Frank Frankfort Moore.

A garden of peace, a medley in quietude online

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When the Germans landed ;
All our men had run away,

All our ships were stranded-
And the thought of England's shame
Almost put me off my game.' '

Our antiquarian friend looked puzzled for some
time; then he shook his head gravely, saying:


"I don't like that. It's a gross libel upon our
brave men and on our noble sailors too: I heard
some one say in a speech the other day that there
are no better seamen in the world than are in the
British Navy. Our soldiers did not run away, and
all our ships were not stranded. It was one of the
German lies to say so. And what I say is that it was
very lucky for the man who wrote that verse that
there was a British fleet to prevent the Germans land-
ing. They never did succeed in landing, I'm sure,
though I was talking to a man who had it on good
authority that there were five U-boats beginning to
disembark some crack regiments of Hun cavalry
when a British man-o'-war one, mind you a single
ship came in sight, and they all bundled back to
their blessed U-boats in double quick time."

" I think you told me about that before," said I
and he had. " It was the same person who brought
the first news of the Russian troops going through
England he had seen them on the platform of
Crewe stamping off the snow they had brought on
their boots from Archangel; and afterwards he had
been talking with a soldier who had seen the angels
at Mons, and had been ordered home to be one of the
shooting party at the Tower of London, when Prince
Louis was court-martialled and sentenced."

" Quite true," he cried. " My God! what an expe-
rience for any one man to go through. But we are
living in extraordinary times that's what I've never
shrunk from saying, no matter who was present-
extraordinary times."


I could not but agree with him. I did not say that
what I thought the most extraordinary feature of the
times was the extraordinary credulity of so many
people. The story of the Mons angels was perhaps
the most remarkable of all the series. A journalist
sitting in his office in London simply introduced in
a newspaper article the metaphor of a host of angels
holding up the advancing Germans, and within a
week scores of people in England had talked with
soldiers who had seen those imaginary angels and
were ready to give a poulterer's description of them,
as Sheridan said some one would do if he introduced
the Phrenix into his Drury Lane Address.

It was no use the journalist explaining that his
angels were purely imaginary ones ; people said, when
you pointed this out to them :

" That may be so ; but these were the angels he

Clergymen preached beautiful sermons on the
angel host; and I heard of a man who sold for half
a crown a feather which had dropped from the wing
of one of the angels who had come on duty before he
had quite got over his moult.

When Dorothy heard this she said she was sure
that it was no British soldier who had shown the white
feather in France during that awful time.

" If they were imaginary angels, the white feather
must have been imaginary too," said Olive, the prac-
tical one.

" One of the earliest of angel observers was an ass,
and the tradition has been carefully adhered to ever


since," said Friswell, and after that there was, of
course, no use talking further.

But when we were still laughing over our anti-
quarian and his novelties in the form of verse and
anecdote, Friswell himself appeared with a news-
paper in his hand, and he too was laughing.

It was over the touching letter of an actress to her
errant husband, entreating him to return and all
would be forgiven. I had read it and smiled ; so had
Dorothy, and wept.

But it really was a beautiful letter, and I said so
to Friswell.

" It is the most beautiful of the four actresses' let-
ters to errant spouses for Divorce Court purposes
that I have read within the past few months," said
he. " But they are all beautiful all touching. It
makes one almost ready to condone the sin that re-
sults in such an addition to the literature of the Law
Courts. I wonder who is the best person to go to
for such a letter some men must make a speciality
of that sort of work to meet the demands of the time.
But wouldn't it be dreadful if the errant husband
became so convicted of his trespass through reading
the wife's appeal to return, that he burst into tears,
called a taxi and drove home! But these Divorce
Court pleading letters are of great value profes-
sionally they have quite blanketed the old lost jewel-
case stunt as a draw. I was present and assisted in
the reception given by the audience to the lady whose
beautiful letter had appeared in the paper in the
morning. She was overwhelmed. She had made


up pale in view of that reception; and there was
something in her throat that prevented her from
going on with her words for some time. The ' poor
things ! ' that one heard on all sides showed how truly
sympathetic is a British audience."

" I refuse to listen to your cynicism," cried Doro-
thy; " I prefer to believe that people are good rather
than bad."

