Edith Helen Sichel.

The life and letters of Alfred Ainger online

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But that true love can only take her tone
From what lies nearest, dearest^ to the heart.
Thou on fair heights of expectation art,
New worlds of power unfolded to thy view,
All blessings falling on thy head like dew. ...
Who then in this thy brightest hour could fear
The treacherous cloud that may be passing near .''
Only the heart that loves thee best can see
The dangers lurking in prosperity. . . .
Ambition reaching upwards to a crown
Which being found has power to drag thee down. . . .
Forgive these old, old thoughts ; I would not chill
Thy youth's sweet, sunny spring-time. May it still
Brigliten all hopes ; for thee I cannot fear
That tliou wilt ever learn to hold less dear
Trutli's holy cause. . . .
With this firm trust am I then, brother mine,
Thy loving, happy sister — Adeline.'

Her brother wrote verses to her, too, and the sonnet


that follows was probably composed in a mood of lonely
depression : —

' Home is not home where is no kindred face ;
And often^ wearied with the jars of day,
From strangers' hearths I sadly turn away
The story of my childhood's days to trace.
The past seems fading from me ; and the grace
That clings to home and household memories ;
For friends are sweet, hut friendship ne'er supplies
The love of those who link us to our race.
But as in cottage panes the setting sun
^^rites in gold words the story of its reign,
So in thine eyes, my dearest, still remain
The gentle memories of a day that's done ;
And when I think of thee, I smile, my own.
To think I ever thought I was alone.'

Adeline Roscow was in many ways a contrast to her
brother. As spiritual as he, she had gone through phases
of religious doubt and suffering. Her character was intenser ;
her mind, though not so gifted, was bolder; and she thought
every risk worth facing in the pursuit of truth, confident that
faith and aspiration were stronger than any formula. ' I start
from the Real and you from the Ideal, yet we meet on common
ground at last,' her husband had once said to her. Emerson
and Huxley were the writers whom she most admired ; though
she was an idealist she was also a keen appreciator of science,
nor did she in any way regard it as hostile to belief. When
she spoke of the education that she desired for her boys, it
was one of her chief points that science should hold a pro-
minent place in their upbringing. ' It is happiness,"' she wrote
in connection with this subject, 'to think how the light of
Truth is clearing away some of the difficulties, the mysteries,
which have perplexed our generation,' and a poem of hers,
belonging to this time, sums up her conviction and marks her
individual thought : —


' There is a higher truth than truth of creed ;
This will not serve us in our utmost need,
Even though truth unmixed should be ours ;
'Tis truth of life, of purpose, and of deed -. . .
That makes our spirits heavenward-climbing flowers.


Then do not weep for him or deem him blind
Whose heart and soul and life to God are given ;
With time dies every error of the mind,
Only the soul can cast a stain on Heaven.'

Many of the long conversations between the brother and
the sister were about the education of the four children, two
boys and two girls, who ranged from ten years old downwards,
and she often surprised him by dwelling upon the details of
her wishes, prompted, as afterwards appeared, by the premoni-
tion of her death.

Perhaps in these days that she so wished to make happy
for him she hardly showed him the strain that it was to her
to keep cheerful, though her instinctive interest in things
made her easily absorbed in the topics that his new life
brought into play.

He had made his mark at the Temple. Every Sunday
afternoon he read and preached to a crowded and cultivated
audience, such as he had never had before, often taking for his
theme the subjects of the day which he thought his sermons
might affect. Popular education was one of them — the subject
of a discourse as typical in manner as in thought.

'And think, too, in conclusion, what light this passage (Mark x.
15) incidentally throws upon the functions of the educator. If
we are to learn as Christians, even as children learn from a wise
teacher, let us remember also what duty that imposes upon those
who have to educate a people. The cry of the day is for educa-
tion — unsectarian — compulsory, if need be ; that no child in our
teeming streets may grow up ignorant of its powers and of that
which those powers were given it to procure. We hope the day
is coming when this may be accomplished, only let us be sure
that we know what education is; that it is to lead child and
adult alike under a divine discipline, not only to furnish them
with powers that can do the Devil's work as readily as they can
do God's. For it is possible to put into their hands a light which
can disclose new paths to Hell, as well as to Heaven, and we may
lead them to retort upon us in the end, as Caliban retorted upon
Prospero : —

" You taught me language, and my profit on 't
Is — I Ivuow how to curse ! "

AdelIiNE Roscow.

