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He told me at Marienbad of a plan, on the execution of which he conversed with me much. This was the union of the Rhine with the Danube, by means of a canal—a gigantic enterprise, when you consider the obstacles offered by the locality.
But to a man who has served under Napoleon, and with him shaken the world, nothing appears impossible. Charlemagne had the same plan, and even began the work, but it soon came to a standstill. The sand would not hold, the banks were always falling in on both sides. To-day , before dinner, I went with Goethe into his garden. The situation of this garden, on the other side of the Ilm , near the park, and on the western declivity of a hill, gives it a very inviting aspect. It is protected from the north and east winds, but open to the cheering influences of the south and west, which makes it a most delightful abode, especially in spring and autumn.
To the town, which lies north-west, one is so near that one can be there in a few minutes, and yet if one looks round, one does not anywhere see the top of a building, or a even a spire, to remind one of such a proximity; the tall and thickly-planted trees of the park shut out every other object on that side. Towards the west and south-west, there is a free view over a spacious meadow, through which, at about the distance of a bow-shot, the Ilm winds silently along. On the opposite side of the river, the bank rises like a hill; on the summit and sides of which spreads the broad park, with the mixed foliage of alders, ash-trees, poplars, and birches, bounding the horizon at an agreeable distance on the south and west.
This view of the park over the meadow gives a feeling, especially in summer, as if one were near a wood which extended leagues round about.
One thinks that every moment there will be deer bounding out upon the meadows. One feels transplanted into the peace of the deepest natural solitude, for the silence is often uninterrupted, except by the solitary notes of the blackbird, or the frequently-suspended song of the wood-thrush.
Out of this dream of profound solitude, we are, however, awakened by the striking of the tower-clock, the screaming of the peacocks from the park, or the drums and horns of the military from the barracks. And this is not unpleasant; for such tones comfortably remind one of the neighbourhood of the friendly city, from which one has fancied oneself distant so many miles.
At certain seasons, these meadows are the reverse of lonely. One sees sometimes country people going to Weimar to market, or to work, and returning thence; sometimes loungers of all sorts walking along the windings of the Ilm , especially in the direction towards Upper Weimar , which is on certain days much visited. The hay-making season also animates the scene very agreeably. In the background, one sees flocks of sheep grazing, and sometimes the stately Swiss cows of the neighbouring farm.
To-day, however, there was no trace of these summer phenomena, which are so refreshing to the senses. On the meadows, some streaks of green were scarcely visible; the trees of the park as yet could boast nothing but brown twigs and buds; yet the note of the finch, with the occasional song of the blackbird and thrush, announced the approach of spring. The air was pleasant and summerlike; a very mild south-west wind was blowing. Small, isolated thunder-clouds passed along the clear sky; high above might be observed the dispersing cirrus-streaks.
We accurately observed the clouds, and saw that the massive clouds of the lower region were likewise dispersing; from which Goethe inferred that the barometer must be rising. Goethe then spoke much about the rising and falling of the barometer, which he called the affirmative and negative of water. He said, besides, that, though each place has its proper atmosphere, there is great uniformity in the state of the barometer throughout Europe; nature, he said, was incommensurable, and with her great irregularities, it was often difficult to find her laws.
While he thus instructed me on such high subjects, we were walking up and down the broad gravel-walk of the garden. We came near the house, which he bade the servant to open, that he might show me the interior. Without, the whitewashed walls were covered with rose-bushes, which, trained on espaliers, reached to the roof. I went round the house, and saw with pleasure, on the branches of these rose-bushes, against the wall, a great number of birds' nests of various kinds, which had been there since the preceding summer, and, now that the bushes were bare of leaves, were exposed to the eye.
There were especially to be observed the nests of the linnet and of various kinds of hedge-sparrows, built high or low according to the habits of the birds. Goethe then took me inside the house, which I had not seen since last summer. In the lower story, I found only one inhabitable room, on the walls of which were hung some charts and engravings, besides a portrait of Goethe , as large as life, painted by Meyer shortly after the return of both friends from Italy.
Goethe here appears in the prime of his powers and his manhood, very brown, and rather stout. The expression of the countenance is not very animated, and is very serious; one seems to behold a man on whose mind lies the weight of future deeds. We ascended the stairs to the upper-rooms. I found three, and one little cabinet; but all very small, and not very convenient. Goethe said that, in former years, he had passed a great deal of his time here with pleasure, and had worked very quietly.
These rooms were rather cool, and we returned into the open air, which was mild. As we walked up and down the chief pathway, in the noonday sun, our conversation turned on modern literature, Schelling , and some new plays by Count Platen. We soon returned to the natural objects. The crown-imperials and lilies were already far advanced; the mallows on both sides of the park were already green.
The upper part of the garden, on the declivity of the hill, is covered with grass, and here and there a few fruit-trees. Paths extend along the summit, and then return to the foot; which awakened in me a wish to ascend and look about me. Goethe , as he ascended these paths, walked swiftly before me, and I was rejoiced to see how active he was. On the hedge above we found a pea-hen, which seemed to have come from the prince's park; and Goethe remarked that, in summer time, he was accustomed to allure the peacocks, by giving them such food as they loved.
Descending on the winding path on the other side of the hill, I found a stone, surrounded by shrubs, on which was carved this line from the well-known poem—.
Hier im stillen gedachte der Liebende seiner Geliebten;. Near this was a thicket of half-grown oaks, firs, birches, and beech-trees. Beneath the firs, I found the sign  of a bird of prey. I showed it to Goethe , who said he had often seen such in this place. From this I concluded that these firs were a favourite abode of some owls, which had been frequently seen in this place. Passing round this thicket, we found ourselves once more on the principal path near the house.
The oaks, firs, birches, and beeches, which we had just gone round, being mingled together, here form a semicircle, overarching like a grotto the inner space, in which we sat down on little chairs, placed about a round table. The sun was so powerful, that the shade even of these leafless trees was agreeable. I planted all the trees, forty years ago, with my own hand; I have had the pleasure of watching their growth, and have now for a long time enjoyed their refreshing shade.
The foliage of these oaks and beeches is impervious to the most potent sun. We now heard the town-clock striking two, and returned to the house. This evening I was with Goethe. I was alone with him; we talked on various subjects, and drank a bottle of wine. We spoke of the French drama, as contrasted with the German.
We have a special obstacle in the circumstance, that on our stage a medley of all sorts of things is represented. Hence the public becomes confused in its judgment, mingling together various species, which it never learns rightly to appreciate and to understand. Furthermore, every one has his own individual demands and personal wishes, and returns to the spot where he finds them realized.
On the tree where he has plucked figs to-day, he would pluck them again to-morrow, and would make a long face if sloes had grown in their stead during the night. If any one is a friend to sloes, he goes to the thorns. But this notion presupposed a very large city, and could not be realized with our humble means. We talked about the plays of Iffland and Kotzebue , which, in their way, Goethe highly commended. We may wait a long time before a couple of such popular talents come again.
Goethe told me the progress of the action, scene by scene; it was very pleasant and cheerful, and gave me great delight. Goethe then spoke of some new plays by Platen. They are very clever, and, in a certain sense, complete; but they want specific gravity, a certain weight of import. They are not of a kind to excite in the mind of the reader a deep and abiding interest; on the contrary, the strings of the soul are touched but lightly and transiently.
They are like cork, which, when it swims on the water, makes no impression, but is easily sustained by the surface. It is on this account that Schiller is so highly esteemed by them all. I do not in the least doubt the abilities of Platen; but those, probably from mistaken views of art, are not manifested here. He shows distinguished culture, intellect, pungent wit, and artistical completeness; but these, especially in Germany, are not enough.
Racine he read, but did not say this of him. Lafontaine , too, is looked upon with a high degree of esteem by the French, not on account of his poetic merits, but of the greatness of character which he manifests in his writings. He laughed at such folly, and gave me several examples of persons who had been separated, and afterwards could not let each other alone. We then talked about Tieck , and his personal relation to Goethe.
Still, there is something not as it ought to be in his relation to me. This is neither my fault nor his, but proceeds from causes altogether foreign. Such a talent they found in Tieck ; and that, when placed in contrast to me, he might appear sufficiently important in the eyes of the public, they were forced to make more of him than he really was.
