Edith Helen Sichel.

The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

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'Trinity Hall, Sunday Evening, Koik 1857.

' . . . There are some writers at the present day who look

back with an excess of veneration to the reign of Elizabeth.

The time has yet to come when England shall fully recognise

the worth of the Puritans. In this remark, be it observed, we

* Mr. Birdwood.


say nothing against the worthies — the Raleighs and Sidneys of
Ehzabeth's reign. The essentially practical character of the
monarch gave a work — a high and ennobling work — to her devoted
servants, and directed that wild fervour and restlessness which
under another ruler might have proved a dangerous element.
But the men of the time are seen by us in the light of the time,
and Avin a glory from the national pi'osperity. It is in the same
country, in adversity and mourning, that we look back on the
Puritans, fighting strongfully and prayerfully in her defence.
Divested of all the brilliancy with which it shone when Shak-
speare wrote and Drake fought, the reformed religion had still
more surely to prove its strength and endurance in the time of
the Stuarts. The man who fought most bravely, prayed most
earnestly, counselled the most wisely in those times was Oliver

' . . . We are going to do Mozart's Requiem Mass at the Musical
Society next week. Sterndale Bennett is coming down to conduct.
As the choruses are very hard, I shall not sing in it, but place
myself in a snug corner of the hall, with the vocal score in my
hands, and enjoy myself immensely. It is a sublime Mass.'

' Cambridge, Sunday Night, Xov. 17.

'. . . You know what Swift says : —

'"That is excellently observed," say I, "when I meet with an
opinion that agrees with mine."

'In this way, I say your remarks are most just and most far-
seeing. . . . With regard to the consequences of a reformation
in religion it was quite necessary that there should be corre-
sponding reformations in Philosophy and Politics, or any other
branch of knowledge. The emerging from darkness into light
disclosed to men many things, besides their true relation to
their God. You know my favourite old doctrine that true faith
instantly places a man, as it were, upon a height, from which
he has an infinitely wider view than the many who are wandering
through life without a clue. The Bible was a key to an infinite
number of problems, which, without it, must have remained
unsolved to this day,

' What you say of the difference between the religion of ancient
times and our own, deserves more notice. Maurice, in his lectures
on the religion of Ancient Rome, has shown how the bond which
held the votaries of that religion together, was the common
Fatherhood, which was the foundation of it. Man was bound


to his fellow-man by the ruling faith in an infinite power, of
whose nature and attributes there was no difference of opinion.
The religion was false, but it had this power of binding men by
an artificial chain ; which was only to be broken when the true
Faith began its certain and steady growth.

' Maurice shows that whatever there was of greatness, of nobility,
of disinterested faith in the religion of Ancient Rome, had its
origin in a common Fatherhood.

' This is, indeed, exactly what you say, applied to the particular
instance. " Unity is strength " is a truth, in a deeper, more
universal sense than the other maxim, " Union is strength." You
see it is an eternal fact that there can be no union among men,
if only that which unites them is something in themselves. The
bond that encircles them is no true bond if it does not bind them
to something. Pray forgive me for merely interpreting your own
Avords, but it is a great pleasure to me to work out for myself what
is good of another man.

' The tendency of this age is divergent rather than convergent.
We go on straggling into numberless paths, and bye-paths, and
get away from the high road — lose ourselves. God grant we may
all of us find our way back; yet here again comes in the absence
of " Unity," the cause, as I believe, of all the world's troubles.
I believe, with you, that the Trinity in Unity is the highest form
of a Universal Truth — the unity of all good men — the unity of
all that is true ; of all that is beautiful ; of all that is good ; of
all that is evil ; so that, as we came to see it more clearly, the
boundary mark between what is good and what is vicious would
become more and more defined ; and the true rights of all men
would be more clearly acknowledged. This, I believe, is what
we are in too much danger of forgetting.

' This is awfully metaphysical, and I dare say you have not any
idea what I mean. Write and tell me. ... I find that in one of
the sentences in this letter, at least, I am perfectly unintelligible.
I mean the one about unity. My meaning is that if we could
more distinctly see the unity of the good ; that is, the same
nature pertaining to all things good ; and also a common nature
existing in all things evil ; there never would be a blending of
the two, and a man would never want an amalgam of the two, but
would instantly separate them and find their parts in any sub-
stance, as King Hiero did with the Crown.

