Twilight Hours (1868)
A Legacy of Verse
By SARAH WILLIAMS
WITH A MEMOIR BY E. H. PLUMPTRE, M.A.
STRAHAN & CO., PUBLISHERS
56, LUDGATE HILL, LONDON
PRINTED BY V. CLOWES AND SONS, DUKE STREET, STAMFORD STREET, AND CHARING CROSS.
R. and F. W.
MOTHER ON EARTH AND FATHER IN HEAVEN
WITH LOVING THANKS FOR ALL THINGS.
' Like as the waves make towards the pebbled shore
So do our minutes hasten to their end;
Each changing place with that which goes before.
In sequent toil all forwards do contend?
IT is now nearly two years since a small volume came to me by post, directed to Queen's College, Harley Street, —
"With the grateful regards of the author, an old pupil, these first essays in composition."
The book consisted of stories for young children, and bore the title of " Rainbows in Spring-tide." The writer hid herself under the nom de plume of "Sadie." I turned over the pages, and found in the tales themselves a pleasant ease and genial insight into child-nature, enlivened here and there with touches of quaint humour and vivid description. One would have augured from them that the writer might probably attain a fair measure of success in the not inglorious region of the literature of the nursery. But mingling with the prose there were also, scattered here and there, brought in with a visible want of connexion which showed that they belonged to a different mood, and were the offspring of different hours, a few 'pieces' in verse. And these, as I read them, seemed to indicate the possession, if not of high or wide culture, yet of a genius that was real and living. Less than most poetry by young writers did it present the echoes of the greater poets of our time. It had neither the excellences nor the defects of imitative verse. What struck one was its naturalness, its spontaneity, its being the utterance of one who sang " as the birds do," because the song was in her. I quote two samples as showing what led me to wish to know more of the writer : —
"THE SONG OF THE CITY SPARROWS.
"When the summer-time is ended,
And the winter days are near ;
When the bloom hath all departed
With the childhood of the year ;
"When the martins and the swallows
Flutter, cowardly, away ;
Then the people can remember
That the sparrows always stay ;
"That, although we're plain and songless,
And poor city birds are we,
Yet, before the days of darkness
We, the sparrows, never flee ;
" But we hover round the window,
And we peck against the pane,
While we twitteringly tell them
That the spring will come again.
"And when drizzly dull November
Falls so gloomily o'er all,
And the misty fog enshrouds them
In a dim and dreary pall ;
' ' When the streets all fade to dreamland,
And the people follow fast,
And it seems as though the sunshine
Was for evermore gone past, —
" Then we glide among the housetops,
And we track the murky waste,
And we go about our business
With a cheerful earnest haste ;
" Not as though our food were plenty,
Or no dangers we might meet ;
But as though the work of living
Was a healthy work, and sweet.
" When the gentle snow descendeth,
Like a white and glistening shroud,
For the year whose life hath ended,
Floated upward like a cloud ;
"Then, although the open country
Shineth very bright and fair,
And the town is overclouded,
Yet we still continue there ;
" Even till the spring returneth,
Bringing with it brighter birds,
Unto whom the city people
Give their love and gentle words ;
" And we, yet again descending
To become the least of all,
Take our name as ' only sparrows ! '
And are slighted till we fall ;
" Still we're happy, happy, happy,
Never minding what we be ;
For we have a work and do it,
Therefore very blithe are we.
" We enliven sombre winter,
And we're loved while it doth last,
And we're not the only creatures
Who must live upon the past.
" With a chirrup, chirrup, chirrup,
We let all the slights go by,
And we do not find they hurt us
Or becloud the summer sky.
" We are happy, happy, happy,
Never minding what we be ;
For we know the good Creator
Even cares for such as we."
"THE DAUPHIN IN THE TEMPLE PRISON.
"TO MARIE ANTOINETTE.