(ai.i'ued ain(;f,r'.s sistkr.)
From a photograph.


' We may forgo the right to train up broods of controversialists
on this side or on that, but we can only abnegate at our peril the
duty of teaching every child in our schools that there is a Kingdom
of Heaven, on accepting vi^hich depends its true prosperity and

He writes, enclosing this fragment to his friend : —

' My dear Smith, — Reading your admirable speech at the
Sheffield congress, I could not but recall the above words which
I spoke a few weeks ago in the Temple Church. I am sure that
you will agree with them, even as I am sure that I agree with
your utterances on the same topic. I believe that the time is
coming when, possibly through greater social revolutions than
we now dream of, and through much tribulation, we shall be
forced to preach a broader and deeper kingdom of God than
the formularies of sects take any account of. . . .

' In the meantime our duty is clear ; we mtist preach the
Revelation of God in Christ ; but we may do that, as I believe,
with you, through many channels, other than catechisms and
Bible classes. — Yours ever affectionately, A. Ainoer.'

It was happy for the world that these channels included
in his eyes the high-roads and by-roads of literature, that the
poetry and the wit of the interpreter became inextricably one
with the kind of priestly responsibility that he felt towards
art and letters. His readings no less than his preaching, his
unexpected talk and his epigrams, were bringing him social
reputation. We catcli brief glimpses of him among new
friends, though the only written record we liave of a Shake-
speare reading at this time is one at a house already familiar,
that of Mrs. Menzies, formerly Miss Louisa King.

' Dearest Louisa, — I ought to apologise for running away in
such haste the other evening; but I was "colded" and tired;
and, moreover, the reaction of my spirits after reading tragedy is
so peculiar, that I am wholly dazed and unfit for society. For
the time being the fictitious life is immeasurably more real to me
than the living life around me.

'Will you direct the enclosed and post it to your friend


Dr. Richardson, who has kindly (?) sent me a copy of his drama.
I fear it won't do.

" ' Mediocribus' is not allowed, you know.
By gods, or men, or Paternoster Row."

' Love to all, yours ever affectionately, A. Ainger.'

' (Enclosed) : —

* To Dr. R who sends me his dramas.

" Oh ! doctor, finding ever fresh

Employment for thy cruel mood.
Thy ether-spray to freeze our flesh,
Thy tragedies to freeze our blood.

Thank God I stand in need of neither ;

And yet, were I my mind to say, —
If I must be the pi'ey of either,

Then let it be the ether's prey." '

Upon work and play, upon the joys of a growing name
and a growing popularity, there descended the cloud of
sudden grief. Early in 1867, Alfred had gone to stay at
Sandgate, unconscious that a tragedy was hanging over him.
For his sake, his sister, for the first time since her husband's
death, had made the effort of dining out. She returned home
exhausted and distressed by a pain in her head from which
she often suffered. AVhen his eldest niece, Margaret, a little
girl of nine, came to greet him in the morning, he sent her
to see how her mother was. The child came back running,
to fetch him, with a white, scared face. He hastened to follow
her into his sister's room, but when he reached her bedside he
knew what had happened. She had been dead for some hours.
The pain had increased, and having summoned some one to
attend to her, she had been left in apparent comfort. A clot
had caused the catastrophe, and death had come without a
struggle — the fulfilment of the presentiments which had for
a year been haunting her. To her brother she had been sister,
mother, and friend, and the shock Avas one from which he
never really recovered. His youth died with her; the loss
of her destroyed the stability of existence for him, and within


a few days his hair showed broad streaks of white and he
altered more, perhaps, then than ever he altered afterwards.

There is a poem which he copied out as a portrait of her, a
few days after her death, in a letter to Miss Young : Words-
worth's ' Stanzas on Mrs. Fermor,'' the sister-in-law of Sir
George Beaumont — some of which seemed like an epitaph
inspired by her whom Ainger mourned.

