
since Theocritus 'watched the visionary flocks,' but you are the only
one of them all who has spoken the sincere Doric. Yours is the talk of
the byre and the plough-tail; yours is that large utterance of the early
hinds. Even Theocritus minces matters, save where Lacon and Comatas
quite outdo the swains of Ayrshire. 'But thee, Theocritus, wha matches?'
you ask, and yourself out-match him in this wide rude region, trodden
only by the rural Muse.

'_Thy_ rural loves are nature's sel';' and the wooer of Jean Armour
speaks more like a true shepherd than the elegant Daphnis of the
'Oaristys.'

Indeed it is with this that moral critics of your life reproach you,
forgetting, perhaps, that in your amours you were but as other Scotch
ploughmen and shepherds of the past and present. Ettrick may still, with


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