This injured our mutual relation; for Tieck , without being properly conscious of it himself, was thus placed in a false position with respect to me. I can speak this out plainly; it matters nothing to me, for I did not make myself. I might just as well compare myself with Shakspeare, who likewise did not make himself, and who is nevertheless a being of a higher order, to whom I must look up with reverence.
Goethe was this evening full of energy and gaiety. He brought some manuscript poems, which he read aloud. It was quite a peculiar pleasure to hear him, for not only did the original force and freshness of the poems excite me to a high degree, but Goethe , by his manner of reading them, showed himself to me on a side hitherto unknown, but highly important. What variety and force in his voice! What life and expression in the noble countenance, so full of wrinkles!
I went out walking with Goethe about one. We discussed the styles of various writers. The stronger their attachment to certain philosophical schools, the worse they write. Those Germans who, as men of business and actual life, confine themselves to the practical, write the best. Schiller 's style is most noble and impressive whenever he leaves off philosophizing, as I observe every day in his highly interesting letters, with which I am now busy.
They are of a social nature, and therefore never forget the public whom they address; they strive to be clear, that they may convince their reader—agreeable, that they may please him.
Goethe then spoke of his antagonists as a race which would never become extinct. First, there are my antagonists from stupidity—those who do not understand me, and find fault with me without knowing me. This large company has wearied me much in the course of my life; yet shall they be forgiven, for they knew not what they did.
These grudge me the fortune and the dignified station I have attained through my talents. They pluck at my fame, and would like to destroy me. If I were poor and miserable, they would assail me no more. In this class are many of fine talent, but they cannot forgive me for casting them into the shade. For, as I am a human being, and as such have human faults and weaknesses, my writings cannot be free from them.
Yet, as I was constantly bent on my own improvement, and always striving to ennoble myself, I was in a state of constant progress, and it often happened that they blamed me for faults which I had long since left behind. These good folks have injured me least of any, as they shot at me, when I was already miles distant. Generally when a work was finished, it became uninteresting to me; I thought of it no more, but busied myself with some new plan.
It is said of the leaves on a tree, that you will scarcely find two perfectly alike, and thus, among a thousand men, you will scarce find two, who harmonize entirely in their views and ways of thinking. This being allowed, I ought less to wonder at having so many opponents, than at having so many friends and adherents. My tendencies were opposed to those of my time, which were wholly subjective; while in my objective efforts, I stood quite alone to my own disadvantage.
Hence, a certain well-meaning general once gave me plainly to understand that I ought to write like Schiller. I replied by analyzing Schiller 's merits, for I knew them better than he. I went quietly on in my own way, not troubling myself further about success, and taking as little notice as possible of my opponents.
We returned, and had a very pleasant time at dinner. Frau von Goethe talked much of Berlin , where she had lately been. She spoke with especial warmth of the Duchess of Cumberland, who had shown her much kindness.
Goethe remembered this princess, who, when very young, had passed some time with his mother, with particular interest. In the evening, I had a musical treat of a high order at Goethe 's house, where some fine singers, under the superintendence of Eberwein , performed part of Handel's Messiah.
The Countess Caroline von Egloffstein , Fraulein von Froriep , with Frau von Pogwisch and Frau von Goethe , joined the female singers, and thus kindly gratified a wish which Goethe had entertained long since.
Goethe , sitting at some distance, wholly absorbed in hearing, passed a happy evening, full of admiration at this noble work. The greatest philologist of our time, Friedrich August Wolf , from Berlin , is here, on his way towards the south of France. The conversation was very lively. Wolf was full of witty sallies, Goethe being constantly his opponent in the pleasantest way.
Nothing else brings out his hidden treasures. The bon mot s at table were too evanescent, and too much the result of the moment, to bear repetition. Wolf was very great in witty turns and repartees, but nevertheless it seemed to me that Goethe always maintained a certain superiority over him. The hours at table flew by as if with wings, and six o'clock came before we were aware.
Wolf remained in Weimar till the 25th, when he set out for the south of France. The state of his health was such that Goethe did not conceal the greatest anxiety about him. Goethe reproved me for not having visited a certain family of distinction. I am neither by education nor habit fitted for general society. My situation in earlier days was such, that I feel as if I had never lived till I came near you.
All is new to me. Every evening at the theatre, every conversation with you, makes an era in my existence. Things perfectly indifferent to persons of different education and habits make the deepest impression on me, and as the desire of instructing myself is great, my mind seizes on everything with a certain energy, and draws from it as much nourishment as possible.
In this state of mind, I had quite enough in the course of this winter, from the theatre and my connection with you; and I should not have been able to give myself up to other connections and engagements, without disturbing my mind. It is a great folly to hope that other men will harmonize with us; I have never hoped this. I have always regarded each man as an independent individual, whom I endeavoured to study, and to understand with all his peculiarities, but from whom I desired no further sympathy.
In this way have I been enabled to converse with every man, and thus alone is produced the knowledge of various characters, and the dexterity necessary for the conduct of life. For it is in a conflict with natures opposed to his own that a man must collect his strength to fight his way through, and thus all our different sides are brought out and developed, so that we soon feel ourselves a match for every foe.
You should do the same; you have more capacity for it than you imagine; indeed, you must at all events plunge into the great world, whether you like it or not. I took due heed of these good, kind words, and determined to act in accordance with them as much as possible.
Towards evening, Goethe invited me to take a drive with him. Our road lay over the hills through Upper Weimar , by which we had a view of the park towards the west. The trees were in blossom, the birches already in full leaf, and the meadows were one green carpet, over which the setting sun cast a glow. We sought out picturesque groups, and could not look enough.
We remarked that trees full of white blossoms should not be painted, because they make no picture, just as birches with their foliage are unfit for the foreground of a picture, because the delicate leaf does not sufficiently balance the white trunk; there are no large masses for strong effects of light and shade. Such a trunk is perfectly suited to a foreground, as its bright form comes out with most powerful effect. After some slight discussion of other topics, we came upon the mistake of those artists who made religion art, while for them art should be religion.
It is merely to be looked upon as a material, with similar claims to any other vital material. Faith and want of faith are not the organs with which a work of art is to be apprehended. On the contrary, human powers and capacities of a totally different character are required. Art must address itself to those organs with which we apprehend it; otherwise it misses its effect.
A religious material may be a good subject for art, but only in so far as it possesses general human interest. The Virgin with the Child is on this account an excellent subject, and one that may be treated a hundred times, and always seen again with pleasure.
In the mean while, we had gone round the thicket the Webicht , and had turned by Tiefurt into the Weimar road, where we had a view of the setting sun. Goethe was for a while lost in thought; he then said to me, in the words of one of the ancients—.
Untergehend sogar ist's immer dieselbige Sonne. But this thought never gives me the least uneasiness, for I am fully convinced that our spirit is a being of a nature quite indestructible, and that its activity continues from eternity to eternity.
It is like the sun, which seems to set only to our earthly eyes, but which, in reality, never sets, but shines on unceasingly. The sun had, in the mean while, sunk behind the Ettersberg ; we felt in the wood the chill of the evening, and drove all the quicker to Weimar , and to Goethe 's house. Goethe urged me to go in with him for a while, and I did so. He was in an extremely engaging, amiable mood. He talked a great deal about his theory of colours, and of his obstinate opponents; remarking that he was sure that he had done something in this science.
The present generation has no conception of what I have accomplished in this matter, but posterity will grant that I have by no means come into a bad inheritance! I found these details important and highly instructive for young actors, and therefore proposed to put them together, and make from them a sort of theatrical catechism. Goethe consented, and we discussed the matter further. This gave us occasion to speak of some distinguished actors who had been formed in his school; and I took the opportunity to ask some questions about Frau von Heigendorf.
She was, as it were, born on the boards, and was as decided, ready, and adroit in anything as a duck in the water. She needed not my instruction, but did what was right instinctively, and perhaps without knowing it. We then talked of the many years he had superintended the theatre, and the infinite time which had thus been lost to literary production.
I have always regarded all I have done solely as symbolical; and, in fact, it has been tolerably indifferent to me whether I have made pots or dishes. I spoke with Goethe about this work to-day, and we went through the various topics in detail. The remarks concerning pronunciation, and the laying aside of provincialisms, appeared to us particularly important.