' Pale was her hue ; yet mortal cheek
Ne'er kindled with a livelier streak

When aught had suffered wrong —
AV^hen aught that breathes had felt a wound ;
Such look the Oppressor might confound.
However proud and strong.

But hushed be every thought that springs
From out the bitterness of things ;

Her quiet is secure ;
No thorns can pierce her tender feet,
Whose life was like the violet sweet,

As climbing jasmine pure . . .

Thou takest not away, O Death !
Thou strikest — absence perisheth,

Indifference is no more ;
The future brightens on our sight ;
For on the past hath fallen a light

That tempts us to adore.'

The day of his sister's death, he had to go back to fulfil
his duties at the Temple. Thence he journeyed backwards
and forwards between Sandgate and London. Her loss
changed his outlook in more ways than one. She had made
him guardian of her family. The Roscows had never been
rich, so that after Dr. Roscow died, his wife had had some-
thing of a struggle ; and though enough remained to bring
up her four children, they were dependent on their uncle for all
the needful little garnishings of life — its pleasures as well as
its refinements ; wholly dependent upon him, also, for the
greater possessions of care and love. He was still a young
man, with all a young man's hopes and wishes, with a great need
of liberty and a very limited income. His nature, which liked
many ties but was not inclined for one — or for anything that
implied stationariness whether of body or spirit — was the last


that others would think fit to carry such a burden. Yet he
made a home for these boys and girls, the eldest of whom was
only ten, and never from the day of his sister's death until
that of his own, was he untrue to his charge.

When we consider (though in doing so we foretell events)
that, in years not so far ahead, he almost entirely undertook
the maintenance of the four children of his sister, Marianne,
whose husband had been unfortunate in his profession, we
shall in some fashion measure the restrictions imposed upon
his life ; shall understand why in after days he toiled on at
classes in girls' schools, at lecturing, and the writing of stray
articles, when many would have liked him to devote himself
to some more permanent work in the cause of literature.

The sacrifice was one not unworthy of his well-loved
Charles Lamb. Meanwhile he found helpers in the task of
looking after his wards. He had a rare gift for children,
and the child that lived on in him drew them instinctively to
him. But he was conscious that he did not know much about
little girls, and he made counsellors of two good women — one
an old family friend, a playmate of his childhood. Miss Mary
Thompson, whose house was now near his in London, the
other, also an old friend, one whom Adeline Roscow had
deeply loved — Miss Emma Young, who lived at Reigate — the
cousin of Alfred Domett, better known as Robert Browning's
' Waring.' Between these two ladies the maternal care of the
girls, Margaret and Ada, was divided, and a great deal of
motherly tenderness accompanied their ministrations, the
boys, too, finding a home with them whenever they happened
to require it. As the girls were sent to a boarding-school at
Reigate, it was Miss Young who superintended their early
education, while Miss Thompson looked after the holidays
that were not spent with their uncle. It was he, however,
who planned their days; and his letters and visits to his
confidantes took up no small part of his time. The elder boy
was already at school — the Collegiate School at Sheffield — and
the younger was sent for a while to stay with his father's
relations. Harassed by all his responsibilities, Alfred found
that his best armour lay in his work and in his books : —


"'Thank God for books," said Sydney Smith, "and who that
has known what it is to depend on them for companionship, but
will say from his heart. Amen ? " In lone country houses, where
friends are few ; in crowded city streets, amid greetings where
no kindness is, thank God for books ! Dearest, best of friends —
soothing, comforting, teaching, carrying us far away from the
" briars of this working-day world " ; never importunate, never
impatient, may we learn to use you as you use us.'

These words were written by Ainger not long after this
period, and these friends on the shelves did not fail him at an
hour when human comradeship was powerless. But with him
the arid mood of sorrow did not last; his need of human
affection was too strong.

'How pleasant it is to love people !' he writes in a letter of 1868.
' I often get a strong flush of comfort out of these great words,
" Hereby we know that we have passed from death unto life
because we love the brethren." '

And again (after a visit to the Atkinsons) : —

' ''Then do fewest words suffice
When many Avords are felt to be too few,"

' says Henry Taylor, and whenever I take leave of you and yours
I feel how true they are . . .

