Edith Helen Sichel.

The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

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seeking him, the philosopher replies, " And I have been all this
day to avoid him. He is too disputable for my company. I think


of as many matters as he ; but I give Heaven thanks and make
no boast of them."

* When we first read this speech we are quite at a loss to
undex'stand it^ for during the short time we have known him the
Duke has as little of the disputable in him as any one we can
imagine. Howeverj in the next scene, when we find how
thoroughly the Duke knows Jacques, and how readily he tells
him his opinion of him, it is easy to see why Jacques avoids his
company. In the dialogue between Jacques and Orlando in Act
III., when the philosopher proposes to sit down and abuse mankind,
Orlando says, " I will chide no breather in the world but myself,
against whom I know most faults." Orlando goes on to say that
he holds Jacques to be either "a fool or a cypher." Now Jacques
is not a fool. He displays all those absurdities into which an
overweening conceit leads a man, but he has withal a quick and
brilliant fancy. I mention this because many will say that the
celebrated speech of " the Seven Ages of Man," and the apos-
trophe of the wounded stag, are inconsistent with the character
as we have interpreted it. Now, the first of these speeches is
merely a burst of fancy, which might have been delivered by
Mercutio when in a serious vein (if that chronic wit ever had
a sober interval). Indeed, we think that the " Seven Ages " is
remarkably indicative of the mind of the speaker. It is purely
sensual. It does not turn upon the development of mind and
character in the growing man ; it contains no hidden philosophy
on the weakness and failings of humanity ; but the idea is
expressed merely in a series of pictures of external life, as they
occur to the eye of the speakei'. We see that it would be
incorrect in the mouth of any other moralist or wit in Shakespeare.
The second of the episodes we have alluded to, viz. the " Wounded
Stag" we cannot detach from our view of Jacques' character.
When he says, "thus misery does part the flux of company " ; and
afterwards as "the careless herd full of the pasture jumps along
by him, and never stays to greet him " : when he adds, " Sweep
on, you fat and greasy citizens, 'tis just the fashion ; wherefore
do you look upon that poor and broken bankrupt there ? " all this
seems to us (pei'haps we are wrong) only another reflection upon
himself; another murmur at his own misery, at being forced into
exile. And then he winds up with some mawkish, false senti-
mentalism about the tyranny of the exiles in the forest in killing
the deer for food. Depend upon it, that if his friends in the
forest of Arden had acted upon this suggestion, Jacques would


have been the first to grumble when he sat clown to dinner, and
found no venison on the bill of fare. It will be seen that we are
determined to take away all reality from the man, when we say
that there are very evident proofs that the melancholy of Jacques
is assumed. In the first place, constitutional melancholy —
hypochondria — is a disease for which a man deserves the sincerest
pity. If this were Jacques' affliction, we should not find his
friends twitting him with it, nor Jacques himself boasting of it.
When Jacques, in a very offensive manner, is calling on Amiens,
to " sing more, I pr'ythee, more ! " Amiens (we can fancy him
with a roguish twinkle in his eye) says, " It will make you
melancholy. Monsieur Jacques." The hypochondriac replies, " I
think it : more, I pry' thee, more : I can suck melancholy out of
a song as a weasel sucks eggs ; more, I pr'ythee, more." Again,
in a scene to which we have alluded, Jacques says, " Farewell,
good Signior Love," and Orlando retorts, "Adieu, good Monsieur
Melancholy." Now Orlando is the last person in the world to
ridicule a man for a natural infirmity. In Act iv. Scene i.
Rosalind says, "They say you are a melancholy fellow." (J.\cq.)
"lam: I do love it better than laughing." (Ros.) "Those that
are in extremity of either are abominable fellows, and betray
themselves to every modern censure, worse than di-unkards."
(Jacq.) "Why, 'tis good to be sad and say nothing." (Ros.)
"Why then 'tis good to be a post."

' Rosalind detects him immediately.

' We are convinced that this humour is put on to attract notice,
and increase his reputation for contemplative habits. All who
have been any time in his company detect his real nature and
are continually aiming hits at his assumed character.

