Edith Helen Sichel.

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danger not to understand him. . . .'"

In these College days, we see Alfred Ainger very much
as he was to be, his gifts full-grown, his tastes and qualities
almost developed. And that faculty for friendship which
was to mean so much to him now began to take a prominent
part in his life. At King's College he found two, at least,
of his lifelong friends, and another whose own death in middle
life alone cut off the intercourse between them. This was
William Elderton, already his schoolmate at Mr. King's, a
serious-minded, thoughtful lad and the confidant of Alfred's
spiritual reflections, who became his chief correspondent when
Ainger left town for Cambridge. Of the other two, one was
Richard C. Browne, his comrade-at-arms in letters and his
literary counsellor, a position which he always retained
although he lived away from London ; and the last, not the
least, was Horace Smith, the dear familiar companion, in-
separably linked to Alfred, first here, then at the University,
later still at the Temple, where his name is known and loved
in many capacities — whether as Bencher or ' Beak ' — poet or
writer of essays.

' I first/ he writes, * became acquainted with Alfred Ainger when
we met at King's College, London. We were of the same year in
College, and of the same a^e within a month or two, I remember
that, at first, before I knew his name, I called him " the whistling
boy." He used to perch upon a desk in one of the class-rooms^
always in some impossibly contorted attitude, generally whistling a


sonata of Beethoven, or the " Cai-nival of Venice " with variations,
perhaps humming the same in a low, sweet, tenor voice. He was
always full of fun, even of some mischief, but he had no physical
strength for sports of any kind ; and so fragile was he in appear-
ance that people would wonder if he could live through the
year. During the three years we were together at King's College,
I don't think we did much work, except in the English Literature
class, where we were graciously pleased to write essays for
Professor Brewer, whom we enthusiastically admired ; and we
were frequently called upon to read our essays out loud to the

But if he was not garnering many data, he was certainly
gathering experience. ' In the lecture-room,' writes another
King's Collegian, ' he was rather an observer than a learner.
The proceedings were to him in the nature of a spectacle,
and the mirth they sometimes afforded him was but too
infectious.' Sometimes it was a joke, sometimes an imper-
sonation, sometimes a verse dashed off, that made a whole
class helpless with merriment. And his fun, even his mimicry,
never offended anybody. Now he would ' elicit shrieks of
laughter by his delicately accented reproduction of the way
in which a student, entering the College Hall with books
under his arm, was wont to look up at the clock — a slighter
thing could not be — but it was irresistible, and the original
enjoyed it as much as any one.' Now again he would break
into a skit on some event of the moment — such as was

suggested by seeing ' Mr. and Mr. engaged in the

irrelevant pastime of Tit-tat-to during a lecture.' Ainger
instantly wrote on a sheet of paper, scrawled over with
mathematical calculations : —

' Life is a game at Tit-tat-to

With all its gains and losses —
But not to all men : some 1 know
Ne'er meet with aught but crosses.

I know the wise may toil in vain.

And when their labour's past
May profit nothing by their pain ;

Tom Fool gets all at last.'

But directly the theme of the academic lecturer had any


connection with Literature, Alfred ceased to be an improvisor,
and became a concentrated listener. It was characteristic
of him that he only developed upon the lines he had chosen
from the first, and that he made no effort to branch out into
by-paths of learning. To literature he gave most of his
time, both when he worked and when he played. His actual
achievements were not so remarkable in this direction as was
the maturity of his taste. Charles Lamb he discovered for
himself, and early made himself acquainted with every corner
associated with JElia. Crabbe he already knew and loved,
a choice even more unexpected in youth. Contemporary
writers — Kingsley, Ruskin, Thackeray, Dickens — naturally
absorbed him, and there now came into his ken the poet who
was to mean most to him, the poetic influence which certainly
most affected him. It was in the early fifties that he came
across In Memoriam, and felt he had discovered a world. He
and his friend, Richard Browne, together with two others,
would take the book out on spring afternoons to the terrace
of Somerset House and read it together there, 'sitting by
the stone lions and looking across the river to the Surrey
hills.' And after that some volume of Tennyson's was never
far from Alfred's hand.

