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it was finer than Herrick, with something of unso-
phisticated beauty in It, pure loveliness. After that
my defences went down before him. I published
whatever he sent me as soon as I received It, and
when he told me he wanted to do some stories, I was
more than eager to see what his prose would be like;
a page of it convinced me; a little too rhythmic and
rounded, it had its own charm and was curiously

"The Bathing Boy" made me want to know Mid-
dleton better. I found him deeply read In English,
and of an astoundingly sure judgment In all matters
of literature. His ripeness of mind excited my curi-
osity, and I probed further. There was In him a
modern mixture of widest comprehension with a
child's acceptance of vice and suffering and all ab-
normalities. I say a "child's" because it was purely


curious and without any tinge of ethical judgment.
Here is a self-reveaHng couplet:

A human blossom glad for human eyes.
Made pagan by a child's serenity.

At twenty-five Middleton had come to his full
growth and was extraordinarily mature. In every
respect a typical artist, he had no religious belief,
death seemed to him the proper and only climax
to the fleeting show, but he delighted in the pag-
eantry of hfe, and the melody of words entranced
him. This visible world and the passions of men and
women were all his care.

Even on the practical side he was world-taught,
if not world-wise; he had been educated at St. Paul's
School, and then spent some years in an insurance
office in the City: he had given up a large salary, he
said, to write poetry. As I got to know and like him,
I noticed that his head was massive, his blue eyes
finely expressive, his characteristic attitude a digni-
fied, somewhat disdainful acceptance of life's per-
verse iniquities.

When I lived I sought no wings.

Schemed no heaven, planned no hell.

But, content with little things.
Made an earth, and it was well.

I am anxious not to say one word more than he
deserved: I never heard a new thought from him:


I cannot call him, therefore, a brlnger of new light;
at the same time, I scarcely ever found his judgment
at fault: he could have said with Heine — "I stand
on the topmost wave of all the culture of my time,"
and perhaps that is all we can ask of the poet. He
was not taken by the popular idols; Tennyson, he
thought, had only written half a dozen lyrics, and
"Dowson, you know, left three"; he regarded
Browning as the greatest poet since Shakespeare:
"he has given us a greater body of high poetry," he
would say, "than any other English poet, though he
never reached the magic of Keats." Blake he seemed
to wince from; the poet he praised; but the prophet
disquieted him, disturbed the serenity of his pagan,
sad acquiescence in the mysteries of this unintelli-
gible world.

The least one can say of Middleton is that at twen-
ty-five he stood as an equal among the foremost men
of his time in knowledge of thought and of life, and
was among the first of living singers in natural en-
dowment. He was a love-poet, too, as the greatest
have been, as Shakespeare and Keats, Goethe and
Dante were, and it was this superb faculty that made
me hope great things from him.

Here is a verse which justifies hope, I think:

Love played with us beneath the laughing trees.
We praised him for his eyes and silver skin.
And for the little teeth that shone within

His ruddy lips; the bracken touched his knees.


Earth wrapped his body in her softest breeze,
And through the hours that held no count of sin
We kept his court, until above our din

Night westward drove her glittering argosies.

And this:

Come, Death, and free me from these earthly walls

That heaven may hold our final festivals

The white stars trembling under !

I am too small to keep this passionate wonder

Within my human frame: I would be dead

That God may be our bed.

I feel her breath upon my eyes, her hair

Falls on me like a blessing, everywhere

I hear her warm blood leaping.

And life it seems is but a fitful sleeping.

And we but fretful shades that dreamed before.

That love, and are no more.

Though he can rise to this height of passionate
utterance, the unique distinction of this book of Mid-
dleton's is that there is not a bad, hardly a weak
poem in the whole volume: I know few books of
which so much can be said. Middleton at twenty-
seven had not only a wonderful lyrical gift: but the
power of self-criticism of the masters.