The pronunciation of the North German leaves little to be desired: On the contrary, I have often had a great deal of trouble with native Suabians, Austrians, and Saxons. The natives of our beloved town, Weimar , have also given me a great deal to do. Among these have arisen the most ridiculous mistakes; because in schools here they are not forced to distinguish, by a marked pronunciation, b from p , and d from t. One would scarcely believe that b , p , d , and t are generally considered to be four different letters; for they only speak of a hard and a soft b , and of a hard and a soft d , and thus seem tacitly to intimate that p and t do not exist.
He was playing a lover, who had been guilty of a little infidelity; whereupon the angry young lady showered upon him various violent reproaches. I once personally experienced an incident of this sort; and I will relate it to you. After he had conversed with me very agreeably for some time, he made, as he was just going, a request of a most peculiar kind. He begged me to allow him to preach in my stead on the next Sunday.
I immediately discovered which way the wind blew, and that the hopeful youth was one of those who confound g for k. I, therefore, answered him in a friendly manner, that I could not personally assist him in this affair; but that he would be sure to attain his object, if he would be so good as to apply to Archdeacon Koethe.
When I came to Weimar , last summer, it was not, as I have said, my intention to remain here, I only intended to make Goethe 's personal acquaintance, and then to visit the Rhine, where I intended to live some time in a suitable place.
However, I had been detained in Weimar by Goethe 's remarkable kindness, and my relation to him had become more and more practical, inasmuch as he drew me more and more into his own interest, and gave me much important work to do, preparatory to a complete edition of his works. I had, however, never forgotten my design of seeing the Rhine; and Goethe himself, that I might not carry within me the sting of an unsatisfied desire, advised me to devote some months of this summer to a visit to that region.
It was, however, decidedly his wish that I should return to Weimar. He observed that it was not good to break ties scarcely formed, and that everything in life to be of value must have sequence. He, at the same time, plainly intimated to me that he had selected me and Riemer , not only to aid him in preparing a new and complete edition of his works, but to take the whole charge of it in case he should be suddenly called away, as might naturally happen at his advanced age.
There lies hoarded in these a rich treasure of thoughts, which it shall some time be your office to impart to the public. I am now having a chest made, in which these letters will be put, together with the rest of my literary remains. I wish you, before you set out on your journey, to put them all in order, that I may feel easy about them, and have a care the less.
He then told me that he intended to visit Marienbad this summer, but did not intend to go till the end of July, the reasons for which he disclosed to me in confidence. He expressed a wish that I should be back before his departure, that he might speak to me. A few weeks afterwards, I visited my friends in Hanover, then stopped during the months of June and July on the Rhine, where, especially at Frankfort, Heidelberg , and Bonn , I made many valuable acquaintances among Goethe 's friends.
This evening at Goethe 's, in company with Riemer. Goethe talked to us about an English poem, of which geology was the subject. He made, as he went on, an impromptu translation of it, with so much spirit, imagination, and good humour, that every individual object stood before us, with as much life as if it were his own invention at the moment. The hero of the poem, King Coal , was seen, in his brilliant hall of audience, seated upon his throne, his consort Pyrites by his side, waiting for the nobles of the kingdom.
Entering according to their rank, they appeared one by one before the king, and were introduced as Duke Granite , Marquis Slate , Countess Porphyry , and so on with the rest, who were all characterized by some excellent epithet and joke. Then followed Sir Lorenzo Chalk , a man of great possessions, and well received at court.
He excuses his mother, the Lady Marble , on the ground that her residence is rather distant. She is a very polished and accomplished lady, and a cause of her non-appearance at court, on this occasion, is, that she is involved in an intrigue with Canova , who likes to flirt with her.
Tufa , whose hair is decked with lizards and fishes, appears rather intoxicated. Hans Marl and Jacob Clay do not appear till the end; the last is a particular favourite of the queen, because he has promised her a collection of shells.
Thus the whole went on for a long time in the most cheerful tone; but the details were too minute for me to note the further progress of the story. A taste for science is thus excited amongst the higher circles; and no one knows how much good may ultimately result from such an entertaining half-joke. Many a clever person may be induced to make observations himself, within his own immediate sphere.
And such individual observations, drawn from the natural objects with which we are in contact, are often the more valuable, the less the observer professionally belongs to the particular department of science. As soon as any one belongs to a certain narrow creed in science, every unprejudiced and true perception is gone. The decided Vulcanist always sees through the spectacles of a Vulcanist; and every Neptunist, and every professor of the newest elevation-theory, through his own.
The contemplation of the world, with all these theorists, who are devoted to an exclusive tendency, has lost its innocence, and the objects no longer appear in their natural purity. If these learned men, then, give an account of their observations, we obtain, notwithstanding their love of truth as individuals, no actual truth with reference to the objects themselves; but we always receive these objects with the taste of a strong, subjective mixture.
I am much more inclined to support the old truth, that we, properly speaking, have only eyes and ears for what we know. The musician by profession hears, in an orchestral performance, every instrument and every single tone, whilst one unacquainted with the art is wrapped up in the massive effect of the whole. A man merely bent upon enjoyment sees in a green or flowery meadow only a pleasant plain, while the eye of a botanist discovers an endless detail of the most varied plants and grasses.
Such people look at once within; they are so occupied by what is revolving in themselves, that they are like a man in a passion, who passes his dearest friends in the street without seeing them.
The observation of nature requires a certain purity of mind, which cannot be disturbed or pre-occupied by anything. The beetle on the flower does not escape the child; he has devoted all his senses to a single, simple interest; and it never strikes him that, at the same moment, something remarkable may be going on in the formation of the clouds to distract his glances in that direction.
It is just because we will be more, and carry about with us a great apparatus of philosophy and hypothesis, that we spoil all. Then followed a pause in the conversation, which Riemer broke by mentioning Lord Byron and his death. Goethe thereupon gave a brilliant elucidation of his writings, and was full of the highest praise and the purest acknowledgment.
Byron could, in a certain sense, go no further. He had reached the summit of his creative power, and whatever he might have done in the future, he would have been unable to extend the boundaries of his talent. The discourse then turned upon the Italian poet, Torquato Tasso , and his resemblance to Lord Byron, when Goethe could not conceal the superiority of the Englishman, in spirit, grasp of the world, and productive power. Byron is the burning thorn-bush which reduces the holy cedar of Lebanon to ashes.
To-day I took leave of Goethe , in order to visit my friends in Hanover, and thence to proceed to the Rhine, according to my long meditated plan. Goethe was very affectionate, and pressed me in his arms.
Then both in Heidelberg and Bonn , you will find friends who are truly devoted to me, and from whom you will receive a most hearty welcome. I did intend again to spend some time at Marienbad this summer; but I shall not go until after your return.
The parting with Goethe was very trying to me; though I went away with the firm conviction of seeing him again, safe and sound, at the end of two months. Nevertheless, I felt very happy next day when the carriage conveyed me toward my beloved home in Hanover, to which my heartiest wishes are constantly directed. About a week ago. I returned from my tour on the Rhine. Goethe expressed much joy at my arrival; and I, on my part, was not less pleased to be with him again. He had a great deal to say to me; so that for the first few days I stirred but little from his side.
His design of going to Marienbad he has abandoned, and does not intend to travel this summer. Part is complete, but the greater part consists of mere indications. However, it is already divided into five books, and the leaves containing the sketch are so arranged that, with a little trouble, one can take a survey of the general import.
The portion that is already finished appears to me so excellent, and the import of the sketched portion to be so valuable, that I regret exceedingly to see a work which promises so much instruction and enjoyment come to a standstill, and I shall make every effort to urge Goethe to continue and complete it as soon as possible.
The plan of the whole has much of the character of a novel. A graceful, tender, passionate love-affair, cheerful in its origin, idyllic in it progress, tragic at the end, through a tacit but mutual renunciation, runs through four books, and combines them to an organized whole. The charm of Lili 's character, described in detail, is of a sort to captivate every reader, just as it held the lover himself in such bonds that he could only save himself by repeated flight.
The epoch of life set forth is of a highly romantic nature, or, at least, becomes so as it is developed in the principal character. But it acquires special significance and importance from the circumstance that, as an epoch preceding the position at Weimar , it is decisive for the whole life. If, therefore, any section of Goethe 's life has any interest, and raises a wish for a detailed description, it is precisely this. To excite in Goethe a new ardour for this work, which bas been interrupted and has lain untouched for years, I have not only talked with him on the subject, but have sent him the following notes, that he may see at once what is finished and what has still to be worked out and arranged.
