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The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

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1 Kings, iii.), in which two women claimed to be the mother
of a child, who was produced in court. The learned Judge
thought that History might very well repeat itself, and asked
that the infant should be handed up. He then solemnly opened
his Bowie-knife, and made as if he would again act upon the
ancient precedent. Whereupon, one of the Mothers exclaimed
" Oh ! no ! if it comes to that, yon may keep the child yourself" —
upon which both ladies left the Court. The Judge sent an officer
of the Court in pursuit, but they had hopelessly disappeared.
The Judge, as he walked out of Court, with the infant in his arms,
was heard to mutter — " Waal ! Solomon was a very over-rated
man. *


*Now, this deeply interesting narrative will do very well to
start the conversation at Dinner on Christmas Day ; and indeed
a worse anecdote will be at least better than that unfailing
disturber of family Harmony — a discussion as to which year is
the beginning of the next century. This will certainly wreck
the peace, and disturb the Testamentary arrangements of many
an otherwise attached and united household this Christmas. I
observe that the Emperor of Germany (quite a gay Canute over
again) has ordained that the New Century begins on the first of
January next — so of course little remains to be said. Though
he reminds me of the American millionaire who, on the voyage
over from New York to this country, was seen at the hour of
sunset standing at the Bows of the Vessel, with his gold chrono-
meter in his hand. And thus he addressed the Orb of Day, slowly
approaching its disappearance. "Now then," he said, "^'you
blooming Ball — if you don't make haste, you '11 be late." It is
a beautiful thought, making his three hundred dollar ticker the
standard for the universe.

' Talking of Americans, I met at dinner the other evening, for
the first time in my life, the great Mark Twain. A droll-looking,
and droll-mannered gentleman who did not, however, waste any
very good things on his company. Oddly enough, / told him a
very ancient Amei'ican jest which I remembered from the time
I was in jackets. He had never heard it, and laughed so loud
that the other end of the dinner table insisted upon knowing
the reason. It was a very fast-trotting mare that an American
gentleman drove, with a friend by his side. After a while the
friend enquired what cemetery it was they were passing through.
The mile-stones came so quick that he was misled.

* And now, my dear old friend — what can I say .-* Perliaps I
ought not to be writing in this frivolous vein at all, for we are
living in sad times, and there is hardly a home around us that
has not received some wounds, more or less severe, in its circle
of family or friendship. But perhaps it is better not to depart
from old customs, though

''Sadly falls our Christmas eve."

' . . . Do you know the two following lines — perhaps the most
beautiful couplet in the English language .''

'' The feathered tribe on pinions swim the air.
Not so the Mackerel — aud still less the Bear ! "


To Mr. Horace Smith.

' Master's House,
'Temple, E.G., May 7, 1900,

*My dearest Horace, — Youi' note this morning came to me
as a real angelic visitant. For in spite of your holding me to be
well and fit, I am really weak and depressed after influenza, and
was quite done after our long morning service yesterday. I was
depressed, too, about my sermon, which seemed to me to be an
old, old, tale and hardly worth saying, but now I am thankful
that I preached it, for your good opinion is very precious to me.
Is your enigmatical signature a reference to my sermon of the
Sunday before, which 7vas commemorative of William Cowper "of
the Inner Temple " ? I certainly pronounced his name Cooper,
because to the best of one's knowledge, he so called himself —
as certainly others called him.

*'A riddle by Cowper
Made me swear like a trooper"

are the first lines of a contemporary answer in verse to one of
C.'s poetical charades. Did you ever hear of " Cowper-Temple " ?

' I also said a few words in honour of your late lamented chief.
Sir John Bridge, for whom I had a great esteem and liking.

* Yes, I knew about Nowell's article in the Times. Bruce
Richmond had told me it was coming. But these young scholars
soon get ns old fogies out of our depths, and I cry, like Julius
Caesar : " Help ! Help ! Licinius" — like a sick gy — irl.

'Excuse brevity, for I am out of condition, and the grass-
hopper is a burden.

' Love to you all. You none of you have any faults, but I love
you all still. — Your affecK, A. Ainger.'

To Mrs. Smith.

' Chnstmas, 1900.

' . . . My delightful recollection of Lily's last Musical Festival
brings to mind a very musical child I heard of the other day, who
began her Pi-ayers one evening — " Pi'ay God, bless dear Papa
and Mamma — Beethoven, Nursey, and Brahms." I am sure
Lily will love that child at once, and predict for her a distin-
guished musical career. And that recalls to me a recent incident
at the Parish Church of Kensington, in the Choir of which,
Sir Richard Webster (now Chief Justice) has sung for years.


