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Richard Middleton, the man and his work online

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Camera Porfmit by E. O. Hoppe.






"Well I loved, but they who knew
What my laughing heart could be,
What my singing lips could do.
Lie a-dreaming here with me.
I can feel their finger-tips

Stroke the darkness from my face. . . ."
Pagan Epitaph.




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"... He" (Carlyle) "did not fall into the vulgar error of
despising hero -worshippers because they are content not to be
heroes. Yet as I write it seems to me that the very name ' hero-
worshipper ' has been spoilt by sneering lips ; we are asked to
believe that they are only weak-minded enthusiasts with a turn
for undiscriminating praise, and that they swallow their heroes, as
a snake swallows a rabbit, bones and all.

" Personally I think this is a bad way in which to eat rabbits,
biit the best possible way in which to take a great man. I detest
the cheese -paring enthusiasm that accepts the Olympian head and
rejects the feet of human clay. Until Frank Harris taught me
better I thought Shakespeare's sonnets were capable of but one
probable interpretation ; but I did not wag my head with the
moralist Browning and cry, ' The less Shakespeare he ! ' To-day
I do not find Shakespeare less great because he loved Mary Fitton ;
it seems impossible that anyone should. Yet Moore burnt
Byron's autobiography, Ruskin would not write a Life of Turner
because of the nature of his relationship with women, Stevenson
abandoned an essay on Hazlitt because of the ' Liber Amoris ' —
Stevenson whose essay on Burns ' sweUs to heaven ' ! In the face
of such spectacles as these it is surely permissible to pine for the
blind generosity of the enthusiast, that incautious fullness of
appreciation that lifts great men with their due complement of
vices and follies on to a higher plane where the ordinary con-
ventions of human conduct no longer apply." — Monologues, p. 224.


A brief Preface is needed to acknowledge
indebtedness to three of my friends — Herbert
Garland, Louis J. McQuilland and Arthur Machen
— all of whom knew Middleton in the flesh, and
who have been good enough to advise me in the
preparation of this memoir. McQuilland, who
read the memoir in proof, tells me I should have
dealt more fully with Middleton as a writer of
fiction. I have to some small extent remedied
the deficiency by making additions to the biblio-
graphical notes. Much with me, in writing the
book, was the desire to make more widely known
Middleton's excellence as a poet. His prose
fantasy, The Ghost Ship, is now generally acknow-
ledged to be one of the best short stories in the
English language, but it seems to me that he is
too much considered as the author of that story
and at the expense of his poetry. I hope I have
done a little towards arousing a wider interest in
Poems and Songs, though very conscious that
the expression has fallen short of the dream.

H. S.



PREFACE ..... Vii












XII. THE END ..... 192


BIBLIOGRAPHY . . . . .197


INDEX ....... 205



Richard Middleton . . . Frontispiece

Camera Portrait by E. O. Hoppe.

Facing page

Richard Middleton at the Age of 7 . . 10

Richard Middleton in Fancy Dress . . 28

A Bohemian Gathering .... 36
Sketch by Herbert Garland.

Richard Middleton at the Age of 20 . . 64

Richard Middleton 74

Caricature by Herbert Garland.

Holograph MS. Reproduction of a hitherto

unpublished Poem . . . .98

Richard Middleton 130

Caricature by H. R. Millar.

Richard Middleton 164

Caricature by David Wilson.

The House in the Rue de Joncker . . 192





Richard Barham Middleton was born of
English parentage at Staines, in Middlesex, on
the 28th of October, 1882. In a letter referring
to money earned in his early days as a journalist
he makes jocose mention of a Scottish ancestry,
but whether or no he had Scots blood in his veins
is not within my knowledge. While we were
acquainted I had not only no inclination to gather
facts relating to him, but an excessive contempt for
facts in general. This memoir may suffer accord-
ingly, as, again, it may suffer from my having
made no effort to obtain information from his
family since he died. As to that, however, I
must leave others to judge. Middleton himself
was no fact-lover. He preferred fancies, such as
that he may have descended from an Elizabethan
pirate. " I have an ancestor," he says {Mono-
logues, p. 210), " so runs the dearest of my family