" And so do I, my dear lady," said he, laughing.
" But don't you see that if you prefer to think good
of all people, you cannot exclude the poor husband
of the complete letter-writer, and if you believe good
of him and not bad, you must believe that his charm-
ing wife is behaving badly in trying to get a divorce."

" She doesn't want a divorce: she wants him to
come back to her and writes to him begging him to
do so," said she.

" And such a touching letter too," I added.

" I have always found ' the profession,' as they
call themselves, more touchy than touching," said he.
" But I admit that I never was so touched as when,
at the funeral of a brother artist, the leading actor of
that day walked behind the coffin with the broken-
hearted widow of the deceased on his right arm and
the broken-hearted mistress on the left. Talk of
stage pathos ! "

" For my part, I shall do nothing of the sort," said
I sharply. " I think, Friswell, that you sometimes
forget that it was you who gave this place the name
of A Garden of Peace. You introduce controversial
topics The Actor is the title of one of these, The


Actress is the title of the other. Let us have done
with them, and talk poetry instead."

"Lord of the Garden of Peace! as if poetry was
the antithesis of polemics verses of controversies!"
cried he. "Never mind! give us a poem of The

" I wish I could," said I. " The two copies of
verses which, as you know, without having read
them, I contributed to the literature I mean the
writings in connection with the war could scarcely
be called pacific."

" They were quite an effective medium for getting
rid of his superfluous steam," said Dorothy to him.
" I made no attempt to prevent his writing them."

" It would have been like sitting on the safety-
valve, wouldn't it? " said he. " I think that literature
would not have suffered materially if a good number
of safety-valves had been sat upon by stouter wives
of metre-engineers than you will ever be, O guardian
lady of the Garden of Peace ! The poets of the pres-
ent hour have got much to recommend them to the
kindly notice of readers of taste, but they have all
fallen short of the true war note on their bugles. Per-
haps when they begin to pipe of peace they will show
themselves better masters of the reed than of the

" Whatever some of them may be " I began,

when he broke in.

" Say some of us, my friend: you can't dissociate
yourself from your pals in the dock: you will be sen-
tenced en bloc, believe me."


:< Well, whatever we may be we make a better show
than the Marlborough Muses or the Wellington or
the Nelson Muses did. What would be thought of
The Campaign if it were to appear to-morrow, I
wonder. But it did more in advancing the interests
of Addison than the complete Spectator/'

' Yes, although some feeble folk did consider that
one bit of it was verging on the blasphemous that
about riding on the whirlwind and directing the
storm," remarked Friswell; he had a good memory
for things verging on the blasphemous.

' The best war poem is the one that puts into
literary form the man in the street yelling ' hurrah ! '
said I. " If the shout is not spontaneous, it sounds
stilted and it is worthless."

" I believe you," said Friswell. " If your verse
does not find an echo in the heart of the rabble that
run after a soldiers' band, it is but as the sounding
brass and tinkling cymbals that crash on the empty
air. But touching the poets of past campaigns "

" I was thinking of Scott's Waterloo/' said I ;
" yes, and Byron's stanzas in Childe Harold, and
somebody's J Twas in Trafalgar's Bay, We saw the
Frenchmen lay ' the Frenchmen lay,' mind you
that's the most popular of all the lays, thanks to
Braham's music and Braham's tenor that gave it a
start. I think we have done better than any of those."

" But have you done better than Scot's wha' hae
wi' Wallace bled? or Of Nelson and the North, Sing
the glorious day's renown? or Ye Mariners of Eng-
land, That guard our native seas? or Not a drum


wa* heard or a funeral note? I doubt it. And to
come down to a later period, what about the lilt of
the Light Brigade at Balaclava, by one Tennyson?
Will any of the poems of 1914 show the same vitality
as these? "

" The vital test of poetry is not its vitality," said
I, " any more than being a best-seller is a test of a
good novel. But I think that when a winnowing of
the recent harvest takes place in a year or two, when
we become more critical than is possible for a people
just emerging from the flames that make us all see
red, you will find that the harvest of sound poetry
will be a record one. We have still the roar of the
thunderstorm in our ears; when an earthquake is just
over is not the time for one to be asked to say whether
the Pathetique or the Moonlight Sonata is the more

"Perhaps," said Friswell doubtfully. "But I
allow that you have ' jined your flats ' better than
Tennyson did. The unutterable vulgarity of that

* gallant six hunderd,' because it happened that

* some one had blundered,' instead of ' blundred,'
will not be found in the Armageddon band of buglers.
But I don't believe that anything so finished as
Wolfe's Burial of Sir John Moore will come to the
surface of the melting-pot I think that the melting-
pot suggests more than your harvest. Your harvest
hints at the swords being turned into ploughshares;
my melting-pot at the bugles being thrown into the
crucible. What have you to say about ' Not a drum
was heard'?"


