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NIVERSITY OF CA RIVERSIDE LIBRARY



3 1210 01490 5986



CONTEMPORARY



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FRANK HARRIS




LIBRARY

UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA

RIVERSIDE



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CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS



BOOKS BY FRANK HARRIS

THE VEILS OF ISIS
GREAT DAYS A Novel
THE BOMB A Novel

months the matador
unpath' d waters
the man shakespeare
the women of shakespeare

SHAKESPEARE AND HIS LOVE A Play




SIR RICHARD BURTON
FROM THE ETCHING BY LEOPOLD FLAMENG



CONTEMPORARY
PORTRAITS



By

FRANK HARRIS



MITCHELL KENNERLEY
NEWYORK::MCMXV



COPYRIGHT I 9 I 5 BY
MITCHELL KENNERLEY



CONTENTS

PAGE

Carlyle I

Renan 34

Whistler : Artist and Fighter 66

Oscar Wilde 97

John Davidson: Ad Memoriam 127

Richard Middleton: Ad Memoriam 159

Sir Richard Burton 178

George Meredith 198

Robert Browning 219
Swinburne: The Poet of Youth and Revolt 228

Talks with Matthew Arnold 240

Guy de Maupassant 257

Talks with Paul Verlaine 269

Fabre 283

Maurice Maeterlinck 302

Rodin 314

Anatole France 329



ILLUSTRATIONS

Sir Richard Burtojm Frontispiece

FACING PAGE

Oscar Wilde 97

John Davidson 127

Richard Middleton 159

Algernon Charles Swinburne 228

AuGUSTE Rodin 314



INTRODUCTION

LIFE needs reporters, and creates them every-
where. Not a tree but keeps a tally of the
winters and summers it has passed, and in its knots
and nodes bears witness to the storms and strains
it has endured.

Nature even, motionless and inarticulate Nature,
is occupied with its autobiography, and preserves its
record; buried forests write their history in coal-
fields, forgotten seas depict their vicissitudes, and
show us the form and imprint of their inhabi-
tants in chalk cliffs and gravel-beds; the hardest
granite and porphyry blocks testify to their fiery ori-
gin and describe the chief mishaps they have suf-
fered. Even the blazing suns analyze themselves
through the spectroscope, and invisible stars register
their weight and orbit in the deflection of neighbor-
ing planets. Not a thought in the mind but inscribes
itself in the furthest star, and the development of
all sentient life from the dawn of time, is to be read
again in the being of the youngest child.

And if all creation, from the sun to the grain
of sand, tells its story and records its fate, how
much the more shall man sing his sorrow and his



vl INTRODUCTION

joy? For man is something more than a reporter;
and that something more is the source and secret of
his ineffable superiority: he is artist as well. He di-
vines the hidden meaning in nature, the half-disclosed
aim, and he does this by virtue of the fact that the
eternal purpose works in him even more clearly than
without him, and shows itself in his very growth.
The artist is not content merely to report his suffer-
ings and his pleasures, he makes epics of his adven-
tures, dramas of his strugglings, lyrics of his love.

Accordingly when telling of the great men he
has met and known the artist-reporter is a prey to
conflicting duties. As a reporter he is intent on giv-
ing an exact likeness, scrupulously setting down just
what his subject said; as an artist he wants to make
the portrait a picture and therefore he elaborates
and arranges — exaggerating or diminishing this or
that feature — In order the better to express the very
essence of his sitter's soul. And the sitter is never a
fixed quantity; he is always changing, and whether
developing or fossilizing has always possibilities in
him, the infinite interest of what might have been or
may yet be.

The obligation on the artist is to create — to make
the greatest work of art possible, and there is no
other. But still the questions tease: when and how
far should one sacrifice truth to beauty, the actual
to that which is in process of becoming, the real to
the ideal? It seems to me that in proportion as



INTRODUCTION vii

the subject is great, one is bound to adhere more
closely to the fact. Truth Is needed by the artist in
order to make great men credible and their greatness
comprehensible. Men of little more than ordinary
stature may be handled with greater freedom.

One warning must be given here. When I repro-
duce conversations in this boolc and put the sayings
of my contemporaries in inverted commas, it must
not be assumed that these are literally accurate : they
are my recollection of what took place. The re-
ports are perhaps more exact than most memories
would be for this reason; that from the moment of
the talk I have been accustomed to tell the story of
my meeting and conversation with this or that dis-
tinguished man almost as fully as I have set it down
here. And once told, the tale was not afterwards al-
tered by me, at least not consciously, and my verbal
memory is unusually good. But I am always artist
rather than reporter and pretend to spiritual divina-
tion and not to verbal accuracy.