' We have been told that it is a noble and disinterested act, to
leave the forest when happiness is restored to the exiles, to attend
upon Duke Frederick. In the last act, Jacques says to Jacques
de Bois, " Sir, by your patience, if I heard you rightly, the Duke
hath put on a religious life and thrown into neglect the pomp of
court." (J. DE Bois) "He hath." (Jacq.) "To him will I: out
of these convertites there is much matter to be heard and learnt."
As much as to say, (the ruling passion strong to the last), " You
see, good people, I never lose a chance of increasing my wisdom
under any circumstances. I am extremely sorry to leave you,
but friendship must be sacrificed to the acquisition of knowledge."
But there is another reason for his leaving the joyous party. He
will be quite out of place if he remains. The Duke and all his


friends are restored to liberty and happiness : they are all in the
merriest spirits, and are about, as the Duke says, "to fall into
their rustic revelry." What has Jacques to do there? He must
either throw off his melancholy and become cheerful, (which will
only bring him into contempt), or stay and look glumpy in a
corner while the others are glad and happy. It is clear he has
no business there. He can expect no sympathy. He has kept
himself aloof from his companions in misfortune, and he cannot
hope that they will give him a cordial welcome now. So he
sneaks away and tries to do it in a dignified manner. There is a
pleasant retributive justice in this, which is very satisfactory to
those who hold Jacques in the same contempt as we do,

' Lastly, we should seek for the purpose of Shakespeare in
delineating the character. Of the unreal and the ingenuine, the
great poet had a hatred which ntiay be traced in every one of his
works. An affectation by a person of what he is not or has not,
is what he is continually holding up to ridicule. It is, as we
believe, the sham philosopher — one of the most pitiful and
mischievous of these shams (to use Mr. Carlyle's word), which is
here exposed. There is no doubt that in the time of Shakespeare,
as in our own, there were many of these professors. The reputa-
tion of a philosopher, the highest and noblest fame, if true, that a
man can enjoy, is often gained more easily and on slighter grounds
than any other. A man, if he has only sufficient talent and
discretion to remain consistent, has only to assume a melancholy
despondency, like Jacques, and "rail at our mistress the world,"
and he is looked up to by a large body of his fellow-men as a
philosopher. He says by his conduct what is equivalent to this :
" I see clearly the evil of man's nature — I hate it, as evil must be
hated — I cannot but despise my fellows who are so depraved ;
therefore I think it better to keep myself apart, and look on
in pity from a distance."

'This man is not a philosopher — he is as widely different from
a philosopher as possible. If a man see this, it is his duty to
combat with the evil, and strive to bring down fresh light from
Heaven to those who are struggling in the dark. No man can
remain neutral in the battle of life. Every one has a part to play
in the multitude, and woe to him if he seek to walk alone. It
has been vritten, "They who have retired from the world, as
though blaming God for sending them into it, have all, ere long,
experienced the falsity of their ideal repose by the wars and
fightings within." It is a platitude to say that men cannot go on


without moving ; but the man who determines to perform life's
journey alone, without the assistance of those influences which
develope his moral being, has as much chance of attaining final
perfection, as the dew-drop on the mountain of reaching the
ocean without union with the stream. The drop may become
impure — the man contaminated ; but there is no possibility of
attaining the desired end without union with others. This lesson
is taught us by nature and our own hearts, confirmed by His
authority, who prays for his loved ones, " not that they should be
taken from the world, but that they should be kept from the

' Touchstone is much more a philosopher than Jacques. Besides
that beneath his satire there often underlie deep truths, he has
many virtues. He is faithful, charitable, and unselfish. He leaves
the quiet and comfort of home to accompany his mistress in her
exile. He finds his pedestrian journey irksome and fatiguing,
but his spirits never desert him though "his legs are weary."
"Travellers," he says, '^must be content." His last act is to
marry a coarse untaught country girl, because she has honesty,
" like your pearl in your foul oyster ! "

'The whole purpose of this delightful play seems to be, to
shew the contrast of love and nature with jealousy, hatred and
artifice. We almost lose sight of the latter in the abundance of
the former.