" ' O thou, my mother ! dead so long ago,
Who never to my childish joy or woe
Didst say, "That's trifling ;" mother, hear me now ;
Allay the throbbing of my burning brow,
And help me in the problem of my life,
That I may conquer in this vital strife —
A passive strife, to learn no evil thing,
An active strife, to hear no songs they sing !
They beat me for my fingers in my ears,
They beat me for my shock' d, indignant tears ;
mother, keep me till I come to thee,
Until I from this darkened world shall flee :
So darken'd, for so long a time it seems,
That I can scarcely picture in my dreams
The life we led, before the shadows fell
Which blotted out the face we loved so well !
That face and thine seem never now apart.
" ' Sweet sister mine, I know not where thou art ;
1 sit alone, and through the weary hours
Remember how the years were mark'd with flowers.
It comes across me sometimes with a sting
That I, the captive Louis, am the king.
Poor king ! poor Louis ! poorest orphan ! reft
Of all life's joys at once, and lonely left !
But 'twill not be for long — a streak of light
Which falls celestially serene and bright,
Upon the darkness of my prison floor,
Comes like a promise that 'twill soon be o'er ;
A passing breeze, like thy sweet breath, comes in,
Refines this leaden atmosphere of sin,
And bears my soul upon its wings to thee !
O mother mine, at last thy son is free ! '
" The lips kept mute so long for her dear sake
Unclosed at length ; it was her name they spake :
Then, closed in sculptured beauty, were at rest ;
The captive king was crown'd among the blest."
As it was, I wrote a note to "Sadie," addressed it to Messrs. Routledge and Co., the publishers of the little book, and within a few days there came an answer, telling me who she was. Some sixteen years ago she, as Sarah Williams, had been a pupil at the College (I lighted on the name by a strange chance in a faint, half-obliterated pencil class-list, within a week of this renewed acquaintance): she had left it in consequence of illness, had gone on reading and thinking for herself in a desultory kind of way, coming very little in contact with what is called " society," under the influence, as far as her inner life was concerned, of "pious stragglers from the Church," but not imbued in any degree with the antagonism of Nonconformity, nor even with its characteristic theology.
There had been nothing eventful in her life so far. The birth of "Rainbows in Springtide" had been the first interruption to the calm tenor of a London home, broken only by visits to Wales or Ramsgate, or the rarer treat of Paris. There was as little in the way of incident in the period — all too short — that followed. An introduction to Mr. Strahan gained for her admission to the magazines which issued from his house, — " Good Words," the " Sunday Magazine," and the "Argosy," — and the career of an authoress, more or less successful, seemed to be opening before her. She had the pleasure of finding herself appreciated. What came to her in payment for her contributions — received with a deprecating wonder that was not without a touch of humour — was to her as a deodand, to be disposed of in many acts of kindness to the sick and poor.
And it was clear, the more closely we were brought into contact with her, that hers was one of those characters which success does not spoil — that the power of uttering herself freely tended to ripen both the thoughts that struggled for utterance and the gift of clothing them in words. It was clear, also, that below a nature bright, cheerful, happy — flashing out sometimes into scintillations of genial and fantastic originality, not unlike Elia's — there was a soul working its way through the problems of life as they present themselves to all thinkers, bearing bravely also some special burden of its own. The social sketches which she wrote for the "Argosy," under another nom de plume, as "The Foozy Papers," though obviously defective from their limited range of observation, pointed to the possibility of her taking a fair place some day among our lady novelists. The poems which appeared in the other serials I have named, gave promise, as it seemed to me, of something higher. So far as I was able to exercise any influence over her, it was to determine her work in that direction.
