The Collected Poems of Rupert Brooke: With a Memoir/Memoir/Part III

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xlv

III

He took the Classical Tripos in the summer of 1909, only getting a Second. This was a 'disappointment,' though not specially so to him. "He found English literature, now, for him, more important than the ancient classics; and he has convinced us all that he was right," says Sheppard, himself a Don at King's; so there is no need for head-shaking.

After term, he went to live within easy distance of Cambridge, at a house in Grantchester called the Orchard. Here he spent most of the rest of this year, going for the summer holidays to a vicarage his parents had taken at Clevedon in Somerset, which he was allowed to cram with relays of his friends. He was working all these months for the Charles Oldham Shakespeare prize, which he won in the course of the Michaelmas Term.

He went to Switzerland for Christmas, where he xlvigot poisoned by drinking some bad water; and he came home to find his father seriously ill with hemorrhage on the brain. He had to give up Grantchester and Cambridge and all his plans for next term, and undertake the temporary management of the House at Rugby. He wrote to Mrs Cornford to apologise for backing out of his part in The Land of Heart's Desire. "There are other things I'm very sick to miss," he went on: "the Marlowe play, and Verrall's lectures, etc.—seeing you all—the whole life of it, in fact. Also I fear I may have confused the Fabians rather by not coming up. I'm a general nuisance. Oh! and I'm so sad and fierce and miserable not to be in my garden and little house at Grantchester all this term. I love being there so much—more than any place I've ever lived in. I love the place and especially the solitude so much. I'd thought of being there when the spring was coming, every day this winter, and dreamt of seeing all the little brown and green things. It's horrible of me to talk like this when I'm in the house with two other people who are infinitely worse off in happiness than I am, and one of them in pain. . . . . . . Many thanks for your letter, by the way. It cheered me greatly at the exact time when I was sitting gloomily waiting for my father's return from the London doctor, and wondering what the verdict would be. I had sunk into that abysmal darkness which comes on a convalescent when anything goes wrong. I've shaken off my dreadful disease now. It inspired me with thousands of Hardyesque short poems xlviiabout people whose affairs went dismally wrong, or frightfully detestable people I couldn't help falling in love with, or interviews with the Almighty in which He turned out to be an absolute and unimaginative idiot. . . . But I hope to occupy my exile by composing some work of immortal genius."

A little later Mr Brooke died suddenly, and was buried on the very day when the fifty boys were coming back to School Field. The shock was great. Rupert wrote to me in March, thanking me for a letter, "and indeed for the earlier ones to an invalid—though those seem so long ago that I cannot find continuity between that time and this. It is the smallest part of the gulf that I have been ill again—I collapsed, unforgivably [with influenza], just after the funeral; and again subsisted for days on milk and the pieces I could surreptitiously bite out of the end of my thermometer. Now, and lately, though, I am well and bursting with activity. I work like a Professor, and feel the Spring in my bones. I am acting Housemaster in my father's place till the end of the term. Then we are to be turned from this place by cold strangers, into a little house with a patch of grass in front, on a road, stiff and ugly. . . . I find I am an admirable schoolmaster. I have a bluff Christian tone that is wholly pedagogic. Also, they remember I used to play for the School at various violent games, and respect me accordingly."

"My heart is warm," he wrote to Jacques Raverat, "and has been half secure—or confident, rather—throughout the last four centuries (just a month) xlviiibecause of the splendid people I know. Half are scattered abroad now. But you'll all meet in April. I'll find all of you by August."

Some of them he did meet in April, when he wrote to me from Lulworth: "At length I am escaped from the world's great snare. This is heaven. Downs, Hens, Cottages, and the Sun. . . . For the rest of Eternity my stabile address is 24 Bilton Road, Rugby. School Field, that palatial building, will know us no more. And henceforth I shall have to play on other people's tennis lawns. I wept copiously last week on saying good-bye to the three and fifty little boys whose Faith and Morals I had upheld for ten weeks. I found I had fallen in love with them all. They were so pleasant and fresh-minded as they were. And it filled me with purpureal gloom to know that their plastic souls would harden into the required shapes, and they would go to swell the indistinguishable masses who fill Trinity Hall, Clare, Caius . . . and at last become members of the English Upper, or Upper Middle, Classes. I am glad I am not going to be a schoolmaster for ever. The tragedy would be too great."