'The tyranny of the usurping Duke, and the unnatural cruelty
of Oliver are forgotten in the new element that we breathe when
we are released from the court — forgotten in the touching attach-
ment of old Adam — in the affection of the two cousins, Rosalind
and Celia — in the faithfulness of the fool, who will follow o'er the
wide world with his mistress — in the generous spirit and modest
fix*mness of Orlando — in the charity and true philosophy of the
exiled Duke — in the rustic honesty of Corin, whose code of morals
seems sound enough for most purposes though he is in danger of
damnation for never having been to court. " Sir, I am a true
labourer, I earn that I eat, get that I wear, owe no man hate,
envy no man's happiness, glad of other men's good, content with
my harm, and the greatest of my pride is to see my ewes graze
and my lambs suck."

' Another cause of the great charm of As Yoji Like It arises from
the scene in which it is laixl. It is summer time, and we are on
the greensward, under the rustling trees, in almost every scene.
The play opens in an orchard — then Ave are on the lawn before


the Duke's palace — and in the second act we are let loose in the
forest among the deer. The effect is rendered more pleasing by
our being now and then reluctantly brought back to " a room in
the Palace," to listen to a few unpleasant remarks from Duke
Frederick, but from which we only fly back with the greater
delight to roam in the Forest of Arden, where the noon-day sun
is loitering down through thick foliage, and flecking with light
and shade the green turf beneath.

The Life and Times of Smith, bv J. Brown

By Lord M.

* The appearance of this work is much to be lamented. The
author is not, as far as we know, naturally unfitted for his task.
His sentiments are just and profound. His style is generally
accurate and pleasing. But the subject is one which demands
the most patient and laborious research. Mr. Brown is well
known as a gentleman of respectable talents. But this research
he has not thought fit to give.

' Smith was undoubtedly one of the greatest men of his day.
There is as little doubt that Mr. Brown has made him appear one
of the least. The biographer has evidently been overcome by
the difficulties of his task. He has endeavoured to reconcile
what a more acute man would have seen the impossibility of
reconciling. There are some ntien, to attempt to harmonise whose
character, is to take away that character altogether. Smith's
character is a riddle. This riddle will in all human probability
never be guessed. But it certainly will never be solved by
straining that character in the method adopted by our author.

' There probably never lived a man whose physical and intel-
lectual anomalies were more striking than the subject of this
biography. It would seem indeed as if nature had formed him in
one of her most capricious humours. She had gifted him with
the intellect of a Newton and the superstition of a Loo-Choo
Islander. He was accustomed to go down to the Royal Society
and remove in ten minutes a difficulty which had baffled the
researches of the most eminent chemists, since chemistry was
first a science. He would leave the meeting and hasten to an old
woman in Bethnai Green who professed to remove warts by in-
cantations. In an age when the fine arts were encouraged more


than they have ever been before or since, no chambers in Europe
were more profusely adorned than his, with the masterpieces of
Titian, the carvings of De Burghem, and the living marbles of
Leonardo Chizzello. Yet it is notorious that he preferred the
inanities of M'Twaddler to the serene majesty of a Milton, and
would never open Homer while he could peruse the jingling
dosfffrel of Watts. We ai*e ashamed to mention a fact which is as
well known as the avarice of Penn, or the ravings of Fox. Yet
Mr. Brown tells us that " his indulgence to the compositions of
second-rate poets strikingly displays the goodness of his heart." ^

* Nor were the peculiarities of Smith's person less remarkable
than those of his mind. His form was of that perfect loveliness
which drew every eye to him as he walked in the sunny lanes of
Grimfield. We are told that he squinted so horribly as to drive
many persons in disgust from his presence. Mr. Brown cannot
believe this at all. " He had," he says, "a slight cast in his eye,
which was rather attractive than otherwise." All our readers
have heard of the lover, whose mistress was blessed with a similar
deformity, and who could never afterwards endure an eye, of
which the vision was not distorted. Mr. Brown may possibly
share this feeling. But the truth is that he has polished and
rounded his subject till he has polished and rounded it away to

