Royal Society of Literature (Great Britain). Acade.

Commemorative addresses : on Andrew Lang by W.P. Ker and on Arthur Woollgar Verrall by J.W. Mackail; award of the Edmond de Polignac Prize, Thursday, November 28th, 1912 online

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Online LibraryRoyal Society of Literature (Great Britain). AcadeCommemorative addresses : on Andrew Lang by W.P. Ker and on Arthur Woollgar Verrall by J.W. Mackail; award of the Edmond de Polignac Prize, Thursday, November 28th, 1912 → online text (page 1 of 2)
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Alfred Austin.

James Matthew Barrie.

Arthur Christopher Benson.

Laurence Binyon.

Andrew Cecil Bradley.

Eobert Bridges.

Joseph Conrad.

William John Couhthope.

Austin Dobson.

Edward Dowden.

James Gteorge Frazer.

John Galsworthy.

Edmund Gosse.

Viscount Haldane of Cloan,

Thomas Hardy.

Maurice Hewlett.

William Henry Hudson

(Author of ' The Purple Land ' j.

Henry James.

William Paton Ker.

John William Mackail.

Thomas Sturge Moore.

Viscount Morley.

George Gilbert Murray.

Henry Newbolt.

Sir Arthur. Wing Pinero.

George Walter Prothero.

Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Sir Walter Ealeigh.

Anne Isabella, Lady Ritchie.

George Bernard Shaw.

George Wyndham.

William Butler Yeats.

Samuel Henry Butcher died Dec. 29th, 1910.
Edward Henry Pember died April 5tli, 1911.
Alfred Comyn Lyall died April lOtli, 1911.
Arthur Woollgar A-^errall died June 19th, 1912.
Andrew Lang died July 21st, 1912.

Percy W. Ames,




List of Members of the J^ cademic Committee
Address by Mr. J, M. Barrie .
Address by Mr. W. P. Ker
Address by Mr. J. V\\ ]\Iackail
Address by Mr. Edmund Gosse .




Meeting at Caxtox Hall, Westminster.

Thtrsdcuj, Novemher 28th, 1912.
Chairman: Mr. J. M. Barrie.

Mr. J. M. Barrie said that the Academic
Committee existed to attend, as far as it could,
to the standard of style in this country. They
were present to hear what two of their mem-
bers had to say about two dead members, whose
style, after all was said and done, was what
they had left l)eliind them. He remembered
long ago being with a very distinguished writer
in a club where they were always talking about
style, and on that occasion everyone was very

brilliant on the subject. At last liis friend said
something, and in comparison it was rather
childish. How strange it was, and yet, perhaps,
not strange at all, that the only man among
them who had a style was the only one who did
not seem to know all about it. Style, he fancied,
was simply the way in which an artist painted
his picture. There was no other difference be-
tween a Venus by Titian and a Venus by Tom
Smith. Rather hard on Tom. Mr. Verrall
was a " little candle," as all men were, but that
candle had cast its beams far. He had found
his grave in the hearts of young men. It was
there he had painted his picture.

There are two ways in A\diich Mr. Lang may
be considered, besides the other waj^s : The one
as a writer who had every good quality except
that he was not a Scot, and the other that he
was as Scotch as peat. I do not know from
which point of view Professor Ker is to speak,
but I should like to talk of the other. I am
like the Scotsman who, when he was dying,
said, " I want neither priest nor doctor. What
I want to do is to aro-ue." That was one of

tlie things Mr. Lang liked to do. Lang and
Stevenson were the two Scottish musketeers-
All through their style one can hear what Mr.
Howells called the swashbuckler swashing on
his buckler. I think Mr. Lang always puzzled
the Sassenach a little. Perhaps that is the
first duty of the Scot. He was so prodigal of
his showers of gold, and so wayward. There
was a touch of the elf about him. Touch
hardly seems the right word, because one
could never touch him ; he was too elusive for
that. The same could be said about Steven-
son. Perhaps it was their way of preserving
the great national secret.

In making the second award of the Edmond
de Polignac Prize we are honouring one who
in my opinion has produced incomparably the
finest literature of the year. May the good
God direct his sails.


BY W. P. KEE, M.A.