However, that it may be connected more closely with the whole, I suggest that the relation to Lili , which runs through the four following books, should begin in this first book, and continue as far as the excursion to Offenbach. Thus, too, this book would gain in compass and importance, and too great an increase of the second would be prevented.
The contemplation of serious matters, promised by the sketch in reference to Stilling , is well placed here, and much that is instructive may be anticipated from the design, which is simply indicated by a few words.
This fourth book, therefore, very aptly begins with the arrival of the Stolberg s and of Haugwitz , by which the journey into Switzerland and the first flight from Lili are brought about.
The complete sketch of this book promises the most interesting matter, and excites a wish for the most thorough details. The passion for Lili , which is constantly bursting forth, and which cannot be suppressed, glows through the whole book with the fire of youthful love, and gives a peculiar, pleasant, and magical light to the situation of the traveller. The working-out is, however, the more necessary and desirable, as the first mention is made of the Weimar affairs, and thus our interest for them is first excited.
My conversations with Goethe have lately been very abundant in matter, but I have been so much engaged with other things as to render it impossible to write down anything of importance, from the fulness of his discourse. Only the following detached sentences are found noted down in my diary; the connection between them and the occasion that gave rise to them, I have forgotten: Men are swimming pots, which knock against each other.
In the morning we are shrewdest, but also most anxious; for even anxiety is a species of shrewdness, though only a passive one.
Stupidity is without anxiety. We must not take the faults of our youth into our old age; for old age brings with it its own defects. Court life is like music, in which every one must keep time. Courtiers would died of ennui , if they could not fill up their time with ceremonies.
It is not right to counsel a prince to give way, even in the most trivial matter. He who would train actors must have infinite patience. I passed this evening with Goethe. We talked of Klopstock and Herder ; and I liked to listen to him, as he explained to me the merits of those men.
When they appeared, they were before their age, and were obliged, as it were, to drag it after them; but now the age has far outrun them, and they who were once so necessary and important have now ceased to be means to an end. A young man who would take Klopstock and Herder for his teachers nowadays would be far behindhand.
We agreed that he had no faculty for observing and apprehending the visible world, or for drawing characters; and that he therefore wanted the qualities most essential to the epic and dramatic poet, or, perhaps it might be said, to the poet generally. I asked how he had felt towards Klopstock in his youth. I revered whatever he had done, and never thought of reflecting upon it, or finding fault with it.
I let his fine qualities work upon me; for the rest, I went my own way. We came back to Herder , and I asked Goethe which of his works he thought the best. In after days, he took the negative side, and was not so agreeable. He must have utterly wanted organs to perceive some objects. I went to see Goethe this evening, before going to the theatre, and found him very well and cheerful. He inquired about the young Englishmen who are here. I told him that I proposed reading with Mr.
Doolan a German translation of Plutarch. He was also one of the leaders of the early Teetotal movement; a characteristic which has not.
But I am quite sure there was a great deal in him, beyond anything that is implied in mere public speaking or teetotalism.
I am quite sure of it, because of two casual remarks he made; which are indeed the only two remarks I ever heard of him making.
Once, when his sons were declaiming against mode and convention in the manner of all liberal youth, he said abruptly, "Ah, they talk a lot about fashion; but fashion is civilisation. They were criticising the General Thanksgiving in the Prayer-Book, and remarking that a good many people have very little reason to be thankful for their creation.
And the old man, who was then so old that he hardly ever spoke at all, said suddenly out of his silence. Of the other side of my family I may say more when I come to my own memories; but I put this side of the matter first because there is so much more of it that I have received only at secondhand. And this is the part of the book which is forced to be biography and cannot be autobiography. It deals with the things that were just behind me and merely threw their shadows on my earliest path; the things I saw in reflection rather than reality.
Of these there were more on my mother's side; especially that historical interest in the house of Keith, which was mixed up with my general historical interest in things like the house of Argyll. But on my father's side also there were legends; the nearest and most eminent figure being that Captain Chesterton, who was famous in his day as a reformer of prisons.
He was a friend of Dickens, and, I suspect, himself something of a Dickens character. But indeed these first memories and rumours suggest that there were a good many Dickens characters in the days of Dickens.
I am far from denying the inference; that a good many Dickens characters are humbugs. It would not be fair to say all I have said in praise of the old Victorian middle-class, without admitting that it did sometimes produce pretty hollow and pompous imposture. A solemn friend of my grandfather used to go for walks on Sunday carrying a prayer-book, without the least intention of going to church.
And he calmly defended it by saying, with uplifted hand, "I do it, Chessie, as an example to others. And I am disposed to think that, in being a Dickens character, he was in many ways rather preferable to many modern characters. Few modern men, however false, would dare to be so brazen.
And I am not sure he was not really a more genuine fellow than the modern man who says vaguely that he has doubts or hates sermons, when he only wants to go and play golf. Hypocrisy itself was more sincere. Anyhow, it was more courageous. What I can but call a Great Gusto breathed out of that epoch; something now only remembered in the rich and rollicking quotation of Swiveller and Micawber. But the point is that the savour of it could then be found in scores of quite worthy and obscure people; certainly much more worthy than the blatantly Pecksniffian person with the prayer-book; and much more obscure than the eccentric but efficient, and even eminent, prison governor and reformer.
To use a trade term of the period, this indescribable sort of relish was by no means only a gentlemen's relish. It was the effect, I think, of that popular humour, which is still perhaps our only really popular institution, working upon the remains of the rhetoric of the eighteenth-century orators, and the almost equally rhetorical rhetoric of the nineteenth-century poets, like Byron and Moore.
Anyhow, it was evidently common to countless common or average people, and rather specially to commercial clerks. The clerk came afterwards to figure rather as a mere cheap Cockney with clipped speech; a sort of broken English that seems broken by accident; chipped rather than clipped. But there was a race that really dealt in periods as rounded as Christmas platters and punchbowls.
My father told me of a fellow clerk of his youth, or boyhood, who took leave of the tavern or chop-house with a stately message of thanks, which he delivered in a big booming voice, before stalking into the street, "Tell Mrs. Bayfield that the steak was excellent; the potatoes done to a turn; in short a dinner fit for an Emperor. From the same remote source, I recall another quite Dickensian scene; a bland, round-faced little man in spectacles, the sort that is always chaffed anywhere; and a fellow clerk named Carr, of more mysterious humours; both ghosts from my father's time of apprenticeship.
At intervals the more sombre clerk would call out across the office, "Mr. Carr would fix him with a sphinxlike visage and say in hollow but resounding tones, "Boundless Space! Carr would turn more briskly to the other clerks, shaking his head, and repeating in a hopeless tone, "He can't grasp it! Carr, by suggesting that space is not boundless at all. The point is that there is this element of pomp and ritual about jokes; even about practical jokes; indeed even about practical deceptions.
It was known in humbler walks, among mountebanks and even monstrosities, as well Dickens knew; and there was something as stately about the cheap-jacks demanding money as the orators demanding fame. One of my own earliest memories is of looking from a balcony above one of the big residential roads of a watering-place, and seeing a venerable party with white hair solemnly taking off a white hat as he walked down the centre of the street, and saying to nobody in particular in the loud voice of a lecturer, "When I first came into Cannon Street--I beg your pardon, Cannon Place This gave me, I know not why, enormous pleasure; partly, I think, from the feeling that a gigantic clockwork doll had been added to what Mr.
Maurice Baring calls the puppet-show of memory. But his importance here is that the rest of his speech seemed all the more polished and faultless for that one strangely recurrent fault; and it always ended with a beautiful peroration, about recalling in the distant future, and in the hour of death, "the kindness I have met with in Cannon Place. But in the earlier stage which concerns me here, a glow of convivial courtesy covered everything; and the wing of friendship could never moult a feather.
The amazing patience of our populace then went with a certain pomp, but it was a pompous geniality; and even their jeers were still jovial. Their mockery and their heroism still remain, heaven knows; but they no longer thus combine in the mock heroic. But anybody who heard, or heard of, the men I mention, will be certain to his dying day that Dick Swiveller did say, "When he who adores thee has left but the name--in case of letters or parcels," or that the poor usher at the party did whisper to each lady in turn, "Had I a heart for falsehood framed I ne'er could injure you.
