Thomas B. (Thomas Brackett) Reed.

Modern eloquence; (Volume 5) online

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likeness of the trees which sprang out of the rocks above
their head ; and raised those wells into great cliffs ; and
pierced those cliffs with the arches of the triforium, as
with wild creatures' caves or hermits' cells; and repre-
sented in the horizontal string-courses and window-sills
the strata of the rocks ; and opened the windows into wide
and lofty glades, broken, as in the forest, by the tracery
of stems and boughs, through which were seen, not only


the outer, but the upper world. For they craved as all
true artists crave for light and color; and had the sky
above been one perpetual blue, they might have been
content with it, and left their glass transparent. But in
our dark dank northern clime, rain and snowstorm, black
cloud and gray mist, were all that they were like to see
outside for six months in the year. So they took such
light and color as nature gave in her few gayer moods,
and set aloft in their strained-glass windows the hues of
the noonday and of the sunset, and the purple of the
heather, and the gold of the gorse, and the azure of the
bugloss, and the crimson of the poppy ; and among them,
in gorgeous robes, the angels and the saints of heaven, and
the memories of heroic virtues and heroic sufferings, that
they might lift up the eyes and hearts of men forever out
of the dark sad world of the cold north, with all its coarse-
nesses and its crimes, toward a realm of perpetual holi-
ness, amid a perpetual summer of beauty and of light ; as
one, who, from between the black jaws of a narrow glen,
or from beneath the black shade of gigantic trees, catches
a glimpse of far lands gay with gardens and cottages;
and purple mountain ranges ; and the far-off sea ; and the
hazy horizon melting into the hazy sky ; and finds his soul
led forth into an infinite, at once of freedom and repose.

Awful, and yet not sad ; at least to one who is reminded
by it, even in its darkest winter's gloom, of the primeval
tropic forest at its two most exquisite moments its too
brief twilight and its too brief dawn. Awful, and yet not
sad ; at least to an Englishman, while right and left are
ranged the statues, the busts, the names, the deeds, of
men who have helped, each in his place, to make my
country, and your country too, that which they are.
For am I not in goodly company? Am I not in very
deed upon my best behavior? among my betters? and at
court? Among men before whom I should have been
ashamed to say or do a base or foolish thing? Among
men who have taught me, have ennobled me, though they
lived centuries since? Men whom I should have loved
had I met them on earth? Men whom I may meet yet,
and tell them how I love them, in some other world?
Men, too, whom T might have hated, and who might have
hated me, had we met on this poor piecemeal earth ; but


whom I may learn to regard with justice and with charity
in the world where all shall know, even as they are
known ? Men, too, alas ! how fast their number grows
whom I have known, have loved, and lost too soon; and
all gleaming out of the gloom, as every image of the dead
should do, in pure white marble, as if purged from earthly
taint? To them too

" Nothing is left of them
Now but pure manly."

Yes, while their monuments remind me that they are
not dead, but living for all live to God then awed I
am, and humbled ; better so : but sad I cannot be in such
grand company.

I said, the men who helped to make my country, and
yours too. It would be an impertinence in me to remind
most of you of that. You know as well as I that you are
represented just as much as the English people, by every
monument in that Abbey earlier than the Civil Wars and
by most monuments of later date, especially by those of
all our literary men. You know that, and you value the
old Abbey accordingly. But a day may come a genera-
tion may come, in a nation so rapidly increasing by for-
eign immigration, as well as by home-born citizenship
a generation may come who will forget that fact; and
orators arise who will be glad that it should be forgotten
for a while. But if you would not that that evil day
should come, then teach your children That the history
and the freedom of America began neither with the War
of Independence, nor with the sailing of the Pilgrim
Fathers, nor with the settlement of Virginia; but 1,500
years and more before, in the days when our common
Teutonic ancestors, as free then as this day, knew how

"In den Deutschen Forsten,
Wie der Aar zu horsten,"

when Herman smote the Germans in the Teutoburger-
wald, and the great Caesar wailed in vain to his slain
general, " Varus, give me back my legions ! "

Teach your children that the Congress which sits at
Washington is as much the child of Magna-Charta as the