I REMEMBER long ago liow soiiie people in
Oxford and elsewhere used to speak of Andrew
Lang and wonder if he would ever do anything
really great. To those well-meaning friends and
acquaintances he seemed to be squandering his
genius in desultory studies. There were other
persons at the same time who were well enough
pleased to read whatever he wrote on any
subject, and did not ask or care whether he
would ever do anything great or not. Now
that he is dead and his work is ended, I do not
believe that those who have been reading his
books these forty years will be much concerned
to ask whether any one book gives the best that
was in him. The thoughts of most of us have
taken a different turn, for we see too clearly
how much Ave owed to his spirit and wit and
judgment, and how many pleasant things in
many different regions have lost something of

their savour because it is no longer possil^le to
hear what he thinks about them. There are
man}^ here who knew him much better than I, but
I know for myself well enough how very cheer-
ful the business of learninsf became wherever
Lang was interested. He honoured me some-
times with his confidence — -I touched on fringes
of one of his favourite subjects, the prol)lems
of the Border ballads and of ballad poetry in
general — and when I think of those sudden
letters that came, showering sparks, into the
centre of a controversy, I can guess truly what is
lost, and wdiat is missed, by other correspondents
and readers in the other subjects ; how many
these were it Avould not be easy to reckon
except in a general and summary way. Think
of all the varieties of his work on Homer — in
mythology — in Scottish and other history.
Wherever he was interested there was sure to
come the same sort of inspiring and generous
letter ; I remember York Powell, not long-
before his death, showing one of them that
had just arrived — a piece of good fortune, as
he reerarded it.


The postscript to the preface of Mr. AYalter
Leaf's " Troy " — which Lang had read in proof
— is a record such as many a scholar might wish
to have for himself; it is better than anything
I can say, and I ask leave to quote it :

"This preface, hardly passed for press, already
stands in need of a sad postscript. When Andrew
Lang returned me the proof of it, there stood,
scribbled beside the allusion to our differences,
" Why, you are j;/i;,-S' roi/aliste que le vol.'''' Ten
days later his acute and versatile spirit, in the
maturity of its power and with energy un-
abated, passed from us. It is not without
gratitude that I think of this seal to a friend-
ship of over thirty years. Begun with col-
laboration in Homer, it has ended Avith tlie
sense that beneath all our differences there has
at least been common ground, and with the
hope that the following pages may contriljute
somethino: to that ultimate, if far distant ao-ree-
ment for which we have both, in our several
ways, striven to work."

Learning and the pursuits of literature have
had many hard things saitl of tlieni ; but they


are essentially honourable, and few men of
letters have done more to show this than Andrew
Lang, in two ways particularly — in the help he
gave so freely to anyone who wanted it, and in
his absolutely regardless fashion of working on
any question which he took up. Where his not
unkindly but not very clear-sighted early critics
went wrong — those, I mean, who asked, foi'ty
years ago, if Lang was ever going to do some-
thing great — was that they had a conventional
idea of the big book as a result, and not much
understanding of the motives and methods with
which Lang was busy all the time. He would
not, he said, write a ' Key to All Mythologies ' ;
but this was exactly what he was doing — not
in order to get the approval of his very respect-
able contemporaries, but because he saw the
defects of the current teaching about mythology,
and because he had found, and went on finding
more and more fully and surely, the evidence
for another theory. The simple reason for all
his historical work was that he wanted to find
out ; he was an historian in the old true sense
of the word, and when he began an inquiry he


would not be stopped. The singular thing was
that his hardest work left his mind free to take
his serious business lightly. Everyone knows
how his mythological work would spring into
rhyme, as in the ' Chorus of the Barbarous
Bird-gods,' or into stories like ' The End of
Phaeacia.' Even his deadly' attacks on the
philologists and their rival formulas, ' Storm-
god,' ' Sun-god,' and so forth, may often,
perhaps, have escaped notice, and been taken
for mere literature. •' Custom and Myth ' (1884),
which the author himself compared to an
advance of skirmishers in front of an army, is
not difficult reading. Many of the essays had
appeared in popular magazines, and the philo-
logical or mythological theories may very well
have refused to believe that they were killed
by a trifling sword of sharpness which they
could not see. But their heads were off, for all
that, though they might not know it at the
time. The little book of three hundred pages
did what Lang had been planning for many
years. He followed it with the larger book,
' Myth, Ritual and Religion,' more methodical


and systematic ; it occupied ground from which
I beHeve it has not yet been displaced. But
one woukl choose the earlier and lighter book
to show best of all what Lano- had been drivinof
at, the thoroughness of his reading, his keen-
ness in debate, and everywhere the delight in a
new vision of the world, and in the music which
he overheard, like that which he quotes from
the ' Kalevala.'