" That poem is the finest elegy ever written," said
I definitely. ' The author, James Wolfe, occupies
the place among elegists that single-speech Hamilton
does among orators, or Liddell and Scott in a library
of humour. From the first line to the last, no false
note is sounded in that magnificent funeral march.
It is one grand monotone throughout. It cannot be
spoken except in a low monotone. It never rises and
it never falls until the last line is reached, ' We left
him alone in his glory.' '

" And the strangest thing about it is that it ap-
peared first in the poets' corner of a wretched little
Irish newspaper the Newry Telegraph, I believe it
was called," said Dorothy it was Dorothy's reading
of the poem that first impressed me with its beauty.

' The more obscure the crypt in which its body was
buried, the more the more I can't just express the
idea that I'm groping after," said Friswell.

" I should like to help you," said Dorothy. " Strike
a match for me, and I'll try to follow you out of the

" It's something like this : the poem itself seems to
lead you into the gloom of a tomb, so that there is
nothing incongruous in its disappearing into the
obscurity of a corner of a wretched rag of a news-
paper queer impression for any one to have about
such a thing, isn't it?"

" Queer, but well, it was but the body that was
buried, the soul of the poetry could not be consigned
to the sepulchre, even though ' Resurgam ' was cut
upon the stone."


" You have strolled away from me," said I. " All
that I was thinking about Wolfe and that blessed
Newry Telegraph, was expressed quite adequately by
the writer of another Elegy:

" Full many a gem of purest ray serene,

The dark unf athomed caves of ocean bear ;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen,
And waste its sweetness on the desert air."

That was a trite reflection ; and as apposite as yours,
Friswell; unless you go on to assume that through
the desert air there buzzed a bee to carry off the soul
of the blushing flower and cause it to fertilise a whole
garden, so that the desert was made to blossom like
the rose."

" Who was the bee that rescued the poem from the
desert sheet that enshrouded it? " asked Dorothy.

" I have never heard," I said, nor had Friswell.

There was a long pause before he gave a laugh,

" I wonder if you will kick me out of your garden
when I tell you the funny analogy to all this that the
mention of the word desert forced upon me."

" Try us," said I. " We know you."

' The thought that I had was that there are more
busy bees at work than one would suppose; and the
mention of the desert recalled to my mind what I read
somewhere of the remarkable optimism of a flea which
a man found on his foot after crossing the desert of
the Sahara. It had lived on in the sand, goodness


knows how long, on the chance of some animal pass-
ing within the radius of a leap and so carrying it
back to a congenial and not too rasorial a civilisation.
How many thousand mllion chances to one there were
that it should not be rescued; yet its chance came at

" Meaning? "

;< Well, my flea is your bee, and where there are
no bees there may be plenty of fleas."

* Yes ; only my bee comes with healing in its wings,
and your flea is the bearer of disease," said I ; and I
knew that I had got the better of him there, though
I was not so sure that he knew it.

Friswell is a queer mixture.

After another pause, he said,

" By the way, the mention of Campbell and his
group brought back to me one of the most popular
of the poems of the period Lord Ullin's Daughter.
You recollect it, of course."

" A line or two."

"Well, it begins, you know:

" A chieftain to the Highlands bound,

Cries, * Boatman, do not tarry,
And I'll give thee a silver pound,
To row us o'er the ferry.'

Now, for long I felt that it was too great a strain
upon our credulity to ask us to accept the statement
that a Scotsman would offer a ferryman a pound for
a job of the market value of a bawbee; but all at once
the truth flashed upon me: the pound was a pound


Scots, or one shilling and eightpence of our money.
You see?"

"Yes, I see," said Dorothy; "but still it sounds
extravagant. A Highland Chief one and eight-
pence! The ferryman never would have got it."

