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Horae Solitariae

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Horae Solitariaie


Edward Thomas

E. P. Button (Q. Co.

New York



















XIV. ON THE EVENLODE . . . . 165


The first, and the last two, of these
papers have not been printed before.
For permission to reprint the rest, I
thank the Editors of The Atlantic
Monthly, Grampian's Magazine, The
Speaker, Country Life, The Illustrated
London News, and The Review of the

Horae Solitariae*

AMONGST a thousand books, I find hardly
one title so opulent as Horce, Solitaries. It
has for the inward ear a melody that sings
apart. It is outside even the class in which
the title gives a full rhyme with the contents,
rich as they may be. Many first editions are
of this class ; but as the issues grow numer-
ous, they become merely part of somebody's
" works," and The Winters Tale, or Steps
to the Temple, or The Mistress of Philaret,
becomes volume 1 or 2. Titles like Elia are
of a subtler beauty, depending on the con-
tents, which they first show darkly, and
afterwards mysteriously expound. Some

* " Horse Solitarise," printed by J. W. Pasham,
Black-Friars ; and sold by Edward and Charles
Dilly, in the Poultry ; and by James Mathews, in
the Strand. 1776.


Horse Solitarise

books never have titles, except strictly
speaking, and scarcely after scores of
editions does Johnsons Dictionary hint at
the autobiographer who chose so rare a
pathway. Thoreau thought that nicknames
were the only real names. A large and
uninteresting family that proves this has
some excuse ; the writer has less, whose
titles should be as veracious as nicknames,
so that they shall in time be eloquent of the
verse and the poet himself,

" Celui qui la chanson a faicte
A 1'umbre d'une coppeau de May."

But Horce Solitaries is it not a title under
which many might expect a record of their
daintiest pleasures ? To me, at least, at one
time it seemed an apt title for the book of

I have been told that the book is very

dull. The other day a notoriously honest

man told me it was theological. Yet, though

I am by nature credulous, I smiled, and on


Horae Solitariae

my shelf it has a place of honour. For a
book it is still young, just casting aside its
outer fopperies, and with an aspect of conse-
quence decayed, and dignified by decay. It
has the air of a wit and gentleman of Gold-
smith's day, in a benjamin with faded gold
brocade. The title is his button-hole or
his philosophy in brief. To me it is as
matins and vespers ; " in its smile and by
its side" I rise and set, read my books,
write my letters, and of an afternoon
(when callers are few, and frivolously en-
gaged) create buttered toast according to
Horce Solitarice I regulate the amount of
butter on it and within. As a rule its in-
fluence is on the side of quietness and well
buttered toast. Only once have I known its
golden tones a little quickened by exquisite
rage. That was when it poured a scornful
negative upon the words of Chesterfield
concerning " waste of time." Writing to
young Stanhope in 1746, " I hope," says
the noble earl,


Horse Solitariae

" I hope you employ your whole time, which few
people do ; and that you put every moment to
profit of some kind or other. I call company,
walking, riding, etc., employing one's time, and,
upon proper occasions, very usefully ; but what I
cannot forgive in anybody is sauntering, and doing
nothing at all, with a thing so precious as time, and
so irrecoverable when lost."

HorcB Solitarice first heard those sentences
in Oxford. I remember well. Breakfast
was almost at an end, and the first cigarette
had just been lit ; which is as much as to
say it was one of the sweetest moments
of life. For, pleasant though the perfume
of tobacco may be at all times, it is in-
comparable, blown from a neighbour, when
the window on a summer morning has been
opened wide, and coffee has given way to
oranges, and as yet your own lips are " virgin
from " the herb. The smoke had flown out
and returned with a burden from the roses
in the window ; and one had turned over
the pages of Chesterfield. He read aloud
that passage with a laugh (in the cushions

Horae Solitaries

of his chair one could not be ingulfed in less
than half an hour), allowing to the first
part of the second sentence a little humour,
but of the most timid kind. We were
very young, and a voice (it seemed the
voice of HorcB Solitaries) floated across the
table, like "the pipe of half awakened
birds," saying blissfully, '< The art of life
is not too wisely to waste time." Years
have spoiled the young laugh that made this
so adequate. Still, however, the old volume
looks down from the shelf with a tired smile,
blessing the listlessness which a midnight
lamp cannot rouse, and calling up the
summer moods, that gently mocked the
quiet sorrows of a hundred centuries and
the organ tones of woe that was passing.

