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"I would kill myself. I can endure to the end; but
to be absolutely destitute would show me that suicide
is the open door."

Suddenly his depressed manner changed and his
whole face lighted up :

"Isn't it comic, Frank, the way the English talk
of the 'open door' while their doors are always
locked and barred and bolted, even their church
doors? Yet it is not hypocrisy in them; they simply
cannot see themselves as they are ; they have no im-

There was a long pause, and then he went on
gravely :

"Suicide, Frank, is always the temptation of the
unfortunate, a great temptation."

"Suicide is the natural end of the world-weary,"
I replied, "but you enjoy life intensely. For you
to talk of suicide is ridiculous."


"Do you know that my wife is dead?"

"I had heard it," I replied.

"My way back to hope and a new life ends in her
grave," he went on. "Everything that happens to
me is symbolic and irrevocable."

He spoke, I thought, with a certain grave convic-

"The great tragedies of the world are all final
and complete; Socrates would not escape death,
though Crito opened the prison door for him. I
could not avoid prison, though you showed me the
way to safety. Some of us are fated to suffer, don't
you think? as an example to humanity — 'an echo and
a light unto eternity.' "

"I think it would be finer, instead of taking the
punishment lying down, to trample it beneath your
feet, and make it a rung of the ladder."

"Oh, Frank, you would turn all the tragedies into
triumphs, that is the fighter in you."

"Nonsense," I cried, "you love life as much as
ever you did; more than anyone I have ever seen."

"It is true," he cried, his face lighting up again,
"more than anyone. Life delights me. The people
passing on the boulevards, the play of the sunshine
in the trees ; the vibrating noise, the quick movement
of the cabs, the costumes of the cockers and serpents-
de-ville, kings and beggars, princesses and prosti-
tutes all please me to the soul, charm me, and if you


will only let me talk Instead of bothering me to write
I shall be quite happy. Why should I write any
more? I have done enough for fame. . . .

"I will tell you a story, Frank," he broke off, and
he told me a slight thing about Judas. The little
tale was told delightfully, with eloquent Inflections of
voice and still more eloquent pauses.

"The end of all this is," I said, before going back
to London, "the end of all this is, that you will not

"No, no, Frank," he said, "that I cannot write un-
der these conditions. If I had money enough; if I
could shake off Paris and forget those awful rooms
of mine and get to the Riviera for the winter and live
In some seaside village of the Latins or Etrurians
with the wine-colored sea at my feet, and the blue
sky above, and the scent of rosemary and myrtle at
my nostrils, and God's sunhght about me and no care
for money, then I would write as naturally as a bird
sings, because one is happy and cannot help It. ..."

But when the occasion was given him, and he
spent a whole winter on the Riviera, he composed
nothing more than a couple of verses of a ballad on
A Fisher Boy, verses which were never even written

The will to live had almost left him: so long as
he could live pleasantly and without effort he was


content; but as soon as Ill-health came or pain, or
even discomfort, he grew Impatient for deliverance.

One day when out driving In the last months Ross
remonstrated with him for stopping too frequently
to drink:

"You know you shouldn't, Oscar; the doctors said
you shouldn't; It is poison to you."

For one moment the sad eyes held him :

"Why not, Bobbie? What have I to live for?"
And his best friend could only bow his head.

But to the last he kept his joyous humor and
charming gaiety. His disease brought with it a cer-
tain irritation of the skin, annoying rather than
painful. Meeting this same friend after some weeks
of separation he wanted to apologize for scratch-
ing himself:

"Really," he exclaimed, "Pm more like a great
ape than ever; but I hope you'll give me a lunch,
Bobbie, and not a nut."

At the very last, he asked for champagne and
when It was brought declared that he was "dying be-
yond his means" — his happy humor lighting up even
his death-bed.



IT was in 1890 that I first met John Davidson : he
had sent The Ballad of the Nun to me for piibU-
cation in The Fortnightly Review. I read the poem,
as indeed I read every contribution in those early
days, hoping it was a masterpiece, and this time I
was not disappointed. I can still recall the thrill
of these verses:

The adventurous sun took heaven by storm;

Clouds scattered largesses of rain;
The sounding cities, rich and warm,

Smouldered and glittered in the plain.