The other pursuit that absorbed him in his leisure moments
was music. Music-haunted he had been since his birth. From
first to last beautiful music moved him to a kind of ecstasy;
he lived as if on some Prosperous island, surrounded by ' music
in the air.' This love, which was apart from performance,
would always be surprising in a schoolboy and was doubly so
in those early Victorian days, when it was anything but
fashionable for men to be musical and it required something
like courage for a lad to proclaim himself exceptional.
Alfred found two or three companions in this taste and they
used to resort together to Fentum's, a music- warehouse in the
Strand, there to play and to sing, trying over the music
they cared for, Mendelssohn and Schubert and Schumann, to
their heart's content. Alfred was usually a listener on these
occasions and here laid the firm foundation of that well-
stored memory which stood him in good stead through later


years. A gift for the piano, however, was his by nature —
a gift which he only used for light purposes. He soon was
able to accompany tlie songs and sketches of his own which
he now began to perform. They were sketches in the manner
of Corney Grain, or of his greater predecessor, John Parry,
whose musical feats delighted Mendelssohn. One of these
entertainments of Ainger's, given in youthful days, is memor-
able. It is one of the audience who describes it ^ : —

' The Rev. Dr. Gumming, of Crown Court, was the interpreter
of prophecy most generally acceptable to persons wholly in-
competent to deal with the subject. He had, therefore, a very
numerous following. He was given to predicting the end of the
world at some date near at hand. The date was, from time to
time, unavoidably postponed, and it was unkindly remarked that
the Doctor had his stock of coal replenished as usual. The
appi'oach of the Great Tribulation had been announced in his work
bearing that title. In one of A. A.'s chronicle songs, the author
was commemorated as : —

" the eminent Low-Church Divine
Who is putting us up to a proximate sign,
And tells us, without any ha-ing or hum-ming.
What a very great Affliction is — coming!"

' One evening, the singer had passed to the next verse and was
looking at his audience, when into the brighter light around the
piano a figure emerged from the comparative gloom. It was the
Doctor, who took the matter sensibly and good-humouredly.'

Wherev^er Ainger went his songs and improvisings seem
to have left an echo. He and Horace Smith, who lived in
Bayswater, always started on their homeward walk together,
and Alfred would be not infrequently persuaded to turn his
steps away from St. John's Wood and return to his friend's
iiouse. ' He was as full of frolic, fun and noise,' as the
' Country Fair ' of which he used to sing. In these days his
high spirits simply bubbled up incessantly, although he
suffered from relapses at times, possibly from sheer exhaustion.
He had frequent headaches and sickness. His power of
throwing off these attacks and becoming wildly excited and

I Mr. R. C. Browne.


From a /ihotograp'i by Miss Johnston.


amusing in a moment, was astonishing. Everybody who
came into contact with him spoilt him and he was like a
spoilt child. If in a mixed company one or two persons were
not quite to his taste, he would retire into himself in com-
plete silence ; but as soon as these one or two persons left
the room, he would jump up, cut most fantastic capers and
shout ' noxo let us have some fun,'

In his failings, as in his gifts, the boy was father to the man.
This wayward moodiness of his, which those who loved him
later knew so well, acted from the first like a spell which he
himself seemed powerless to break. Even as a boy at school
his silences were alarming and his dislikes were apparently
unaccountable, dependent on some habit, some gesture, or
chance word that offended his fastidious taste ; and if he once
took objection to a person he did not get over it — his feeling
crystallised into prejudice. Never, in these early days, even
while he was at the Kings', could he be brought to like the
husbands who carried off his friends, and he showed an almost
feminine caprice in his attitude towards them.

There was an element of freakishness about him which
always made him unique, but which, as the years went on,
became softened and mellowed by the sympathies which grew
with experience and by the judgment which they brought
him. His whims, however, did not mar his lovableness,
or the sunny sweetness of his nature. The qualities for
which he was spoilt were just those that were beyond spoiling.