" These lays were found by the wayside, and
gathered in the depths of the copses, blown
from the branches of the forest, and culled
among the plumes of the pine trees. . . . The
cold has spoken to me, and the rain has told me
her runes ; the winds of heaven, the waves of
the sea, have spoken and sung to me ; the wild
birds have taught me, the music of many waters
has been my master."

I have quoted that because it shows how his
scientific work in anthropology was not sepa-
rate from anything else in his writing, and how
quick he w^as to take note of beautiful, fanciful
things as he came upon them; these were the
inspiration of all his learned work, though he


never allowed himself to be turned aside by the
glamour of the fairy world from the business of
his logical argument — when that happened to
be his business.

Did he ever know how much his poetry was
admired ? Perhaps those who liked it most
and had lived with it longest were too slow and
diffident to speak out what they thought. It is
a pity, if so it was. I may not say much now,
but I read the 'Ballads and Lyrics of Old
France ' very soon after they first appeared
with an admiration that has never slackened
since, and I have a large debt to acknowledge,
and never to repay, to the author of that and
the succeeding books of poems. This is not
the time to describe them, even if one had the
power to speak rightly of all the various moods
and tunes and themes — the tale of Troy,
the XXXII ballades, those graver poems into
Avhicli he put the thought that was stirred by
the death of Gordon at Khartoum, a thought
that never failed him in his unbroken, un-
shaken worship of loyalty.

If I Avere to choose among them all I would


certainl}^ take, for one reason or another, the
two poems written for his edition of Kirk's
' Secret Commonwealth.' One of these is in
the old Scots comic verse, and it is addressed to
Stevenson in Samoa, condoling with him on the
low condition of his l)arbarous islands :

" There are iiae bouiiy U. P. kirks,
An awfu' place ;
Nane kens the Covenant o' Works,
Frae that o' Grace."

It ends Avith a stanza nnlike the rest of the
piece, in a mood of depression, as if life were
not " more amusino; than we thono-ht." It was
left out Avhen the poem was reprinted, yet it is
needed for the conclusion, and the poem is
incomplete without it.

The other poem is " The Fairy Minister " (on
the author of the ' Secret Commonwealth,' the
Rev. Robert Kirk, who was carried off by the
fairies) :

" He heard, he saw, he knew too Avell
The secrets of your fairy clan ;
You stole him from the haunted dell,
Who never more was seen of man.


" Now far from heavenj and safe from hell,
Unknown of earth, he wanders free;
Would that he might return and tell
Of his mysterious company ! "

If tlie epistle to Stevenson should seem to
anj'one nothing better than ordinary conversa-
tional rhyme (which is a plausible opinion,
though it might be refuted), there will be no
such challeno'e broug-ht asrainst this :
"^ And half I envy him who now,

Clothed m her Court's enchanted green,
By moonlit loch or mountain's brow,
Is Chaplain to the Fairv Queen."

Another passage comes to mind along with
this, a variation on the same theme, at the
close of the ' Fortunate Islands,' which is a
fantasy suggested by Lucian's ' True History,'
answering to Mr. Grosse's poem on the same
occasion :

"There with the shining Souls I lay.
When, lo, a Voice that seemed to say.
In far-off haunts of Memory,
' Whoso doth taste the Dead Men's bread,
Shall dwell for ever with these Dead,
Nor ever shall his hodv lie


Beside his friends, on tlie grey hill
Where rains weep, and the curlews slirill,
And the brown water wanders by.'

"Then did a new soul in nie wake,
The dead men's bread I feared to break,
Their fruit I would not taste indeed
Were it but a pomegranate seed.
Xay, not with these I made iny choice
To dwell for ever and rejoice,
For otherwhere the River rolls
That girds the home of Christian souls,
And these my whole heart seeks are found
On otherwise enchanted ground.

" Even so I put the cup away,

The vision wavered, dimmed, and broke.

And, nowise sorrowing, I woke
"While, grey among the ruins grey.
Chill through the dwellings of the dead.