Parliament which sits at Westminster ; and that when you
resisted the unjust demands of an English king and
council, you did but that which the free commons of Eng-
land held the right to do, and did, not only after, but
before, the temporary tyranny of the Norman kings.
Show them the tombs c r English kings; not of those
Norman kings ; no Normal king lies buried in our Abbey
there is no royal interme t between Edward the Con-
fessor, the last English pr. ce of Cedric's house, and
Henry III, the first of the ew English line of kings.
Tell them, in justice to our common forefathers, that
those men were not tyrants, but ings, who swore to keep,
and for the most part did keep, like loyal gentlemen, the
ancient English laws which they had sworn in Westmin-
ster Abbey to maintain; and that the few of them who
persisted in outraging the rights or the conscience of
the free people of England, paid for their perjury with
their crowns or with their lives. And tell them too, in
justice to our common ancestors that there were never
wanting to the kings, the nobles, or the commons of Eng-
land, since the days when Simon de Montfort organized
the House of Commons in Westminster Hall, on May 2,
1258, there were never wanting, I say, to the kings, the
nobles, or the commons of England, counselors who
dared speak the truth and defend the right, even at the
risk of their own goods and their own lives.

Remind them, too or let our monuments remind
them that even in the worst times of the War of Inde-
pendence, there were not wanting, here in England,
statesmen who dared to speak out for justice and human-
ity; and that they were not only confessed to be the
leading men of their own day, but the very men whom
England delighted to honor by places in her Pantheon.
Show them the monuments of Chatham, Pitt, and Fox
Burke sleeps in peace elsewhere and remind them that
the great earl, who literally died as much in your service
as in ours, whose fiery invectives against the cruelties of
that old war are, I am proud to say still commonplaces
for declamation among our English schoolboys, dared,
even when all was at the worst, to tell the English House
qf Lords " If I were an American, as I am an English-
man, while a foreign troop was landed in my country, I



never would lay down my arms never! never! never!"
Yes, an American as well as an Englishman may find
himself in the old Abbey in right good company.

Yes, and I do not hesitate to say, that if you will look
through the monuments erected in that Abbey, since
those of Pitt and Fox you will find that the great ma-
jority commemorate the children, not of obstruction, but
of progress; not of darkness, but of light. Holland,
Tierney, Mackintosh, Grattan, Peel, Canning, Palmer-
ston, Isaac Watts, Bell, Wilberforce, Sharp, the Macau-
lays, Powell, Buxton, Francis Horner, Charles Buller,
Cobden, Watt, Rennell, Telford, Locke, Blunel, Grote,
Thackeray, Dickens, Maurice men who, each in his own
way, toiled for freedom of some kind; freedom of race,
of laws, of commerce, of locomotion, of production, of
speech, of thought, of education, of human charity, and of
sympathy these are the men whom England still de-
lights to honor ; whose busts around our walls show that
the ancient spirit is not dead, and that we, as you, are
still, as 1,500 years ago, the sons of freedom and of right.

But, beside these statesmen who were just and true to
you, and therefore to their native land, there lie men be-
fore whose monuments I would ask thoughtful Americans
to pause I mean those of our old fighters, by land and
sea. I do not speak merely of those who lived before our
Civil Wars, though they are indeed our common heritage.
And when you look at the noble monuments of De Vere
and Norris, the fathers of the English infantry, you
should remember that your ancestors and mine, or that of
any other Englishman, may have trailed pike and handled
sword side by side under those very men, in those old
wars of the Netherlands, which your own great historian,
Mr. Motley, has so well described ; or have sailed to-
gether to Cadiz fight, and to the Spanish Main, with
Raleigh or with Drake.

There are those, again, who did their duty two and
three generations later though one of the noblest of
them all, old Admiral Blake, alas ! lies we know not
where cast out, with Cromwell and his heroes, by the
fanatics and sycophants of the Restoration whom not
only we, but Royalty itself, would now restore, could we
recover their noble ashes, to their rightful resting-place.