' I fear I am talking egregious bosh — but I think I have some
faint idea of what I mean.'


Ainger very seldom read modern books of thought that
went against his own opinions — perhaps we should rather say
temperament. His mind was of so strong a ' complexion ' (to
use an old word) that it hardly acknowledged the presence
of belief discordant with his own. When, however, The
History of CiviUzation appeared, he made an exception and
read it.

' I am going to read Buckle's book ' — he says. — ' It is very well
reviewed in the Edinburgh by Sir James Stephen's son. I believe
Buckle is the representative of the positive philosophy school in
England. There is no God, and Buckle is his prophet.'

' Cambridge, Saturday Evening, May 9, 1858.

'. . . And now you will be surprised, I know, to hear that I
have given up mathematics, and am reading Law, in which I
shall take my degree. My reasons for this step were several.
I never cared for mathematics ; I have not the mathematical
power to take a good degree ; on the other hand. Law, History,
and such subjects I always took a great interest in, and when I
leave Cambi-idge I shall have acquired, I hope, something of
Law, which I should have had to read subsequently. So I am
devoting my energies to Roman Law : Gaius and Justinian,
and English Constitutional History. We have a Law Professor
at Ti-inity Hall, and I attend his lectures. As yet I like the
change immensely. . . .

( I see is a moderate tory, and unless a man is to be of no

party, which is impossible, I suppose he had better be that
than anything.'

A ' moderate Tory,' ' if anything," was what Ainger always
remained, but politics were not his strong point. He turned
away from them with weariness, and could no more be brought
to take an interest in them than in anything else that was not
natural to him. In his eyes they meant dust and futility,
and a less public-spirited person, except in moral questions,
it would perhaps be hard to find. Even University affairs,
such as the discussion about abolishing religious tests, which
was agitating Cambridge when Ainger first came there, find
no mention in his letters, and the brief extracts that follow


contain the only political allusions to be found in his early

' I do not know what 's to become of the new ministry. Coali-
tion is a very good thing, if the various members can agree ; and
I hardly see how Pam, Lord John and Gladstone are to woi-k in
the same crew. The last-named gent voted for the late ministry,
and now takes office with the conspirators who overthrew it. All
this finesse and plotting is rather dismal to contemplate, while
all Europe is in a blaze.'

' I assure you that your fortnightly letter is one of my
pleasantest anticipations at College, and, indeed, wherever I am.
I wish I knew more about politics ; but what you said about Peel
seems to have given me some idea of a man, of whose character
I was before profoundly ignorant. I have, I fear, left your letter
behind me at College, for I should like to have it by me. I forget
if you asked me any questions. I will ask you one in return
(rt la Quaker) : " What is the difference between a cow and a
ricketty chair.-*" "Because one gives milk and the other gives

Riddles, more congenial than politics, were always a
favourite game of his. To the end their ingenuity amused
his brain, and his letters to Elderton are full of them and
of verbal quips.

The last letter and the three that follow are written in
vacation time, from London ; the fourth from his sister's
home at Folkestone.

*23 Carlton Hill, Sunday, August 27.

' . . . I have no law to occupy me, and shall, I hope, get through
some work the next few weeks. Thei*e is not much temptation
to leave the house. Everybody, it is needless to say, is out of
town, and the neighbourhood looks as if it had gone to bed and
forgotten to get up again. . . .

' " Nothing is so difficult as a beginning," says Byron, and the
truth, I vow, never appeared to me so clear as now. I don't know
really what to tell you — I have been reading Carlyle's Fretich
Revolution ; a wonderful book it is ; quite Thomas's masterpiece.
You should read it. I have also been airing my English History


by means of Hume, with whom I become move and more dis-
gusted, he being, as I think, shallow and flipi>ant,

' I have been to see Robson in the burlesque on Medea — a com-
bination of the most harrowing tragedy and the most ludicrous
farce — the result being the Sublime-ridiculous with no step
between. I must read it to you some day —