Sometimes it was a wandering wind.
Sometimes the fragrance of the pine,

Sometimes the thought how others sinned.
That turned her sweet blood into wine.

Sometimes she heard a serenade

Complaining sweetly far away:
She said, "A young man woos a maid";

And dreamt of love till break of day.



For still night's starry scroll unfurled.
And still the day came like a flood:

It was the greatness of the world

That made her long to use her blood.

Naturally I was eager to meet such a singer: I
wrote to him, telling him of the joy his ballad had
given me, and hoped that he would call when he had
nothing better to do. A day or two later he came,
and I took to him at first sight. He was a little
below middle height, but strongly built with square
shoulders and remarkably fine face and head: the
features were almost classically regular, the eyes
dark brown and large, the forehead high, the hair,
moustache and small "Imperial" as black as jet:
he carried a monocle, was always well-dressed and
looked like a handsome Frenchman. His manners
were perfectly frank and natural: he met every one
in the same unaffected, kindly, human way: I never
saw a trace in him of snobbishness or incivility. Pos-
sibly a great man, I said to myself, certainly a man
of genius, for simplicity of manner alone is in Eng-
land almost a proof of extraordinary endowment. I
soon noticed one little peculiarity in Davidson, which
I afterwards remarked in other poets: his enuncia-
tion was exceptionally distinct: every word had its
value to him, each syllable its weight.

I met him with a slight embarrassment. Though
I was editor of the review, the managing director,


Mr. Frederic Chapman, expected to be consulted be-
fore any abnormal expense was incurred or any ex-
traordinary article accepted. In my elation I had
laid The Ballad of the Nun before him and hoped
he would allow me to pay £50 for It. To my aston-
ishment he scouted the Idea : "poetry didn't pay," he
assured me, "never had paid, never would pay; a
fiver was plenty to give for any poem : all poets were
hard up . . . five pounds would buy the best any
of them could do."

It was no use trying to alter his opinion. I had
scarcely made up my mind to plead poverty to Da-
vidson when Chapman came to my room and begged
me not to publish the poem on any account: he had
read the verses I had praised and he thought them
disgustingly licentious. In vain I argued and quoted :
I was up against the tradesman's view of art, and an
English tradesman at that. There was nothing to be
done but accept the brainless decision or throw up
my post. I had to be taught that to edit a review
in London Is not to be a priest In the Temple of the
Spirit, but the shopman pander to a childish public
with an insatiable appetite for whatever Is conven-
tional and commonplace.

Davidson made such a good impression on me that
I told him the truth: the poem would have Its place
in English literature, but my directors would not
publish It. He took the disappointment perfectly,
confessed that he would have hked the ballad to ap-


pear In The Fortnightly; adding handsomely that my
appreciation of It was sufficient compensation, and
so forth.

From that time on we were friends, and met half
a dozen times every season as one meets friends in
London. Such of our meetings as marked rings of
growth In our Intimacy I shall find a mournful pleas-
ure In recalling here, for long before the tragic end
Davidson had become dear to me.

The growth of friendship like the growth of love
in my experience proceeds often by leaps and bounds
and not by gradual, imperceptible accretions as the
young are apt to imagine. Like love, friendship has
to be won, Is Indeed also a twin flower of desire and
conquest. I accuse myself now of taking Davidson's
friendship too much for granted; but It seemed valu-
able to me from the first, and I tried to Introduce him
to people who might have been of use to him. He
was unwilling to come out of his shell, not from
shyness, but pride.

Once, however, I succeeded.

I took him to a house at Wimbledon where his
poetry was already known and loved. As soon as
Davidson found he was among friends and admirers
who could appreciate his work, he let himself go with
the ingenuousness of a boy. He recited passages
that he liked in his own work or the work of others,
and, of course, one noticed immediately that he had
an extraordinary knowledge of the best English


poetry. Like most poets, he chanted his lines, mark-
ing the metre of the verse a little too distinctly; but
there was a certain impressiveness in the peculiarity.
And how sincere he was and how enthusiastic when
repeating the verses he loved: one could hear thrill-
ing across the rhythm his intimate understanding and
generous admiration. It was in this spirit he quoted
something of Burns, whom I had been running down
just to see if his patriotism would revolt. He had
no conscious local vanity, and he recognized certain
of Burns's limitations, but, as a Scot, he could not
help overrating him.