' I hope you all get on well and do not miss me too much.
Shake up Warren and Gibson in a bag, and bring out the perfect
character. Tell the Captain to make no more jokes lest a worse
thing befall him. And for yourself — touch you, and we may spoil
you — so remain as you were. And one and all write to me.'

Perhaps it was especially now, that the remembrance of his
own little family made him tenderer than ever towards child-
hood. It would seem so from some letters, written in the
midst of crowded London days, to a little twelve-year-old girl,
lying ill at Sheffield.

She still remembers the event they were to her, the feats
that he performed to amuse her when he came, the sudden
transformation of her dull sofa into a world of fun.

'18 Westbourne Square, Wednesday, Nov. 10.
' Mv DEAR Helen, — I ani sure you know how sorry I am to
hear of your being unwell, and obliged to keep quiet in the


house ; and I have been thinking that you might like to have a
letter from me sometimes. For I know from my own experience
when I have been ill, how pleasant it is to get letters, and to be
put in remembrance of one's friends. Your mamma has kindly
promised to let me know from time to time how you are, and to
hear that you are better will be quite sufficient return for my
letters ; if indeed I needed any return for what is in itself a great
pleasure to me. I was talking about you only yesterday, for I
was calling on your aunt, Mrs. Hawksley, in Phillimore Gardens.
I shall see them again to-morrow, for I found that they were
going to hear an opera which I am very fond of, called Fidelio,
by Beethoven, and I asked them to let me take a seat near theirs ;
so I am to dine with them and then go with them to the opera.
When you are a liltle older, your mamma will take you, I know, to
hear it. You know some of Beethoven's music; and everything
he wrote is great and pure and beautiful.

' And now, it is very easy to promise to write to a young lady :
but the great question is what to write about. For living as we
do in different places and among different people, how am I to
interest you by telling you London gossip and matters that only
concern myself. I have been thinking a great deal about this ;
and I have resolved to make my letters more interesting by tell-
ing you a story sometimes, from some old poet or other writer
whom you are not likely to have read for yourself. I am not one
of those clever people, like the French cooks, who can make a
pretty and exquisite dish out of nothing ; so that I dare not try
to write a letter when I have no matter of my own to start with.
However, I dare say, I shall be able to do something ; and whether
I send you a story, or some verses, or some other kind of dish,
you must give me credit for doing the best I can.

' So this letter, to-day, you see, is a kind of preface ; just telling
what the book is going to be about, and apologising for the
author's want of ability. And you see I am very cunning ; for I
am sending the preface by itself: if it had been sent with some
of the book itself, you would have skipped the preface, as people
always do when they read a printed volume ; and now you will
be obliged to read this preface !

' Besides I am tied for time to-day as I have to go to Hamp-
stead this afternoon ; so I will merely add that I hope you are
feeling pretty well, and that whatever pain and weariness you
may feel, you will feel, too, how good and loving God is to you,
as He is to all His children. For He gives you relations and


friends who love you ; and I often think that such love is the
greatest blessing we have, next to the love of God. — Ever, dear
Helen, your affectionate friend, Alfred Ainger.'

* 18 Westbourne Square,

' Thursday, Xovember 25.

* My DEAR Helen, — I am afraid my letter will not be a very
long one this week ; and if I have not time to tell you any stories
myself, I am sending you a book full of stories, which you must
not think less worth reading because they happen to be true, A
Mr. Freeman has written for young people a history of England
in its early days before the Norman Conquest ; and Mr. Freeman
knows more about this particular time in English history than
any other living man. ... A taste for books is one of the most
blessed tastes that God has given us, especially when health is
weak and we are obliged to stay in the house, and let our bodies
rest. And a taste for books, if at least they are healthy and wise
books, is a taste for knowledge ; and knowledge is the path to
wisdom, which is itself the love of what is good and the power to
choose it and value it as the most precious of our possessions.
And history, if it be only true, is to my thinking the most inter-
esting of studies : and no novel or story-book gives me so much
pleasure as the finding out what actually has happened to those
who have gone before us in the world.'

*18 Westbolrne Square, W.,

' Thursday, March 2.