" Temper is O suaves lapsus ! O otia sana !
O herbis dignse numerari, et floribus horse."

In those summers we had nothing to do,
but I think it was often divinely done.
We had nothing to say, and we said it


Horae Solitariae

But, indeed, if we are to take Lord
Chesterfield seriously, did any man whose
time was " too valuable to be wasted " ever
do nothing at all? The brain, far less the
something that sits ghostly at the helm, is
not like a machine that pauses on every
Sunday, though it may rest. True saunter-
ing is such as we may suppose to have been
the solace of the supreme Being on the
seventh day, when having rested from all
His work and seen that it was very good,
He would not have disdained to walk among
the four waters of Eden and to see again
the gold, bdellium and the onyx stone. In
sauntering the sad are cherished by recollec-
tions of past joy and past sorrow, without a
stain ; then first the joyful verily behold their
bliss ; for the poet, the saint, the man of the
world, it pours out ambrosia and precious
oil. It is the altar of reverie. Victor Hugo
has called reverie a poison of the brain, but
he forgot that reverie is the substitute of
meditation in the minds of children, i.e. of

Horse Solitariae

three quarters of the adult population of the
world. But the rightful fountain of justice
on this point is the most eminent saunterer.

" I have met," says Henry Thoreau, " with
but one or two persons in the course of my life
who understood the art of walking, that is of
taking walks who had a genius, so to speak, for
sauntering : which word is beautifully derived
' from idle people who roved about the country in
the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pre-
tence of going a la Sainte Terre,' to the Holy Land,
till the children exclaimed, ' There goes a Sainte-
Terrer, a Saunterer a Holy Lander. They who
never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they
pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds ; but
they who do go there are saunterers in the good
sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would
derive the word from satis terre y without land or a
home, which therefore, in the good sense, will mean
having no particular home, but equally at home
everywhere. For this is the secret of successful
sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the
time may be the greatest vagrant of all ; but the
saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant
than the meandering river, which is all the while
sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.
But I prefer the first, which indeed is the most pro-
bable derivation, for every walk is a sort of crusade,
preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go

Horse Solitariae

forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands
of the Infidels."

A more dangerous arraigner of Horce
Solitaries is Lamb. In one of his essays
he has some just remarks on " books which
are no books," though I think he might have
spared Gibbon, if only for the notes to his
great history. In attacking draught boards,
however, " bound and lettered on the back,"
he has accused Horce, Solitaries and its
puissant author, whom I esteem as no less
than the genius of dreams herself. Yet
why was Zimmerman's dull volume in such
company, if Lamb had not in secret an affec-
tion for its title? My wonder is that he
could allude to it so lightly. I think I would
exchange many more famous books for that
Zimmerman on Solitude. Elia himself has
confessed a love "shall I be thought fan-
tastical ? " for the names of certain poets.
"The sweetest names, and which carry a
perfume in the mention, are Kit Marlowe,
Drayton, Drummond of Hawthornden and

Horae Solitaries

Cowley " ; and I think the inclusion of
Cowley (as poet, not as delicate essayist)
adds to my score. Do not the names of our
childish books also hold the same rhetoric
for eye and ear? They too are under the
suzerainty of Horce Solitaries, though I
would not dare to re-open many of those
priceless, dog's-eared things. We have
travelled for years non passibus cequis and
I fear that they at least are not for the
fashion of these times. I should no longer
expect to see a fairy slip from the pages of
and ride upon its back. Some shackles
I will bind on my incredulity ; the book shall
be shut for ever. I have sometimes been
reproached for my ignorance of Defoe.
Everybody tells me that he is a great writer,
and I am disposed to believe so. But he is
for me "a book sealed" because Robinson
Crusoe was once a spirit-leaved volume.
Virgil, as everybody knows, bore the name
of a magician in medieval fancies. The dark
ages linger yet, are continually being re-