Again and again on this occasion Davidson com-
plained of his memory; but the listeners had reason
to wonder at its fidelity. He complained, too, as I
often heard him complain afterwards, of his fum-
bling speech. "With a pen in hand I am articulate,"
he cried, "but my tongue's a poor instrument." It
was, in fact, a very good instrument, though doubt-
less his pen was better.

It is only in his books that the creative artist can
reveal his peculiar gift; in conversation, however
intimate, he seldom is able to show more than the
intellectual or critical side of his talent. This ana-
lytic critical faculty is only the obverse of the syn-
thetic creative power, and whatever shortcomings
there are in the one can usually be traced in the
other. Goethe overpraised honest mediocrities be-
cause there was such heavy German paste in him


that he could enjoy drivel and produce deserts of
dullness such as ensure oblivion to the fVanderjahre.
I felt pretty sure that Davidson would not give me
ready-made or popular judgments; as an original
poet he would have his own creed, a new canon.
And a most original critic he showed himself, as I
had expected.

What appeared at first to be a freakish sincerity
marked all his literary judgments; most of his pref-
erences were based on reason, though the reason
didn't always seem adequate. This tantalizing un-
expectedness was, of course, the tap-root of his
genius, the proof of his originality. Let me recall
some of his judgments. He declared that " 'The
Song of the Shirt' was the most important English
poem of the nineteenth century: 'The woman in
unwomanly rags plying her needle and thread' was
of the very stuff of great poetry." And James
Thomson in natural endowment was the first Enghsh
poet of his time, high throned among the Immor-
tals. Tennyson, on the other hand, was only a mas-
ter-craftsman, both he and Browning mere bour-
geois optimists. Burns could see, he said, and Blake
had vision at times, and Wordsworth profoundly;
Swinburne was nothing but an amorist.

Davidson's reverence was all for the spirit and
not the letter, sincerity to him was the hall-mark
of genius. Among the living Meredith was "our
foremost man of letters," while Yeats was only "the


seer of the twilight, the singer of 'pearl-pale' fingers
and *dove-grey' seaboards," and Shaw hardly more
than a "humorist." His appreciation of form as
became a poet was wellnigh perfect, but all his ad-
miration even in those early days went to the teach-
ers and not to the singers.

Gradually we won Davidson to speak of himself:
he had come, he said, of Scotch peasant stock: put
his thick strong hands with short spatulated fingers
forward as evidence of his workman origin — "the
mark of the ploughman," he called them. And
then he spoke of the delicacy of constitution shown
in his relatively thin neck; one would think, he said,
that a thick neck would show a brain well fed with
large blood vessels; as a matter of fact, it's always
a sign of exorbitant animalism. I had noticed his
comparatively thin neck, too, and mentioned that it
usually went with other signs of delicacy, such as
fine silky thick hair: but Davidson contended that
his hair was not fine and not thick, and when he saw
me unconvinced he suddenly put up his hand and in
a twinkhng plucked off a "transformation" and dis-
covered an astonishing dome of bald forehead. We
couldn't help laughing, and I asked him why he wore
such a thing. "I was prematurely bald," he said,
"and a little ashamed of looking so old; now I'm
thinking of leaving my head as it is; but the flies an-
noy me, and so I put off the decision." A few years
later he doffed the disguise finally, and I think his


appearance was improved thereby, for his fore-
head was remarkable — domed like Swinburne's and

Thinking over my first long talks with Davidson
I came to the conclusion that, having sprung from
the people and suffered a good deal from poverty,
he gave undue importance to the condition of the
laboring class and the poor without sufficient sym-
pathy with the intellectuals who deserve more help
and are still worse off. Besides, he was a little in-
fluenced by the undeserved neglect shown to his own
works. He had a passionate admiration for all the
great spirits of the past, and even for the really great
of his own generation: but he was apt to be un-
just to the lesser lights of the time who for some
reason or other had achieved popularity.