A lady in the congregation (a stranger) recently asked the Verger
if he would kindly point out to her the distinguished person in
question. The Verger replied : " Well, Ma'am — that is the Vicar ;
and them's the Curates, and I'm the Verger; but as for the Choir
— as long as they does their dooty, we don't enquire into their
hantecedents ! "

' Terrible effect of the war upon an infant's faith — " Mummy,
is the story you told me about Jonah and the Whale true}"
"Yes, my darling, of course it's true ! it's in the Bible." "Yes,
Mummy — but has it been conjtrmed by the War Office ? " Shocking,
Shocking !

' . . . And here is a nice new poem on a nice old model : —

' There was a 3'oung lady of Venice
Who used hard-boiled eggs to play tennis —
When they said " Ain't that wrong }"
She exclaimed ''Get along !
You don't know how productive my hen is ! " '

The following note to the painter, Mr. Briton Riviere,
marks a friendship in which he had long found a source of
real pleasure. He loved studios, and he spent pleasant hours
in that of Mr. Riviere, watching his pictures grow and
suggesting subjects to him. And he extended his affection
to the artist's son, Hugh, who has given us the best portrait
existing of Canon Ainger. The successes of both men delighted
him. ' Ah,' he said to the elder Riviere, who had just been
made R.A., 'I see you have taken in the "Academy"; before
long you will be taking in the " Athenaeum." '

To Mr. Briton Riviere.

' I have just been to the Private View of the Academy and seen
Mr. Riviere's "St. George," a very poetic and touching picture —
the human figure 's exquisite ; what the critics and public will say
to the crushed horse, I am not so sure. Some one says the
compass of the picture is so remarkable — from the Upper Sea to
the lower Gee.

'(A sea and shore high up and far off in the picture, a bold
effect of perspective.)


To Canon Beeching.

* Royal Hotel,
'Whitby, Sunday, August 19, 1900.

M Y DEAR Beeching, — ... I am so grateful for your kind
words about the Chaucer papers. I am one of those unhappy men
who, spending too much of their lives in trying to gauge other
men's Avritings, never have any confidence in anything themselves

write, until some kind friend reassures them. By the way, 's

High Church thermometer is going up and up, and even the
High churchmen find it a trifle hot. ... It reminds me of what
Lowell wrote about Theodore Parker —

' whose opinions
Were "so (ultra) cinian" they shocked the Socinians.

We have been to church this morning, and heard a facetious
curate who lamented the decadence of Christians in these days,
who travel so much "on wheels" that they can't get up early
enough for Divine Service, and explained that this was not what
was meant by saints " rejoicing in their beds." I could not but
recall Swift's advice to the young clergyman never to "show his
wit," for by the nicest calculation it was a thousand to one that
he had not any.

' I was in Stamford the other day giving away some prizes ;
such an interesting old town, though I had not time to see
Burleigh House. I wonder if you are near it — I fancy not. . . .

'Any spare moments that you can waste on your unworthy
friend will be gratefully welcomed. I hope Mrs. Beeching and
the filiolae are drinking in health at every pore. Our best regards.
Ever yours, Alfred Ainger.'

To Mr. Gosse.

'Master's House, Temple, E.G.,
' Wednesday Evening, October 24, 1900.

' My dear Gosse, — How can I adequately thank you for the
truly generous and friendly Review that I have just read in the
Quarterly ? I could not but suspect that it would be kindly, for
I have ever met with kindness and serviceableness at your hands
— but I am indeed touched by all your praise.

' May I say also how just and excellent I think your remarks on
Lamb himself, and how I marvel that on a subject about which


so much has naturally been written, you have managed to say so
much that is fresh and stimulating. I am quite with you as to
" Rosamund Gray" — I myself used the sad word " insanity " with
regard to it, and Lamb had, as you remember, been in confine-
ment not many months before.

' As to the Selections from the Dramatists, I think you must have
ovei'looked a note of mine, telling how I followed Lamb's own
precedent. When in 1818 he reprinted certain of the prefatory
criticisms by themselves, he explained that he had chosen those
which were most intelligible and interesting tvhen presented apart
from the passages quoted. So I followed his good lead (no doubt
the Selections themselves ought to form a separate volume in my

' I hope we shall meet soon. Till then, once more accept my
grateful acknowledgments. — ^Ever sincerely yours,

' Alfred Ainger.'