The world is less gay for losing that solemnity. Another real Victorian virtue, not to be discredited by many imaginary Victorian virtues, belongs not so much to my generation as to my father's and grandfather's; or at least, if I was specially lucky, to my father and grandfather. It should, therefore, be mentioned in this place; if it is illustrated by incidents within my own memory. My own people in any case had a strict standard of commercial probity; but I fancy the standard was stricter in all that more stolid commercial class than in a later time, when the notion of success was mixed up not only with cynicism but with a queer sort of piratical romance.
The change may be felt, as in the word "respectable," in the very atmosphere of certain words. The favourite modern ideal in morals and even in religion, especially the religion popularised in the papers for millions of modern business men, is the word "adventure. Anyhow, this is not merely my own belated opinion in an age of reaction. It was the opinion of the best even of the old optimists and orthodox economists, who lived when the change was beginning, and believed they were living in an age of reform.
My own father and uncles were entirely of the period that believed in progress, and generally in new things, all the more because they were finding it increasingly difficult to believe in old things; and in some cases in anything at all.
But though as Liberals they believed in progress, as honest men they often testified to deterioration. I remember my father telling me how much he had begun to be pestered by great swarms of people wanting private commissions upon transactions, in which they were supposed to represent another interest. He mentioned it not only with the deepest disgust, but more or less as if it were a novelty as well as a nuisance. He was himself in the habit of meeting these unpleasant people with a humorously simulated burst of heartiness and even hilarity; but it was the only sort of occasion on which his humour might be called grim and even ferocious.
When the agent, bargaining for some third party, hinted that an acceptable trifle would smooth the negotiations, he would say with formidable geniality, "Oh, certainly!
So long as we are all friends and everything is open and above-board! I am sure your principals and employers will be delighted to hear from me that I'm paying you a small--" He would then be interrupted with a sort of shriek of fear and the kind diplomatic gentleman would cover his tracks as best he could in terror.
My Uncle Sidney, who was his partner in the business, was a more unanswerable witness, because a more unwilling witness. My father was very universal in his interests and very moderate in his opinions; he was one of the few men I ever knew who really listened to argument; moreover, he was more traditional than many in the liberal age; he loved many old things, and had especially a passion for the French cathedrals and all the Gothic architecture opened up by Ruskin in that time.
It was not quite so inconceivable that he might admit another side to modern progress. But my uncle was the very reverse of a laudator temporis acti. He was one of those sensitive and conscientious men, very typical of the modern world, who had the same scrupulous sense of the duty of accepting new things, and sympathising with the young, that older moralists may have had about preserving old things and obeying the elders.
I remember him assuring me quite eagerly of the hopeful thoughts aroused in him by the optimistic official prophecies of the book called Looking Backwards a rather ironical title, seeing that the one thing forbidden to such futurists was Looking Backwards. And the whole philosophy, afterwards sublimated by the genius of Mr. Wells, was the duty of Looking Forwards. My uncle, much more than my father, was this scrupulously sanguine sort of man; and the last man in the world to hold any brief for the good old times.
But he was also a quite transparently truthful man; and I remember him telling me, with that wrinkle of worry in his brow, which confessed his subconscious and sensitive anxiety, "I'm bound to confess that commercial morality has got steadily worse through my lifetime. Of course I admit, or rather I boast, that in anything like sympathy with any such Utopia, such individuals were in advance of the times.
But I boast much more that, in the great modern growth of high finance, they were behind the times. The class as a whole was, indeed, dangerously deaf and blind upon the former question of economic exploitation; but it was relatively more vigilant and sensitive upon the latter question of financial decency.
It never occurred to these people that anybody could possibly admire a man for being what we call "daring" in speculation, any more than a woman for being what we call "daring" in dress.
There was something of the same atmospheric change in both cases. The absence of social ambition had a great deal to do with it. When the restrictions really were stuffy and stupid, they were largely those of ignorance; but this was nothing like so evil and ruinous as the ignorance of the real wrongs and rights of the working classes.
Heaven knows, it is even possible that in some cases the reader knows, that I am no admirer of the complacent commercial prosperity of England in the nineteenth century. At the best it was an individualism that ended by destroying individuality; an industrialism which has done nothing except poison the very meaning of the word industry.
At the worst it turned at last into a vulgar victory of sweating and swindling. I am only pointing out a particular point about a particular group or class, now extinct; that if they were ignorant of, or often indifferent to the sweating, they were really indignant at the swindling. In the same way, few will accuse me of Puritanism; but I think it due to the Puritan tradition to say that certain notions of social sobriety did have something to do with delaying the full triumph of flashy finance and the mere antics of avarice.
Anyhow, there has been a change from a middle-class that trusted a business man to look after money because he was dull and careful, to one that trusts a business man to get more money because he is dashing and worldly.
It has not always asked itself for whom he would get more money, or whose money he would get. I know well I was very fortunate in my own family. But even those less fortunate were not subject to the special evils now commonly labelled Victorian.
Indeed, in the modern sense, Victorian was not at all Victorian. It was a period of increasing strain. It was the very reverse of solid respectability; because its ethics and theology were wearing thin throughout.
It may have been orderly compared with what came after; but not compared with the centuries that came before. It sometimes boasted of being domestic; but the Englishman's home was not half so domestic as that of the horrid foreigner; the profligate Frenchman.
It was the age when the Englishman sent all his sons to boarding-school and sent all his servants to Coventry. I cannot imagine why anybody ever said that the Englishman's house was his castle; since he was one of the few Europeans who did not even own his house; and his house was avowedly a dull box of brick, of all the houses the least like a castle. Above all, so far from being stiff with orthodox religion, it was almost the first irreligious home in all human history.
Theirs was the first generation that ever asked its children to worship the hearth without the altar. This was equally true, whether they went to church at eleven o'clock, with more decent thoroughness than the gay deceiver with the prayer-book, or were reverently agnostic or latitudinarian, as was much of my own circle. For the most part, it was family life stripped of its festivals and shrines and private cults, which had been its poetry in the past.
It was a joke to talk of the heavy father's heavy furniture, and call the chairs and tables his household gods. It was the fact that he was the first man, for whom there were no household gods but only furniture.
That was the duller side; but there has been even more exaggeration about the darker side. I mean that modern novelists and others have started a trick of writing as if the old middle-class home was almost always a private lunatic asylum, with the lunatic in charge; as in the case of the exceedingly Mad Hatter who inhabited Hatter's Castle. This is a grotesque exaggeration; there were parents with this savage degree of selfishness; I recall not many more than three of them in the whole of our old social circle; but the wrong associations are attached even to them.
A few of them may have been religious fanatics. I remember one, who locked up his daughters like prisoners; and one of them said to me, "You see he thinks nobody else can think at all, except himself and Herbert Spencer.
The point is of some historic importance. Tyrants, religious or irreligious, turn up anywhere. But this type of tyrant was the product of the precise moment when a middle-class man still had children and servants to control; but no longer had creeds or guilds or kings or priests or anything to control him. He was already an anarchist to those above him; but still an authoritarian to those below.
But he was an abnormal fellow anyhow; and none of my people bore the least resemblance to him. What Puritanic element there was in this forgotten society must certainly be allowed for as a part of the picture.
It was mostly, among my people, a rather illogical disapproval of certain forms of luxury and expenditure. Their tables would groan under far grander dinners than many aristocrats eat today.
But they had, for instance, a fixed feeling that there was something rather raffish about taking a cab. It was probably connected with their sensitive pride about not aping the aristocracy. I can remember my grandfather, when he was nearly eighty and able to afford any number of cabs, standing in the pouring rain while seven or eight crowded omnibuses went by; and afterwards whispering to my father in a hushed voice lest the blasphemy be heard by the young , "If three more omnibuses had gone by, upon my soul I think I should have taken a cab.
But in the matter of their motive for not doing so, I am disposed to defend them, or at least to say that they are much misunderstood. They were the last descendants of Mrs. Gilpin, who told the chaise to stop a few doors from her house, lest the neighbours should think her proud. I am not sure that she was not a healthier person than the smart lady who will be seen in anybody's Rolls Royce, lest the neighbours should think her humble.
Such, so far as I know it, was the social landscape in which I first found myself; and such were the people among whom I was born. I am sorry if the landscape or the people appear disappointingly respectable and even reasonable, and deficient in all those unpleasant qualities that make a biography really popular.