He could not stand Henley, for instance, and
spoke of him disdainfully: said laughingly: "I wrote
a couplet on him once because he's always sheltering
himself behind Byron to depreciate contemporaries
more important than his idol:

Behind the gallant verse, the gallant prose;
A little soul: its finger to its nose.

"You remember," he added, "how Lamb called
Wordsworth 'the Beadle of Parnassus' — good? isn't
it? We don't want beadles 1"

"Excellent," I cried, "I hadn't heard it before.


My judgment of Henley," I went on, "is as dis-
dainful as yours : I always called him Pistol Redivi-
vus. You remember his verse :

It matters not how straight the gate.
How charged with punishment the scroll,
I am the INIaster of my fate,
I am the Captain of my Soul."

"It does, indeed, deserve to be called 'The Swan
Song of Pistol!' " cried Davidson.

"Yet one couldn't help pitying him," I rejoined,
"with his splendid torso and leonine head, and those
terrible, twisted legs."

"Why 'pity'?" replied Davidson; "after all, it
was his own fault. If a man will take brainless risks,
he has only himself to blame for the inevitable con-

I thought this a hard saying.

"You would not exclude pity," I cried: "thank
God! we don't all get punished according to our
transgressions. The world would be a dreadful
place if Justice reigned: which of us would escape

"I don't agree," cried Davidson, with a Scotch
love of argument and a certain personal bitterness
in the tone; "I only want justice, nothing more,
nothing less. Do you remember the astonishing
lines? I think them as fine as anything of Shake-
speare :


This toils my body, this consumeth age.

That only I to all men just must be.

And neither gods nor men be just to me.

"A cry from the inmost heart — eh?"

I nodded, for I knew The Spanish Tragedy, and
Davidson went on:

"See how Stephen Phillips is being puffed into
popularity by the academic critics, the Sidney Colvins
and other such nonentities: it irritates and disgusts

"Some of his dramatic stuff," I chimed in, "is in-
deed uninspired enough to be popular."

"You should print my verse about him as a cor-
rective," cried Davidson, and he recited merrily:

Because our Homer sometimes nods
The Ancient Bard who went before.

Is that a reason, oh, ye Gods,

Should Stephen Phillips always snore?

"His Paolo and Francesca seems to me a beauti-
ful love-duet," I said, "not nearly so fine as Romeo
and Juliet, but still in its own way delightful and in-

"No Mercutio, no Nurse; nothing objective in
it," cried Davidson, "a mere lyric of love."

I could not accept his judgment, and to find out
just where he stood I said something in praise of


Dowson. Davidson was a little unfair to him, too,
I thought,

"I have been faithful to thee, Cynara, in my fash-
ion," strikes a note that always vibrates in me: but
he would not have it.

"One swallow does not make a summer," he cried,
"nor one poem a poet: a poet is a sacred singer, not
a sort of mechanical toy with only one tune in its
throat." (He appeared to forget that this canon
ruled out his favorite, Hood.)

While admitting whatever force there was in his
contention, I insisted that all artists today, especially
all poets and writers in England, were lamentably
underpaid and misesteemed.

"Don't for God's sake let us grudge any of them
such popularity as they may win. They'll never get
enough appreciation of any sort to make up for their
trials. . . .

"No writer in England should ever dispute the
justice of the reward given to any of our clan: we
should all exalt our work like actors do, and try to
get more for it, but never depreciate another of the
tribe. By holding together we shall the sooner come
into our kingdom."

Davidson, I believe, did not realize fully what I
was driving at; nor did I care to push my theories
on him, being more intent at the moment on getting
a fair mental portrait of him.

It was his sincerity which struck me most at the


outset; three or four years later he showed me that
his unswerving loyalty to truth was an even deeper
characteristic and had brought him to many-sided
wisdom. He saw his own people with the unflinch-
ing direct vision which Dante turned on his Flor-

"The English," he said one day, "from the peer
to the prentice, are the middle-class of Europe, the
prosperous pushing shopwalkers of the world."

Napoleon saw it first, but Davidson realized the
truth a little more completely.

Davidson was probably the first to declare that
"the modern scientific spirit In literature, the re-
solve to see things as they are, and say what we are
relentlessly is a great mood. The mood in which
men and women wish to be and be known, as they
are, to respect and be respected, to love and be loved
simply for what they are, is the greatest mood for
hundreds of years."