The Dawn crept o'er the Northern sea,
I'lien, in a moment, flushed to red,

Flushed all the broken minster old,

And turned the shattered stones to gold,
And wakened half the Avorld with me ! "

Every reader of Lang's verse and prose is
aware of his love for places — St. Andrews —


Oxford — his own native Forest of Ettrick.
Some critics are wrongly inclined to grudge a
poem the favour it may win from local
or personal associations. But this poet was
able to put what he really meant into the verse
which he wrote about those places, and the
critics may grudge and cavil who have nothing
better to do. I go back to the first volume,
the 'Ballads and Lyrics,' and to the poem of
the Eildon Hills :

" Three crests against the saffron sky
Beyond the purple plain,
The dear remembered melody
Of Tweed once more ao-ain.

" Like a loved ghost, thy fabled flood
Fleets through the dusky land ;
Where Scott, come home to die, has stood,
My feet returning stand.

" A mist of memory broods and floats,
The Border waters flow,
The air is full of ballad notes
Borne out of lono- au'o."


I Avill read no more than tliese three verses
liere. They were written in 1 870, before the last
great age of English poetry had come to an end,
and they have their place in the House of Fame
as surely as any poem by the greater masters.

They have added something also to the
meaning of the place to which they belong, and
that is no small thing when one thinks of all the
poetry of Tweed, Ettrick and Yarrow, and how
along with the "ballad notes" there is the
truest poem ever written about the autumn of
the year and the close of life :

"No public and no private cai-e

The t'ree-born inind eiithralHiig."

It is hard to find better or nobler words than
those of ' Yarrow Revisited ' in which to bid
farewell to a poet. They are more touching
than any lament, and at the same time they are
full of life and spirit, " the forest to embolden."
It is to that company that the poetry of Andrew
Lang belongs by right of birth and loyal service.
He has won the best part of fame if anywhere
he is remembered along with the places and
the heroes that were most in his own mind.




Arthur Verrall was not, technicallj and
professionally, a man of letters ; he was a
classical scholar and student. In that field,
he was an able exponent of the fine and con-
tentious art of textual criticism ; he was a
subtle and also a daring interpreter. On the
one hand he was an instance of the old-
fashioned scholarship at its best, equal, per-
haps, to any scholar of his time in the
peculiarly English art of Latin and Greek
composition : on the other, he was a potent
force in the movement which has transformed
scholarship by altering the whole attitude of
our minds towards the ancient classics. But
to the larger circle of those who practise the
art of English letters, or who are its critics
and historians, he was little known. In his
own University, and among scholars, he was
known certainly as a brilliant writer, but as a


writer of works of scholarship. The master of
a graceful, flexible, and lucid pen, he, in fact,
wrote comparatively little. His Clark Lectures,
and those few which he was able to give from
the Chair of English Literature, were not com-
mitted to paper. He was not the author of any
single great work. The collection of his literary
essays, which is now being made, will not place
him among the writers who have in this age
made English letters illustrious. Yet he was a
strength and an ornament to the Academic
Council which is now recording his loss : and
when he was chosen by the Crown to be the
first Professor of English Literature at Cam-
bridge, the choice was recognised by those most
competent to judge as not only justifiable, but
singularly happy.

It should not indeed be necessary, if the
relations between scholarship and literature
were such as they ought to be, to draw a line
between men of letters and classical scholars.
For the classical writers received and retain
that name, because their works represent the
highest and best of what has been created in


the art of letters. Just as our whole civilisation
is based on, grows out of, that created and
established by the Greek and the Latin genius,
so the whole of modern letters have the ancient
masterpieces before them as patterns of excel-
lence, beneath them as a soil from which they
draw nutriment. But in fact, as we all know
— as the opponents of classical education trium-
phantly point out, and as its defenders must
candidly, if not ruefully, acknowledge — it is not
thecasethat all scholars have a genius for letters,
any more than that all writers of genius are
scholars. Education based on those ancient
masterpieces, life spent in their study, too often
are an illiberal education, and a wasted life.
The creative artist has often never possessed
scholarship, or has flung away what he pos-
sessed of it. What has been his loss, what may
have been his incidental gain, by being thus cut
away from the traditions of the past, or hy
cutting them away through his own act, is a
large question. But this much at least can be
said : that a waiter to whom scholarship is
meaningless can have no trained sense of the