I fancied that we had exhausted some of the most
vital questions bearing upon the questionable poetry
of the present and the unquestionable poetry of the
past; but I was mistaken; for after dinner I had a
visit from Mr. Gilbert.

But I must give Mr. Gilbert a little chapter to


OF course I had known for a long time that Mr. Gil-
bert was " quite a superior man " that was the
phrase in which the Rural Dean referred to him when
recommending me to apply to him for information
respecting a recalcitrant orchid which had refused one
year to do what it had been doing the year before.
He was indeed " quite a superior man," but being a
florist he could never be superior to his business. No
man can be superior to a florist, when the florist is
an orchidtect as well. I went to Mr. Gilbert and Mr.
Gilbert came to me, and all was right. That was long
ago. We talked orchids all through that year and
then, by way of lightening our theme, we began to
talk of roses and such like frivolities, but everything
he said was said in perfect taste. Though naturally,
living his life on terms of absolute intimacy with
orchids, he could not regard roses seriously, yet I
never heard him say a disrespectful word about them:
he gave me to understand that he regarded the ma-
jority of rosarians as quite harmless they had their
hobby, and why should they not indulge in it, he
asked. " After all, rosarians are God's creatures like
the rest of us," he said, with a tolerant smile. And
I must confess that, for all my knowledge of his



being a superior man, he startled me a little by


"The orchid is epic and the rose lyric, sir; but
every one knows how an incidental lyric lightens up
the hundred pages of an epic. Oh, yes, roses have
their place in a properly organised horticultural

" I believe you are right, now that I come to look
at the matter in that light," said I. " You find a
relaxation in reading poetry? " I added.

" I have made a point of reading some verses every
night for the past twenty-five years, sir," he replied.
" I find that's the only way by which I can keep
myself up to the mark."

" I can quite understand that," said I. " Flowers
are the lyrics that, as you say, lighten the great epic
of Creation. Where would our poets be without their

;< They make their first appeal to the poet, sir ; but
the worst of it is that every one who can string to-
gether a few lines about a flower believes himself to
be a poet. No class of men have treated flowers
worse than our poets even the best of them are so
vague in their references to flowers as to irritate me."

" In what way, Mr. Gilbert? "

"Well, you know, sir, they will never tell us
plainly just what they are driving at. For instance
we were speaking of roses, just now well, we have
roses and roses by the score in poems; but how seldom
do we find the roses specified! There's Matthew
Arnold, for example; he wrote " Strew on her roses,


roses"; but he did not say whether he wanted her
to be strewn with hybrid teas, Wichuraianas, or poly-
anthas. He does not even suggest the colour. Now,
could anything be more vague? It makes one believe
that he was quite indifferent on the point, which
would, of course, be doing him a great injustice: all
these funeral orders are specified, down to the last
violets and Stephanotis. Then we have, " It was the
time of roses " now, there's another ridiculously
vague phrase. Why could the poet not have said
whether he had in his mind the ordinary brier or an
autumn-flowering William Allen Richardson or a
Gloire de Dijon? But that is not nearly so irritating
as Tennyson is in places. You remember his " Flower
in the crannied wall." There he leaves a reader in
doubt as to what the plant really was. If it was
Saracha Hapelioides, he should have called it a herb,
or if it was simply the ordinary Scolopendrium
marginatum he should have called it a fern. If it
was one of the Saxifragece he left his readers quite a
bewildering choice. My own impression is that it
belonged to the Evaizoonia section probably the
Aizoon sempervivoides, though it really might have
been the cartilaginea. Why should we be left to
puzzle over the thing? But for that matter, both
Shakespeare and Milton are most flagrant offenders,
though I acknowledge that the former now and again
specifies his roses: the musk and damask were his
favourites. But why should he not say whether it
was Thymus Serpyllum or atropurpureus he alluded
to on that bank? He merely says, " Whereon the


wild thyme blows." It is really that vagueness, that
absence of simplicity which has made poetry so un-
popular. Then think of the trouble it must be to a
foreigner when he comes upon a line comparing a
maiden to a lily, without saying what particular lilium
is meant. An Indian squaw is like a lily lilium
Brownii; a Japanese may appropriately be said to be
like the lilium sulphureum. Recovering from a severe
attack of measles a young woman suggests lilium
speciosum; but that is just the moment when she
makes a poor appeal to a poet. To say that a maiden
is like a lily conveys nothing definite to the mind ; but
that sort of neutrality is preferable to the creation of
a false impression, so doing her a great injustice by
suggesting it may be that her complexion is a bright
orange picked out with spots of purple."