Horae Solitariae

prieved ; and Defoe is a magician whom I
have no wish to reduce to a stylist in com-
petition with Mrs or a novelist some-
what inferior to the Rev. . All these

belong to Horce Solitaries, they are her
nimble peltasts. A little apart upon the
shelves are the hoplites of her forces. Most
of them are in Latin, chosen for the fascina-
tion of their promise and the dulness of their
contents. What, for example, could more
daintily stir the epicurean in such things than

the title

" Calchantis Veronensis
De Mendacibus Praeclaris
Libri Quattuor,"

" Concerning liars of renown " ? who will be

included? or rather, who will not? The

list begins with Adam, an ingenuous amateur :

the only comment on each one is an evil

enumeration of his punishment. For its name,

" Liber Somniorum

et Miraculorum,"

"The Book of Dreams and Marvels" is no
bad lieutenant to Horce Solitaries, but con-

Horae Solitariae

cerning its contents as Sterne

would have written. Close by is a volume
of old letters,

"Foliis Mandate,"

" In the keeping of mere leaves," a graceful
Virgilian title that hides small treasure. One
letter, nevertheless, apparently of the seven-
teenth century, does some service to Horcz
Solitarice. It is a fair indication of the
contemporary feeling for Nature, as still
having something malign in her strongholds,
the resort perhaps of the dethroned deities
(or " devils ") of Greece and Rome.

" This day " runs the letter, " the wayes were too
foule for the mare (that now goeth faster than I
towards age) I did walk to the minster. Marian
and Jannet and my good wife Ann did accompany
mee, but fell behind by reason of much greating
with the neighbours, and I was presently alone in
Master Jeffreys his high grove of great trees. As
thou art my deare friend I do confess and I am yet
upon the tenters for it, that I did there take delight
in a kind of phantastickal melancholia that was like
a warme bedde on a cold morning so as I was loth
to give it up. If I may beleeve mine eyes that bee
little dimmed, the great trees were of the hew of


Horae Solitariae

alchymy and brave and wanton as a shoppe in
Chepe. I do beleeve I came nigh to that sinne of
His People in the wilderness that they sinned as
Scripture hath it in bowing down before the Golden
Calf. Hadde I met my lord Bishop I think he
hadde seen the hooffs of the devill in my visnomy.
But my wife suddenly comming on to me and ask-
ing whether the stone annoied me yet? I did
forgette this trumperie. Pray for mee, as thou art
my deare friend and brother."

I have been fain even to bind fictitious copies
of such books as elude my purse or search.
The title for example, " Secrets of Angling "
by J. D. has excited the envy of many: it
is alas ! only a MS. copy so bound.

I have journeyed through perhaps more
of the kingdom of Horce Solitaries than
the kindliest sauuterer could enjoy. I hope,
at least, that I have not too noisily talked of
some things that should belong to silence.
An old-fashioned, somewhat pedantic title,
it has come to have a sweetness as if the
desert rock should gush with dew like that
which clings to the Latin names of plants.
" Anemone nemorosa " what a full sonority


Horae Solitarise

incomparable. In a garden in late autumn
one may find by a few grey stalks and haggard
flowers the gardener's label, on which the
sounding name reads like an epitaph and the
thing itself a stone above the dead. This
book has a similar note. It has spoken to
me in the fields or under the forest, and has
a special blessing in the silences of autumn
by day, when the trees seem to have reached
great age all at once, seem in truth to be
the oldest things on earth and yet to smile ;
by night, when the moon grows lonelier
and lonelier in the chill, blue spaces over-
head, when the noise as of immense wings
quaking at the horizon almost ceases, and
the only sound is one leaf justling with
another in an overcrowded grave or, most
silent of all sounds, a swallow passing in
the darkness.

