« PreviousContinue »
She listened contemptuously to this prattle of red and white corpuscles, of valves, and what not. . . . But when the recitation class was called, Easie's interest quickened a little. She could understand something of what was going on now. True, it was a ruthless murdering of the masterpieces of English literature, but then our heroine was not critical in these matters. With stammering lips and an uncertain tongue, a big stupid boy was repeating Milton's sonnet “On his Blindness.” The effect was somewhat as follows:
The words, garbled indeed by their rendering, penetrated somehow into Easie's drowsy brain. She sat up, listening and wondering what they might mean. “A talent which 'twas death to hide –what was that ? ‘Lodged with me useless.” Ah, she had it now ! A sudden illumination from the flashlight of experience came to her aid. Didn't she know what it was to be kept from the work she loved and be set to useless tasks Had Easie known the language of melodrama, she would have cried, ‘Avaunt these books ' ' But as she was happily ignorant of it, she contented herself with letting her new “Reader’ fall off the desk on to the floor. There she administered a savage kick to its smooth new boards, thus giving expression to her sense of its worthlessness.
Wicked Easie, and foolish Easie too, despising in this way the sources of knowledge. But you must remember that, with all her practical capacity, she was only a child after all. And, as a child, she had now to begin again humbly, and acquire some more of this much-despised book-learning. She must lay aside her newly acquired lore of life, and take up these less exciting but quite as necessary studies. The short, vivid chapter of her life was closed. and from being a bairn-keeper she had turned again into a bairn.
But when schooldays are over for Easie, I fancy she will have little difficulty in finding another sphere for her talents—that Kingdom of Heaven ‘where the merciful man will find himself out of a job not having yet arrived.
IN THE WE W FOREST.
YE, who have lain through ages long beneath
Where rusty bracken lays a withering wreath
Though conquering races—vanquished in their turn—
When the pack whimpers through the shuddering fern,
If forest story mark the glade aright,
Whom timid chroniclers too ill requite
Or was it blind mischance—not splendid crime—
When else had sped in vain the destined dart—
A BUDGET OF MEMORIES.
BY SIR GEORGE OTTO TREVELYAN, BART.
It is undoubtedly the case that the very last of all the pages upon which the eyes of Lord Macaulay rested was one of the CoRNHILL MAGAZINE; and that the last illustration he saw, on the last day of his life, was the quaint little vignette by Thackeray which appeared on the first page of ‘Lovel the Widower.” It is, then, appropriate that the words spoken by Macaulay's nephew, Sir George Trevelyan, at a recent gathering of authors, publishers, and booksellers, under the auspices of the Publishers' Circle, should be preserved in the pages of the CoRNHILL. It was a surprise to more than one of those who heard the speech to realise how far back into the years the speaker's memory travelled—to know that he could recall Ruskin at Venice, and Thackeray in his habit as he lived, and that he remembered Carlyle as an untiring walker and talker. But the writer of “Ladies in Parliament’ entered very early in life, alike by inheritance and by his own right, into the republic of letters. Those privileges have given him, in the words of the ‘Spectator,” delightful reminiscences, and he has been persuaded, at the suit of the CoRNHILL MAGAZINE, to give permanence in these pages to those recollections, for the benefit of a larger audience.—ED. CoRNHILL.
It is a great honour to be invited to respond to this toast on this occasion, and I do not deceive myself as to my own claims to be selected for it. I have been but a casual and intermittent craftsman with the pen, but I stand very high in point of seniority among men of letters. Indeed, I am almost their doyen—if we count for that office those authors only who still are able to enjoy so excellent a dinner as has been set before us to-night. The earliest of my productions, which people continue to be good enough to read, were written at the end of my Freshman's year at Cambridge, exactly half a century ago from this month; and I have a very large store of literary reminiscences which are worth recalling, because they do not relate to myself, but to others. I have enjoyed rare privileges. I have ridden with Mr. Carlyle s good many of the thirty thousand miles which he rode while he was engaged upon “Frederick the Great.” When he was no longer
equal to horse exercise we took long walks together round and
round the parks, and on one occasion, all of a sudden, à propos
of nothing, he began slowly to pay out for my benefit an extem
porary biography of Lord Chatham, the most wonderful soliloquy
to which I ever listened. I have been shown over Venice by Mr.