' It is really like Spring to-day ; and the country, I have no doubt,
is just ordering its Spring-clothes. The birds will be building in
your garden I should think. Don't disturb them till I come.
Look about for the cuckoos. You know what unprincipled birds
they are. They watch for the lady and gentleman sparrow to
leave the nest ; then they go and lay two eggs there — ring the
bell, and run away. And so they are enabled to get their family
brought up at other people's expense. It is sadly egg-otistical !

' By the way, this is Ash Wednesday. I hope you like your salt-
fish. It is very nice when one is egg-sauce-ted. Pray excuse
this quite unintentional play upon words. I have a great con-
tempt for any one who makes puns.

' I am so much obliged to your Mamma for being so good to
Tom. It is so nice for him to have a pleasant house to go to; for



he sees nothing but boys at the Collegiate^ and that is very
insufficient diet for the intellect and affections. If he talks very
broad Yorkshire^ you must correct him ; though in a general way
I am only too thankful if he talks at all, for he is a silent young
gentleman. I wish I had been at that party — but there ! it 's no
use to repine. I would have dressed up as a Sheffield clergyman,
and 710 one would have recognised me !

I am in a sadly satirical mood to-day, and I think I had better
stop before I say anything too bad. Do you ever see Mr. Scholl-
hammer.'* If you do, tell him I have heard Stockhausen sing,
and it has been an epoch in my life. I have got some new
Schubert songs to try over when I come, so have the piano
tuned. — Ever yours, (in a corner), A. A.'

The promised story of Fidelio arrived duly, told with the
detail and the sobriety of one of Lamb's Tales from Shake-
speare. He was fond of attempting to imbue children with his
own love of music. His standards were severe, even with the
smallest performer. His niece recalls a visit he paid her at
school, and how she proudly sat down to play her carefully
prepared Thalberg variations on ' Home sweet Home.' When
she had done, and was waiting expectant, ' The cooking was
better than the meat,"* was all he said, and after his departure,
the governess asked her what he had meant.

It was in these years that he first learned to know Sir George
Grove, who was henceforth to be a conspicuous person in his
existence, not only as friend and host, but as the promoter of
the Crystal Palace Concerts and the Editor of Macimllan''s

'It was,' he says, 'towards the close of 1868 that I first came
to know George Grove. I was passionately fond of music,
although then very ignorant of the orchestral and chamber works
of the great composers. To such a state of musical destitution,
the Saturday concei-ts at the Crystal Palace were a revelation
indeed. . . .'

' Grove was at that time nearly fifty years of age, and if past
the prime of his various powers, certainly at the very height of
his enthusiasm. What struck me about him was his seeming
boundless capacity for work, in comparison with a like capacity
for interest in all the tastes and pursuits of all his friends, notably


of young men, musicians, or other artists, especially if they were
poor, or perhaps unhappy in their family surroundings. Grove
seemed to have time and strength for everything. He haunted
concerts in London, as well as at Sydenham. He wrote articles
and prefaces. . . . He apparently read everything new in the
artistic or literary world, yet always kept himself in freshest
touch with his old favourites, Coleridge, Lamb, Tennyson. . . .
Added to all of which he was a humorist and a raconteur such as
one seldom met. No wonder that he attracted men of all sorts,
and exercised a kind of fascination over the young and aspiring.
For with everything that he thought and said and wrote, was
blended that charm of enthusiasm which kindles love as well as
admiration. . . . The figure in which Grove most often recurs to
me is of one sitting close to the pianoforte with his elbow on his
knee and his finger along his cheek, listening with rapt admira-
tion to Amia Lt/le, or Leiennaiin, or Dass sie hier geivesen.'

Franz Schubert, the writer of these songs, was a great bond
between them — ' Schubert, with whose works,' as Ainger wrote,
' Grove's name will be for ever associated, who owes an incal-
culable debt to Grove for the spread of his music in England.''
No one who heard him recount it can forget the excitement
with which he used to repeat the story, heard from Sir George
Grove's lips, of how Schubert's unfinished Symphony had been
discovered by Grove himself, put away on a dusty shelf, in the
Library at Vienna. History meant little to Ainger and the
discovery of a new world would have had less power to move
him than this incident. It became a drama when he described
the searching in the cupboard, and the first unrolling of the

The thought of Schubert pursued him, and when he went

Online LibraryEdith Helen SichelThe life and letters of Alfred Ainger → online text (page 9 of 32)