The finest memorial and the most impressive that he left
behind him at King's College was one which was droller than
his play and more truly educational than any academic work.
He was, we have said, music-haunted ; he Avas Shakspeare-
haunted too. He was a deep and constant reader of the poet,
helped, where his ignorance of life limited him, by the actor's
insight and an acute literary perception. His Shakespeare
readings were never forgotten by his contemporaries, and one
who heard them has recorded the effect they produced,^

'In 1855, the King's College Shakespearian Society was

rst President. T
1 Mr. R. C. Browne,

founded. He was its first President. The readings began with


Romeo and Juliet (Nov. 25th). He filled the parts of Gregory
and the Nurse, and the rendering of the latter was ideal. On
December 5th the Society presented As You Like It, with A. A. as
Touchstone, in the manner of Compton, then the accepted repre-
sentative of the " fool i' the forest." But it was in Twelfth Night
that he showed the full power of his interpretation. Sir Andrew
Aguecheek was " after " no one except Shakespeare, out of whose
page he sprang alive. And his dealing with this character was
remarkable in another respect. Excellent as his reading always
was, its effect was not unfrequently a little impaired by his
amiable desire immediately to share his own exuberant delight
therein with his hearers. The indications of this desire were apt
to interfere with its realisation. They imparted to the impression
produced a certain duplexity, which was not stereoscopic. You
would gladly have deferred your participation in his pleasure in
the interests of his success. This was notably the case with his
Dogberry, while he was affording you rapturous glimpses of the
depths of the learned constable's stupidity. There came in a
glance, or even in a tone, the reader's ecstatic, triumphant
question : " Are they not abysmal .^ " They were ; but the
question broke the charm of the dramatic situation.

Not so with his Sir Andrew. There A. A. was totiis in illo, and
what admirable fooling it was ! what a wealth of suggestion !
Your mind's eye saw the loose-hung, limp, shambling figure.
You noted the almost pathetic attempts at lively repartee ; the
haunting suspicion that they missed fire ; the feeble rallying to
the attitude of what was almost, but not quite, conceit ; the
occasional gleams of self-knowledge, all unavailing for guidance
or encouragement, having only the power to depress that weakly
body and flickering mind ; all this, and all the so much more in
the "foolish knight," lived and moved before you, stirring you to
laughter — and to pity.

' For in all A. A.'s renderings, there was (once more to pervert
the trite quotation) that '' touch of nature" that "makes the whole
world kin." The images presented to your mental view were all
from "o-^?«//e Shakespeare" cut — as an engraver copies from an
artist. Stephano might be brutal ; but he was loyal to the " poor
monster." Dr. Caius might be fussy and tiresome ; but you felt
he was an alien, whose learning and common sense were not dis-
cerned by his Windsor neighbours through his broken English,
though the ridicule of his wooing might be borne with for the
sake of a substantial jointure. Shylock's appeal to the common


humanity was driven homCj in spite of a certain lack of physical
force in its delivery. This sympathy he allowed to put him at
some disadvantage in Jaques, whose inherent rascality he appre-
ciated, but did not fully express. . . . Falconbridge again, was, for
him, scarcely a success. He was not convincing when he simu-
lated the robustness of the sturdy Plantagenet. Nor can I recall
anything salient in his Cassius.'

Young Ainger"'s gifts as actor and interpreter were more
striking than his literary achievements. His writing did not
come so spontaneously, nor was it ever an easy matter to him.
His music, indeed all his other faculties, showed a greater
facility. And little of his writing is left from these his early
years, only what may be found in a small periodical, Otw
Paper, printed for private circulation in 1855, to help the
Royal Patriotic Fund, a charity destined for those who had
suffered by the Crimean War. There are happy phrases in his
contributions — paragraphs, too, worth the quoting, if only to
show the influence that Dickens had upon him.

Here, for instance, is his skit on a ' correspondence page ' in
his essay on ' Penny Literature,' which, unlike so many jokes,
has as much point now as then.

' An enquiring mind. Yorkshire is a large county in the North of

Etymologist. The i in China is long.

Augusta Ann is thanked for her beautiful and touching poem,
which will appear in our next. Her simile, " like rain-drops
pattering upon angel's wings," is singularly happy. She should,
however, pay greater attention to orthography. . . .

Chesterfield. Your friend is unintentionally deceiving you. It is
not etiquette to ask more than three times for soup.

Antiquarian. Milton's father was not a potato-salesman.