So the months passed on. Her father's death, after a few days' illness in January of the present year, gave a great shock to a constitution which had never been strong. For some weeks her visits to us became infrequent. On leaving town for the Easter holidays of the present year, I received from her a small memorial gift, with a few words of what seemed only a kind greeting for the season. When I returned, it was to learn that those few words were to be the last ; that the gift had been sent with the consciousness that it might be in very deed in memory of one who had passed away. She had had to make the choice, so often forced upon sufferers, between the certainty of long lingering agony and the possibility of deliverance from it, accompanied by the risk of a more immediate close. Acting on the counsel of friends and medical advisers, she embraced the latter alternative, with apparently a foreboding clear to herself, though not disclosed to others, of what the end would be. And so that end came; and she slept and was at rest. With this presentiment, as of one who saw the shadows deepening round her, not without sadness, but altogether without fear or murmur, and with a heart that thought even then of others rather than herself, she wrote a " farewell," which after her death, was given to the friends for whom she had most regard. It may fitly find its place here : —
" City of many sorrows, fare thee well ;
Clasped in thy dusky arms, dear comrades dwell.
Comfort them, Mother, keep thou them this night ;
Breathe on them softly, let their cares lie light,
And if they feel me watching through their sleep,
Let them not see mine eyes as those that weep ;
Let me not bring to them one thought of pain,
But calmly pass, like some far distant strain
Of rugged music, borne on summer wind,
God's air between us — discords all refined
To subtlest harmonies, while halting speech,
Grown inarticulate, doth deeper reach.
Tell them, O Mother City, monitress,
That not defect of love, but love's excess,
Doth hold me quiet now, doth still my heart,
And teach me that true lovers never part. "
It is obvious that these are very scanty materials for a biography. Nor is the absence of events compensated, in any full measure, by a large mass of correspondence. Living in a comparatively narrow home-circle, not recognised by her friends as one who was likely to win her way to fame, and whose letters were on that account worth keeping, comparatively few seem to have been kept. The greater part of the correspondence placed in my hands had its starting-point in her business relations with the two publishing houses with which her work as an authoress brought her into contact, and were addressed to Mr. Strahan, and to the literary adviser of Messrs. Routledge and Sons. She appears to have welcomed the open- ing thus given, and uttered herself more freely to them because there were not in their case the restraints of previous acquaintance. They, at all events, recognised, both of them, that they had a correspondent who was an exception to the common run of letter-writers, in almost every one of whose notes there were some exceptional touches of humour, or pathos, or imagination.
Extracts from the letters thus kept may help the readers to understand the character which speaks to them through the poems in this volume. They will acknowledge, if I mistake not, that they are worth keeping for their own sake. Those who knew her will remember with what a sudden gleam of wit, or abrupt opening of inner depths of thought, her con- versation was by turns solemnised and illumined. I quote from a short memorial paper in " Good Words " for the present year a thoughtful analysis of the im- pressions thus left on the minds of those who were brought more or less closely into contact with her : —
"She was so bright, so light, so airy in her moods and manners, and yet there was in all a strange undernote, a pathetic chord, that only made itself heard after the verse had ceased, -filling the silence like a speech. There was such light banter in her mirth, such tricksy innocent flashes of fun, mingled with such possibilities of sadness, tears, despair. And ever breaking through the light dancing music she so delighted in, there was a sense of trouble and repressed sorrow, often communicating a kind of unpolished hurry to her finest work. At first one felt a little surprised at this, for the presence of power was unmistakable ; soon one came to expect it; it symbolized that process of painful pressure and determined bracing of the will in the midst of incessant pain by which she came at her best work. Deepest glimpses, touches almost perfect in truth and delicacy, and melodious turns, inimitable in their individuality and freedom, always followed a point or line that was specially disappointing. It was as though her signal for the feast was a sudden and wayward trumpet blare. And it was very much the same with her conversation ; brilliant, sparkling, vivacious as it was in the main, she would throw outun expectedly the most trying 'posers,' weighty with meaning and purpose. When all were fairly non-plussed over the untoward puzzle, she would cast upon it such rippling lights of humour that it dissolved in genial currents of laughter. She had the faculty of the true humorist — could laugh most lightly when she felt most seriously, and veil her gravest lessons under the kindly mask of mirth.