And these, if not always our common ancestors, were,
often enough, our common cousins, as in the case of my
own family, in which one brother was settling in New
England, to found there a whole new family of Kings-
leys, while the other brother was fighting in the Parlia-
mentary army, and helping to defeat Charles at Rowton

But there is another class of warriors' tombs, which I
ask you, if ever you visit the Abbey, to look on with
respect, and let me say, affection too. I mean the men
who did their duty, by land and sea, in that long series of
wars which, commencing in 1739, ended in 1783, with
our recognition of your right and power to be a free and
independent people. Of those who fought against you
I say nought. But I must speak of those who fought for
you who brought to nought, by sheer hard blows, that
family compact of the House of Bourbon, which would
have been as dangerous to you upon this side of the
ocean as to us upon the other; who smote with a con-
tinual stroke the trans-Atlantic power of Spain, till they
placed her once vast and rich possessions at your mercy
to this day; and who even more important still pre-
vented the French from seizing at last the whole valley
of the Mississippi, and girdling your nascent dominion
with a hostile frontier, from Louisiana round to the
mouth of the St. Lawrence.

When you see Wolfe's huge cenotaph, with its curious
bronze bas-relief of the taking of the heights of Abraham,
think, I pray you, that not only for England, but for you,
the "little red-haired corporal" conquered and died.
Remember, too, that while your ancestors were fighting
well by land, and Washington and such as he were learn-
ing their lesson at Fort Duquesne and elsewhere better
than we could teach them, we were fighting well where
we knew how to fight at sea. And when, near to
Wolfe's monument, or in the Nave, you see such names
as Cornwallis, Saumarez, Wager, Vernon the conqueror
of Portobello Lord Aubrey Beauclerk, and so forth
bethink you that every French or Spanish ship which
these men took, and every convoy they cut off, from
Toulon to Carthagena, and from Carthagena to Halifax,
made more and more possible the safe severance from



England of the very colonies which you were then help-
ing us to defend. And then agree, like the generous-
hearted people which you are, that if, in after years, we
sinned against you and how heavy were our sins, I
know too well there was a time, before those evil days,
when we fought for you, and by your side, as the old lion
by the young; even though, like the old lion and the
young, we began, only too soon, tearing each other to
pieces over the division of the prey.

Nay, I will go further, and say this, paradoxical as it
may seem: When you enter the North Transept from
St. Margaret's Church-yard you see on your right hand
a huge but not ungraceful naval monument of white
marble, inscribed with the names of Bayne, Blair, Lord
Robert Manners three commanders of Rodney's, in the
crowning victory of April 12, 1782 fought upon Tropic
waters, over which I have sailed, flushed with the thought
that my own grandfather was that day on board of
Rodney's ship.

Now do you all know what that day's great fight meant
for you, fought though it was, while you, alas ! were still
at war with us ? It meant this. That that day followed
up, six months after, by Lord Howe's relief of Gibraltar
settled, I hold, the fate of the New World for many a
year. True, in one sense, it was settled already. Corn-
wallis had already capitulated at Yorktown. But even
then the old lion, disgraced, bleeding, fainting, ready to
yield but only to you, of his own kin and blood struck,
though with failing paw, two such tremendous blows at
his old enemies, as deprived them thenceforth of any real
power in the New World ; precipitated that bankruptcy and
ruin which issued in the French and Spanish revolutions ;
and made certain, as I believe, the coming day when the
Anglo-Saxon race shall be the real masters of the whole
New World.

Of poets and of men of letters I say nought. They
are the heritage, neither of us, nor of you, but of the
human race. The mere man of letters may well sleep in
the very centre of that busy civilization from which he
drew his inspiration: but not the poet not, at least, the
poet of these days. He goes not to the town, but nature,
for his inspirations, and to nature when he dies he should



return. Such men, artificial, and town-bred, however
brilliant, or even grand at times, as Davenant, Dryden,
Cowley, Congreve, Prior, Gay sleep fitly in our care
here. Yet even Pope, though one of such in style and
heart, preferred the parish church of the then rural
Twickenham, and Gray the lonely graveyard of Stoke
Pogis. Ben Jonson has a right to lie with us. He was
a townsman to the very heart, and a court-poet too.
But Chaucer, Spenser, Drayton such are to my mind,
out of place. Chaucer lies here, because he lived hard by.
Spenser through bitter need and woe. But I should
have rather buried Chaucer in some trim garden, Spenser
beneath the forest aisles, and Drayton by some silver
stream each man's dust resting where his heart was set.
Happier, it seems to me, are those who, like Shakespeare,
Wordsworth and Southey, Scott and Burns, lie far away,
in scenes they knew and loved; fulfilling Burke's wise
choice : " After all I had sooner slept in the southern
corner of a country churchyard than in the tomb of all
the Capulets."