Some critics have gone so far as to say that his
prose was better than his verse; I do not agree with
them; his prose was always the prose of a singer;


but he was nevertheless a story-teller of undoubted
talent. His tales of boys are among the best in the

His friend, Mr. Savage, tells us that "in his last
year Middleton wrote scarcely any poetry at all
. . . he came to love young children and people
who are simple and Icindly and not too clever . . .
certainly he would not have written any more poems
like his 'Irene' " — poems, that is, of passion.

Well, I cannot go so far as that: I think had he
lived he would have written both prose and poetry
in the future as in the past: he told me more than
once that he wrote stories because he found them
more saleable. But the most passionate poems were
his favorites as they were his best. "There is no
demand for poetry," he would say, in wonder, laying
stress on the word "demand," "no demand at all."

And here we come to the tragedy of Middleton's
life as of a great many other lives. There is no "de-
mand" in our Anglo-Saxon world for high literary
or artistic work of any kind. If it is nevertheless
produced, it Is produced in spite of the fact that no
one wants it and very few appreciate it; it must be
given, therefore, and not sold, as love is given and
friendship and pity and all high things. But in spite
of all such arguments the tragedy remains, and the
gloom of it darkens all our ways.

Reading this volume of poems now in the light of
what happened, it is easy to see the attraction which


Death held for Richard Middleton, the abyss entic-
ing him again and again. He had lived and loved,
sung his songs and told his stories, and the public
wouldn't listen, didn't care. Well, he doesn't care
much either: life is only a dream, and this dream-
er's too easily wearied to struggle, too proud to
complain. A dozen poems show changing moods
with the same changeless refrain:

Too tired to mock or weep
The world that I have missed.
Love, in your heaven let me sleep
An hour or two, before I keep
My unperturbed tryst.

Or this, with its reminiscence of Swinburne:

Shall tremble to our laughter.

While we leave our tears to your hopeless years,
Though there be nothing after;
And while your day uncloses
Its lorn and tattered roses.

We shall pluck the stars from your prison bars
And bind celestial posies.

Or this lovely verse :

Gladly the rigging sings.

But, oh ! how glad are we.

Lords of the dreaming sea.
And of delicious things; '


We are more rich than kings^

Or any men that be.

While down eternity
We beat with shadowy wings.

And this finally:

No more than a dream that sings

In the streets of space;
Ah, would that my soul had wings,

Or a resting-place!

As one turns the leaves one finds beauty every-
where, on every page joy in living and in love, and
everywhere serenity, the sad serenity of acquiescence,
and now and again the high clear note that prom-
ised so much to those who knew and loved him, and
how could one help loving him if one knew him?

For all the rich and curious things
That I have found within my sleep,
Are naught beside this child that sings
Among the heather and the sheep;
And I, who with expectant eyes
Have fared across the star-lit foam.
See through my dreams a new sun rise
To conquer unachieved skies.
And bring the dreamer home.

And this verse, perhaps the most characteristic of
all, steeped as it is in the contradictory essences of


I have been free, and had all heaven and hell
For prison, until my piteous hands grew sore
Striking the voiceless walls; and now it is well
Even though I be a captive evermore.

My grateful song shall fill my hiding-place
To find Eternity hath so sweet a face.

Ah, the "piteous hands" and "voiceless walls!'*
It is over a year now since Mr. Savage called on
me and told me that Richard Middleton was dead;
that he had killed himself In Brussels. I stared at
him unable to realize it, shocked out of thought,
amazed and aching. I had never thought of Mid-
dleton as in distress or really poor: he had often
spoken genially of his people, tenderly of a sister;
often when he was hard up declared that he would
have to go home, "retire into country-quarters for
my pocket's health," meeting poverty as It should be
met, with good-humor. In 19 10 I noticed that his
tone was a little sharper, and busied myself for him
with this editor and that, and was relieved to see his
contributions appearing wherever I had any influ-
ence, notably in the Academy and The English Re-
view. In the summer of 191 1 he gave me his book
of poems to get published, thinking I had more influ-
ence with publishers than I possessed; I told him it
would be published before the end of the year, and
had good hopes in the matter. I could not conceal
from him that there would be but little money in the


venture, though I kept the fact to myself that the
most willing publisher I could find wanted the cost of
the book guaranteed. Had I been asked as to his
circumstances, I should have said that Middleton
was making his way slowly but surely in the esteem
and affection of all good readers; that a certain num-
ber of persons already counted him as the most
promising of living English poets, and that their ad-
miration was a forecast of fame.