I put these portraits forth, therefore, as works
of art. "Here," I say to my readers, "are some
of the most noteworthy of my contemporaries as
they appeared to me."

New York, 19 15.



CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS



CARLYLE

THE servant girl at his house told me that Mr.
Carlyle had gone for his usual walk on Chel-
sea Embankment, so I went off to find him. It was a
Sunday in June, about midday; the air was light, the
sun warm; the river shone like a riband of silk in the
luminous air.

My heart beat fast; I was going to meet the great-
est of living men, the only one, indeed, of my con-
temporaries who spoke to me with authentic inspira-
tion and authority. Browning I knew was among
the Immortals, one of the very greatest of English
poets; a thinker, too, of high impartial curiosity;
but apart from his poetic gift. Browning seemed to
me a well-read Englishman of ordinary stature,
whereas Carlyle was of the race of the giants; like
Luther, like Mahomet, one of the elemental forces
of humanity. I see now that I rated him above his
worth, mistaking literary gift and Biblical solemnity
of manner for insight; but then I was all reverence
and my heart was thumping —

Ah, did you once see Shelley plain?

X



2 CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS

What would he say to me — what memorable
thing? Every time we had met he had said some-
thing I could never forget, something that would
remain always as part of the furniture of my mind.
What would he say to-day? What did I want him
to talk about? He would not be directed: 'twas
better to let him take his own course. . . .

He looked, I thought, the prophet; his clothes
loose and careless, for comfort, not show; the
shaggy, unkempt grey thatch of hair; the long head,
the bony, almost fleshless face of one who had fasted
and suffered; the tyrannous overhanging cliff fore-
head; the firm, heavy mouth and out-thrust, challeng-
ing chin — the face of a fighter; force everywhere,
brains and will dominant; strength redeemed by the
deepset eyes, most human, beautiful; by turns pierc-
ing, luminous, tender-gleaming; pathetic, too, for the
lights were usually veiled In brooding sadness broken
oftenest by a look of dumb despair and regret; a
strong, sad face, the saddest I ever studied — all
petrified, so to speak. In tearless misery, as of one
who had come to wreck by his own fault and was
tortured by remorse — the worm that dieth not.

Why was he so wretched? What could be the
meaning of it?

Age alone could not bring such anguish? What
crown had he missed? He had done so much, won
imperishable renown; what more did he want? I



CARLYLE 5

felt a little impatient with him. He had done his
work, reaped a noble harvest:

Die Zeit ist mein Vermacclitniss
Wie herrlicli weit und breit. . . .

I had only gone a few hundred yards when I
caught sight of him walking towards me; he had a
sort of loose cloak about him and a soft hat pulled
down over his eyes. I suddenly realized that he was
very old — an impression one never got when talking
to him — his tall figure was shrunken together and
much bent; he walked slowly, feebly, leaning heavily
on a stout stick: my heart ached for him. He met
me without a word; I turned and walked beside him
in silence for some little time.

He seemed in his most habitual mood of brood-
ing melancholy.

"Turner's house," I said at length, pointing to
the house just to find a subject of conversation; "did
you know him?" He looked across at the house and
shook his head.

"I took no interest in him," he said, his tone one
of tired indifference. . . . "Ruskin praised him
extravagantly; but that landscape painting, if you
think of it, is a poor thing in comparison with other
painting or even with nature herself." (I cannot
give his Scotch accent, my readers must imagine it;
but it lent a special touch of individuality to all he
said.) . . . "In every other art, man puts a soul



4 CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS

and meaning into his work, and that's what we
value; but this" (and he waved his hand over the
river) "is just beautiful as it is — pairfect without
purpose. . . . There is healing in the air and sun-
shine; but the sun and air and water care nothing
for man's dreams or desires; they have no part nor
lot wi' us" . . . and he sighed deeply.

After waiting a little while I began again, pouring
water into the pump:

"Lessing thought you could not render a land-
scape in words, but Goethe knew better, didn't he?
He knew one could recall the impression if the scene
to be pictured was at once striking and familiar. You
remember : —

Glatte Flaeche rings umher.
Keine Luft von keiner Seite
Todesstille fuerchterlich.
In der ungeheuren Weite,
Reget keine Welle sich.

"The words call up a summer sea sleeping breath-
lessly, with a magic of representment."