Yes, these worthies, one and all, are a token that the
Great Abbey, and all its memories of eight hundred
years, does not belong to us alone, nor even to the
British Empire alone and all its Colonies, but to America
likewise! That when an American enters beneath that
mighty shade, he treads on common and ancestral ground,
as sacred to him as it is to us; the symbol of common
descent, common development, common speech, common
creed, common laws, common literature, common
national interests, and I trust, of a common respect and
affection, such as the wise can only feel toward the wise,
and the strong toward the strong. Is all this sentiment?
Remember what I said just now : by well-used sentiment,
and well-used sorrow, great nations live.

Photogravure after a photograph from life



[Lecture by Andrew Lang, author and critic (born in Selkirk, Scot-
land, March 31, 1844; ), delivered in the South Kensington

Museum, London, in aid of the college for working men and women.
In his preface to the small volume in which this lecture subsequently
appeared (in 1890), Mr. Lang says that it was printed at the request of
his publishers, " who believe, perhaps erroneously, that some of the few
authors who were not present may be glad to study the advice prof-
fered " ; that it had been rewritten, " and like the kiss which the Lady
returned to Rudolphe, is revu, corrige, et considerablement augmente."]

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN : What should be a man's or
a woman's reason for tlking literature as a vocation, what
sort of success ought they to desire, what sort of ambi-
tion should possess them? These are natural questions,
now that so many readers exist in the world, all asking
for something new, now that so many writers are making
their pens " in running to devour the way " over so many
acres of foolscap. The legitimate reasons for enlisting
(too often without receiving the shilling) in this army of
writers are not far to seek. A man may be convinced
that he has useful, or beautiful, or entertaining ideas
within him, he may hold that he can express them in
fresh and charming language. He may, in short, have a
" vocation," or feel conscious of a vocation, which is not
exactly the same thing. There are " many thyrsus
bearers, few mystics " ; many are called, few chosen. Still,


to be sensible of a vocation is something, nay, is muen,
for most of us drift without any particular aim or predom-
inant purpose. Nobody can justly censure people whose
chief interest is in letters, whose chief pleasure is in study
or composition, who rejoice in a fine sentence as others
do in a well-modeled limb, or a delicately touched land-
scape, nobody can censure them for trying their fortunes
in literature. Most of them will fail, for, as the book-
seller's young man told an author once, they have the
poetic temperament, without the poetic power. Still
among these whom " Pendennis " has tempted, in boy-
hood, to run away from school to literature as Marryat
has tempted others to run away to sea, there must be
some who will succeed. But an early and intense ambi-
tion is not everything, any more than a capacity for tak-
ing pains is everything in literature or in any art.

Some have the gift, the natural incommunicable power,
without the ambition, others have the ambition but no
other gift from any Muse. This class is the more numer-
ous, but the smallest class of all has both the power and
the will -to excel in letters. The desire to write, the love
of letters may show itself in childhood, in boyhood, or
youth, and mean nothing at all, a mere harvest of barren
blossom without fragrance or fruit. Or, again, the con-
cern about letters may come suddenly, when a youth that
cared for none of those things is waning, it may come
when a man suddenly finds that he has something which
he really must tell. Then he pro^tbly fumbles about for
a style, and his first fresh impulses are more or less
marred by his inexperience of an art which beguiles and
fascinates others even in their school-days.

It is impossible to prophesy the success of a man of
letters from his early promise, his early tastes ; as impos-
sible as it is to predict, from her childish grace, the beauty
of a woman.