Constance B. Slap his face.

A Curate. Tell her business requires you at Hackney.

Received. P.Q., Plato, Berenice, Tomkins.'

Or here is a picture of a rising suburb :

* There are many, not tied to London by business, who like to
grasp the country without letting go the town. . . . Ours is a
new neighbourhood, one of the growing offshoots of the growing
metropolis. . . . Art is contemplating further encroachments


upon Nature. Slices of turf are already cut from the surface,
rolled up like jam puddings, and piled in heaps, . . . New roads
are permeating in all directions, apparently made of dust-bins,
for a substratum of oyster-shells and decayed shoes is plainly
visible. An adventurous young lark sometimes comes and sings
over the doomed land, but it quickly scents the scent of building,
and flies away countryward.'

In another paper, A Few Musical Friends, we can trace the
future friend of du Maurier as well as the lover of Dickens.
Mrs. Spencer Tompkins, ' who herself sings and plays remark-
ably well,' asks the writer to a little musical party, and he
accepts her invitation.

' The torture of dress ' (he writes, and the words sound strange
from a person of eighteen) ' is not so cruel in these cases as on
those other occasions, when we leave home at the time we ought
to be going to bed, and return just in time for breakfast ; but
every earthly pleasure has its alloy. And even music requires its
dress-boots. . . .

^ . . It was in the course of this delightful evening, that we
discovered that the comjiany present we had assuredly met before.
It is true we remembered none of the faces, but with the different
types of humanity present we were strangely familiar ; and then
it sti'uck us for the first time, that these were but representatives
of the different classes of musical people, and that others perhaps
recognised them as well as ourselves. If, in describing any one of
the guests we met at Mrs. Spencer Tompkins's, the reader shall
exclaim, " Dear me ! how like — ," our end will be attained.

' As we enter the room, most of the company have arrived. A
knot of young ladies is congregated before the piano, engaged in
a little pleasant contention as to who shall open the evening.
At length a bolder spirit than the rest volunteers to take part
in a duet if she can find a fellow-sufferer to join her. This is
soon forthcoming, and the soiree is inaugurated by a grand Pot-
pourri from the " Huguenots." The duet is performed amid a
din of conversation, which the audience kindly interrupt at the
conclusion to applaud. An interval of ten minutes elapses.
Then do we not know the diffident young lady, with ringlets,
who requires half an hour's persuasion to favour the company —
not always on the plea that she has a cold, which superstition
seems to be sinking before the stride of civilisation, but for
the avowed reason that she "would rather not, dear, please."


However, this seldom avails her, and does not in the present
instance, for she is obliged to yield, and remarks that she has
left her music downstairs. An assiduous young gentleman immedi-
ately leaves the room in seai-ch of it, and returns in triumph with
an implement resembling a claret-coloured rolling-pin. The
diffident young lady, referring to the rolling-pin, which proved to
be a case of music, selects a song, and sitting down to the piano,
commences " Childhood's Bowers " (composed and respectfully
dedicated to the pupils of Mangnall House Academy, by Mr.
Savage Brest, R.A.M.) The melody of this song, which was
announced by the public press, the day after its first appearance,
as "sure to become a favourite," is not soul-stirring, and the words
are inaudible ; but this last is perhaps all for the best. The
diffident young lady begins in a low and tremulous voice, but
encouraged by the approbation which follows the first stanza, she
gains confidence, and brings the lyric to conclusion with a shake
that makes the stoutest man change colour.'

It does not appear that Ainger ever thought of writing as a
calling. The stage about this period, and for a short time
onwards, was a powerful attraction to him ; but though he
fitfully considered it as a possible career, his delicate health
soon compelled him to abandon any such notion ; and when,
as was soon to happen, he went to the University, it was the
Law that occupied his more serious thoughts. The idea of
the Church had for the moment receded, possibly for family
reasons, probably because of the vagueness as to a profession
felt by most young men when ' the world is all before them
where to choose.' It was not that his mind was less serious
than before — so much we may learn from a letter that he
wrote to his friend, Horace Smith, not long before he left
King"'s College.