He went back to Grantchester for most of the May term, and immediately got caught up again in the multiplicity of Cambridge life. "I'm afraid there isn't the ghost of a chance," he wrote in answer to a suggestion that we should go abroad together for a fortnight. "I'm so extraordinarily inextricable and necessary! You think this conceit; but it's not. Various bodies and societies have arranged things in which I am continuously and hopelessly xlixinvolved. Also my labours at the University Library press most insistently upon me. I wish I could have come, it would have been lovely. Grantchester's lovely though, too. When are you coming? The apple-blossom and the river and the sunsets have combined to make me relapse into a more than Wordsworthian communion with nature, which prevents me reading more than 100 lines a day, or thinking at all."

His work at this time was on the Elizabethan drama, mainly for a monograph on 'Puritanism as represented or referred to in the early English drama up to 1642,' with which he won the Harness Prize this year.[1] It shows deep reading. "I read 20 pre-Elizabethan plays a week, all poor," he had written in March; and in April from Lulworth, "All the morning I souse myself in Elizabethan plays; and every afternoon I walk up perpendicular places alone, for hours"—adding in a moment of surfeit, "There are no good plays between 1500 and 1650, except the Faithful Shepherdess—and, perhaps, Antony and Cleopatra."


By this time he had already written a good many of the poems which were to appear in the 1908-1911 section of his first book, and he was writing more. "I am slowly recovering from Work," he wrote to Mrs Cornford. "Henceforth I am going to lead what Dudley calls 'a Life Dedicated to Art.' Hurray!" Mrs Cornford and he both had plans for publishing a volume of poems in 1910—(hers lwas carried out, his postponed). "They will review us together!" he told her. "The Daily Chronicle, or some such, that reviews verse in lumps, will notice thirty-four minor poets in one day, ending with Thoughts in Verse on many Occasions, by a Person of Great Sensibility, by F. Cornford, and Dead Pansy-Leaves, and other Flowerets, by R. Brooke; and it will say, 'Mr Cornford has some pretty thoughts; but Miss Brooke is always intolerable' (they always guess the sex wrong). And then I shall refuse to call on you. Or another paper will say, 'Major Cornford and the Widow Brooke are both bad; but Major Cornford is the worst.' And then you will cut me in the street."

The Marlowe Society's second performance of Dr Faustus, got up for a party of fifty German students who visited Cambridge in August, was one excitement of this summer; and another was a tour with Dudley Ward in a disreputable-looking caravan, to popularise the Minority Report on the Poor Law in the principal towns on the South Coast—except Bournemouth, through which they drove, bare-headed and barefoot, at full speed, in fear or hope of being seen by a Conservative aunt who lived there.

Next month he wrote to F. H. Keeling[2] from Rugby. The letter is dated September 20th-23rd, 1910: "I've several times started to write you a notable and rhetorical letter, but my life has been litoo jerky to admit of much connected thought lately, so the letter always fizzled away, and was not. I'm sorry I didn't write sooner, but I wanted to be able to write down a great attack on your pessimism in abundant and reasoned language. And such a thing takes time and thought. Also, I may agree with you.

"What is pessimism? Why do you say you are becoming a pessimist? What does it mean? He may (I say to myself) mean that he thinks that the Universe is bad as a whole, or that it's bad just now, or that, more locally and importantly, things aren't going to get any better in our time and our country, no matter how much we preach Socialism and clean hearts at them.

"Is it the last two? Are you telling us that the world is, after all, bad, and, what's more horrible, without enough seeds of good in it? I, writing poetry and reading books and living at Grantchester all day, feel rather doubtful and ignorant about 'the world'—about England, and men, and what they're like. Still, I see some, besides the University gang. I see all these queer provincials in this town, upper and middle and lower class, and God knows they're sterile enough.