" ' Ever across the caustic of her words
There dropped the wondrous nectar of her smile,
A smile as joyous, frank, and innocent,
As that with which a babe awakes from sleep.'
"Notwithstanding her remarkable quickness and readiness of intellect, there was something strangely far withdrawn and absent about her. When she listened to you, very often it seemed as though she had to summon her soul from far to do rightful service to the ear ; and her answers were so invariably coloured by this circumstance that not seldom they appeared to the listener start- ling and enigmatic. But all who knew her can understand this now, and understand too, how in her poems, the discipline of pain and the pleasantness of death hold such a place. The in- visible hand stretched forth from the darkness, say rather from the excess of light, was near her, and she wrote always under the con- sciousness of this. She bravely hid her sufferings that the inno- cent enjoyment of others might be unshadowed by her pain ; and though she treated little trials lightly, no one could have been warmer, more considerate, or have shown more womanly wile in her ways of giving sympathy when sympathy was really needed. She might have used in reference to herself the words she put into the mouth of another —
" 'Human by birthright of pain, and free of the guild of woe ;
Tender by thorns in the heart, so that our kindred may trust me;
Dropping not gall, but balm, as you did, where'er I go.' "
What follows calls for little comment. It will be better to let it tell its own tale.
She vindicates her adherence to her nom de plume: —
" I am willing to appear quite anonymously, and I would yield altogether to your reasoning were ' Sadie ' only a nom de plume ; but the name, self-given they say in baby-days, has so grown with me, has become so literally a part of me, that I could lose both the others with less sacrifice of identity. In fact, I am Sadie or nobody, which it shall be I leave to you. " ***** " Thanks for the query about my own name. It is more comfortable to know how to address people ; but I suppose most of us have two or three titles and characters to match. At home and with my friends I have always been Sadie, so self-named, they say, before I could speak plain. Sarah is my grim, business signature, which at first used to make me feel as if I had been starched. Miss Williams belongs to me, as never having had a sister, nor, for that matter, a brother."
She looks out on sea and sky, and notes how they have impressed her. The poet's mind can find sustenance even on the sands of Ramsgate : —
" The weather is celestial, a lazy sea, a smiling sky, with little wisps of white mist floating about like the ghosts of pleasant dreams." ***** " Yesterday I saw the sunset over the fields ; there was such a curious bright peacefulness over everything, the cool clear grey and blue of the sky, joined to the low green hills by a crimson line, where the sun had flung back a parting resurgam before he sank. " ***** "In this delicious weather one must keep out all day; this afternoon the sunset colours on the sea were exquisite, and the sky scenery magnificent — little gem-like bits of darkest blue set in snowy curled cumuli and lead-grey nimbus. Of course it is utterly impossible to describe this sort of thing ; but I suppose one's instinct of speech is ineradicable. Talking of instincts, I fancy the desire for some kind of audience or public is one almost universal. The few children there are on the sands now, play among themselves prosaically enough ; but a grown-up person has only to sit down amongst them, looking tolerably good- tempered, and may at once enliven them into attempting wonderful feats, casting up droll little glances in search of a smile of approbation or amusement. I think, with children at least, that it is partly the unselfish desire to give pleasure. They like gathering shells or doing anything for anybody. I hear dismal accounts of east winds in London ; but the swallows believe in the spring, at any rate. They keep arriving in long V-like lines. How tame they are when they first come ! One alighted nearly at my feet this morning and stood looking at me with the most charm- ing air of disdain imaginable. Then he perched on a lump of chalk, and gave his greeting to the land in a little low song — only two or three notes — but wonderfully clear and sweet. The gaunt old cliff seems to have a fluttering veil of melody thrown over it, it is so peopled with divers birds."
