The Contributors' Club
READING one of Anthony Trollope’s novels the other day, — he has written about eight hundred ; this one was called Ayala’s Angel, — I was struck by two facts : first, that the English novelist has almost inexhaustible material to work with ; and secondly, that the American novelist has nearly none at all, if he confine himself to his own country and period. There is nothing definite in American society for the dramatist to get hold of. It is all but impossible for an American author to make his high-bred heroine commit a mésalliance, unless he marries her to her father’s coachman, or to a railroad conductor, or to a policeman. Even this will not properly thrill the reader, for the conductor may possibly become president of the road, or the policeman may run for mayor, and get elected, or the coachman may turn up a millionaire through dabbling in Bell Telephone stock. If any of those things happen, the line which separated the reluctant father-in-law and the impecunious sonin-law instantly disappears. It is not so in English society. A man or a woman who marries outside of his or her sphere does something really dramatic and permanently wretched. The difficulties
which environ two lovers of different rank in life furnish the novelist with endless situations. The daughter of an earl falls in love with a son of a plain country gentleman, and there’s a farce, or a comedy, or a tragedy ready made, with parks and practicable castles, and fashionable sea-side resorts with real water, for scenery. We have the scenery, to be sure, dropping the castles, but we have n’t the dramatis personœ. A welleducated, gentlemanly young American, with a fair success in his profession or business, — let the business be something in the way of banking, — is a match for any American girl, whatever her surroundings. An English girl may wed just such an admirable person, and in so doing commit a dreadful faux pas. The conditions of life in the Old World, the sharply drawn social distinctions, and all the rest of it, give the English story-teller an immense advantage over his American cousin. Where are our cathedral towns, with all that vast ecclesiastical machinery which turns out pompous bishops by the dozen and sentimental curates by the gross ? Where are our penniless younger sons and opulent elder brothers ? Where is our standing army to get red-breasted lovers from ? Where are our picturesque marriage settlements and the old family notary, with all that sort of thing, don’t you know ? The English romancer has at his disposal a hundred types of men and women unknown among us. Such a person, for example, as Mr. Frank Houston, in Ayala’s Angel, — a young fellow worth sixteen thousand pounds, who considers himself too poor to marry the girl of his heart, —is impossible in America. I suppose there are ten thousand of him in London alone. No wonder our novelists have to take their young women and their young men abroad in order to find background and opportunities for them ! The heroes and heroines of American fiction run across now as regularly every summer as any other class of fortunate beings.
— The translation of Martial’s epitaph on Erotion, printed some time ago in the Contributors’ Club, has tempted me to send you the following paraphrase from Moschus : —
THE DEAD SINGER.
O thrice-regretted singer of the fold ?
Ay, who will sing, now that thy lips are cold,
, Now that thy hands have dropped the voiceless flute ?
Warm with thy breath ? Still wandering Echo
On thy dear songs, as through the land she speeds,
So soon to tell the people thou art mute.
The souls of men, and days pass numberless,
Hymnest a song of long forgetfulness:
How runs thy song ? What are the words it saith ?
Yet could I draw thy sweet soul after me,
As Orpheus did his dear Eurydice,
Even I might pipe before the god of death.
— The life of the Rev. Robert Hawker, late vicar of Morwenstow, Cornwall, curiously illustrates a subject recently treated in The Atlantic, the mischievousness of the Middle Age mind ; and as his biography is, I believe, little known, it will interest readers to learn something of this odd relic of antique days, born by chance in the nineteenth century. His father, a poor clergyman, sent him, when a boy, to live with his grandfather, also a respected divine. The latter, being himself a man of humor, for a long time showed a sympathetic indulgence for the boy’s tormenting pranks, played upon everybody in the parish. The old gentleman had two devoted feminine admirers in his flock, who, as he once told them, seemed to expect to get to heaven by clinging tightly to his coattails. Robert had no patience with the absurdities of the two devotees, and set himself to plague them so effectually that at last he fairly drove them out of the parish. His incensed grandfather banished him from the house. On his return home his sorrowing father informed him that he must now give up all expectation of going to college, as he had not the means to support him there. The dismayed Robert rushed, hatless, out of the house, and ran, almost without stopping, some fifteen miles to a place where dwelt four maiden sisters whom he knew well. He burst in upon them, and abruptly offered himself to the youngest one, Miss Charlotte. The maiden of forty accepted the youth of twenty, and, strange to say, the marriage turned out a happy one. She accompanied her husband to Oxford, where they continued to live upon her little income until his course was finished. She was a woman of sense and humor, who adapted herself admirably to her eccentric husband.