I regret that I have no gloomy and savage father to offer to the public gaze as the true cause of all my tragic heritage; no pale-faced and partially poisoned mother whose suicidal instincts have cursed me with the temptations of the artistic temperament. I regret that there was nothing in the range of our family much more racy than a remote and mildly impecunious uncle; and that I cannot do my duty as a true modern, by cursing everybody who made me whatever I am. I am not clear about what that is; but I am pretty sure that most of it is my own fault.
And I am compelled to confess that I look back to that landscape of my first days with a pleasure that should doubtless be reserved for the Utopias of the Futurist. Yet the landscape, as I see it now, was not altogether without a visionary and symbolic character.
And among all the objects in that landscape, I find myself returning at the last to those which I mentioned first. In one way and another, those things have come to stand for so many other things, in the acted allegory of a human existence; the little church of my baptism and the waterworks, the bare, blind, dizzy tower of brick that seemed, to my first upward starings, to take hold upon the stars.
Perhaps there was something in the confused and chaotic notion of a tower of water; as if the sea itself could stand on one end like a water-spout. Certainly later, though I hardly know how late, there came into my mind some fancy of a colossal water-snake that might be the Great Sea Serpent, and had something of the nightmare nearness of a dragon in a dream. And, over against it, the small church rose in a spire like a spear; and I have always been pleased to remember that it was dedicated to St.
The very first thing I can ever remember seeing with my own eyes was a young man walking across a bridge. He had a curly moustache and an attitude of confidence verging on swagger. He carried in his hand a disproportionately large key of a shining yellow metal and wore a large golden or gilded crown. The bridge he was crossing sprang on the one side from the edge of a highly perilous mountain chasm, the peaks of the range rising fantastically in the distance; and at the other end it joined the upper part of the tower of an almost excessively castellated castle.
In the castle tower there was one window, out of which a young lady was looking. I cannot remember in the least what she looked like; but I will do battle with anyone who denies her superlative good looks. To those who may object that such a scene is rare in the home life of house-agents living immediately to the north of Kensington High Street, in the later seventies of the last century, I shall be compelled to admit, not that the scene was unreal, but that I saw it through a window more wonderful than the window in the tower; through the proscenium of a toy theatre constructed by my father; and that if I am really to be pestered about such irrelevant details the young man in the crown was about six inches high and proved on investigation to be made of cardboard.
But it is strictly true to say that I saw him before I can remember seeing anybody else; and that, so far as my memory is concerned, this was the sight on which my eyes first opened in this world. And the scene has to me a sort of aboriginal authenticity impossible to describe; something at the back of all my thoughts; like the very back-scene of the theatre of things.
I have no shadow of recollection of what the young man was doing on the bridge, or of what he proposed to do with the key; though a later and wearier knowledge of literature and legend hints to me that he was not improbably going to release the lady from captivity. It is a not unamusing detail of psychology that, though I can remember no other characters in the story, I do remember noting that the crowned gentleman had a moustache and no beard, with a vague inference that there was another crowned gentleman who had a beard as well.
We may safely guess, I imagine, that the bearded one was by way of being a wicked king; and we should not need much more converging evidence to convict him of having locked up the lady in the tower. All the rest is gone; scenes, subject, story, characters; but that one scene glows in my memory like a glimpse of some incredible paradise; and, for all I know, I shall still remember it when all other memory is gone out of my mind. Apart from the fact of it being my first memory, I have several reasons for putting it first.
I am no psychologist, thank God; but if psychologists are still saying what ordinary sane people have always said--that early impressions count considerably in life--I recognise a sort of symbol of all that I happen to like in imagery and ideas. All my life I have loved edges; and the boundary-line that brings one thing sharply against another.
All my life I have loved frames and limits; and I will maintain that the largest wilderness looks larger seen through a window. To the grief of all grave dramatic critics, I will still assert that the perfect drama must strive to rise to the higher ecstasy of the peep-show. I have also a pretty taste in abysses and bottomless chasms and everything else that emphasises a fine shade of distinction between one thing and another; and the warm affection I have always felt for bridges is connected with the fact that the dark and dizzy arch accentuates the chasm even more than the chasm itself.
I can no longer behold the beauty of the princess; but I can see it in the bridge that the prince crossed to reach her. And I believe that in feeling these things from the first, I was feeling the fragmentary suggestions of a philosophy I have since found to be the truth. For it is upon that point of truth that there might perhaps be a quarrel between the more material psychologists and myself. If any man tells me that I only take pleasure in the mysteries of the window and the bridge because I saw these models of them when I was a baby, I shall take the liberty of telling him that he has not thought the thing out.
To begin with, I must have seen thousands of other things before as well as after; and there must have been an element of selection and some reason for selection. And, what is still more obvious, to date the occasion does not even begin to deal with the fact.
If some laborious reader of little books on child-psychology cries out to me in glee and cunning, "You only like romantic things like toy-theatres because your father showed you a toy-theatre in your childhood," I shall reply with gentle and Christian patience, "Yes, fool, yes. Undoubtedly your explanation is, in that sense, the true one.
But what you are saying, in your witty way, is simply that I associate these things with happiness because I was so happy. It does not even begin to consider the question of why I was so happy. Why should looking through a square hole, at yellow pasteboard, lift anybody into the seventh heaven of happiness at any time of life? Why should it specially do so at that time of life?
That is the psychological fact that you have to explain; and I have never seen any sort of rational explanation. I apologise for this parenthesis; and for mentioning child-psychology or anything else that can bring a blush to the cheek. But it happens to be a point on which I think some of our psycho-analysts display rather unblushing cheek.
I do not wish my remarks confused with the horrible and degrading heresy that our minds are merely manufactured by accidental conditions, and therefore have no ultimate relation to truth at all.
With all possible apologies to the freethinkers, I still propose to hold myself free to think. And anybody who will think for two minutes will see that this thought is the end of all thinking. It is useless to argue at all, if all our conclusions are warped by our conditions. Nobody can correct anybody's bias, if all mind is all bias. The interlude is now over, thank you; and I will proceed to the more practical relations between my memory and my story.
And it will first be necessary to say something about memory itself; and the reliability of such stories. I have begun with this fragment of a fairy play in a toy-theatre, because it also sums up most clearly the strongest influences upon my childhood.
I have said that the toy-theatre was made by my father; and anybody who has ever tried to make such a theatre or mount such a play, will know that this alone stands for a remarkable round of crafts and accomplishments. It involves being in much more than the common sense the stage carpenter, being the architect and the builder and the draughtsman and the landscape-painter and the story-teller all in one.
And, looking back on my life, and the relatively unreal and indirect art that I have attempted to practise, I feel that I have really lived a much narrower life than my father's. His mere name, of course, is enough to recall wider memories. One of my first memories is playing in the garden under the care of a girl with ropes of golden hair; to whom my mother afterwards called out from the house, "You are an angel;" which I was disposed to accept without metaphor.
She is now living in Vancouver as Mrs. Kidd; and she and her sister had more to do with enlivening my early years than most. Since then, I have met what used to be called the wits of the age; but I have never known wittier conversation. Among my first memories also are those seascapes that were blue flashes to boys of my generation; North Berwick with the cone of green hill that seemed like the hill absolute; and a French seaside associated with little girls, the daughters of my father's old friend Mawer Cowtan, whom I shall not forget.
But indeed I had a whole background of cousins; Tom Gilbert my godfather, who gave me his last and my first name had a large family of daughters, and my uncle Sidney a large family of sons; and they all still move in my memory almost like a male and female chorus in a great Greek play.
The eldest of the boys, the one whom I once knew best, was killed with my brother in the Great War; but many of the others, I am glad to say, are still friends as well as relations. All these are memorable memories; but they do not resolve that first individual speculation about memory itself. The girl with the yellow hair is an early memory, in the sense in which some of the others have inevitably become later memories, at once expanded and effaced.
Really, the things we remember are the things we forget. I mean that when a memory comes back sharply and suddenly, piercing the protection of oblivion, it appears for an instant exactly as it really was. If we think of it often, while its essentials doubtless remain true, it becomes more and more our own memory of the thing rather than the thing remembered. I had a little sister who died when I was a child. I have little to go on; for she was the only subject about which my father did not talk.