"Ungeheuren Weite," he repeated, with a strong
English accent, "but what good is't? Fd rather
have had one word of Goethe about man and man's
work in the world, and man's destiny, than pages of
such stuff. But about the important things of life he
had little enough to say," and he sighed again. "None
of us has much. . . . Goethe had a sort of beHef in



CARLYLE 5

immortality; a curious fragmentary hope for a few
gifted men?" And he pursed out his Hps, while the
sad eyes held me with an unuttered question and
appeal.

What was I to say? Comfort I had none to
give, no gleam of hope: personal immortality being
incredible to me, I had put the desire of it away. It
hurt that he of all men should solicit the mere re-
flection or image of the hope — the hero-soul driven
to this extremity by the loneliness of the long voyage.
Like Columbus ("my hero") he had lived alone with
the deeps below and above; contemptuous, envious,
mutinous underlings about him, and in front the
Unknown. It wrung my heart that I could only
look my answer — "You have fought the good fight;
left behind you a luminous path for all men for ever
— that's your reward."

The sense of my utter impotence, the intensity of
my sympathy, made me almost rude.

"I wonder you admire Goethe so much," I broke
out. "His pose as the high and mighty Trismegistus
kills him for me as it killed him for Heine. I always
see him in his court dress, bestarred, beribboned,
bepowdered, sitting on the old feudal wall, dangling
buckled pumps and plump calves above the heads of
common folk. He had too easy a time of it in life,
had Goethe. There is generally something com-
mon, greedy, vulgar in your successful man; some-
thing servile in the favorite of princes. You remem-



6 CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS

ber how Beethoven reproached Goethe for flunkey-
ism. The great man should not play flunkey, nor
have flunkies about him."

Carlyle looked at me. "Ye're a born rebel," he
said, as if astonished, "but there's some truth in
what ye say. Goethe was a master of realities, and
perhaps paid too much attention to them. But I
owed him a great deal, the wide-eyed one: he saw
everything, accepted .everything, conquered every-
thing — a victorious Bringer of the Light: our
modern Prometheus."

"Prometheus suffered a martyrdom," I cried; "the
light came from his own agony : this man got podgy
fat. He was a real thinker, of course, a great man;
but he was too pompous and self-admiring to be a
hero. He might have stood on his own feet out-
side the feudal castle; but he climbed up the wall
with strain of hands and toes and sat there con-
tentedly; while Heine — well, you know what Heine
did to the feudal wall," and I laughed irreverently.

"Heine!" cried Carlyle, stopping abruptly in his
walk : "Heine was a dirty Jew pig !"

I had been very nervous with Carlyle at first.
I admired him to reverence, and when he said things
that seemed to me all wrong, or even absurd, I
simply held my tongue. But little by little I had
grown to know him better: I became impatient now
when he repeated pages of his own writings, or said
things that were manifestly false. I wanted to get



CARLYLE 7

to the end of his thought, to win new, deep words
from him. I had also begun to feel that on some
subjects we were infinities apart and must always
think differently, and now he had outraged a cult
that was almost a religion to me : I threw restraint
to the winds and spoke as I felt.

"Heine," I burst out, "Heine was the first of the
moderns; one of the divine; a master of wit and
poetry; a lord of laughter and of tears."

"A dirty Jew pig!" He repeated the words as
if speaking impersonally: he loved argument as only
a Scot can love it.

"What do you mean?" I cried.

"He was animal, dirty," repeated Carlyle, and I
remarked his long, obstinate upper lip.

"Dirty as you and I and all men are dirty," I
replied: "you remember the French proverb — bon
animal, hon homme?"

"Your French are dirty, too," he persisted, "but
not I nor all men."

"What does dirty mean?" I exclaimed impa-
tiently. "Shakespeare was dirty, if you like; but
on his forehead climb the crowns of the world."

Carlyle shook his head, and I retorted obsti-
nately: "What about the Nurse, and Mercutio,
Hamlet, Portia and the 'dark lady' of the sonnets,
false Cressida and Cleopatra, Goneril, Regan, and
a dozen others — all dirty, as you call it? Art knows
nothing of dirt. You might as well talk of a quad-



8 CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS

ratic equation as improper. And how you, with
your humor, can speak as you do of Heine stumps
me. You of all men must appreciate Heine's hu-
mor; now impish, now deep-sighted, kindly, irre-
sistible."

"He had humor," Carlyle admitted at once,
"and that's a wonderful gift, humor — a saving
grace. . . . Curious," he went on after a pause,
"that none of the old Jewish writers or prophets
had any of it; they were all serious, too serious.
Where did Heine get his humor? . . . There
must have been some German blood in him some-
where; the Germans have humor, Richter plenty
of it, and of the finest."