She records the impression left on her by the books with which her new or old friends supplied her : —
"I have read some capital papers of Lewes' in the 'Fort- nightly Review' on the 'Principles of success in Literature,' — rather heathenish, — I think he has a tendency that way ; but solid, original, and thoughtful. Oddly enough, the paper on 'Style ' concluded with, I believe, two (of course unintentional) examples of tautology. I suppose it is something like those grammatical errors which were always found in the prefaces of grammars, till they left off having prefaces. What a never-failing comfort any kind of art is." ***** " I had a sabbath feast yesterday in the ' Unspoken Sermons.' It is not much to say that they are above any spoken ones that I ever heard. My experience of sermons has been unhappy ; but some of the passages are simply the finest utterances of the soul that I ever came across — as ' a condition which, if delusive, would indicate a devil, may, of growth, indicate a saint,' — and so the whole of the ' Higher Faith.' " ***** "I don't know how the good people do who are always lowly- minded ; for me, when I am humble, I am detestable, fit only to growl in a hole like an Adullamite bear. I was just longing for some moral caustic to apply to set me right, when, after the bountiful fashion of Heaven, came instead the sweet and whole- some manna of encouragement." ***** " I cannot criticise this work. It is a great pity that it is so unfinished. A pity that is, for art's sake ; the public would simply gape at it. So far as regards the author, I don't know, but it is work over which a soul is likely to reel or to harden — only Milton's blindness saved him from either or both, if indeed he was saved. Alas ! deep down in my heart lies the doubt whether any such work is right, whether it may not come under the anathema at the end of the Revelation, on those who 'add to the words of the Book.' I think the writer would be held innocent, the work condemned, as God so often seems to take our sins out of us against our will. This I give most doubt- fully; I may transgress it myself to-morrow. There is an in- dividual law for every artist — to his own Master he standeth or falleth. If any of the Bible outlines call for filling in, it is certainly that of the Betrayer. The magnanimity of the Master seems to have held back the abhorrence of his disciples, or that abhorrence is so deep that we get no view of the traitor that would in a story justify — in the sense of lead to — his deed. In a fiction, speaking reverently, Judas would be daringly improbable by the rudest canons. This writer has made of him a character dramatically true as Milton's Satan is dramatically true ; but both are, in my conviction, morally false." ***** " I am afraid the author of would not approve of my criticisms. Novices are always Draconian, you know, and my first impulse would be to pitch the whole thing into the fire ; my second to write to the author and tell him that I was very sorry, and that he was an ill-used genius. I can fancy that books of that order are both more irritating and more common than real trash. It seems to be so in everything. An absolutely worthless man would almost be interesting as a curiosity. The street-boy problem consists not in the actual but the possible thief, and among our acquaintances those who are thoroughly stupid or ill- natured are no trouble — we simply drop them and forget them. Those who fret us are the people that ought to be charming, — would be, but for some defect or deforming excrescence that we dare not even try to pluck out, lest the whole moral nature bleed to death."
"Thank you so much for letting me see Mr. Macdonald's poems ; some parts one can read over and over like Bible words, with that mingling of sympathy and reverence that is one of the joys of life ; but I think his poetic feeling masters him, instead of his mastering it — a possible beauty in the man, but a flaw in the artist. * * * * Mr. Swinburne fails, if he does fail, from the opposite excess. I can fancy him really enjoying himself over his poetry, like a reckless rider on a good horse. Only Shakespeare — 'II Divino' — combines the two types — trills out 'Who is Sylvia?' and sighs, with deep content, 'There's a Divinity doth shape our ends.' " ***** "Mr. Macdonald says, in this month's 'Guild Court,' 'only God can satisfy a woman.' Surely God can satisfy a poet ?" ***** " I have been reading Miss Green well's poems, and like some of them very much. * * * They are not musical, but they are poetical : and since it seems that we must give up one, the music must go, as soul is higher than sense. Nevertheless for me, personally, a poem is a thing that sings. One suffers from the dim weight of one's own soul, never from sense. I see some of them have been set to music, but that proves nothing. Musical words seldom set well : they have the tune in them already, and will not take another." ***** "As to Swinburne, I believe he has so much power over me that he will not let me read his bad things ; in the Poems and Ballads, the pages turned over as though some one else was turning them, till at the wonderful Litany the invisible presence said 'Halt ! ' I began and ended with that. One such poem is enough, not for a morning's reading, but for a lifetime, if only the last two lines might be prophetic —
'The gold is turned to a token,
The staff to a rod,
Yet thou shalt bind up them that are broken,
O Lord our God !'"