"But I feel a placid and healthy physician about it all (only I don't know what drugs to recommend). This is because I've such an overflowing (if intermittent) flood of anti-pessimism in me. I'm using the word now in what I expect is its most important sense, of a feeling rather than a reasoned belief. The horror is not in believing the Universe is bad—liior even believing the world won't improve—on a reasoned and cool examination of all facts, tendencies and values, so much as in a sort of general feeling that there isn't much potentiality for good in the world, and that anyhow it's a fairly dreary business,—an absence of much appreciation and hope, and a somehow paralysed will for good. As this is a feeling, it may be caused by reason and experience, or more often by loneliness or soul-measles or indigestion or age or anything else. And it can equally be cured by other things than reason—by energy or weather or good people, as well as by a wider ethical grasp. At least, so I've found in the rather slight and temporary fits of depression I've had, in exile or otherwise, lately—or even in an enormous period of Youthful Tragedy with which I started at Cambridge. I have a remedy. It is a dangerous one, but I think very good on the whole; though it may lead to a sterile but ecstatic content, or even to the asylum. In practice, I find, it doesn't—or hasn't yet—make me inefficient. (I am addressing an Adult School on Sunday. I have started a group for studying the Minority Report here. I am going to Cambridge in a week to oversee, with the light of pure reason, the powerful energies of those who are setting forth the new Fabian Rooms,—and later, to put the rising generation, Fabian and otherwise, on the way of Light, all next term.)

"The remedy is Mysticism, or Life, I'm not sure which. Do not leap or turn pale at the word Mysticism, I do not mean any religious thing, or liiiany form of belief. I still burn and torture Christians daily. It is merely the feeling—or a kindred one—which underlay the mysticism of the wicked mystics, only I refuse to be cheated by the feeling into any kind of belief. They were convinced by it that the world was very good, or that the Universe was one, or that God existed. I don't any the more believe the world to be good. Only I do get rid of the despair that it isn't—and I certainly seem to see additional possibilities of its getting better.

"It consists in just looking at people and things as themselves—neither as useful nor moral nor ugly nor anything else; but just as being. At least, that's a philosophical description of it. What happens is that I suddenly feel the extraordinary value and importance of everybody I meet, and almost everything I see. In things I am moved in this way especially by some things; but in people by almost all people. That is, when the mood is on me. I roam about places—yesterday I did it even in Birmingham!—and sit in trains and see the essential glory and beauty of all the people I meet. I can watch a dirty middle-aged tradesman in a railway-carriage for hours, and love every dirty greasy sulky wrinkle in his weak chin and every button on his spotted unclean waistcoat. I know their states of mind are bad. But I'm so much occupied with their being there at all, that I don't have time to think of that. I tell you that a Birmingham gouty Tariff Reform fifth-rate business man is splendid and immortal and desirable.

"It's the same about the things of ordinary life. livHalf an hour's roaming about a street or village or railway-station shows so much beauty that it's impossible to be anything but wild with suppressed exhilaration. And it's not only beauty and beautiful things. In a flicker of sunlight on a blank wall, or a reach of muddy pavement, or smoke from an engine at night, there's a sudden significance and importance and inspiration that makes the breath stop with a gulp of certainty and happiness. It's not that the wall or the smoke seem important for anything, or suddenly reveal any general statement, or are rationally seen to be good or beautiful in themselves,—only that for you they're perfect and unique. It's like being in love with a person. One doesn't (nowadays, and if one's clean-minded) think the person better or more beautiful or larger than the truth. Only one is extraordinarily excited that the person, exactly as he is, uniquely and splendidly just exists. It's a feeling, not a belief. Only it's a feeling that has amazing results. I suppose my occupation is being in love with the universe—or (for it's an important difference), with certain spots and moments and points of it.

"I wish to God I could express myself. I have a vague notion that this is all very incoherent. But the upshot of it is that one's too happy to feel pessimistic; and too much impressed by the immense value and potentialities of everything to believe in pessimism—for the following reason, and in the following sense. Every action, one knows (as a good Determinist), has an eternal effect. And every action, therefore, which leads on the whole to good, lvis 'frightfully' important. For the good mystic knows how jolly 'good' is. It is not a question of either getting to Utopia in the year 2000, or not. There'll be so much good then, and so much evil. And we can affect it. There—from the purely rational point of view—is the beginning and end of the whole matter. It oughtn't to make any difference to our efforts whether the good in 2000 A.D. will be a lot greater than it is now, or a little greater, or less. In any case, the amount of good we can cause by doing something, or can subtract by not doing it, remains about the same. And that is all that ought to matter.