' You don't know, my dear fellow,' he writes, ' how glad I am
to find you like Kingsley so well. I felt sure you would if you
read him, but I doubted whether you would bring yourself to
make a beginning. I feel quite convinced myself that both these
writers, Kingsley and Maurice, ai*e earnest and sincere in their
endeavour to draw people to the Spirit and the truth — feeling
what indeed is most manifest, that the English Church is clinging
desperately to the letter — and trusting to the bruised reed of
forms and conventionalities. Maurice says he is convinced that


a theology which does not correspond to the deepest feehngs
of our hearts is not a true theology, and I am sure he is right.
People say that all speculation and inquiry are futile, nay impious
— that we are commanded to receive the truths of the Bible on
faith. So we are ; and have reason to be deeply grateful that
that command was given to us. Since those Avords, from the lips
of God himself, " He that believeth on Me, though he were dead,
yet shall he live," changed the whole current of the world's
thoughts, and gave to man that hope which, thank God, is his life
indeed, now and for ever — nothing but faith ever quickened that
command in a man's heart. But there is nothing in the Bible that
forbids man to increase his knowledge of his Father in heaven.'

These words, Avritten when he was barely eighteen, might
stand for a complete summary of his religious views on the
last day of his life. In thought he matured early, but he did
not grow much afterwards.

Changes were coming upon him and stern realities. In
1854 Mr. King died suddenly — a personal shock and sorrow,
doubled by his sympathy with the daughters of his old friend
and master. His faithful heart clung to them, and he was
constantly with them, especially with his old companion.

*My dear Gertrude' (he wrote to her, just before he left
King's College), — ' the twenty-sixth of March is to me a day of
peculiar interest. In the first place it is the birthday of a very
dear friend of mine, and in the next place it is the anniversary
of my first having the pleasure of her acquaintance. For these
two reasons, then, I send out to our milkman's and mark this
day with the whitest of white chalk.

' Let me then first wish you many, many happy returns of this
auspicious day. The phrase is hackneyed, but it seems to me to
include every good wish, and I therefore hope you will accept
it in its most comprehensive sense.

* Six years ago, this day, I came as a stranger, and you took me
in. For three years and three months I was constantly with you,
and I do not believe that we were ever at vai-iance for more than
two minutes at a time. It seems but yesterday that we, colla-
borateurs, like Liddell and Scott, or Brady and Tate, elucidated
a chorus of iEschylus, or rendei'ed into elegant Latin such sen-
tences as ''The pious Queen devours the noble Centurion," or


'* Balbus denied that he swallowed the sugar-tongs." . . . Will
you oblige me by accepting the accompanying slightest of slight
tokens of my friendship and esteem and omnia verba amandi,
aeslimandi, diligendi, approbandi — vide Ainger's Latin Primer.''

He was in a mood for reviewing the past. Events were also
happening in his family circle which made him feel that life
was moving on. In the same year that Mr. King died, his
sister Adeline was married to Dr. Roscow and went to live
away in Folkestone, a fact which altered home for her
brother. His own London life was soon to close for a time
— the first chapter was finished. ' At the beginning of Easter
term (1856), A. A. was absent,' writes Mr. Browne, ' I think
from some slight illness. We had resumed — or were about to
resume — our readings of In Memoriam, when on April 9th the
sharp news fell on us that the poem must be finished without
him. He was leaving King''s College for Cambridge earlier
than we — or possibly he — expected. I wrote to him in some
distress. He replied in a letter now before me : —

' Your letter and L's have made this a very sad morning to me ;
and like the girl in the Arabian tale, I hear voices continually
calling to me to look back, but with this difference that, when I
do, I am very far from being turned into stone.'

Other voices, voices of youth, were urging him to look



' He is a born man of the world.' When Alfred Ainger was
twenty-three, this was an old friend's verdict on him. It was
unexpected, but it was true. The ease and the grace, some-
times gay, sometimes formal, with which he moved among
many sorts of men, his acute perception of their motives and
manners, his skill in dealing with them, were his from his
start in Cambridge as a freshman at Trinity Hall. But a
man of the world and a worldly man are very different per-
sons, and from worldly aims and actions young Ainger was
entirely free. His looks, too, were anything but mundane,
and perhaps a more striking figure never broke academic

Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 3 of 32)