' Everybody is cutting away from the Modern Babylon — Luard
goes to-day — I have seen him lately, and Moore, and Heath, and
Darlington, and some other of our old friends. Excuse this
Electric-jerky, fragmentary style of Epistolary correspondence,
which you must attribute to the Electricity in the atmosphere, I
suppose. Anything like original composition is a preposterous
attempt. I looked in Cook's letter-writer to see if he suggested
anything. The only examples I could find were " a letter to a
lady proposing marriage " (beginning " Madam ") ; and " from a
father to a gentleman apprenticing his son to the oil and Italian
business," in neither of which could I find any help in my present

' I am going to see Piccolomini in the Traviata. Your sisters
will tell you that she dies in a consumption on the stage.
Shocking, is it not .'' The Decline of the Drama I call it — after
this, I had better perhaps shut up. — Ever yours,

'Alfred Ainger.'

' PS. — Remember me most kindly to all your circle.

'P.P5.— Write soon.

*(2) PS. — Give us a little intelligence in your next letter.
Your last was singularly slight. Quite an ice-wafer of a letter.

'(3) PS. — The kitchen fire is just gone out; and the mutton
is hung on a tree to roast.'

'Monday Morning, August.

' Many thanks for your long and literary letter. You say you
cannot tell why I call Hume shallow and flippant. I '11 tell you.

' 1. He gives us facts, but seems unable to see real motives.
He rarely looks deeper than the surface of men's actions. If
they are from religious motives, I always find a lurking sneer,
and something murmured about superstition (you know Hume
was a Sceptic). His history always sounds to me more like a
story-telling, with little or no analysis of men or minds. You
may think (and I 'm not at all sure that you 're not right), that it
is a merit in an historian to tell his tale and leave you to form
your own judgments. At all events we are accustomed to find


some analysis in our historians ; and a want of it shows^ I
think, a lack of earnestness on the part of the historian. You
are mistaken in thinking that Macaulay is my model histoi*ian. I
believe that to those who do not like the trouble of judging for
themselves (and according to Puff in the Critic these are very
small indeed), he is by no means to be recommended.

' The Travestie from Medea does not come direct from Euripides.
The story was dramatised by the French Legouve, the Italian
Montenelli, the English Thomas Williams ; and lastly burlesqued
by Brough. This polyglot story is thus alluded to in the
Burlesque : —

" Sangue, Sangue, spezziar, spezziar sue cuore "
Which means, translated, something red and gory.

" Anche di spavento atroce strano "
Murder in Irish ! no ! Italiano.

" atat"
Sta fiov K£(f)a\as ^Ab^ ovpavia
jBaLYj' Ti 5e fJLOt ^rjv eVt KepSos ;"

''Stop ! that's Euripides. ' Du sang, du sang,
Briser, torturer son coeur — ' That 's wrong.

I 've got confused with all these various jinglish ;
'Thunder and Turf and even that's not English."
etc. etc. etc.

' I have been reading that wondrous Allegory, the Fairt/ Queen.
I wish I had you by me to explain some of it, as you have had
the advantage of Brewer's interpretation. Some of the Allegory
is of course clear enough, but most of the secondary allusions, and
the intricate windings in the history of Protestantism escape my
knowledge. There was one thing I came upon which, as I believe
is the case with all true geniuses, has a far wider truth than was
ever meant. It is where Una and the lion go about wandering in
search of the knight — showing how it is Truth (and therefore
Strength) that are always seeking man ; and not man seeking
truth. That we have no power to raise ourselves to the truth,
but only to admit the truth into us — Bacon's eternal saying, that
''we conquer by obeying." How infinitely indebted we are to
that reign of Elizabeth. I believe that Bacon, Spenser, Hooker,
Shakespeare, etc., have done more to interpret the Bible, and
make us more and more convinced of the eternal truth of the
Gospel, than ever Mr. Scott, and that respectable firm, Doyley
and Mant did. God knows we have much to learn yet.


' You apologise for prosing. Now we are quits. ... I
remaiiij ever yours, Alfred Ainger.'

' 23 Carlton Hill, St. John's Wood.

'. . . I quite sympathise with you in your remark about Emer-
son. I always arise from reading one of his essays with an
un-satisfied sense of incompleteness. His yearnings after the truth
are founded evidently on no sound insight into things. There
is much that I admire, much that is original and striking, but
your definition is a true one, — uncomfortable. . . .