***** " I find no reason why I should not read Swinburne's Poems: certainly I had little more than an hour, and so perhaps had only time to get the good in them. And of course it is possible that I may have read something very bad without knowing it: in which case it cannot have done me much harm. It is really comical, after entering a book, as one would a fish-market, ready to close eyes and nose, to find one's self in a grand heathen oratorio : — heathen certainly, but, all the more for that, with a deep pathetic truth underlying its despair and unrest. Surely such music cannot be destined for Satan's palaces. * * * Do you remember how Sir Walter Scott resolved to give up writing poetry after reading Byron ? One could scarcely help coming to the same determination after Swinburne ; only, I suppose, it would be like resolving not to talk, — more laudable than possible. Would it be too brave to weave these into the improvising ?
"TO A. C. SWINBURNE.
" I dare not rhyme within the poet's court,
Nor shake my jingling bells against his harp ;
But if my greeting can but solace him,
If all unconsciously he hear my voice
Cry * Elder brother, hail! God comfort thee,
And give to thee a golden harp one day ; '
If he can feel a friend's hand in the dark,
Then I am glad : if not, I am content
To reverence in silence."
Here are a few touches of her love of children, and her conscious appreciation of their unconscious humour : —
" Her song to ' Heartsease ' (she is speaking of a dear friend), is dedicated to me, and my little book ' Rainbows in Spring ' is dedicated to her nephew, Bertie, such a loveable child, especially when he is naughty. The other day, for some misdemeanour, he was dismissed from the dinner-table by his mamma. Bertie finding himself landed with his little plate in the bedroom, not unnaturally objected, remonstrating through the keyhole — ' I can't eat my dinner in here — a bedroom isn't the proper place to eat dinners in ; I won't have my dinner here.' ' Then you will go without,' said the mother. 'Very well,' said Bertie, re- signedly, ' then I shan't have my dinner, and then I shall be ill, and then I shall die ; and when I am dead I will fetch a police- man, and you shall be hanged.' A tolerable notion of climac- teric oratory for a child of four years old. But Bertie has his tender moods when he comes to his aunt, saying, ' Auntie Bessie, kiss me, as though you loved me.' " ***** "For three weeks I was alone — it was queer but pleasant. There is a curious rest in perfect solitude. Long ago when I was a little child, I remember sobbing out that ' I should always be good if there were no people in the world, ' — nice sentiment, as I was always begging for some little girl to tea." ***** " Bertie's sister Daisy said rather a good thing the other day. She was troublesome, and her mamma said, ' Daisy, if you bother me so, I shall give you to the butcher, and then what will you do?' * Then I shall bother the butcher,' said Daisy, tranquilly ; tolerably cool and clear for two years old — at least she is not three yet ! ' " ***** "We had a visitation yesterday from a cousin, aged eleven, who talks of demanding a latch key, because it is ' such a nuisance,' he says, 'to be fetched home directly after supper.' He is rather a young Philistine." ***** "Bertie gave me his views of his future career, to the effect that if cabmen have a monument in St. Paul's he will be a cab- man ; if not, a general." ***** " I am afraid you will not be so romantic as our old postman, who, when somebody once sent me a Rimmel's Almanack, begged for the almanack to lay among his things, to give him pleasant fancies. Poor fellow ! he died of the gout not long after." "One of my child -friends is getting jealous of Bertie, whom she knows only by name. She said the other day, * It is all in a muddle : Johnny Rowe loves me, but I love you, but you love Bertie, and I dare say he loves somebody else.' Not at all improbable, nor a bad resume of things in general — say in a novel."