"Lately, when I've been reading up the Elizabethans, and one or two other periods, I've been amazed more than ever at the way things change. Even in talking to my uncle of seventy about the Victorians, it comes out astoundingly. The whole machinery of life, and the minds of every class and kind of man, change beyond recognition every generation. I don't know that 'Progress' is certain. All I know is that change is. These solid solemn provincials, and old maids, and business men, and all the immovable system of things I see round me, will vanish like smoke. All this present overwhelming reality will be as dead and odd and fantastic as crinolines, or 'a dish of tay.' Something will be in its place, inevitably. And what that something will be, depends on me. With such superb work to do, and with the wild adventure of it all, and with the other minutes (too many of them) given to the enchantment of being even for lvia moment alive in a world of real matter (not that imitation, gilt, stuff one gets in Heaven) and actual people,—I have no time now to be a pessimist.

"I don't know why I have scribbled down these thin insane vapourings. I don't suppose you're still as desperate as you were when you wrote in June. When are you coming to Cambridge? I am going to Germany for the spring term. But if you can get there next term, are you coming out to stay at Grantchester? I lead a lovely and dim and rustic life there, and have divine food. Hugh is going to be in London, and —— is old as the hills and withered as a spider, and I am the oldest Fabian left (except ——, who is senile), and I dodder about and smile with toothless gums on all the gay young sparks of the Fabian Society, to whom I am more than a father.

"So you might tell me if you are going to shake off for a day or a month the ghastly coils of British Family Life and of Modern Industry that you are wound in, and come to see the bovine existence of a farmer.

"In the name of God and the Republic,

Rupert."


The next event was a journey on the Continent at the beginning of 1911. He conceived romantic plans for it, as appears in the latter part of this letter to Geoffrey Fry, written before he started, to thank for a present of Mr Bullen's Elizabethan Songbooks: "I read them when I ought to be learning German, and I writhe with vain passion and with envy. lviiHow did they do it? Was it, as we're told, because they always wrote to tunes? The lightness! There are moments when I try to write 'songs', 'where Lumpkin with his Giles hobnobs', but they are bumping rustic guffaws. I feel that sense of envious incompetence and a vast angry clumsiness that hippopotamuses at the Zoo must feel when you stand before them with your clouded cane and take snuff. They're occasionally—the songbooks, not the hippopotamuses—so like the Anthology, and oh! I can see why Headlam loved them.

"I may see you yet in England. For I don't go till January 8 or so. But when I do go, aha! England will never see me more. I shall grow my red whiskers and take to Art. In a few years you may come and stay with me in my villa at Sybaris, or my palace near Smyrna, or my tent at Kandahar, or my yacht off the Cyclades. But you will be a respectable lawyer. You will waggle your pince-nez and lecture me on my harem. Then a large one-eyed negro Eunuch will come and tie you up and pitch you into the sea. And I shall continue to paint sea-scapes in scarlet and umber."

These dreams were not realised. He began his travels with three months in Munich, where he wrote to Mrs Cornford in the middle of February: "The worst of solitude—or the best—is, that one begins poking at his own soul, examining it, cutting the soft and rotten parts away. And where's one to stop? Have you ever had, at lunch or dinner, an over-ripe pear or apple, and, determined to make the best of it, gone on slicing off the squashy bits? lviiiYou may imagine me, in München, at a German lunch with Life, discussing hard, and cutting away at the bad parts of the dessert. 'Oh!' says Life, courteous as ever, 'I'm sure you've got a bad soul there. Please don't go on with it! Leave it, and take another! I'm so sorry!' But, knowing I've taken the last, and polite anyhow, 'Oh, no, please!' I say, scraping away. 'It's really all right. It's only a little gone, here and there, on the outside. There's plenty that's quite good. I'm quite enjoying it. You always have such delightful souls!' . . . And after a minute, when there's a circle of messy brown rounding my plate, and in the centre a rather woe-begone brown-white thin shapeless scrap, the centre of the thing, Life breaks in again, seeing my plight.—'Oh, but you can't touch any of that! It's bad right through! I'm sure Something must have got in to it! Let me ring for another! There's sure to be some in the larder.' . . . But it won't do, you know. So I rather ruefully reply, 'Ye-es, I'm afraid it is impossible. But I won't have another, thanks. I don't really want one at all. I only took it out of mere greed, and to have something to do. Thank you, I've had quite enough—such excellent meat and pudding! I've done splendidly— But to go on with our conversation about literature,—you were saying, I think . . . ?' and so the incident's at an end.