Richard Middleton

traditions, who was hanged as a pirate at Port
Royal. How much of that priceless piratical
blood the centuries may have transmitted to me
I do not know, but if I were his very reincarna-
tion I could hardly hoist the Jolly Roger in an
age that may believe in fairies but certainly does
not believe in pirates." Fancy apart, his more
immediate ancestors, like Stevenson's, were engi-
neers. " My father's firm shuts up for good in a
fortnight after going for about 100 years," he
writes under date August 16th, 1907. " My
great-grandfather founded it. This day will be
published a new volume entitled The Fall of the
House of Middleton.'''' And he ends jauntily,
" but we shall always be true to our Tory tradi-

On his mother's side he was a distant relative
of the Rev. Thomas Barham, the author of The
Ingoldshy Legends, a blood-tie of which he was
proud, but less so, I think, than of the buccaneer
legend. Noteworthy also is the fact that, accord-
ing to his own statement to me, there was some
insanity in the family, an aunt being thus
afflicted. How far this taint affected his mind, if
at all, it would be difficult to determine. He does
not seem to have struck any of his acquaintance
as being insane, and certainly he never struck me


Childhood and Early Days

as being so. Louis J. McQuilland, the poet and
critic, who knew him well and has a serene wisdom
of his own, in reply to some scurrility published
after he died, stated that he was " one of the
sanest men I have ever encountered. In cha-
racter he was reserved, and in judgment accurate
and well-balanced." It is safe to say that never
at any time in his life, except, perhaps, during his
last few days, would a mental specialist have
certified him as insane. I dwell upon this point
because of the manner of his end. In Brussels, on
the 1st of December, 1911, soon after his twenty-
ninth birthday, he committed suicide by taking

His childhood, always allowing for his having
been an abnormal youngster, as will be seen
presently, seems to have been outwardly much
akin to that of most children with brothers and
sisters and a comfortable home. " A simple up-
and-down April existence," he calls it in The Day
before Yesterday, where appear most of his recol-
lections of the period ; recollections, however,
in all probability less of its rain than its sunshine,
for, as he tells us :

It is to be supposed that there are few men
and women who do not occasionally look
back on the days of their childhood with

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Richard Mid diet on

regret. The responsibilities of age are some-
times so pressing, its duties so irksome, that
the most contented mind must travel back
with envy to a period when responsibilities
were not, and duties were merely the simple
rules of a pleasing game, the due keeping of
which was sure to entail proportionate reward.
And this being so, and the delights of the
Golden Age always being kept in the back of
our mind, as a favourable contrast to the
present state of things, it is hardly surprising
that in course of time the memory of the
earlier days of our life is apt to become
gilded and resplendent, and very unlike the
simple up-and-down April existence that was
really ours. The dull, wet days, the lessons and
the tears are all forgotten ; it is the sunshine
and the laughter and the play that remain.

Elsewhere, in an unpublished fragment of
autobiography, the time is painted in darker

My own childhood I do not lament, and I
hope I shall never have to endure that state
of aggrieved helplessness again. I had some
good games and some good dreams. But on
the whole the atmosphere was charged with
ugly mysteries like an Ibsen play, and I was
too introspective to be a happy child.

When writing that passage he perhaps had less
his boyhood in mind than the earlier period. In
any case the distinction is of no great consequence.


Childhood and Early Days

What may chiefly impress the reader of The Day

before Yesterday is the extraordinary imagination

its youthful hero must have possessed. Most of

us who are grown up have presumably forgotten

how we thought and felt when we were children.

If we saw

a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower

we cannot tell what sort of world it was or what
sort of heaven. But Middleton could vividly
remember his early dreamings. The young brain
would people an empty cupboard or send its
fortunate possessor voyaging from China to Peru
on a drawing-room rug. That " enchanted place
which our elders contemptuously called the
' mouse-cupboard,' " a favourite refuge where
could be found " solitude and darkness in which
to scheme deeds of revenge and actions of a
wonderful magnanimity turn by turn," was not
long in becoming a smuggler's cave, the haunt,
successively, of such heroes as Aladdin, Robinson
Crusoe, Ben Gunn and Tom Sawyer, and ulti-
mately — some one having discovered what it really
resembled — the cabin of a ship.