' Our housemaid was good enough to inform me yesterday that
she considered Henry Fill, and the Winter's Talc two of the
weakest of Shakespeare's plays. Rather good that, wasn't it.-*

'One doesn't expect literary criticism for twelve pounds a

' Folkestone, Wednesday Morning.

' . . . On Monday I read Much Ado, I was much surprised at
its great success. I little thought a Folkestone audience would
have shown such appreciation of Shakespeare's wit. Every
speech of Benedick and Beatrice "told," and as to Dogberry and
Verges, they caused convulsive laughter on all sides. I will send
you a review of that, when one appears. On Thursday 1 am to
read the Tempest, and am engaged in studying it now. . . .

' We have dreadful literary fights in this house. There are so
very few writers on whom my sisters and I agree. Emerson, in
particular, is a great bone of contention. I depreciate him on
every occasion, and the rest of the family idolise him. I believe
he is little more than a clever dresser-up of commonplaces.

' I have got a fancy that Dogberry is a fair specimen, in many
respects, of a Unitarian ; that delicious self-conceit — " Good old
man, he will be talking," and the general air of superiority over
his superiors is very Socinian. You have not seen much of their
society, as I have.'

' Cambridge, Monday Kigfit.

' I take my first opportunity of writing you a connected letter
that has been presented to me since I received your last.

'Thank you very much, old fellow, for your long letters — I
assure you they are a great treat to me, and that I learn much
from them. Placed as I am here, alternating the chaff and gaiety
of college gossip with the rigid analysis of mathematical investi-



gation^ I become at times chilly-minded and careless ; and such
episodes as your letters are most delightful to me. There are
legions of problems which no algebra can solve.

' I shall be in London, I hope, on the fifteenth — we shall have
not a little to talk about.

' I have more opportunity of seeing the clergy in plain clothes
(if I may use the expression), I mean in their un-official capacity,
here in Cambridge than ever I had before — it is rather amusing
and curious.

' I am beginning to have a glimpse of the manner in which the
body of clergy is recruited, and the previous lives of those who
enter it. I was sitting the other day in Hall, next to a fellow
freshman, a dandy gentleman of the name of Harris, who dresses
within an inch of his life (the Harris-tocrat of our College I call
him ; but that is a digression), and he mentioned casually that he
had been for two or three years in the army, and was now
going to enter the ministry. As I felt quite convinced from the
character of the man, that he had not resolved upon so singular a
change from a conviction of the great privileges of a minister, I
ventured to ask him the cause. He told me deliberately that
there was a living in his family, and that it was a pity it should
be wasted ! And that is the way. Sir, that our ministry is kept
up. Right tol loral, loral ! Such is life.

' I shall be glad to hear more of the Shakesperian. Tell me
what plays they have read this term ; and which have been most
successful. I should like to join them again. If they have
another play this term, after the fifteenth, I shall have great
pleasure in reading. If Wednesday the 17th is a reading day, I
will be there . . . How are they all at home ? . . . — Believe me,
ever your affectionate friend, Alfred Ainger.'

' PS. — Ainger s last (jjuite private). One of our men told me the
other day that he had discovered that our classical lecturer uses a
Translation in class. "Ah," I replied, "The ass knoweth its
master's crib," vide first lesson of last Sunday morning.'

His wit had meanwhile found a fresh outlet in the new
University Magazine.



'A NEW magazine is about to be started in Cambridge. It eman-
ates from Trinity, but is open to contributions from the whole
University. Horace Smith and myself have been asked to contri-
bute, and we intend doing so.'

So wrote Ainger in 1858, and shortly after his letter there
appeared the first number of the Lion. The Eagle, which still
survives as the organ of St. John's College, had hitherto
been the most prominent magazine in the University. But
the Lion had more ambitious aims, and the introductory
statement of its purposes took a high flight. It was to fill a
need as yet unsatisfied in the University world ; it was to be
earnest in tone, witty in expression, and Catholic in the topics
that it treated; no mere college affair, but open to contributions
from all the undergraduates of Cambridge. Among these, as
we saw, were some who, as enthusiasts for Tennyson and
followers of Maurice and Kingsley, wished to see religious
earnestness united to broad sympathies and to poetic culture
— although culture for culture''s sake was by no means what
they approved of. There were undergraduates of that time
who felt no such limitations, but they were to be found in a
very different circle, the set of brilliant free-lances who 'proved
all things' and held fast that which was intellectual. They
centred round George Trevelyan and Henry Sidgvvick, and
were not at all in touch with the thouglit and aims of the
IMauricians, whom they looked upon as too solemn and too
' Philistine.'