"You need not go beyond the Jews to find hu-
mor," I replied. "The Stock Exchanges of Eu-
rope are hot-beds of It; humorous stories and
phrases abound there, and the Exchanges are the
New Jerusalems. The chosen people have a keen
sense of humor."

"Curious," he said again, "very curious. But
Heine was dirty-minded."

"He was a Socialist and singer," I cried, "mod-
ern and irreverent to his finger-tips; a brave soldier
in the Liberation War of humanity."

"I doubt but ye're a rebel yerself," said Carlyle,
looking down at me with quizzical humor in his
eyes, "a born rebel."

"It hurts," I said, a little confused, "to hear you



CARLYLE 9

running down Heine; for you have always fought
on the same side, though not with the same weap-
ons."

"It may be," he repHed; "but I disHke the lechery
of him, the dirty ape!"

I saw it was no use arguing. I was up against
a wall of separation, a fundamental difference of
nature. I left the matter to be thought over at
my leisure. It seemed to me I had hit upon a short-
coming of Carlyle.

During his lifetime there was a general impres-
sion that Carlyle, if not a Christian, was at least
profoundly religious in the Christian sense of the
word. He had been nurtured, so to speak, on the
Bible : as soon as he was deeply moved. Biblical
phrases came to his lips, and one was apt there-
fore to attribute to him a measure of faith alto-
gether foreign to his thought. Much of the pro-
found sadness in him came, I think, from his utter
disbelief: a reverent soul brought up in childlike
piety, he had sought desperately for some sign of
God, some trace of a purpose in life, some hint,
however vague, of a goal however distant, and had
found nothing. His mind, tuned to practical reali-
ties, trained to mathematical demonstrations, would
accept no half-proof, and rejected with scorn the
fancy that the soul's desire was In Itself an earnest
of fulfilment. Gradually he settled down in
Goethe's phrase to resolute acceptance of the True



fi0 CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS

and the Good for their own sake; but his heart felt
starved and lonely, and as his mind outgrew the ordi-
nary prejudices and opinions of men he inevitably
became more and more solitary-sad.

Our talk fell on Shakespeare, I don't know why.

"In Heroes and Hero-Worship," I questioned,
"you say that Shakespeare is the greatest man who
has ever shown himself in literature. That seems
to imply that greater men have shown themselves
elsewhere?"

"I don't think I meant that," he replied, "though
it is a little difficult to compare a great man of ac-
tion with a great man of letters: I am not sure that
the literary genius is the wider or deeper, though
most men seem to believe it is."

"Do you think Shakespeare greater than Jesus?"
I asked.

"Indeed I do," was the emphatic reply; "and so
do you." I shook my head, but he persisted.
"What do we know of Jesus? just naething.
Learned people tell us that all the best phrases put
in His mouth were old sayings of Jewish sages, and
the testimony of the gospels is of the weakest —
altaegither untrustworthy."

"I do not want any testimony," I cried. "The
best sayings of Jesus all belong to one mind, a mind
of the very rarest. Greatness is its own proof.
No two Jews were ever born who could have said,



CARLYLE %Y

*Suffer little children to come unto me . . .' or
'Much shall be forgiven her for she loved much.' "

"Humph," he grunted. "I prefer Shakespeare;
he was larger, richer."

"Perhaps," I replied; "but Jesus went deeper."

"I don't admit it," he persisted. "All that Jew-
ish morality was tribal, narrow; 'an eye for an eye,'
stupid, pedantic formula; and the Christian — 'turn
the other cheek' — mere absurdity. I see no great-
ness in any of it."

" 'He that is without sin among you let him first
cast a stone,' " I replied, "is great enough and mod-
ern to boot," but he would not let me continue; he
had got the decisive argument clear at last.

"Man, He had no humor," he cried, shaking
his head; "Jesus had no Falstaff in him; I wad na
gie up the ragged company for all the disciples,"
and again the deep-set eyes danced.

I tried to put forward some other reasons, but
he would not listen; he repeated obstinately, "He
had no Falstaff in him, no Falstaff . . ." and he
chuckled.

The subject was closed; but the argument had
shown me how far Carlyle's disbelief had carried
him — in pendulum swing, beyond the centre.

I took up a new subject which I had often wanted
to get his opinion on. How was I to broach it?
I made a little cast round like an eager huntsman.

"You must have met all the distinguished men of



12 CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS

the age, Mr. Carlyle?" I began. "Dozens of great
men. Who was the greatest?"

"Emerson," he replied at once, "Emerson by far,
and the noblest . . ." and he nodded his head, re-
peating the name with a sort of reminiscent emotion.