' We wish we could say that this is the worst defect in Mr.
Brown's work. But the fact is that on those points with which
the biographer of Smith should be best acquainted, he is pro-
foundly ignorant. Smith's i-esearches into Turkish literature will
live as long as the English language. Yet it will hardly be
believed that Mr. Brown's ignorance is such that he repeatedly
uses " Jabbajee " and " Jabbajoy " as synonymous terms. Every
school-girl now reads the koran, and the first-form boy who made
such a blunder would well deserve to be thrashed within an inch
of his life. The biographer or historian who is unacquainted with
his subject has only one course open to him. If he cannot exhibit
his knowledge, he should at least be able to conceal his ignorance.
It is not too much to say that Mr. Brown injures his reputation
more by venturing opinions on points of which he may be sup-
posed to be ignorant, than by displaying his deficiencies on those
of which he is bound to be informed. Thus Mr. Brown draws
illustrations from the history of all countries and all ages, and
exhibits a want of common information, or common care, that

' I. 43.


would disgrace a child of thirteen. The illustrations are not good
in themselves. They have the additional disadvantage of being
in almost all cases untrue. It is certain that they are not needed,
and we have sought in vain a reason for their introduction. No
doubt Mr. Brown thinks with honest Sir Andrew Aguecheek, that
if he has ''no exquisite reason for it, he has reason good enough."
' We here lay aside the book with very different feelings from
those with which we took it up. The life of Smith has yet to be
written. The next writer who girds himself up for the labour
must do so in a far different spirit. He may learn from the
present volume that he has no chance of success, unless he resolve
to exhibit definitely those extraordinary features by force of which
Smith towers high above the worthies of the eighteenth century.
By endeavouring to bring them all into harmony. Mi*. Brown has
left upon his pages a pleasing, but nevertheless an ideal portrait
of his hero. It is as if an historical artist should set himself to
shade down the brow of Michael Angelo, the nose of Gray, or the
crane's neck of Mr. Pitt. The portrait may be more graceful —
but what it gains in grace it will lose in truth.'

Poetry by R. W, E.

' Every poet is a new edition of the Universe. Not as one
would say a microcosm, but a yet undiscovered Infinite. I can
bathe in his splendour as of a new sun. He is else none of poets.
He is a kaleidoscope else, not a telescope. We know the poet
when we see him. Moses, Voltaire, Socrates, Confucius, were
not otherwise. They are not Broadway shop-windows. I ripen
in their light — sun that warms me — atmosphere that gives me
life — vegetable that feeds me — indicate the genuineness of the
produce. The poet lives, therefore, in as far as he exists.

' Each new world is free to all comers, but one has not of
consequence the rights of citizenship. I may accept a ticket for
a morning concert though I be deaf. Melesigenes is under a
passport system. We may wander, like Odusseus, through many
cities and yet hold no converse. George Chapman says of those
who failed to naturalise Homer —

" They failed to search bis deep and treasurous heart.
The cause was since they wanted the fit key
Of nature in their downright strength of art.
With poesy to open poesy."

' Again, your true poet is not a creator merely, but a destroyer.
He is an elixir vitae, but also a stomach-pump. He must clean


the palate before he recruits with the new wine — then I leap for
joy — then I am godlike. From that day I am in a serener

' When we read poetry we are become for the time the poet.
We cannot do without it. Wc are become incorporate with the
new type. We are henceforth a new being. We have cast the
shell. We are become lobsters. I find nothing more divine in
me than this. I am under a law of poetical growth. When my
soul has reached its farthest horizon, the barriers crumble away
and I shall enter on the perfect prospect. Tree, wall, house, city,
landscape are numbered in the holier empyrean, and shall be
hung with amaranth and jasper.'



It was through the Liofi that Ainger was first brought into
personal contact with the Macmillans, a literary event which
had far more lasting results on his career than any of his first
publications. That memorable man, Alexander Macmillan,
was then the sole head of the firm and his famous shop was in
Trinity Street. Alfred has himself recorded the beginnings
of that friendship, which was afterwards to mean so much to
him, both as a writer and an individual.