organic continuity of the art of letters : lie has
forgone, from circumstances which may or may
not have been inevitable, for reasons which may
or may not be judged adequate, the power of
placing himself in the stream of history. It
will not, to be sure, profit him to have gained
touch with the past if he has lost touch with the
present, and submerged his own genius. But
neither is it to be expected that his own genius
can thrive on a sustenance which is of the day
only. All live art is a new birth ; but the present
is the integration of the past, and the art of
the present is but one manifestation of a single
continuous art. On the other hand, it will not
be denied that the scholar has often contracted
into a pedant, for whom literatui-e is not a
living art, out of touch with the creative and
imaginative movement of his own time. For
scholars of this kind the noblest of all arts has
little vital reality, the actual movement of the
human mind has but a faint interest. They are
linguists, archaeologists, critics ; but they move
like laborious ghosts, out of the daylight, im-
mersed in a dead world.


This Verrall was not : we are not following
a grammarian's funeral. For liim letters, both
ancient and modern, were a world crowdedly
and intensely alive. He brought to the study
of the classics — of those masterpieces wdiich
have been so thumbed and worn by long cur-
rency — the fresh mind at whose contact they
sprang into fresh vitalit}^ He brought the
same fresh interest and enjoyment to English
letters and the literary art of his own day.
To hear him discourse on modern authors was
to realise that they were not separated in his
mind from the ancient authors among whom he
worked professionally. To both alike he applied
the same rapid intelligence, in both alike he
felt the same living interest. And that was the
interest neither of classicism nor of modernism ;
it Avas the interest of literature as a fine art.

It is an exponent or representative of English
letters that we have to regard him here. But
English letters are part of a^ larger comnumity.
A sane literary nationalism not only keeps
touch with, but reinforces, the solidarity of the
Republic of Letters : just as the living art of


the day is rooted in vital appreciation of the
no less living art of the past, and in conscious
kinship witli it. For in literature, as in all the
arts of life, art is one thing, and artists, of all
schools and periods, are one household.

In that art he concentrated his study, not
on periods, but on qualities ; not on particular
writers or particular works for the sake either of
their prestige or of their novelty, but for the sake
of the artistic quality wliich he found in them ;
not on a single province of letters — poetry,
history, oratory and the like — as such, but on
all these as literature. That his work, so far
as it is recorded and accessible, does deal
mainly with certain periods and writers, only
means that, having to deal with these in
the course of his duties, or finding in them
the literary quality, as he conceived it, speci-
ally prominent, or requiring special promi-
nence to be given to it, he took them as
instances, and turned upon them the critical
spirit in which he read not only them, but all
that he read. If we can fancy a mind so rapid
and alert as his pausing to describe its own


operation as a system, we niay think of liim as
saying, whenever he took up a book : This
purports to be a work of art ; what sort of art
is it ? what is the effect of its art upon my
mind ? and what has to be noted in order to
ehicidate its art, to enable me or others to
appreciate the quality of that art, the process
by which the work of art came to be what it
is, the meaning that was in the artist's mind ?
In advice given by him to students entering on
a course of modern English literature, this
note is struck with emphatic precision, " Do
you honestly enjoy this book, and if so, what
in it pleases you r Does your enjoyment
increase as you study it, and if so, through
what process of thought? Such :ire tlie
questions which readers should ask tliem-
selves." Such were the questions Avhicli lie
asked himself, and in finding answers to which
his study of literature in essence consisted. The
w^ord " enjoyment " shoukl be noted. For art
is, according to the old and sound definition,
production with enjoyment and for the sake
of enjoyment; and the appreciation of art


is the entering into the artist's enjoyment
through imaginative sympathy, and in some
sense thus renewing his act of creation and the
joy of that act.

Art is one thing; it is the organic synthesis
of all the arts. And the art of letters is like-
wise one thing; it is the elan vital incarnating
itself in verbal structure. AYhere one artist


Online LibraryRoyal Society of Literature (Great Britain). AcadeCommemorative addresses : on Andrew Lang by W.P. Ker and on Arthur Woollgar Verrall by J.W. Mackail; award of the Edmond de Polignac Prize, Thursday, November 28th, 1912 → online text (page 1 of 2)