That was what our Mr. Gilbert said to me more
than a year ago; and now he comes to me before I
have quite recovered from the effects of that discus-
sion with Friswell, and after a few professional re-
marks respecting a new orchid acquisition, begins:
" Might I take the liberty of reading you a little thing
which I wrote last night as an experiment in the
direction of the reform I advocated a year ago when
referring to the vagueness of poets' flowers? I don't
say that the verses have any poetical merit; but I
claim for them a definiteness and a lucidity that
should appeal to all readers who, like myself, are tired
of the slovenly and loose way in which poets drag
flowers into their compositions."

I assured him that nothing would give me greater


pleasure than to hear his poem; and he thanked me
and said that the title was, The Florist to his Bride.
This was his poem:

Do you remember, dearest, that wild eve,
When March came blustering o'er the land?
We stood together, hand in hand,
Watching the slate-gray waters heave
Hearing despairing boughs behind us grieve.

It seemed as if no forest voice was dumb.

All Nature joining in one cry;

The Ampelopsis Veitchii,
Giving gray hints of green to come,
Shrank o'er the leafless Prunus Aviv/m.

Desolate seemed the grove of Coniferia,

Evergreen as deciduous;

Hopeless the hour seemed unto us ;
Helpless our beauteous Cryptomeria
Helpless in Winter's clutch our Koelreuteria.

We stood beneath our Ulmus Gracilis,
And watched the tempest-torn Fitzroya,
And shaken than the stout Sequoia;

And yet I knew in spite of this,

Your heart was hopeful of the Springtide's kiss.

Yours was the faith of woman, dearest child.

Your eyes Centaur 'ea Cyanus

Saw what I saw not nigh to us,
And that, I knew, ,was why you smiled,
When the Montana Pendula swung wild.

I knew you smiled, thinking of suns to come,
Seeing in snowflakes on bare trees
Solanwm Jasmmoldes


Seeing ere Winter's voice was dumb,
The peeping pink Mesembrianthium.

I knew you saw as if they flowered before us,

The sweet Rhodora Canadensis,

The lush Wistaria Sinensis,
The Lepsosiphon Densiflorus
All flowers that swell the Summer's colour-chorus.

And, lightened by your smile, I saw, my Alice,

The modest Resida Odor at a

Linaria Reticulata
I drank the sweets of Summer's chalice,
Sparkling Calendula Officmalis.

To me your smile brought sunshine that gray day,

The saddest Salex Babylonica

Became Anemone Japonica
And the whole world beneath its ray,
Bloomed one Escholtzia Californicce.

Still in thy smile the summer airs caress us;
And now with thee my faith is sure:
The love that binds us shall endure
Nay, growing day by day to bless us,
Till o'er us waves Supervirens Cupressus.

;< I hope I haven't bored you, sir. I don't pretend
to be a poet; but you see what my aim is, I'm sure
lucidity and accuracy strict accuracy, sir. Some-
thing that every one can understand."

I assured him that he had convinced me that he
understood his business: he was incomparable as a


AMONG the features of our gardens for which I am
not responsible, is the grass walk alongside the Castle
Wall, where it descends on one side, by the remains
of the terraces of the Duke's hanging gardens, fifty
feet into the original fosse, while on the other it
breasts the ancient Saxon earthwork, which reduces
its height to something under fifteen, so that the wall
on our side is quite a low one, but happily of a breadth
that allows of a growth of wild things lilacs and
veronicas and the like in beautiful luxuriance, while
the face is in itself a garden of crevices where the
wallflowers last long enough to mix with the snap-
dragons and scores of modest hyssops and mosses and
ferns that lurk in every cranny.

Was it beneath such a wall that Tennyson stood to
wonder how he should fulfil the commission he had

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Online LibraryFrank Frankfort MooreA garden of peace, a medley in quietude → online text (page 15 of 18)