Such a view proves by itself that Davidson had
real insight, and his judgments were usually sane
enough if his point of view were taken into account.
This fairness of judgment, however, never excluded
a love of whimsical overstatement. Once in a com-
bative mood he asserted that one good poem was
worth a dozen short stories. I didn't feel inclined
to treat the absurdity seriously; but he persisted,
gravely assuming that the survival of Homer's
poetry proved its superiority over all prose. At


length I was compelled to ask him which verses hi
Homer he would put above the story of The Prodi-
gal Son? Was any poetry better than:

"This my son was dead and is alive again, was lost
and is found."

He laughed at once charmingly.

"We all know our own trade best," he chuckled,
delighted at having drawn me.

The worst of any attempt to give a pen-portrait
of a man one has known Is that one Is so apt to deal
chiefly with his Intellect and give a picture of his
mind without showing his heart and temperament.
It should be Impossible for me to talk of Davidson
without insisting again and again on his generous
sympathy and the charm of his companionship. His
whimsicalities of judgment were really proof of his
chivalric earnestness. If he had thought that Hen-
ley had been ill-used by the world, or if he had felt
that Henley had given great work, or much love to
the world, nothing would have Induced him to say
a word against him. His thirst was for justice: he
was always trying to establish the equitable balance:
James Thomson had been neglected, therefore he
overpraised James Thomson. Meredith was pass-
ing through his day almost unnoticed. Davidson
never let his name go by without the warmest com-
mendation. And this chivalry of disposition went


with a sweet temper, a quick sense of humor, and
the most generous appreciation of his friends and
of contemporary work.

He endured poverty, too, heroically and without
murmur or tinge of envy, though with the years it
became increasingly burdensome to him. His wife
and he came to stay a few days with us once. Mrs.
Davidson was a very pretty and very charming per-
son, whom I was glad to know better. I found her
very simple and sympathetic. One evening the fire
was a little warm, and Davidson and I had talked
philosophy for some time and wearied the ladies.
At length Davidson began reciting one of his later
philosophic poems, in his usual somewhat monoto-
nous chanting way: it was very long, and he went
on and on, encouraged by my interest; suddenly we
discovered that Mrs. Davidson had fallen asleep.

Davidson took the Interruption perfectly.

"No wonder she fell asleep," he said sympathetic-
ally. "She must be tired out. We are too poor to
keep a servant always, and sometimes the household
work Is too much for her, poor dear !

"Isn't it a shame?" he added, "that I can't get a
decent living for myself and my wife; though I work
incessantly, and as hard as ever I can."

"What do your books bring In?" I asked.

"About a hundred pounds a year," he replied; "I
couldn't live on them : but now and then I get a wind-
fall that tides us along. Lewis Waller gave me £250


for my translation of Riiy Bias. Did you see the
play? I called it Tlie Queen's Romance-, it went
about fifty nights. If it had gone another week, I'd
have made more money out of it. I think luck has
been a little against me. Mrs. Langtry, you know,
Lady de Bathe, gave me £250 for a play: Mile.
Mars: it went into rehearsal; I had built mountain-
ous hopes on it: King Edward suddenly paid a visit
to her theatre and in consequence the play she had,
revived and she didn't need mine. Tree, too, paid
me for a translation of Cyrano de Bergerac; but
never put it on, and George Alexander for a play on
Launcelot and Mrs. Patrick Campbell for a version
of the Phedre. I don't know what we should have
done without such windfalls. Before our two boys
grew up and began to fend for themselves it was
often very hard to make both ends meet."

"Is It quiet where you live now?" I asked.

"Streatham is rather noisy," he replied, "but the
noises don't prevent my writing, thank God!"

"Why don't you do more journalism?" I probed
further, thinking that this might be the means by
which his writing talent could come to the assistance
of his genius.

"I'm unfitted for it," he replied, "for anything at
all Indeed except poetry: prose takes me more time
and effort. I must just go on as best I can: there's
no other outlet or hope for me."

"What a shame !" I cried, "that men of letters are


not subsidized in England! Have you ever ap-
proached the Government for a pension?"

"Friends have spoken of it," he replied, "but I
don't think anything has been done."

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