But the following remarks on How to Fail in Litera-
ture are certainly meant to discourage nobody who loves
books, and has an impulse to tell a story, or to try a song
or a sermon. Discouragements enough exist in the pur-
suit of this, as of all arts, crafts, and professions, without
my adding to them. Famine and Fear crouch by the
portals of literature as they crouch at the gates of the



Virgilian Hades. There is no more frequent cause of
failure than doubt and dread; a beginner can scarcely
put his heart and strength into a work when he knows
how long are the odds against his victory, how difficult
it is for a new man to win a hearing, even though all
editors and publishers are ever pining for a new man.
The young fellow, unknown and unwelcomed, who can
sit down and give all his best of knowledge, observation,
humor, care, and fancy to a considerable work has got
courage in no common portion; he deserves to triumph,
and certainly should not be disheartened by our old
experience. But there be few beginners of this mark,
most begin so feebly because they begin so fearfully.
They are already too discouraged, and can scarce do
themselves justice. It is easier to write more or less well
and agreeably when you are certain of being published
and paid at least, than to write well when a dozen rejected
manuscripts are cowering (as Theocritus says) in your
chest, bowing their pale faces over their chilly knees,
outcast, hungry, repulsed from many a door. To write
excellently, brightly, powerfully, with these poor unwel-
comed wanderers, returned manuscripts, in your posses-
sion, is difficult indeed. It might be wiser to do as M.
Guy de Maupassant is rumored to have done, to write
for seven years, and show your essays to none but a
mentor as friendly severe as M. Flaubert. But all men
cannot have such mentors, nor can all afford so long an
unremunerative apprenticeship. For some the better
plan is not to linger on the bank, and take tea and give
good advice, as Keats said, but to plunge at once in
mid-stream, and learn swimming of necessity.

One thing, perhaps, most people who succeed in letters
so far as to keep themselves alive and clothed by their
pens will admit, namely, that their early rejected manu-
scripts deserved to be rejected. A few days ago there
came to the writer an old forgotten beginner's attempt
by himself. Whence it came, who sent it, he knows not ;
he had forgotten its very existence. He read it with
curiosity ; it was written in a very much better hand than
his present scrawl, and was perfectly legible. But read-
able it was not. There was a great deal of work in it, on
an out of the way topic, and the ideas were perhaps not



quite without novelty at the time of its composition. But
it was cramped and thin, and hesitating between several
manners; above all it was uncommonly dull. If it ever
tvas sent to an editor, as I presume it must have been,
that editor was trebly justified in declining it. On the
other hand, to be egotistic, I have known editors reject
the attempts of those old days, and afterward express
lively delight in them when they struggled into print,
somehow, somewhere. These worthy men did not even
know that they had despised and refused what they came
afterward rather to enjoy.

Editors and publishers, these keepers of the gates of
success, are not infallible, but their opinion of a begin-
ner's work is far more correct than his own can ever be.
They should not depress him quite, but if they are long
unanimous in holding him cheap, he is warned, and had
better withdraw from the struggle. He is either incom-
petent, or he has the makings of a Browning. He is a
genius born too soon. He may readily calculate the
chances in favor of either alternative.

So much by way of not damping all neophytes equally ;
so much we may say about success before talking of the
easy ways that lead to failure. And by success here is
meant no glorious triumph; the laurels are not in our
thoughts, nor the enormous opulence (about a fourth of
a fortunate barrister's gains) which falls in the lap of a
Dickens or Trollope. Faint and fleeting praise, a
crown with as many prickles as roses, a modest hardly-
gained competence, a good deal of "envy, a great deal of
gossip these are the rewards of genius which constitute
a modern literary success. Not to reach the moderate
competence in literature is, for a professional man of
letters of all work, something like a failure. But in
poetry to-day, a man may succeed, as far as his art goes,
and yet may be unread, and may publish at his own ex-
pense, or not publish at all. He pleases himself, and a
very tiny audience: I do not call that failure. I regard
failure as the goal of ignorance, incompetence, lack of
common sense, conceited dulness, and certain practical
blunders now to be explained and defined.

The most ambitious may accept, without distrust, the
following advice as to How to Fail in Literature. The



advice is offered by a mere critic, and it is an axiom of the
Arts that the critics " are the fellows who have failed,"
or have not succeeded. The persons who really can
paint, or play, or compose seldom tell us how it is done,
still less do they review the performances of their con-

Online LibraryThomas B. (Thomas Brackett) ReedModern eloquence; (Volume 5) → online text (page 28 of 38)