To Mr. Briton Riviere.

' Master's House,
'Temple, E.G., November 7, 1900.

* My dear Riviere, — The couplet from Chaucer's translation of
the Ro7nan de la Rose (1. 4931) that I spoke to you of on Monday
evening is this :

" In gret perell is set youthede (youth),
Delite so doth his bridil leede."

The image presented of Delight leading the bridle of the unhappy
youth — in contrast with your noble knight himself directing his
steed into the path of danger and mystery in pursuit of some
noble duty or purpose — " In manus tuas " — seems to me a fine
subject for a companion picture, at least when in the hands of a
fine poetic imagination like yours. Forgive my presumption. —
Ever your sincere, Alfred Ainger.'

To Mr. MowmiAY Donne.

' Master's House,
'Temple, E.C., Dec. 2C, 1900.

* Mv DEAR Mowbray, — My best thanks to my old friend for his
kind note, and for his charming gift of Cowper's portrait, which I
rejoice to have, for I am an old lover of the poet, and the love
strengthens with years. He has got the ever-blessed gift of


Charm — which (and not as commonly asserted, style) is Time's
true "antiseptic."

' Our love and best wishes for Christmas and the New Year (I
must not, in your case, say the new Century) — to you and Mrs,
Mowbray. We are in the throes of preparation for moving to
Clifton next week. — Ever your attached, Alfred Ainger.'

To Mrs. Andrew Laxg.


'Bristol, Saturday Evening, Feb. 2, 1901.

* Mv DEAR Mrs. Lang, — . . .

' " Friend after friend departs." Now poor little Haweis is gone
— so bound up with the old Sydenham days. I have hardly seen
a sympathetic word about him in any newspaper or weekly. To-
day's Spectator and Pilot are dumb. Did you know him } He
was a well-meaning little fellow, with a real faculty for writing,
but without a grain of tact or judgment, and who dashed himself
to pieces among the rocks of self-advertisement. I was at his
wedding when he married Miss Joy (who, we agreed, evidently
did not wish to be "a. joy for evef ") — and we called the tiny
couple " a fortuitous concurrence of atoms " — and then J. R. Green
and Willie von Glehn and I drove back to Sydenham to hear
Mendelssohn's Reformation Symphony.

' And now this evening I hear my dear old friend Dr. Hopkins,
fifty years the organist of the Temple, is dying — and I loved him
very much. He created the reputation of the Temple Service
(musically) and composed lovely Services and Hymns. I ask
with the Poet,

''Who next will drop and disappear.''"

' Did you notice Farrar's amazing quotation about the Queen .''
He said " her death had eclipsed the gaiety of nations," which

foolish flourish of rhetoric was said by Johnson of David

Garrick. It is rather hard on our departed Queen to class her
with popular comedians ! , . .

' How about the Magazine, and is A. L. going to enliven it a
bit? It needs some one to provide a gaiety which shall not be

' Maggie sends her love. It is rather cheerless here, weather
and all. And any gleams of light and leading will be wel-


To Canon Beeching.


'Clifton, Bristol, Feb. 28, 1901.
' My dear Beeching, . . .

* Yes. we detected " the sweet Roman hand " in the Pilot, and
though a Cantab I forgive you any arriere-pensees that might be
detected ! Your Manchester article I also read in the new
Comhill, and it diverted me much. What a charming poem of
Dixon's ! and why do I not know that sweet poet better ? Is he
procurable in print ? Godley, too, is excellent, all the charm of
Gray and Cowper with the technical dexterity of Calverley (or
shall I say Blaydes addressing an Oxtab as Nicholas would have
called you) ?

' I want to know this particularly. How does your experiment
of Friday Lent services (with men of light pleading in the pulpit)
succeed .'' I mean, do you get a congregation ? I know they blame
me at the Temple for not asking outsiders of mark to give the
address, but I frankly tell them I will not ask men of eminence
to give their time and labour, to find a mere handful of listeners
awaiting them when they arrive. What do you think .''

' I hope the placens uxor and not less placentes Jiliolae are well.
How I look forward to Burford — though I know I must bring my
own knife, fork, and spoon.

' Write me a line to say you smile as you were wont to smile.
Ever yours, A. Ainger.'

' Master's House,
'Temple, E.C, June G, 1901.