"Greater than Darwin?" I cried in wonder. "But
perhaps you didn't know Darwin?"

"Indeed, and I knew him well," he replied, taking
me up shortly, "knew him long ago, long before
he was so famous, knew him and his brother. I
always thought the brother the abler of the two —
quicker and of wider range; but both were solid,
healthy men, not greatly gifted, but honest and care-
ful and hardworking. ... I remember when he
came back after the Beagle cruise. I met him at

Lady 's, a great party, and all the ladies buzzed

about him like bees round a dish of sugar. When
he had had enough of it — perhaps more than was
good for him — I called him.

" 'Come here, Charles,' I cried, 'and explain to
me this new theory of yours that all the world's talk-
ing about.'

"He came at once and sat down with me, and
talked most modestly and sensibly about it all. I
saw in him then qualities I had hardly done justice
to before: a patient clear-mindedness, fairness too,
and, above all, an allegiance to facts, just as facts,
which was most pathetic to me; it was so instinctive,
determined, even desperate, a sort of belief in its



CARLYLE 13

way, an English belief, that the facts must lead you
right if you only followed them honestly, a poor
groping, blind faith — all that seems possible to us
in these days of flatulent unbelief and piggish un-
concern for everything except swill and straw," and
the eyes gleamed wrathfully under the bushy-grey
brows.

"That must have been wonderful," I resumed
after a pause, "to have heard Darwin explain Dar-
winism."

"He did It very well," Carlyle went on, "an or-
dered lucidity in him which showed me I had un-
derrated him, misseen him, as we poor purblind mor-
tals are apt to missee each other even with the best
will in the world to see fairly," and he sighed again
heavily.

"But the theory must have interested you," I said,
hoping to excite him to say more.

"Ay," he said, as if plunged in thought and then
waking up. "The theory, man ! the theory is as old
as the everlasting hills," Impatient contempt in his
voice. "There's nothing in it — nothing; It leads no
whither — all sound and fury signifying naething,
naething. . . .

"The fittest," he went on with unspeakable scorn,
" 'the survival of the fittest' ; there's an answer for
you to make a soul sick. What is your 'fittest,' what
d'ye mean by't? An evasion I call It, a cowardly,
sneaking evasion, with its tail between its legs. Is



14 CONTEMPORARY PORTRAITS

your 'fittest' the best, the noblest, the most unselfish?
There's a faith, a belief to live and die by; but is
that your 'fittest,' eh? Answer me that. That's
what concerns me, a man — that and nothing else.

"Or is your 'fittest' a poor servile two-legged
spaniel sneaking round for bones and fawning on
his master, beslobbering his feet? Or just the greed-
ier mediocrity among hosts of mediocrities, the
slightly stronger pig or fox, eh? Ay di me, ay di
me — the evil dreams! 'Fittest,' humph!" and he
pursed his lips and blinked his eyes to get rid of
the unshed tears.

"Did you tell Darwin what you thought of his
new scientific creed?" I asked after a pause.

"I did," he said, with a quick change of mood,
smiling suddenly with the gay sunshiny, irresistible
smile that illumined his whole face, quivering on
the lips, dancing in the eyes, wrinkling the nose.

"After Darwin had talked to me for some time
a little crowd had gathered about us, open-mouthed,
listening to Sir Oracle, and when he had finished I
said:

" 'AH that's very interesting, Darwin, no doubt;
how we men were evolved from apes and all that,
and perhaps true,' and I looked about me at the
listeners. 'I see no reason to doubt it, none; but
what I want to know is how we're to prevent this
present generation from devolving into apes? That



CARLYLE 15

seems to me the important matter — to prevent them
devolving into apes.' "

And the old man laughed — a great belly-shaking
laugh that shook him into a cough, and there we
stood laughing, laughing in harmony at length with
the sun which shone bravely overhead, while the
silken wavelets danced with joy and the air was
young and quick.

Carlyle's Mission

It is time now to consider what Carlyle's talent
really was and what his gift to men. He has left
us in no doubt as to what he thought his quali-
ties and their proper field. When he was asked
to lecture in London he chose Heroes and Hero-
Worship as his subject; and the book still stands
as perhaps his most characteristic performance. His
CromiJcell is the typical example of his own hero-
worship. It will be remembered that he chose Fred-
erick the Great to write about a little reluctantly,
because Frederick, he said, was only half a hero;
he was not devout enough, not persuaded enough in
his faith; but Carlyle chose him nevertheless because
he was a "practical hero," the best leader of men


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