In the Cornwall parish to which Robert Hawker soon went, he lived for the remainder of his life. The stories told of his oddities would hardly be believed were they vouched for by a less credible authority than his biographer, the Rev. Baring-Gould. The most outrageous of his practical jokes would scarcely have succeeded with any but Cornwall folk, who are said to be more primitive in mind and manners, more superstitious and credulous, than those of any other part of England ; and in this respect pastor and flock were suited to each other, for Robert Hawker believed firmly in the influence of the “ evil eye ” and the danger of stepping within a “ fairy ring.” Soon after he came to the place the fancy took him to play merman. Clothed in an oil-skin jacket, and with long tresses of sea-weed fastened upon his head, he betook himself to a perch upon a rock at a convenient distance from shore. The villagers were soon drawn thither by the wild song proceeding from the rock above the waves. Seeing the vaguely-defined strange shape out there, illumined by curious intermittent flashes (produced by catching and reflecting the moon’s rays from a hand-mirror), and hearing its weird chant, the people knew it could be nothing but a merman. For two or three nights successively the sport was kept up, persons arriving from a distance to gaze upon the mysterious apparition, till the Rev. Robert’s voice got hoarse with overmuch singing and the joker tired of his own fun, which he suddenly ended by a plunge from is rock. He was a tender-hearted man and extremely fond of animals; instead of a dog, a favorite black pig ran beside his horse, and even accompanied him upon parochial visits. He petted jackdaws and cats; of the latter he at one time owned nine, and went into his chancel on Sundays attended by the whole company. He repeated the prayers with his hand resting affectionately on the head of one or another of them, and it is said that the creatures behaved with propriety. One of them committed some misdemeanor at last, whereupon the troop was summarily dismissed from service. In spite of this strange want of clerical dignity, Mr. Hawker retained his place and his credit, was a worthy and beloved pastor and sensible preacher. He was a clever talker, with a satirical turn ; a specimen, in short, of wit to madness nearly allied. He was also a poet, and wrote some astonishingly good Cornish ballads. — If translations are in order in the Club, will you let me send you a bit of Gautier ?
THE GHOST OF THE ROSE.
AFTER THÉOPHILE GAUTIER.
While faint dreams hover andd fall;
I am the ghost of the rose
That graced thee to-night at the ball. With the dew of the evening impearled,
I bent to thy fingers so soft;
But I flouted and mocked the gay world,
In the dance, as I nodded aloft.
I dance all night by thy bed;
Light, light on the draught of thy breath,
Over the pillow I’m led. But fear not: blest was my doom,
No prayer for my peace need be said;
My soul is this light perfume,
From gardens of Paradise fled.
What rose would not part with its bloom ?
And more than the roses might pine
To offer their lives on my tomb. On the marble where I repose
This legend was carved with a kiss:
Here, here lieth a rose:
Kings envied its dying bliss.
LE SPECTRE DE LA ROSE.
Qu'effleure un songe virginal;
Je suis le spectre d’une rose
Que tu portais hier au bah
Tu me pris encore emperlée
Des pleura d’argent de l'arrosoir,
Et parmi la fête étoilée
Tu me promenas tout le soir.
Sans que tu puisses le chasser,
Toute la unit man Spectre rose
A ton chevet viendra denser. Mais ne crains rien, je ne réclame
Ni messe ni De profundis;
Ce léger parfum est mon âme,
Et j'arrive du paradis.
Pour avoir un trépas si beau,
Plus d’un aurait donné sa vie,
Car j’ai ta gorge pour tombeau,
Et sur I’albâtre où je repose
Un poëte avec un baiser
Ecrivit: Ci-git une rose
Que tous les rois vont jalouser.