The fact that our cabin lacked portholes
and was of an unusual shape did not trouble
us. We could hear the water bubbling

Richard Middleton

against the ship's side in a neighbouring
cistern, and often enough the wind moaned
and whistled. . . . Beneath us the waters
chuckled restlessly, and sometimes we heard
the feet of the watch overhead, and now and
again the clanging of the great bell. In such
an hour it was not difficult to picture the
luminous tropic seas through which the
Black Margaret was making her way. The
skies of irradiant stars, the desert islands
like baskets of glowing flowers, and the
thousand marvels of the enchanted ocean —
we saw them one and all.

The Day Before Yesterday is of the Kenneth
Grahame order of books — books such as Dream
Days and The Golden Age, which have faithfully
recaptured the thoughts and feelings of child-
hood. Few other modern writers can give such
vivid glimpses of their " trailing clouds of glory,"
though Stevenson, with his A Child's Garden of
Verses, may be said to be of the company. Their
books should be known not only to lovers of
belles-lettres, but to those " Olympians " who, as
Middleton puts it, " always seemed so sensible
and yet could not understand." And of the three,
he, perhaps, is the least sophisticated. He was
childlike himself in many ways — one reason
why he is so difficult to visualise. " How plainly
you must see him, your Villon ! " said Pierre


Childhood and Early Days

Champion, admiringly, to Marcel Schwob, after
the latter had devoted years to the study of the
erratic French poet ; and " See him ? " replied
Schwob ; "I see but his little finger ! " So is
it with me. A fascinating and baffling personality
Middleton had, and has been a puzzle to me since
I first met him in 1905. Childlike, I said. That
is the chief clue to him. " Children," he remarks
in one of his essays, " sometimes flatter me by
treating me as an equal." Edgar Jepson, another
writer who knew him in the flesh, wrote after he
died : " I cannot possibly tell the children. We
all had a real affection for him, and here he was
always at his best." " What struck me about
Middleton," says yet another friend, a lady,
" was that he always did the nice thing — that
and his great sympathy. . , . He never grew up,
knew about everything and told you in a baby
way." The view has points in common with
that of Frank Harris : " There was in him a
curious mixture of widest comprehension with a
child's acceptance of vice and suffering and
abnormalities. I say a child's because it was
purely curious and without any tinge of ethical
judgment." That Harris's portrait, however, is
not too reliable is proved if only by his finding
" curious " the mixture to which he alludes.


Richard Mid diet on

*' Shaggy Peter Pan with a briar pipe " that

Middleton was — it is McQuilland's phrase, and

McQuilland of all his acquaintance has perhaps

written the most illuminative account of him —

he might have toughly exercised the wits of a

Blake or a Swinburne. What he saw of himself

in this connection may be gleaned from his own


In age to wish for youth is full as vain
As for a youth to turn a child again,

he quotes from Denham in The Day Before
Yesterday ; and in the same book we find :

I see the children go trooping by with
their calm eyes, not, as is sometimes said,
curious,* but rather tolerant of life, and I
know that for them the universe is merely
an aggregate of details, some agreeable and
some stupid, while I must needs depress
myself by regarding it as a whole. And this
is the proved distinction between juvenile
and adult philosophies, if we may be allowed
to regard a child's very definite point of
view as the effect of a philosophy.

Again, in his unpublished The Autobiography
of a Poet, he says :

Of all my shadows these are the least
substantial ; at a touch they fade one into

* This conception of children invites comparison with that of
Frank Harris : "I say a child's because it was purely curious."