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MAGICAL powers like those imputed to the
flesh of mummies abide in the languages we
call dead. They have the mystery of death,
of resurrection, too, of a perpetual life
in death, not due to the disentombing of
antiquaries, but to the loyalty of one dis-
tinguished class. This class of scholars truly
is magnificently repaid. Vital lampada
tradunt Without them the lamp would
have fallen and expired. They, like vestals,
dwell apart, keep ever burning the holy fire,
and claim their immunities. The glories of
the languages haunt also their husband-

Nothing so troubled the old Roman,
troubled him even in his grave, as a thought
that the rites of the hearth might be neglected,

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and offerings to dead ancestors left unbrought.
Therefore a sanctity awaited the heir that
fulfilled these duties ; and even such a sanctity
clothes the scholar that cherishes their ancient
speech. Yet the glory about him is like
the glory of fire in a lampless room, that
"counterfeits a shade." For it is pathetic
that the language in which

" Saintly Camilus lived and firm Atilius died,"

that the language of those who fought at
Marathon, should, if they have not perished,
no longer be transmitted with the mother's
milk to her son. Their posterity cannot read
their epitaphs. Montaigne was nursed by
one who spoke Latin, and he heard nothing
save that tongue around his cradle ; but it
was not in his blood ; he records, in fact, that
his Latin gradually degenerated, until he lost
the use of it. In this way, the handling of
Greek and Latin gives a solemnity, a touch of
pathos, to the scholar. But he is often poor.
The words that would lay open the gates of


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heaven are impotent at the tradesman's door.
The world calls Greek

" Greek in a hut, with water and a crust,
Learning, forgive us ! cinders, ashes, dust."

Still, learning is not ill paid. If it were,
so also would the martyr be, and mighty
poets that have died before their fame was
born. He that soweth roses must not look for
apples, or even poppies. " Aristotle is more
known than Alexander," says Democritus
Junior, "yet I stand not upon this; the
delight is what I aim at ; so great pleasure,
such sweet content, there is in study." It is
much to speak the tongue that Shakespeare
spoke, but more perhaps to speak the tongue
of Greece that gave light, and Rome that gave
fire, to the world. The scholar has upon his
lips imperial accents. When I speak a line
of Greek I seem to taste nectar and ambrosia.
As in Heine's fable the eagle of Jupiter was
with him, antiquated and mournful though it
might be, in his exile on a northern island ;
so the eagle accompanies the scholar.

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There is ever something ideal in the " dead
languages." They cannot be invaded, but
remain crystallized immortally. Ccesar semper
Augustus were words of incantatory effect on
mediaeval ears ; and the sound of Greek falls
freshly upon the mind, with a surprise, still
as great as to the scholars of the Renaissance
when Learning returned from her Babylonish
captivity. So much so that we often praise
the classic for a thought which in a modern
would perhaps draw little attention. For the
medium is as divine as marble ; and we
might say with Michelangelo, of certain
modern works, "If this were to become
marble, alas for the antiques." De Quincey
forgets his assumed contempt for the classical
world when he remembers the sound of
eTTo/xTreJe, or Consul Romanus. . . .

I remember once, travelling in a southern
county of England, coming across a servant
who, even without his melancholy, seemed
no ordinary man, and spoke with a kind of
splendour that was new to me. He was tall,
B 17

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and had been straight, but now walked with
a majestic stoop, though like Vulcan he
limped. He was past middle age, his woes
were of the kind that invite expressions of
sympathy. On my inquiring what might be
his misfortune, he answered in tones so care-
fully modulated as to appear half satiric,
" Eheu ! mater mea obiit hodie. causa
meae vivendi sola senectse." The words,
however, seemed to carry their own balm ;
his face glowed continually, as we talked for
several minutes together, without a word that
would have made Quintilian stare and gasp.
His thoughts moved gracefully in a pomp
of altisonant syllables. Sometimes he spoke
English, but returned happily to Latin in the
flashes of humour with which he referred to
the university, when, for example, he spoke
of a languishing literary society (that had ex-
pelled him for a freak of classicism) as equalling
the number of the good, and no more

" vix numero sunt totidem, quot
Thebse portarum vel divitis Ostia Nili."