Other extracts must be taken as they come de omnibus rebus, each lit up by some gleam of light fancy or solemnised by the undertone of some deep thought : —
"April 13, 1867.
" Special thanks for the little poem of * A Life.' Some lives would seem to be scarcely complete without death ; it comes as such a beautiful, harmonious rounding off ; with others of us it is a horrible discord, the sudden snap of a tiger's tooth ; the letter made me cry, it seemed such a pity for the friendship to be broken ; only, God knows best. I have not had many sorrows in my life ; but, looking back even already, I would not be with- out one of them. " ***** " Apropos to nothing, Why is it that the Scotch say, 'Puir body,' and the English, ' Poor soul? 1 Do the Scotch think the soul never needs pity ; or do they turn it over to their ministers, as they would their clothes to a tailor ?" ***** " Somebody asked me once what I should do if I found myself at the head of a household ? I said ' Abdicate,' with the promptitude of instinct ; but even that is not possible with such dreadfully conscientious people, who will not impose upon one comfortably." ***** " I keep all her scoldings. She taught me singing once, and has taught me living ever since. You would like her. She is an embodied repose — half a lifetime wiser than I, but only six years older." ***** " Is it not a shame for Gladstone to have been used so, set up as a brilliant mark for the daws to peck at ? Let them peck ! they are but daws after all ; and the eagle wounded, is an eagle still. Only, this our England has not progressed so rapidly of late years, that we can contentedly see her drawn back because the leader is too much of a Pegasus. Well, happily, I have no business with politics. There is a certain sense of snugness in absolute insignificance. Also, it is going to rain, and I am always good when it rains. There is such a curious lullaby in the sweet pure rush of water, cleansing away foulnesses and dust, like a heavenly air blowing through our error and strife." ***** "The grain of the Deity that is within us makes it impossible for us to conceive a nature beyond man as other than a nobler man. We instinctively give the Almighty a worthy foe, but I think we are wrong. I believe Satan is the meanest spirit in creation ; that it is a significant truth which places hell down in the depths — that 'without are dogs.' " ***** "It is a flaw — I am afraid a fatal flaw in me— that I cannot do any good by taking pains, any more than a tree can try to grow: only the Great Master is a perfect gardener. If He means to make me a i goodly plant ' He will do it ; if not, the place I long for some one else will fill. There are no empty niches in creation, and there is room for unfinished souls in heaven." ***** "This is certainly the millennium of the Smiths." ***** " I was at the Academy on Tuesday (in 1866) for five hours. There is one little painting of a bough of apple-blossom that would alone be worth going for. The exquisite freshness of the picture seems absolutely to pervade the room ; but the gem of the whole collection, I think, is Noel Paton's ' Mors Janua Vitse,' for thought, and poetry, and power.
" The story is told in an extract from 'The good Fight,' but this is scarcely needed ; every detail is so eloquent. The Christian knight, led by an unseen presence along his dark and untortuous way, his triumph laid aside in the jewelled sword which he leaves behind ; his dead hopes lying beneath his feet as withered leaves ; his armour bright, only because it will not take a stain ; so through conflict, and darkness, and pain, he presses on, till the supreme moment comes. Then the shadowy angel lays her hand on his shoulder with the touch of death, and with the agony comes the ecstacy ; the veil is drawn back, a glory of light shines in from heaven. The shadow is seen to be an angel ; Death is swallowed up in Life. This is the moment of the picture ; a climax so extreme that the slightest failure anywhere would be terribly disappointing, but there is none.