' Being of a bookish disposition, I had been from my Freshman's
term a haunter of the shop in Trinity Street ... I remember
well Mr. Macmillan addressing me in friendly words on the
strength (if I remember rightly) of a paper I had written in one
of those university inagazines, which in each successive generation
of undergraduates " come like shadows," and in a year or two " so
depart." He had been struck with something in the paper, and
out of the conversation thus begun arose a friendship I do not
hesitate to call one of the most valuable and valued of my life.
... As early as 1855 the name of Frederick Maurice was closely
associated with the young firm. Kingsley's Westward Ho! in its
original three-volumed form appeared in that year, and by 1857
had reached a third edition ; and in the same year the firm
achieved what Alexander Macmillan always called his first great
popular success in Tom Brown s School-days. . . . The acquain-
tance I thus formed with Alexander at this juncture speedily
passed into something like intimacy, and not long after I was
welcomed by the family circle at the house in Trinity Street, in
the lower portion of which the business was carried on. The
household consisted of Alexander Macmillan, his wife and four
young children, and his brother's widow with her own four
children, whom Alexander had promptly adopted on the death of
their father, making of them one family with his own, until they
were married or otherwise established in life elsewhere. The
impression of those Cambridge days, from 1858 to I860, is still



singularly fresh and full of charm to the present writer — the
absolute unity in affection and purpose of this twofold family, and
(if it may be said without offence) the total absence in the head of
the household of even the consciousness that he was doing any-
thing exceptional or out of the way. . . .

' He seemed to have an instinctive perception of what con-
stituted excellence in a new book, irrespective of his own
sympathies. I do not suppose he would ever have made an
infallible critic, in the literary sense of the word. The deficiencies
of his earlier training forbade it. He had not the full equipment
of a critic. But intellectual insight seems to be given to some
men in ways and through channels other than those of the critic
whose judgment has been formed by the careful measuring of
writer against writer. Alexander Macmillan's power may have
been instinctive, mysterious even to himself; but the intellectual
grasp he undoubtedly possessed, and the early successes of the
firm, especially at the time when he was his own ''reader," must
have been due to his almost unerring perception of the real quality
of a new writer. . , .

* I well remember taking a Sunday walk with him at Cambridge
in the first few months of our friendship, and his repeating from
memory the then little-known stanzas of Tennyson addressed to
Bulwer Lytton that had appeared in Punch. ... It might be truly
said of Alexander Macmillan that, with all his literary instinct
and consequent sagacity, he had that rarer thing, the deep literary
heart ; and no man ever more clearly understood the essential
distinction between literature and books. . . . No one could share
his hospitality and sojourn under his roof without discovering the
large nature of the man, his generosity, his kindness and thought-
fulness for servants and dependants, his pity and helpfulness for
all of them when in trouble. The recollection of his own early
poverty and struggle seemed a perpetual fountain of sympathy
within him. And it had the natural and happy result of evoking
in return the intensest loyalty and affection from all who served
him, whether in his home or in his business. Thus it was, too,
that he secured an extraordinary influence over their characters,
stimulating and bringing out the best that was in them. . . .
Enthusiasm, a passionate belief in the writers he loved, quickness
of perception and shrewdness of judgment had their correspon-
ding side of impatience and intolerance of opposition. But his
heat in argument was never but for the moment, and no one ever
lived less capable of bearing a grudge.'


The large, warm-hearted being sketched here, made, as it
were, a cheering hearth for talent, often obscure and unrecog-
nised, that was then rising on the horizon — thus filling
a place which it would now be hard to fill. To Ainger, as to so
many others, he gave the encouragement and confidence which
helped the right growth of his gifts, and in his case they
were personal, as well as literary ones. The appreciation he
found in the Macmillan household fostered his wit and his
acting powers, and those who heard him speak in after days
of that circle, of the friendship which grew up with each of
its younger members, could not fail to recognise the part they
played in moulding his career — as his publishers, still more
as his appreciators. There was, they were wont to say later,
no family event of theirs, whether birth, marriage, or death,
in which he did not play a part, and in their magazine it was
that his first mature efforts appeared.

Meanwhile, he was working hard at his special subject.
Law, but he was not strong enough to read for honours and
only took an ordinary Law degree.

*"I am glad," he writes to William Elderton in June 1859j
" to have got my first class Poll which I did not expect. I heard
yesterday from a friend at Cambridge (Jack of Peterhouse) that I
am second in the first class."

Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 6 of 32)