"Dear! dear! it's very trying being so exalted one day and ever so desperate the next—this Self-knowledge (why did that old fool class it with Self-reverence and Self-control? They're lixrarely seen together!). But so one lives in Munich.

"—And then your letter came! So many thanks. It made me shake with joy to know that Cambridge and England (as I know it) was all as fine as ever. That Jacques and Ka should be sitting in a café, looking just like themselves—oh God! what an incredibly lovely superb world. I fairly howled my triumph down the ways of this splendid city. 'Oh! you fat, muddy-faced, grey, jolly Germans who despise me because I don't know your rotten language! Oh! the people I know, and you don't! Oh! you poor things!' And they all growl at me because they don't know why I glory over them. But, of course, part of the splendour is that—if they only knew it—they too, these Germans, are all sitting in cafés and looking just like themselves. That knowledge sets me often dreaming in a vague, clerical, world-misty spirit over my solitary coffee, in one of the innumerable cafés here in which I spend my days. I find my self smiling a dim, gentle, poetic, paternal, Jehovah-like smile—over the ultimate excellence of humanity—at people of, obviously, the most frightful lives and reputations at other tables; who come presently sidling towards me. My mysticism vanishes, and in immense terror I fly suddenly into the street.

"Oh, but they're a kindly people. Every night I sit in a café near here, after the opera, and read the day-old Times (!) and drink—prepare to hear the depths of debauchery into which the young are led in these wicked foreign cities!—HOT MILK, a lxlarge glassful. Last night I spilt the whole of the hot milk over myself, while I was trying to negotiate the Literary Supplement. You've no idea how much of one a large glass of hot milk will cover. I was entirely white, except for my scarlet face. All the people in the café crowded round and dabbed me with dirty pocket-handkerchiefs. A kindly people. Nor did I give in. I ordered more hot milk and finished my Supplement, damp but International.

"No! Cambridge isn't very dim and distant, nor Dent a pink shade. I somehow manage, these days, to be aware of two places at once. I used to find it wasn't worth while; and to think that the great thing was to let go completely of a thing when you've done with it, and turn wholly and freshly to the next. 'Being able to take and to let go and to take, and knowing when to take and when to let go, and knowing that life's this—is the only way to happiness' is the burden of the Marschallin in the Rosencavalier (the rage of Germany just now). There's some truth in it. But sometimes, now, I find I can weave two existences together and enjoy both, and be aware of the unique things of each. It's true that as I write there's an attitude of Jacques's, or a slow laugh of Ka's, or a moon at Grantchester, or a speech of Dickinson's, that I'd love, and that I'm missing. But there'll be other such, no doubt, in May and June—and what if I'd not met the lovable Mr Leuba (and so differently lovable from an English unsuccessful journalist!) or the fascinating Miss Something or Other of Paris, or the interlxiesting and wicked di Ravelli, or Dr Wolfskell who is shy and repeats Swinburne in large quantities with a villainous German accent but otherwise knows no English, or that bearded man in the café, or the great Hegedus, or Professor Sametscu ? . . .

"Eh, but I have grown clerical and solemn and moral. That is because I've been seeing so much Ibsen lately. I apologise. I'm old-fashioned enough to admire that man vastly. I've seen five or six of his plays in four weeks. They always leave me prostrate.

"No, I've not yet been proposed to by young ladies in plaid blouses, not even one at a time. As a matter of fact I know only one or two such. Most of the people I see are working at some sensible thing like writing, music, or painting, and are free and comradely. I made one or two incursions into Anglo-German Philistia, and came hurriedly forth. I'm damnably sorry for the plaid blouses (who do exist there, and are, at present, so much better than their mothers). I saw two stifling and crying. But I'm not going back to rescue them.