Ruskin as cicerone in his own gondola. It is interesting to remember
that the architectural decoration to which he specially called
attention in most cases dated from the Renaissance. The spirit
(so he explained) in which these men worked was not the highest ;
but their artistic execution was perfection itself. I was introduced
by Mr. Robert Browning to Waring, a sad disenchantment, when
the hero of the inimitable poem had become a weary-looking old
man like any other. I was present at a family dinner where
Thackeray discoursed to a delighted audience of young people
about ‘The Virginians,’ which he was then writing, and which seemed
to fill his mind to the exclusion of everything else. Among other matters, he asked us, all round the table, what was the widest jump any of us had ever known, and when we agreed upon twentyone feet, he said: ‘Then I must make George Washington jump one foot more.” That was in 1858; and in 1908, just fifty years afterwards, I dined next to Mr. Rudyard Kipling in the Hall at Trinity College, Cambridge, on the evening of the day when the University made him a Doctor of Laws.
Fifty years is a long space of time; but my indirect connexion
with English literature is older still. I suppose—I will not be so prudish as to say that I fear—that there are few or none here present who have not read the Reeve's Tale of the poet Chaucer. That story tells how two young scholars of Cambridge went out to the Mill at Trumpington, and behaved there in a manner in which I am sure that no Cambridge scholar would dream of behaving now. The most audacious of this pair of scapegraces was called Alain de Strother; and Chaucer says that he came from a town so far in the North that he could not tell where it was situated. Now, the Alain de Strother of Chaucer's day was a great landowner, who lived at Wallington, in Northumberland, the very same home where I live now. Beyond any doubt he must have been a friend and crony of Chaucer at the Court of the Plantagenets; and the poet, when he borrowed his story from Boccaccio, must have given the name of Alain de Strother to the principal character by way of a specimen of medieval chaff.
This is the first public dinner, on anything like this scale, which is representative of all the three classes in the great hierarchy of book-producers and book-distributors; and the idea of it, like many other profitable, and some pleasant, ideas, has come to us from America. The booksellers are here, and the publishers; and the publishers—as I learn from my letter of invitation, in an old-fashioned phrase, which was good to read—have brought ‘their authors’ with them. This company comprises the three classes without whose active, intelligent, and friendly co-operation literature would be in a very bad way indeed; and I will say a few words in reference to each of these classes, beginning with that to which I myself belong. There are present here many writers with whose names I am well acquainted, and whose works I real and admire ; although I am sadly conscious that it is impossible for an older generation to read the books of younger men with the same insight and sympathy as they are read by their own contemporaries. A man's co-evals are the best judges of his work; and, for my own part, I take care never to imitate those wiseacres who, forty years ago, and fifty years ago, used to go all over London blethering about Robert Browning's obscurity, and Ruskin's incon. sistency, and the impertinence of boys like Millais and Holman Hunt in laying on brighter colours than those which were used by their elders. I remember once venturing to mentien Mr. Carlyk to an ancient diner-out, who passed for a high literary authority. “Carlyle !” he said. “Odious fellow ! he interlards Cromwell's speeches with his own nonsensical comments.” As if any human being, other than a professional historian, can now be found who reads Cromwell's speeches except for the sake of Carlyle's inter. polations and exclamations !
It is when we come to works of the imagination that I feel my incompetence to speak for literature. I cannot even conceive —to mention authors who, happily, are still alive among us—the conditions under which are produced such masterpieces as Swir burne’s ‘Hymn to Proserpine'; or William Watson's sonnets and ballads; or Meredith’s “Egoist '; or ‘The Aspern Papers,’ and the “Madonna of the Future,” of Mr. Henry James; or that exquisite little piece of fancy by Mr. Rudyard Kipling which is entitled “The Best Story in the World.” In these matters of inspiratiot the wind bloweth where it listeth ; and I am not one of those who can explain or account for it. I was born and bred, but I have not permanently resided, in Arcadia. I spent the best thirty