— Time was when a new story by Mr. William Black was hailed with delight and read with satisfaction. Who does not retain a tender memory of the Daughter of Heth and the Princess of Thule ? The Strange Adventures of a Phaeton carried us with pleasant companions through beautiful scenery, and from our hearts we thanked the writer who thus set us face to face with nature. If once in a while an uneasy suspicion crossed our minds that it was nature in her " company clothes,” we put the thought aside as hypercritical, and were still grateful. Now comes Mr, Black’s latest work, Sunrise. (There may be two or three later than the latest, for they come with bewildering rapidity.) The name is promising, suggestive of dewy freshness and the songs of birds. But straightway we are introduced to a band of socialists, — reformers, they call themselves, — whose instruments of reform are pistols and daggers. These interesting characters disport themselves, of all places, in London ! An English gentleman becomes a member of this society, influenced partly by his zeal for liberty and partly by his love for the heroine of the story, who is the daughter of the ruling spirit of the association. Such is the obliquity of the moral vision of the new member that he feels bound to fulfill his promise of obedience, even when he is required to become an assassin, to murder in cold blood a man of whom he personally knows nothing. This distorted sense of right and wrong is visible throughout, and what makes the story more unpleasant is the impression of theatricalness which it leaves. Midnight meetings of conspirators, mysterious entrances to dark passages, a fiendish scheme by which an enemy of the people and an undesirable son-in-law may both be gotten out of the way, — all these lurid incidents seem more appropriate to the blood-curdling drama as presented on the stage of a minor theatre than to a story of modern English life. They might possibly be made to fit in among the other unrealities of an Italian opera. Nothing is easier than to imagine old Calabressa, whose every movement in the book is stagey, standing wrapped in his threadbare cloak, delivering an aria at the boxes, and echoed by a chorus of conspirators who lurk in the shadow of the pasteboard rocks at the back of the scene.
— Certain persons, with a practical interest in the cause of temperance, have recently been considering the question whether lager beer and other mild preparations of malt might not be made to supplant the deadly alcoholic liquors to which so many classes in this country are addicted. Whether or not the plan is practicable, the idea is one that commends itself to a large number of persons, always excepting that small body of reformers whose intolerance is exasperating enough to drive a naturally abstemious man into habits of intoxication. For my part, I do not see how any one who uses such insidious beverages as tea and coffee — and uses them to excess, as almost all tea-drinkers and coffee-drinkers do — can object to light German beers. There lurk more deleterious effects in a single cup of strong Hyson than in half a dozen glasses of lager. As I pen this assertion, I see in my mind’s eye the flutter of ten million capstrings. They belong to most estimable and proper elderly ladies, who pass sleepless nights and restless days, having contracted innumerable chronic diseases of the nerves through drinking too much tea. I do not say that an immoderate indulgence in beer will not produce evil results. I would n’t say that of water. But I will say that the most healthy and temperate people on the globe are the people of Germany, where every city, town, and hamlet has its beer-garden, — I do not except the Spaniards, who drink nothing but water, since they drink reprehensible quantities of it. There is comparatively little drunkenness in the wine-growing districts of France and Germany, where the inhabitants generally prefer hocks and clarets to brandies. It is needless to remark that gin-tippling is England’s national vice, — or at least one of them. You come face to face with it in the great towns. How it stares at you in London ! Even in some of the more reputable parts of the city there is street after street in which every twentieth shop is a dram-shop, with its separate entrance for women, He would do a priceless work in the Lord’s vineyard who should teach the English lower classes to drink lager beer, — and then teach the nobility to stick to Apollinaris !
I am perfectly well aware that I have approached but one side of a question which has several sides. The argument against indorsing the use of ales and beers is that many persons who do not now touch anything of the sort might be induced to form habits which would ultimately lead to a desire for dangerous stimulants. Of course such an argument is not to be refuted by the statement of my individual observation, which is that no beer-drinker ever cares in the least for spirituous liquors.