The most active spirit of the first of these two groups was,
perhaps, H. R. Haweis of Trinity. He it was who originated
the Lion, for which paper he also wrote ; while Alfred Ainger,



Horace Smith, and A. W. Ward were the chief among his
fellow-contributors. The first number, which had the ' defects
of its qualities,"" was greeted with much laughter and some
youthful arrogance from the other party, nor did they stop
there. Almost at once appeared the Bea?- — a parody of the
Lion, created by George Trevelyan — a sparkling farrago of
gifted fun, more effective than its butt, but neither so mature
nor so interesting. However, it achieved its end, and, though
there was but one number, it killed the poor Lion, which was
only issued twice and died after its second venture. Sir George
Trevelyan's Dionysia followed the Bern-, but it lasted no
longer than its predecessor, and the brisk little battle between
the coteries was not resumed on paper. But it has seemed
worth while to rescue from oblivion a few of Ainger's con-
tributions to the dead Lion — his first-published study of
Shakespeare, together with one or two sallies of his humour
that appeared in its short-lived pages. They stand by them-
selves and may be given without further comment.



' The historians of the present day are busily engaged in setting
aside the verdicts that have been passed on by-gone characters,
Mr. Carlyle has found it his mission to vindicate Cromwell :
Mr. Froude is telling us that Henry the Eighth was really not so
bad a fellow after all. We have chosen our personage from the
page of Shakespeare and hope to shew that the hero of the
"Seven Ages" is not whiter than he is painted, but blacker — in
fact, that he has won himself a good name without having
deserved it.

'"Mine be a philosopher's life in the quiet woodland ways,"
says Tennyson in his last poem, perhajis thinking of Jacques in
the forest, and adopting the most common view of his character.
Mr. Hallam speaks of the " j^hilosophic melancholy" of Jacques,
and this is the quality for which the world has generally given
him credit. We shall take the liberty of examining his claims to
our admiration, and, following the example of modern sermons,
divide our subject into three heads. We have to examine the
nature of the philosopher's early life ; his present disj^osition, as


exhibited in his own conduct and language ; and the opinion
entertained of him by his "co-mates and brothers in exile."

Firstly, then, Jacques has been a courtier. He has passed all
his days in the unwholesome atmosphere of a Court. The petty,
truckling natui-e of this life is plainly declared by Touchstone in
the last act of the play, and is indeed hinted in many other
passages. With this training, and his limited knowledge of
human nature, he offers, when driven into exile, to " cleanse the
foul body of the infected world, if they will patiently receive his
medicine." The good Duke, feeling the presumption of this
speech, says, " Fie on thee, I can tell thee what thou wouldst
do." "Well," says Jacques, ''what for a counter would I do but
good.''" The Duke replies —

"Most mischievous foul sin in chiding sin.
For thou thyself hast been a liliertine
As sensual as the brutish sting itself;
And all the embossed sores and headed evils.
Which thou with licence of free foot hast caught,
Wouldst thou discharge into the general world."

' Such then has been the life of Jacques, before we make his
acquaintance. He is hardly a man, we think, very well qualified
to instruct mankind : unless indeed, on the principle that a
reformed drunkard makes the best apostle of temperance, some
one should urge that a reformed sensualist is calculated to
produce the best philosopher, forgetting that a man must have
many other qualifications before he is fitted to teach his fellows.

'If we may judge Jacques by his words, we find that every-
thing he says evinces a most intense selfishness. It is remarkable
that Shakespeare has made Jacques and his companions express
their opinion on the same subjects, as if to shew their distinctive
difference. Jacques offers, in his pettish manner, to "rail against
our mistress the world, and all our misery." We all know what
the good Duke says on this head :

" Sweet are the uses of Adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head."

And, as we should expect, the Duke does not suit Jacques at all.
When one of the lords tells Jacques that the Duke has been

Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 5 of 32)