True, he had been ailing all through the summer;
a tedious little malady, slow to get cured, plagued
him with annoyance and self-disgust; true, he had
talked now and then as one talks to intimate friends
in moments of depression of "going out," heart-sick
for the time being of the Sisyphean labor; but the
weariness and disgust appeared to me to be super-
ficial; his smile came as boyish, gay as ever; his joy
in living, especially in Brussels, unvexed by the
ghouls of English convention and respectability,
seemed as deep as the sea. I have been told since
that like Francis Adams he had tried already to kill
himself, had Indeed gone about for years hugging
the idea that this door of deliverance was always
open to him; but he had not shown me this soul-side;
or perhaps I did not encourage his attempts at con-
fession because of my own struggle with similar mel-
ancholy. Whatever the explanation may be the
news of his self-murder fell on me as a shock: he
would not wait for success: he had gone to death


in hatred of living: the pity of it and the unavaihng
regret I

I was told later of those four days in Brussels
which he passed in the cold, hired bedroom, four
days in which he forced himself to face the Arch-
Fear and conquer it. At the beginning he wrote a
post card telling what he was about to do, taking
farewell of his friend, in high pagan fashion, before
the long journey, and then in that last awful hour,
with the bottle of chloroform before him, he wrote
across the card: "A broken and a contrite spirit
Thou wilt not despise." The awfulness of it, and
the pity deeper than tears.

So here's an end, I ask forgetfulness

Now that my httle store of hours is spent.
And heart to laugh upon my punishment —

Dear God, what means a poet more or less?

Well, It means everything to the poet and more
than is generally imagined to the nation from which
he springs. Sooner or later all races must learn that
their artists — the singers and painters and seers, the
priests of the True, the Beautiful and the Good — are
the rarest and most valuable of the sons of men.
By the very nature of their high calling, they can
expect no reward from their contemporaries; their
appeal is to the future; their duty to set the course
and chart the unattempted seas. More than decent


provision for their needs, these soldiers of the Ideal
will not expect; but that should be given them by the
State and such honor to boot as may be possible.

Thanks to their purltanism, as much as to their
purblind practicality, the English are behind most
civilized races In recognizing this Imperious duty.

A short time ago John Davidson threw life up
In disgust: he couldn't get a decent living In England,
and he was a great poet; one of the Immortals: now
Richard Middleton shakes of! the burden as too
heavy. It were better to stone the prophets than to
starve them, better hate than this ineffable callous

Take It at Its lowest; these poets and artists are,
so to speak, the fairest flowers in the garden, the only
perennial flowers Indeed; what are the gardeners
and governors thinking of to allow the glories of the
place to be blasted by the biting wind of poverty
and neglect? even Intelligent selfishness would shield
and cherish them.

There Is another side to this British disdain of
high work. In the Daily Mail I read:

Today is the birthday of the greatest of living English-
men. Mr. Chamberlain is, indeed, more than that — he is
the most illustrious statesman now alive in the vrorld; but
it is as the pre-eminent Englishman that his fellow-coun-
trymen not in these islands alone, but in every province of
the British Empire, will think of him.


Canning was a very famous Prime Minister and
the British authorities of the time would no doubt
have smiled if they had been told that a little sur-
geon's apprentice was a thousand times greater than
Canning, and was destined to be ten thousand times
more famous. Yet it was true : Canning today is
almost forgotten, sinking rapidly into oblivion, while
the name of Keats Is growing more and more sa-
cred: Keats already infinitely greater than Canning.

And In fifty or a hundred years from today the
names of John Davidson and Richard Middleton
will be much better known and more highly esteemed
even by Members of Parliament and journalists
than the names of Chamberlain or Asquith or Bal-
four. It is her best and greatest whom England
disdains and neglects : her second-best and third-best
and fiftieth-best are lauded to the brazen skies and
rewarded beyond all possible desert.