It was the one dreadful sorrow of his abnormally happy and even merry existence; and it is strange to think that I never spoke to him about it to the day of his death. I do not remember her dying; but I remember her falling off a rocking-horse. I know, from experience of bereavements only a little later, that children feel with exactitude, without a word of explanation, the emotional tone or tint of a house of mourning.
But in this case, the greater catastrophe must somehow have become confused and identified with the smaller one. I always felt it as a tragic memory, as if she had been thrown by a real horse and killed.
Something must have painted and repainted the picture in my mind; until I suddenly became conscious about the age of eighteen that it had become the picture of Amy Robsart lying at the foot of the stairs, flung down by Vamey and another villain. This is the real difficulty about remembering anything; that we have remembered too much--for we have remembered too often. I will take another example of this psychological trick, though it involves the anticipation of much later events in my life.
One of these glimpses of my own prehistoric history is a memory of a long upper room filled with light the light that never was on sea or land and of somebody carving or painting with white paint the deal head of a hobby-horse; the head almost archaic in its simplification.
Ever since that day my depths have been stirred by a wooden post painted white; and even more so by any white horse in the street; and it was like meeting a friend in a fairytale to find myself under the sign of the White Horse at Ipswich on the first day of my honeymoon.
But for that very reason, this image has remained and memory has constantly returned to it; and I have even done my best to deface and spoil the purity of the White Horse by writing an interminable ballad about it. A man does not generally manage to forget his wedding-day; especially such a highly comic wedding-day as mine.
For the family remembers against me a number of now familiar legends, about the missing of trains, the losing of luggage, and other things counted yet more eccentric. It is alleged against me, and with perfect truth, that I stopped on the way to drink a glass of milk in one shop and to buy a revolver with cartridges in another. Some have seen these as singular wedding-presents for a bridegroom to give to himself; and if the bride had known less of him, I suppose she might have fancied that he was a suicide or a murderer or, worst of all, a teetotaller.
They seemed to me the most natural things in the world. I did not buy the pistol to murder myself or my wife; I never was really modern. I bought it because it was the great adventure of my youth, with a general notion of protecting her from the pirates doubtless infesting the Norfolk Broads, to which we were bound; where, after all, there are still a suspiciously large number of families with Danish names. I shall not be annoyed if it is called childish; but obviously it was rather a reminiscence of boyhood, and not of childhood.
But the ritual consumption of the glass of milk really was a reminiscence of childhood. I stopped at that particular dairy because I had always drunk a glass of milk there when walking with my mother in my infancy. And it seemed to me a fitting ceremonial to unite the two great relations of a man's life. Outside the shop there was the figure of a White Cow as a sort of pendant to the figure of the White Horse; the one standing at the beginning of my new journey and the other at the end.
But the point is here that the very fact of these allegories having been acted over again, at the stage of marriage and maturity, does in a sense transform them, and does in some sense veil even while it invokes the original visions of the child. The sign of the White Horse has been repainted, and only in that sense painted out. I do not so much remember it as remember remembering it.
But if I really want to be realistic about those remote days, I must scratch around till I find something not too much blunted to scratch me; something sufficiently forgotten to be remembered. I make the experiment at this moment as I write. Searching for those lost surroundings, I recall for the first time, at this moment, that there was another shop, next to the milk-shop, which had some mysterious charm for my childhood; and then I recall that it was an oil and colour shop, and they sold gold paint smeared inside shells; and there was a sort of pale pointed chalks I have been less familiar with of late.
I do not think here of the strong colours of the common paint-box, like crimson-lake and prussian-blue, much as I exulted and still exult in them. For another boy called Robert Louis Stevenson has messed about with my colours upon that sort of palette; and I have grown up to enjoy them in print as well as in paint. But when I remember that these forgotten crayons contained a stick of "light-red," seemingly a more commonplace colour, the point of that dull red pencil pricks me as if it could draw red blood.
From this general memory about memory I draw a certain inference. What was wonderful about childhood is that anything in it was a wonder. It was not merely a world full of miracles; it was a miraculous world. What gives me this shock is almost anything I really recall; not the things I should think most worth recalling.
This is where it differs from the other great thrill of the past, all that is connected with first love and the romantic passion; for that, though equally poignant, comes always to a point; and is narrow like a rapier piercing the heart, whereas the other was more like a hundred windows opened on all sides of the head. I have made here a sort of psychological experiment in memory.
I have tried to think of the things I forget adjoining the things I remember; and in the childish case, though they are without form, I am sure they are of the same tint. I have long remembered the milk-shop; I have only just remembered the oil-shop; I have no notion at all about the next shop to the oil-shop.
I am sure it was a shop shining with the same lost light of morning; because it was in the same street under the same sky. I have no notion on what street the row of windows in the long uplifted room looked out, when the white horse head was carved. But I feel in a flash that it was a happy street; or, if we must be pedantic, a street in which I should have been happy. Now it is not like that with even the happiest hours of the later things called love-affairs.
I have already mentioned how my honeymoon began before the White Cow of my childhood; but of course I had in my time been myself a calf, not to say a moon-calf, in the sort of calf-love that dances in the moonshine long before the honeymoon.
Those day-dreams also are wrecks of something divine; but they have the colour of sunset rather than the broad daylight. I have walked across wide fields at evening and seen, as a mere distant dot in a row of houses, one particular window and just distinguishable head; and been uplifted as with roaring trumpets as if by the salute of Beatrice.
But it did not, and does not, make me think the other windows and houses were all almost equally interesting; and that is just what the glimpse of the baby's wonderland does. We have read countless pages about love brightening the sun and making the flowers more flamboyant; and it is true in a sense; but not in the sense I mean. It changes the world; but the baby lived in a changeless world; or rather the man feels that it is he who has changed. He has changed long before he comes near to the great and glorious trouble of the love of woman; and that has in it something new and concentrated and crucial; crucial in the true sense of being as near as Cana to Calvary.
In the later case, what is loved becomes instantly what may be lost. My point here is that we can test the childish mood by thinking, not only of what was there, but of what must have been there. I think of the backs of houses of which I saw only the fronts; the streets that stretched away behind the streets I knew; the things that remained round the corner; and they still give me a thrill. One of the sports of the imagination, a game I have played all my life, was to take a certain book with pictures of old Dutch houses, and think not of what was in the pictures but of all that was out of the pictures, the unknown corners and side-streets of the same quaint town.
The book was one my father had written and illustrated himself, merely for home consumption. It was typical of him that, in the Pugin period he had worked at Gothic illumination; but when he tried again, it was in another style of the dark Dutch renaissance, the grotesque scroll-work that suggests woodcarving more than stone-cutting. He was the sort of man who likes to try everything once. This was the only book he ever wrote; and he never bothered to publish it.
My father might have reminded people of Mr. Pickwick, except that he was always bearded and never bald; he wore spectacles and had all the Pickwickian evenness of temper and pleasure in the humours of travel. He was rather quiet than otherwise, but his quietude covered a great fertility of notions; and he certainly liked taking a rise out of people. I remember, to give one example of a hundred such inventions, how he gravely instructed some grave ladies in the names of flowers; dwelling especially on the rustic names given in certain localities.
They followed him without revulsion when he said lightly, "Merely a sprig of wild bigamy. It was possibly this aspect of his unfailing amiability that is responsible for an entry I find in an ancient minute-book, of mock trials conducted by himself and his brothers; that Edward Chesterton was tried for the crime of Aggravation.
But the same sort of invention created for children the permanent anticipation of what is profoundly called a Surprise. And it is this side of the business that is relevant here. His versatility both as an experimentalist and a handy man, in all such matters, was amazing. His den or study was piled high with the stratified layers of about ten or twelve creative amusements; water-colour painting and modelling and photography and stained glass and fretwork and magic lanterns and mediaeval illumination.
I have inherited, or I hope imitated, his habit of drawing; but in every other way I am emphatically an unhandy man. There had been some talk of his studying art professionally in his youth; but the family business was obviously safer; and his life followed the lines of a certain contented and ungrasping prudence, which was extraordinarily typical of him and all his blood and generation.
He never dreamed of turning any of these plastic talents to any mercenary account, or of using them for anything but his own private pleasure and ours. To us he appeared to be indeed the Man with the Golden Key, a magician opening the gates of goblin castles or the sepulchres of dead heroes; and there was no incongruity in calling his lantern a magic-lantern. But all this time he was known to the world, and even the next-door neighbours, as a very reliable and capable though rather unambitious business man.