* My dear Beeching, — I don't want to be a churl, and I will
come to the lunch on Tuesday next, and will " propoge " the
College, and give some reminiscences — chiefly (I fear) of how I
wasted my time there, or rather got a great deal of profit and
enjoyment out of other things than those I was sent there to
cultivate. What is the hour, and when do we meet ? I do so
long for a talk with you, but I fear nothing is possible till the
term is over; the London season has indeed set in "with its
usual severity." — Ever yours, Alfred Ainger.

PS. — I know you will be pleased to hear that our gracious King
has appointed me one of the Twelve (not the Judas, I hope) in
his reduced list of Chaplains in Ordinary.


To Mes. Andrew Lang.

* Darley Abbey,
'Derby, Sunday, Aug. 11, 1901.

' Dear Mrs. Lang, — Thank you for your interesting letter with
all its news. I am vegetating pleasantly here, spending my
morning, however, over the first chapter of ray Crahbe which I
am doing for the "Men of Letters" series. I had a great fond-
ness for that poet, when 1 used to read the selections from him,
as a boy, in Elegant Extracts, and he touches and charms me still.
If Andrew has any private stores of information on the subject,
now is his kind opportunity. I am very glad he is going to
protest against any more commentaries on hi Meinoriavi. . . .

'Thanks for your excellent story of the "Quantities." I have
nothing so good to send in return. But Bruce Richmond (of the
Times) told us the other day of a " Memorial " Obituary notice at
the end of the Deaths in that paper. It referred to the death of
a gentleman's wife, to which the sorrowing widower appended
the two quotations : —

" Her voice is heard no more."
" Peace, perfect Peace ! "

No, Swift did not frame the lines as you quote them. They are
(I think) from his " Ode to Poetry," and run thus : —

" the Flea (pronounced ' flay ')

Has other fleas that on him prey.

And these have smaller still to bite 'em.

And so go on ad infinitum."

But it is always transposed into the " Big Flea " and " Little Flea "
Stanza to which you refer. . . .'

To Mr. Horace Smith,

' I 'm one of the twelve (selected)
King's Chaplains and wear a special

button. 1 call myself a great Panjau- ' Darkey Abbey, Derby,
^j.ym, 'Sunday, Aug. 18, 1901.

" With the little round button at top ! "

'Mv DEAR Horace, — I ought to have sooner answered your
welcome letter from Butterlip with all its news of the dear
family and the dearest couple whom I lately started on the road
of happiness. Where are they — and how are they .'' I want to


write and tell Nowell I have discovered the misprint I long
sought for in his Wordsworth. I have now found it. I am glad
to think he is only human after all. It is in the last stanza of
Hartleap Well —

" One lesson, Shepherd, let us two divide."

'. . . I am writing a Life of Crabbe, for some fresh volumes of
the " Men of Letters " series which the Macmillans are bringing
out, and it is interesting me much. Do you know, I was much
brought up on Crabbe, who was in my father's library when I was
a boy, and I have a great fondness for him. If you have too (as I
hope), let us exchange ideas. And don't turn round on me and
quote —

" John Richard William Alexander Dwyer
Was footmau to Justinian Stubbs Esq."

although it is one of the best parodies ever written — of Crabbe
{bien cnteiidii) at his lowest. But he has written beautiful things
and there is nobody like him at describing a large and unlovely

'. . . Only room to greet the entire family. With all love
and esteem. Your own, A. Ainger.'

To Lord Tennyson in Australia.

'Oct. 22, IQOl.

'. . . Poor Sidgwick has gone since you and I last met, and
another link with your old home has been broken. " Who next
will drop and disappear?" one finds oneself asking often.

' The minor poets struggle on — but as Beatrice said to Benedick,
' I wonder they will be talking, for nobody heeds them.' Kipling
is the only man of anything like genius among them. The War
killed books for a time : the flood of books is setting in again, but
they ai-e none of them literature — which indeed has ceased in the
land. Novels come out by the thousand every month and, if only
they are indecent enough and written by so-called ladies, they
still prosper greatly. tempora — mores! I wonder if the
Antipodes have better taste than to read such things ! In any
case put a guard on your drawing-room table.

' In Andrew Lang's little volume on your father, you will find
some castigation given Frederic Harrison, who lately committed
himself to the assertion that there was no original thought in In
Memoriam, and that all that was best in it was got (miserabile


didu) from Huxley, Ecce Homo, Herbert Spencer and others,
who weren't born when the poem was written.'

To Mr. Horace Smith.

' Master's House,
'Temple, E.G., Nov. 1, 1901.