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He felt like a swallow kept among the
starlings of a cold clime, while his fellows
had flown eastward. . . . When I last heard
of him, he was earning his bread by the com-
position of advertisements for a firm of
merchants, and thus at last he found a
subject matter adaptable to his peculiarly
florid but melodious eloquence. I recognized
with a sigh more than one of his favourite
mighty words thus fallen.

In C shire, I know a hamlet (a mere
capful of houses) that lies, dimly seen below
the high-perched road, like a cluster of straw
beehives, under a great wood. Even these
few houses are divided from one another by
several tiny streams, that run in and out like
gay, live things. Thither I descended one
twilight from the hills, to buy honey from a
cottager. It was August. Across the road
went a stream, a tinkling chain of silver
beads, presently buried in trees, on which the
uncertain light was mixed with shade. Here
and there were sombre alders, noisy still with


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the delicate southern voices of invisible birds.
Here and there were poplars with a sound,
not of running water, but of rain (the shower
apparently dying away now and then as the
wind fluctuated). And in the sunset among
those enormous hills a bell was ringing out a
melancholy sweet sic transit. . . . There was
some light outside, but none in the low room,
where the beekeeper was writing. He rose
and greeted us with a bow. Then he left us,
after lighting a candle for our good, and one
for his own use in a loft where the honey was
stored. The wooden frame, gray from the
touch of his hands, was contrasted with the
dewy, amber cells. While we were complet-
ing the purchase, and talking, he surprised
us by answering in Latin, Omnibus una
quies, etc., which Dryden has rendered
thus :

" Their toil is common, common is their sleep ;
They shake their wings when morn begins to


Bush thro' the city gates without delay ;
Nor ends their work but with declining day."


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Pronounced by a mellow elegiac voice, this
speech interested us profoundly.

Next day we went again with a freshened
memory of the Georgics. He was never once
at a loss, though we seldom spoke except in
hexameters of Virgil. He had lived a large,
roaming life, full of outward adventure, chiefly
on the plains of America. Thither he had
gone in his youth, accomplished in nothing
but books, and those Latin and Greek. Not-
withstanding, he had amassed great wealth.
Of this a mighty accident a prairie fire, or
some such insurrection of the elements had
all but despoiled him, and he came home at
the end of middle life to Wales. There he
took to bee farming. Economy and hard
work had made his life comfortable, and
might have made it luxurious, for he was said
to be rich. He remained unmarried. He had
no kinsmen. He made no friends : two aged
women of the hamlet were accustomed to
tend him in occasional sicknesses. For the
rest, he was contented, if not happy, with his


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bees and a few books, mainly Delphin classics.
The bees would answer his call as they
answered the smitten brass ; and only when
thus engaged on a tranquil summer evening
did he betray a mellow complacency, except
when with his books. He took pleasure in
Claudian's verses on the sirens ; Virgil, how-
ever, was his dearest author. Virgil was his
oracle in all matters ; he practised sortes
Virgiliance : to him, rhyme was reason. His
life was almost perfectly that of a scholar.
After adventure, after witnessing the downfall
of kings, and great peoples embattled one
against another, after shipwreck and scenes
of violent death, he concluded that

" the tears of Imogen

Are things to brood on with more ardency
Than the death-days of Empires."

He finds a refuge from the shadows of the
world among the realities of books.

But, says one, your knowledge is nothing
until another has acknowledged it. He con-
tradicts that entirely. He knows that at least


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intellectual pleasure and the dulcitudes of a
sane self-approval are by no means like
snowflakes in the river, and that real joy
holds within itself the germs of an endless
self-reproduction. Electra, Aspasia, Lesbia,
are sweet friends to him, when Orestes and
Pericles and Catullus have been many cen-
turies underground. Caesar is nearer to him
than Napoleon, and Thyrsis nearer than either.
Experience has not impaired or clogged his
imagination. If it has taught him anything,
it has taught him the worth of silence. We
often found him by the river, " dazed," in
Virgilian phrase, " by the mighty motion of
the tide." He told us himself that he was
often "drunk with silence." In such moments,
as we afterwards learned, he had monitions

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