It was a very good first lesson in what is also the last lesson of life; that in everything that matters, the inside is much larger than the outside. On the whole I am glad that he was never an artist. It might have stood in his way in becoming an amateur.
It might have spoilt his career; his private career. He could never have made a vulgar success of all the thousand things he did so successfully. If I made a generalisation about the Chestertons, my paternal kinsfolk which may be dangerous, for there are a lot of them still alive , I should say that they were and are extraordinarily English.
They have a perceptible and prevailing colour of good nature, of good sense not untinged with dreaminess, and a certain tranquil loyalty in their personal relations which was very notable even in one, like my brother Cecil, who in his public relations was supremely pugnacious and provocative.
I think this sort of sleepy sanity rather an English thing; and in comparison it may not be entirely fanciful to suppose there was something French, after all, in the make-up of my mother's family; for, allowing for the usual admixture, they ran smaller in stature, often darker in colouring, tough, extraordinarily tenacious, prejudiced in a humorous fashion and full of the fighting spirit.
But whatever we may guess in such matters and nobody has yet done anything but guess about heredity it was for another purpose that I mentioned the savour of something racial about such a stock. English in so many things, the Chestertons were supremely English in their natural turn for hobbies.
It is an element in this sort of old English business man which divides him most sharply from the American business man, and to some extent from the new English business man, who is copying the American. When the American begins to suggest that "salesmanship can be an art," he means that an artist ought to put all his art into his salesmanship.
The old-fashioned Englishman, like my father, sold houses for his living but filled his own house with his life. A hobby is not a holiday. It is not merely a momentary relaxation necessary to the renewal of work; and in this respect it must be sharply distinguished from much that is called sport. A good game is a good thing, but it is not the same thing as a hobby; and many go golfing or shooting grouse because this is a concentrated form of recreation; just as what our contemporaries find in whisky is a concentrated form of what our fathers found diffused in beer.
If half a day is to take a man out of himself, or make a new man of him, it is better done by some sharp competitive excitement like sport.
But a hobby is not half a day but half a life-time. It would be truer to accuse the hobbyist of living a double life.
And hobbies, especially such hobbies as the toy theatre, have a character that runs parallel to practical professional effort, and is not merely a reaction from it. It is not merely taking exercise; it is doing work. It is not merely exercising the body instead of the mind, an excellent but now largely a recognised thing.
It is exercising the rest of the mind; now an almost neglected thing. When Browning, that typical Victorian, says that he likes to know a butcher paints and a baker writes poetry, he would not be satisfied with the statement that a butcher plays tennis or a baker golf. And my father and uncles, also typical Victorians of the sort that followed Browning, were all marked in varying degrees by this taste for having their own tastes.
One of them gave all his spare time to gardening and has somewhere in the horticultural records a chrysanthemum named after him, dating from the first days when chrysanthemums came to us from the islands of the Rising Sun. Another travelled in an ordinary commercial fashion, but made a most amazing collection of cranks and quacks, fitted to fill a far better memoir than this, whom he had met in his wanderings, and with whom he had argued and sympathised and quoted Browning and George Macdonald, and done I fancy not a little good, for he was himself a most interesting man; above all, interesting because he was interested.
But in my own household, as I have said, it was not a question of one hobby but a hundred hobbies, piled on top of each other; and it is a personal accident, or perhaps a personal taste, that the one which has clung to my memory through life is the hobby of the toy theatre. In any case, watching such work has made one great difference to my life and views to this day. I cannot do much, by the standard of my nursery days. But I have learned to love seeing things done; not the handle that ultimately causes them to be done, but the hand that does them.
If my father had been some common millionaire owning a thousand mills that made cotton, or a million machines that made cocoa, how much smaller he would have seemed.
And this experience has made me profoundly sceptical of all the modern talk about the necessary dullness of domesticity; and the degrading drudgery that only has to make puddings and pies.
Only to make things! There is no greater thing to be said of God Himself than that He makes things. The manufacturer cannot even manufacture things; he can only pay to have them manufactured. And in the same way I am now incurably afflicted with a faint smile, when I hear a crowd of frivolous people, who could not make anything to save their lives, talking about the inevitable narrowness and stuffiness of the Victorian home. We managed to make a good many things in our Victorian home which people now buy at insane prices from Art and Craft Shops; the sort of shops that have quite as much craft as art.
All the things that happened in the house, or were in any sense done on the premises, linger in my imagination like a legend; and as much as any, those connected with the kitchen or the pantry. Toffee still tastes nicer to me than the most expensive chocolates which Quaker millionaires sell by the million; and mostly because we made toffee for ourselves.
I may say with all modesty that I am that man, in everything except his solidity of repute and his successful commercial career. It was perhaps even more true, in that sense, of my father before me; but I for one have never left off playing, and I wish there were more time to play. I wish we did not have to fritter away on frivolous things, like lectures and literature, the time we might have given to serious, solid and constructive work like cutting out cardboard figures and pasting coloured tinsel upon them.
When I say this, I come to the third reason for taking the toy theatre as a text; and it is one about which there will be much misunderstanding, because of the repetitions and the stale sentiment that have somehow come to cling to it. It is one of those things that are always misunderstood, because they have been too often explained. I am inclined to contradict much of the modern Cult of the Child at Play.
Through various influences of a recent and rather romantic culture, the Child has become rather the Spoilt Child. The true beauty has been spoilt by the rather unscrupulous emotion of mature persons, who have themselves lost much of their sense of reality. The worst heresy of this school is that a child is concerned only with make-believe. For this is interpreted in the sense, at once sentimental and sceptical, that there is not much difference between make-believe and belief.
But the real child does not confuse fact and fiction. He simply likes fiction. He acts it, because he cannot as yet write it or even read it; but he never allows his moral sanity to be clouded by it. To him no two things could possibly be more totally contrary than playing at robbers and stealing sweets. No possible amount of playing at robbers would ever bring him an inch nearer to thinking it is really right to rob.
I saw the distinction perfectly clearly when I was a child; I wish I saw it half as clearly now. I played at being a robber for hours together at the end of the garden; but it never had anything to do with the temptation I had to sneak a new paint-box out of my father's room.
I was not being anything false; I was simply writing before I could write. Fortunately, perhaps, for the condition of the back-garden, I early transferred my dreams to some rude resemblance to writing; chiefly in the form of drawing straggling and sprawling maps of fabulous countries, inhabited by men of incredible shapes and colours and bearing still more incredible names.
But though I might fill the world with dragons, I never had the slightest real doubt that heroes ought to fight with dragons. I must stop to challenge many child-lovers for cruelty to children. It is quite false to say that the child dislikes a fable that has a moral. Very often he likes the moral more than the fable.
Adults are reading their own more weary mockery into a mind still vigorous enough to be entirely serious. Adults like the comic Sandford and Merton. Children liked the real Sandford and Merton. I venture to dwell on the point if only in parenthesis: Indeed there is what may be called a current cant; and none the less so because it is a cant against cant.
It is now so common as to be conventional to express impatience with priggish and moralising stories for children; stories of the old-fashioned sort that concern things like the sinfulness of theft; and as I am recalling an old-fashioned atmosphere, I cannot refrain from testifying on the psychology of the business.
Now I must heartily confess that I often adored priggish and moralising stories. I do not suppose I should gain a subtle literary pleasure from them now; but that is not the point in question.
The men who denounce such moralisings are men; they are not children. But I believe multitudes would admit their early affection for the moral tale, if they still had the moral courage. And the reason is perfectly simple. Adults have reacted against such morality, because they know that it often stands for immorality. They know that such platitudes have been used by hypocrites and pharisees, by cunning or perversion. But the child knows nothing about cunning or perversion.
He sees nothing but the moral ideals themselves, and he simply sees that they are true. There is another blunder made by the modern cynic about the moralising story-teller.
Contacting JCPenney Customer Service Center. The JCPenney company was started by James Cash Penney more than years ago. There have been tough times for this company in the recent decade, but somehow the high-end retailer managed to pull through and stay in business. How to use all in a sentence. Example sentences with the word all. all example sentences. II.—THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN KEY. The very first thing I can ever remember seeing with my own eyes was a young man walking across a bridge. He had a curly moustache and an attitude of confidence verging on swagger.