"But in ordinary, and nicer, ways, I meet a lot of jolly people. It's true, a lot, I think, what you say about friends; but oh, dear people! it is fun going away and making thousands of acquaintances.

"I finish this tourist's effusion at 2 o' the morning, sitting up in bed, with my army blanket round me. My feet, infinitely disconnected, and southward, inform me that to-night it is freezing again. The bed is covered with Elizabethan and German books lxiiI may or may not read ere I sleep. In the distance glimmers the gaunt white menacing Ibsenite stove that casts a gloom over my life. The Algerian dancing-master next door is, for once, quiet. I rather think the Dragon overhead (the Dragon=that monstrous, tired-faced, screeching, pouchy creature, of infinite age and horror, who screams opposite me at dinner and talks with great crags of food projecting from her mouth; a decayed Countess, they say) is snoring.

"Oh, I sometimes make a picture of Conduit Head, with Jacques in a corner, and Gwen on other cushions, and Justin on his back, and Ka on a footstool, and Francis smoking, and Frances in the chair to the right (facing the fire). . . . It stands out against the marble of the Luitpold Café and then fades. . . . But say it's true!

"Even with an enormous stomach and a beard and in Munich.—Yours,

Rupert."


From Munich he went to join his godfather, Mr Robert Whitelaw, in Florence, where he wrote to me at the end of April: "I led a most noisome life in Munich, crawling about in trams, and eating, and sleeping. I never thought, and barely ever read. I worked hard in an intermittent doleful way, but never accomplished anything. I spent two months over a poem that describes the feelings of a fish, in the metre of L'Allegro. It was meant to be a lyric, but has turned into a work of 76 lines with a moral end. It's quite unintelligible. Beyond that I have written one or two severe and subtle sonnets lxiiiin my most modern manner—descriptions of very poignant and complicated situations in the life of to-day, thrilling with a false simplicity. The one beginning

'I did not think you thought I knew you knew'

has created a sensation in English-speaking circles in Munich.

"I have sampled and sought out German culture. It has changed all my political views. I am wildly in favour of nineteen new Dreadnoughts. German culture must never, never prevail! The Germans are nice, and well-meaning, and they try; but they are SOFT. Oh! they are soft! The only good things (outside music perhaps) are the writings of Jews who live in Vienna. Have you ever heard of Mr Schnitzler's historical play? They act an abbreviated version which lasts from 7 to 12. saw it. A Hebrew journalist's version of the Dynasts, but rather good.

"Here I live in a pension surrounded by English clergymen and ladies. They are all Forster characters. Perhaps it is his pension.[3] But to live among Forster characters is too bewildering. The 'quaint' remarks fall all round one during mealtimes, with little soft plups like pats of butter. 'So strong,' they said, next to me, at the concert last night, of the Fifth Symphony; 'and yet so restful, my dear! not at all what I should call morbid, you know!' Just now the young parson and his wife, married a fortnight, have been conlxivversing. 'Are you ready to kick off?' he said. How extraordinary! What does it mean? I gathered it merely meant was she dressed for San Lorenzo. But does the Church talk like that nowadays?

"So I am seeing life. But I am thirsting for Grantchester. I am no longer to be at The Orchard, but next door at The Old Vicarage, with a wonderful garden. I shall fly from Florence, which is full of painstaking ugly pictures. But before I go I've got to settle the question, 'Shall I lay a handful of roses on Mrs Browning's grave? and, if so, how many?' These literary problems are dreadful. And the English Cemetery is so near!"

"It's very late," he wrote one evening to the Raverats. "The stars over Fiesole are wonderful; and there are quiet cypresses and a straight white wall opposite. I renounce England; though at present I've the senile affection of a godfather for it. I think of it, over there (beyond even Fiesole)—Gwen and Jacques and Ka and Frances and Justin and Dudley, and Dr Verrall and the Master, and Lord Esher and Mr Balfour. Good-night, children."


  1. A copy of this essay is in the British Museum Library.
  2. F. H. Keeling, or as he was always called by his friends, 'Ben' Keeling, the chief figure among the Cambridge Fabians of Rupert's day, was killed in the Somme Battle of 1916.
  3. See E. M. Forster's " A Room with a View."