Childhood and Early Days

the other and are recreated with a discon-
certing interchange of features, so that
George will wear Manxie's eyes and Melanie
will have Arthur's twisted smile. But never-
theless, through all these whimsical meta-
morphoses they remain my very loyal and
affectionate friends. . . . Looking back on
my days I can say that I do not regret a single
hour that I have passed in the company of
children. It was not that their wayward
hands spared my always vulnerable vanity ;
but they struck without malice, and their
blows were as welcome as the rebukes of

So, as in a glass darkly, certain glimpses of
him. Look at his photograph. What may be
gathered from that ? The eyes haunt me.
Thoughtful eyes they are, proud, sad and
watchful. The mouth shows just a little resent-
ment. He has a striking phrase for his mouth in
A Monologue on Love Songs : " His thick lower
lip gleams like a wet cherry between his moustache
and his beard." That beard I never quite under-
stood why he grew, so young a man as he was.
He had an illness, I believe, at about the time
when most men begin to shave. He may have
let it grow, partly to epater le bourgeois, partly
not liking that " thick lower lip." What the
photograph does not bring out are the deep folds


Richard Middleton

which furrowed the massive forehead. The}^
are apparently whitened over. He must have
been born with them. A Hfetime of thinking
would not have made them so deep.

One more quotation may serve to complete this
sketch of his childhood :

One sunny afternoon [he says in an un-
published fragment of MS.] my little sister
and I found two long slender poles in the
garden, and passed a pleasant hour or two
carving the bark in beautiful spiral patterns.
When we had finished I realised that we had
there two magnificent lances, and that all we
lacked was a foeman worthy of our steel. So
when one of my brothers came out into the
garden, I picked up my lance, and tilted at
him gallantly. For some reason or other —
perhaps governesses had been scolding him
— he was in no mood for romance, so he caught
my lance in his hands and broke it across his
knee. Lost in my dream of chivalry, I could
not recover from my illusion in a moment. I
seized my sister's lance, and as my brother
stood there with the broken pieces of mine
in his hands, I bore at him again. Alas ! it
went the same way as my own, and this time
he crowned my ignominy by boxing my ears.
I retreated to the shrubbery, followed by my
sister, and gave way to my passionate
sorrow. She tried to comfort me, patting my
back with her little hands, but she could not
know that my grief was founded on more




Childhood and Early Days

than the destruction of our lances or a few
paltry cuffs. Poor Don Quixote ! How long
will the world continue to find the history of
your sufferings amusing, how long must we
laugh at anyone because he [" thinks,"
" hopes," both crossed out in MS.] too nobly
of mankind ? Since that afternoon it has
often been my lot to attack the brutalities of
life with the slender weapons of my dreams,
and I have always been defeated. Can it be
wondered at that at the last I have become
a cynic ?

That fragment gives us as memorable a picture,
and tells us as much of him, of a brother, and of
a loving sister, as any passage from his prose in
general. Miss Middleton I remember as goodness
itself. Doubtless at many another time besides
that recorded she, figuratively speaking, " patted
him on his back with her little hands."

The story of his boyhood is to be found chiefly
in A Drama of Youth and The New Boy, two auto-
biographical studies in The Ghost Ship. He was
sent to a day school,* there to become more than

* I have no exact knowledge of the names of the various schools
at which Middleton was educated. In London he seems to have
gone both to St. Paul's and Merchant Taylors', the former of
which was probably the scene of A Drama of Youth. Among the
records in my possession are four certificates. One, dated Mid-
summer, 1893, from the College of Preceptors, mentions him as
being a pupil at Quernmore House, Bromley, Kent. Some part
of his school life he certainly spent at Cranbrook Grammar


Richard Middleton

ever the slave of the ughness he hated. Farring-
don Meat Market, through which he had to pass
on his way, seems particularly to have nauseated
him :

^Esthetic butchers made the market hideous
with mosaics of the intestines of animals, as
if the horrors of suety pavements and
bloody sawdust did not suffice. ... I saw the
greasy, red-faced men with their hands and
aprons stained with blood . . . the masses
of entrails, the heaps of repulsive hides ; but
most clearly of all I saw an ugly sad little boy
with a satchel of books on his back set down
in the midst of an enormous and hostile

Such unpleasant realism from the pen of, say,
Bernard Shaw, who eschews flesh, would create
no surprise, but from one who liked nothing better
than a rich juicy steak it seems something of an
inconsistency. Middleton was no nut-eater.
Dreamers with the fond notion that poets live
delicately like butterflies would have viewed with
mixed feelings the way in which he could attack
a good dinner. In Baudelaire's Lettres there is a