' My dearest Horace, — I am a brute-beast — and I can't say
fairer than that ! I have been going to write to you ever so many
times, but partly owing to the postponement of our Church open-
ing, I have been tempted to take some extra vacation (I was
with the Halsburys last Sunday in Suffolk) and this has knocked
many virtuous resolutions on the head. I wanted to tell yon
among hosts of other matters, how excellent I thought your parody
on Wordsworth in Punch (weeks ago), in which Campbell Bannerman
invites Harcourt and Morley to take holiday. I became livid with
envy when I read it, and knew it must be you. For you have a
special flavour in parody which none of the professional wags have
achieved. . . .

' We open our Church on Sunday, and should be glad to see a
good muster of Benchers on the occasion. A lovely short anthem
of Wesley's, and Services to match. I hojie we shall be warm,
after spending so much time and hard-earned money on the new
machinery. I had a thought of preaching from a text good old
Bishop Lonsdale used to quote —

' " Hot water ! ah ! — a very good thiug in a church — a very
bad thing in a Parish ! "

* I have several side-splitting anecdotes awaiting you — but they
are perishable and the aroma would disappear in the Post.

' Love to you all — and to the two old married folks at Oxford.

'Crabbe is simmering nicely — and I have even written some
of it in the rough. — Your affectionate,

^Alfred Ainger.'

To Mrs. Andrew Lang.

'Master's House,
'Temple, B.C., Dec. 4, 1901.

' . . . I suppose Henley's attack on R. L. S. has reached your
ears even in your Ultima Thule. Strange that H. should not
have foreseen the storm of abuse it must inevitably bring about


his ears, and quickly. On hearing of it I took out my pocket-
book and instantly produced the following : —

''De mortuis nil nisi malum."

"They can't hit back, so let's assail 'em " ;

which, however, is but a poor pendant to what suggested it, the
words of a modern Irish wit, with a truly Swiftian power of
rhyming : —

" De mortuis nil nisi bonum."

" When scoundrels die we'll all bemoan 'em."

I hear that Andrew has written an excellent paper lately in the
Morning Post. May I see it .'' . . .

' I have been greatly struck with the House with the Green
Shutters you so kindly lent us. Its power is marvellous — of the
Balzac order. One wants now to know more about him, and to
see whether he can treat a Love interest, let us say, and whether
he can draw nice characters and normal ones. There is one brief
incident in the story — of a Scotch minister who has got into the
ministry by the skin of his teeth and who discusses a certain
Professor he remembered in his student days — " I always thocht
he was just a wee bit too fond of Hegel ! " which struck me as
exquisite. I hear his name is Brown. Can you hear any more
about him .•* '

To THE Same.

'8 Victoria Square,

' Clifton, Jan. 6, 1902.
' . . . I have been reading an article, so amateurish and common-
place, about the "Best and Second Best in Literature," suggested,
I fancy, by a paper of Andrew's. How idiotic to suggest that the
popularity of Mr. Quiller Couch or Anthony Hope could possibly
be thought to diminish one's interest in Milton ! Who ever pro-
pounded such folly? The two are not "in pari materia," as the
lawyers say. But I am certain it is the second-rate novelists of
to-day (so clever and fluent, with the marks of their doom upon
their foreheads) who make the poor fools of readers undervalue
and neglect Dickens and Thackeray.'

To Miss Roscow.

* Master's House,
'Temple, E.G., Tuesday, April U, 1902.
' Dearest Child, ... I had a bad day yesterday — but with
the aid of oysters and other stimulants I am gradually recovering.


The truth is, I had an exhausting day on Sunday, and thus it came
about. On arriving at the Chapel Royal about a quarter to
twelve, I was met by the Sub-Dean with the intelligence that he
had only just before had a message from the King that he was
coming to the twelve o'clock service. He usually, when he was
Prince of Wales^ came to the Matins at ten. But as he had stayed
at Buckingham Palace since his return from his cruise on Saturday,
I suppose he found ten rather early. To my horror, the Sub-Dean
added : — ' You must preach a short sermon, not more than a
quarter of an hour ; twelve minutes would be better ! ' Well —
what was to be done .'* I had only one sermon with me (the one
I preached at Bristol a propos of Miss Peveril Turnbull) and I
could do nothing in the way of re-arrangement in a quarter of an
hour. However, I saw that I might omit the first two pages —
and then saw I must do the rest by extreme rapidity in delivery.
Fortunately, clear articulation at motor-car speed is among my
talents. So I did this; and his Majesty stayed till the end.
It had been arranged with the Dean that if the King had left
before the sermon, I should be told, so that I need not then

Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 27 of 32)