When I think of the fame of Chatterton and the
halo that now surrounds his name, and the con-
demnation which his neglect casts on his age, I am
sure that in the time to come even Englishmen will
condemn this twentieth-century England because of
the tragic fates of Davidson and Middleton; for
even Richard Middleton was a far greater poet and
greater man than Chatterton, riper too, bringing
achievement In his hands as well as promise.

"But what can we do?" I may be asked, and the
true answer Is easy enough. We should cultivate


reverence In us for what Is really great and discard
some of the reverence all are eager to express for
what is not great, but often the reverse of great.

Heartily know

When the half-gods go

The gods arrive.

Such understanding is a plant of slowest growth.
In the meantime, we might begin to question whether
England should spend not £1,200 a year in pittances
to starving poets and artists and their widows and
orphans, but £1,200,000 a year as a start: it were
better to lose a Dreadnought than a Davidson or a

England gives twelve hundred pounds a year as a
life pension to every Cabinet Minister, and that sum
is considered enough to divide between all her un-
fortunate poets and writers and those nearest and
dearest to them. Now one John Davidson or one
Richard Middleton is worth more — let the truth be
said boldly for once ! — one Richard Middleton Is In
himself rarer and in his work more valuable than all
the Cabinet Ministers seen in England during his life-

The Cabinet Minister has only to win in the lim-
ited competition of the House of Commons; he has
only to surpass living rivals, the men of his own time ;
but the poet might be the first of his generation and


yet deserve little: to win our admiration he has to
measure himself with the greatest of all the past and
hold his place among the Immortals.

If one set of Cabinet Ministers were blotted out
tomorrow, who can doubt, knowing the high-minded
patriotism of the parliamentary office-seeker, who
can doubt that another set of Cabinet Ministers
would be forthcoming immediately? And It is just
as certain that after a month or a year, the new set
would be about as efficient or inefficient as their la-
mented predecessors. But thinkers and poets like
Davidson and MIddleton are not forthcoming in this
profusion. If there is no "demand" for them In
England, there is assuredly no "supply" In the usual
sense of that overworked word.

Now what is the value of such men to the nation?
What are the true seers and singers and prophets

It is almost Impossible to put any limit to their
value. I do not hope to persuade Englishmen or
Americans of this truth for many a year to come,
though I have the highest warrant for it and am
absolutely convinced of the fact. Even now we know
that the wisest and best of mankind put the highest
estimate on these reporters and teachers. Goethe
has said in the most solemn way that the purpose of
life itself — "the final cause and consummation of all
natural and human activity is dramatic poetry."

And we have higher and more unimpeachable tes-


timony than even Goethe's. If one reads the twelfth
chapter of Matthew carefully, it is plain that Jesus
believed that to take false prophets for true and to
missee and mistreat the true seer was the sin against
the Holy Spirit, the sin which would never be for-
given. We are apt to regard this statement as
rhapsodical; but I take it as the plain statement of an
eternal truth, and must set forth my belief here as
best I can.

It Is plain that the nations which make amplest
provision for their singers and artists and seers and
treat them with the greatest kindness and respect,
as France and Germany do, are indubitably the hap-
piest of nations, the highest in civilization and in so
far the strongest as well.

A true spiritual standard of values is infinitely
more difficult to establish than an economic standard,
but it is even more necessary to the well-being of

We all know in these materialistic times that to
debase the economic standard is to bring chaos into
life; but we do not yet realize that to show disre-
spect to the highest spiritual standard is still more

To allow seers and artists to starve in a community
is simply the incontrovertible symptom of mortal
disease, the sure proof that in that community there
is not enough reverence for high things, not enough
respect for the powers and purposes of the soul to


keep the body-politic from decay and dissolution.
Without a certain health of spirit there is no life
possible to man, contempt of the highest brings with
it inevitably the death of the organism. Man does
not live by bread alone or for bread.

Civilization itself Is nothing but the humanization
of man in society and no class do so much to human-
ize men as the priests of the ideal, the seers and sing-
ers and artists.