School. He matriculated as a student in the University of London,
and was placed in the first division on July 19th, 1899 ; and in
July, 1900, passed the Oxford and Cambridge Higher Certificate
Examination, the subjects including elementary and additional
mathematics (trigonometry and dynamics), English, and natural


Childhood and Early Days

passage referring to Proudhon which bears a
remarkable resemblance to his manner at table :

II jasa beaucoup, violemment, amplement
. . . et lachant involontairement, pour ainsi
dire, une foule de bons mots. J'observai
que ce polemiste mangeait enormmement.
. . . Pour un homme de lettres, lui dis-je, vous
mangez etonnement. — C'est que fai de grandes
choses a jaire, me repondit-il, avec une telle
simplicite que je ne pus diviner s'il parlait
serieusement ou s'il voulait bouffonner.

That was Middleton all over. Though not what
could be called Gargantuan of appetite, he ate with
relish, with gusto. And it may be added, that to
a curious inquirer he would have returned just
such another reply as that of Proudhon's. But,
with mischief twinkling in those fine eyes of his,
no question of his simplicity could have arisen.

Forcibly realistic, again, is the description of
his life at school :

The weariness of inventing lies that no one
believed to account for my lateness and neg-
lected homework, and the monotonous lessons
that held me from my dreams without ever
for a single instant capturing my interest —
all these things made me ill with repulsion.
Worst of all was the society of my cheerful,
contented comrades, to avoid which I was
compelled to mope in deserted corridors, the


Richard Middleton

prey of a sorrow that could not be enjoyed, a
hatred that was in no way stimulating. At
the best of times the atmosphere of the place
disgusted me. Desks, windows, and floors,
and even the grass in the quadrangle, were
greasy with London soot, and there was
nowhere any clean air to breathe or smell. I
hated the gritty asphalt that gave no peace to
my feet and cut my knees when my clumsiness
made me fall. I hated the long stone corri-
dors whose echoes seemed to me to mock my
hesitating footsteps when I passed from one
dull class to another. I hated the stuffy
malodorous class-rooms, with their whistling
gas-jets and noise of inharmonious life. I
would have hated the yellow fogs had they not
sometimes shortened the hours of my bon-
dage. That five hundred boys shared this
horrible environment did not abate my
sufferings a jot ; for it was clear that they
did not find it distasteful, and they therefore
became as unsympathetic for me as the smell
and noise and rotting stones of the school

He is to be found next at a boarding school, his
first introduction to which was marked by an
event startlingly unexpected to one whose experi-
ences had developed in him a stubborn hatred of
all life outside his beloved dreams. A boy came
up to him and broke down his carefully-prepared
defences with words of sympathy. " You'll be all


Childhood and Early Days

right, you know," the stranger concluded after a
few preliminary inquiries : " They're not a bad lot
of chaps." And says our astonished Ishmael :

I think it was the first time in my life a boy
had spoken kindly to me. The revulsion
nearly brought on a catastrophe, for the tears
rose to my eyes and I gazed after him with a
swimming head. I had prepared myself to
receive blows and insults, but I had no
armour with which to oppose the noble
weapons of sympathy and good fellowship.

Further surprises of the kind were in store.
His grim philosophy was to be pleasantly dis-
turbed and altered. A master and one of the head
boys both evinced a sympathetic understanding
of his difficulties, the former leading him to see
that he was unfortunate rather than criminal, and
the latter that it was " a jolly good thing to be
different." He began now to take pleasure in
certain phases of school life. Football he already
liked well enough, and the sensuous beauty of the
church services on Sunday and the reading of the
Scriptures each night in the school chapel also
vastly appealed to him. Incidentally, his last
message before death has a very significant quota-
tion from the Psalms. But of that later. The
new school-day view of things does not appear to
have abated his habit of introspection. With the


Richard Mid diet on

approach of the hohdays we find him speculating
upon their disadvantages.

It seemed to me that a younger brother's
portion of freedom would compare but poorly
with the measure of intellectual liberty that
I had secured for myself at school. My
brothers were all very well in their way, but
I would be expected to take my place in the
background and do what I was told. . . .
I should miss my sense of being superior to

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Online LibraryHenry SavageRichard Middleton, the man and his work → online text (page 1 of 12)