Now that industrial communities, thanks to the
achieved lordship of natural forces, can produce
wealth in enormous quantities, provision should be
made by every State for their men of genius. How
it Is done, does not matter very much; but It must
be done and in countries like England and America
it will never be done too lavishly. What shall be-
come of people who take the children's bread and
give it to the dogs?

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the
Prophets and stonest them which are sent unto thee,
how often would I have gathered thy children to-
gether even as a hen gathereth her chickens under
her wings, and ye would not! Behold your house
is left unto you desolate.

The houses of those who despise the prophets are
certain to be left desolate; the sentence endures for
ever, it Is a part of the nature of things and not one


jot or one tittle of It shall pass away. Let England
take the lesson to heart.

Davidson and Middleton, the one about fifty, the
other at thirty, threw away their lives as not worth
living, as impossible to be lived, indeed. Two of
the finest spirits in England allowed practically to
starve, for that is what it comes to: such a catas-
trophe never happened before even In England.
Under the old hidebound aristocratic regime of the
eighteenth century young Chatterton killed himself,
and his death was regarded with a certain disquietude
as a portent. But Chatterton was very young and
stood alone, and the singularity of his fate allowed
one to pass It over as almost accident. But here
we have two distinguished men killing themselves
after they have proved their powers. What does
It mean?

It means first of all that the present government
judged In the most Important of all functions Is the
worst government yet known even in England;
judged by the highest standard It must be condemned
pitilessly, for the first and highest object of all gov-
ernments is to save just these extraordinary talents,
these "sports" from whom, as science teaches, all
progress comes, and to win from them their finest
and best.

The same government and the same people that
allowed Davidson and Middleton to starve, got only
a half product from Whistler and punished Wilde


with savage ferocity, while ennobhng mediocrities
and millionaires, the dogs and the wolves, and wast-
ing a thousand millions of pounds on the South
African War. Surely their houses are Insecure I

Fancy giving every Judge three thousand pounds
a year retiring pension, and allotting Davidson a
hundred and Middleton nothing! The handwriting
on the wall is in letters of fire.


RALEIGH, Sir Walter of that ilk, has always
seemed to me the best representative of Eliz-
abethan England; for he could speak and act with
equal inspiration. He was a gentleman and adven-
turer, a courtier and explorer, a captain by sea and
land, equally at home in Indian wigwam or English
throne-room. A man of letters, too, master of a
dignified, courtly English, who could write on uni-
versal history to while away the tedium of prison.
Raleigh touched life at many points, and always with
a certain mastery; yet his advice to his son is that of
a timorous prudence. "Save money," he says;
"never part with a man's best friend," and yet he
himself as a courtier could squander thousands of
pounds on new footgear. One of the best "all-
round" men in English history was Raleigh, though
troubled with much serving which, however, one
feels came naturally to him; for he was always ab-
solutely sceptical as to any after-life, and so won a
concentrated and uncanny understanding of this life
and his fellow-men. And yet Raleigh perished un-
timely on a scaffold, as if to show that no worldly
wisdom can be exhaustive, falling to ruin because he



could not divine the perverse Impulses of a sensual

But In spite of the vile Ingratitude of James and
his base betrayal, aristocratic England managed to
use Walter Raleigh and rewarded him, on the whole,
handsomely. He played a great part even In those
spacious days; was a leader of men In Ireland In his
youth, a Captain of the Queen's Guard In manhood;
and, ennobled and enriched, held his place always
among the greatest, and at last died as an enemy
of kings, leaving behind him a distinguished name
and a brilliant page in the history of his country.

But what would the England of today, the Eng-
land of the smug, uneducated Philistine tradesmen,
make of a Raleigh if they had one? The question
and its answer may throw some light on our boasted
"progress" and the astonishingly selfish and self-
satisfied present-day civilization of till-and-pill.

Richard Burton I met for the first time In a Lon-
don drawing-room after his return from the Gold

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Online LibraryFrank HarrisContemporary portraits → online text (page 10 of 20)