"The face and figure of the knight seem perfect, and the angel is the only angel I ever saw who was neither a pale negation nor a sensuous woman. The way in which the artist contrives to give the joyful brightness of her colouring, and yet keep her perfectly spiritual, is something wonderful." ***** "What a dreadful piece of bosh that is 'an honest man's the noblest work of God ! ' To say nothing of the angels — a good woman is infinitely higher— not than a good man though ; so there we come back again." "One of the compensations belonging to an impatient nature is, that it soon burns itself out into the grey ash of indifference ; also, it was an early habit of mine to wipe my sums off the slate directly they were finished." ***** "This is a curiously independent little district, everyone follows his own sweet will, and things happen according to a fortuitous concourse of atoms. The police are so unpopular that the maids have all taken to smile on the postmen, and the result is, not to facilitate the delivery of letters. I saw one beaming youth emerge from an area some fifteen minutes late, his bag thrown contemptuously across his shoulder, and his radiant gaze bent upon a photograph ; of course, under such circumstances, I yielded in contented acquiescence on receiving a letter addressed J. Woodhouse, Esq., while my own poor letter wandered off into space." ***** " A dictum of Goethe's has burnt into my convictions, namely, that to believe in anything one must live in solitude." ***** "There is a dreamy meditative organ meandering in the distance, one of those tunes that, as Mrs. Poyser says, keep on asking questions, and insist on one's attempting to answer such puzzles as Cui bono — anything ? Quien sabe — anything ? As I heard a clever man say he had once, for three months, doubted his own existence ; but it was in his youth, before he had rheumatism." ***** "Don't you like political women ? I do — they scold so." ***** "I am so sorry ; such a panorama of people have been marching through this week of mine, that I totally forgot." ***** "I think you wrote in a self-depreciative mood. One gets them sometimes, at least I do, berating myself, and scarifying my mental epidermis till it is quite tender. But, e7itre nous, I never find myself any better for the process. I believe that the law of tonics is reversed in morals, and it is not the bitter things that invigorate. This morning I sat out on the rocks watching the tide come in ; it was wonderfully pleasant. The mighty river in the distance, and the gentle tender little ripple close by, while the waves were shaded purple and green, and the distant clouds looked, as distant clouds somehow always do look, home-like." ***** "Your letter arrived opportunely in the midst of our first winter fog — one of those black mornings when, by the help of letters and a fire, one can hug oneself in cat-like content ; but without such accessories would find the world ' flat, stale, and unprofitable.' " ***** "Well, it is nice to have been young, but I like being old best ; one does not fit into the world at first somehow, and tender flesh will wince at getting its corners rubbed off." ***** "If he objects to the thing itself as not natural, I hope to get and to deserve that censure much more by-and-by : it is one of my few deep convictions that the supernatural is natural, that in the moral world, as in the physical, lightnings, volcanoes, avalanches, are as truly natural as fish-ponds and croquet -grounds. Nature includes all. Art should include all, only let each artist take the department that suits him. The supernatural needs a man's strength and depth ; the exceptionally natural is the ground 1 mean to take and work, God helping me. Now you have my confession of faith artistic. Only you and I well know the chasm between the endeavour and the result. It would be ludicrous, if it were not pathetic, to compare purpose and production." ***** " Home worries" (speaking of her mother's illness) "always seem to me the worst troubles ; those out-of-doors are lighter just because they are out-of-doors, and they are generally susceptible of cool business-like consolation. In personal sorrow we can 'commune with our own hearts and be still, ' and, under the night veil of silence, bury our dead out of our sight ; but home cares come just between the two — it is neither the sanctum sanctorum, nor the outer court of the temple — and so the sellers of doves and the money-changers get in and play havoc with our peace." ***** "If it was only possible, I have the best intentions in the world to devise something super-excellent ; but when a poor body's brains turn clayey it is of no use digging for flints therein." ***** "Last Saturday I was too much shrivelled up by the cold to speak the thanks I felt. Some states of the atmosphere benumb me altogether, as though a dumb spirit walked the air and clutched away all power of speech."
The natural reticence of a nature like hers in dealing with the depths of her own life, led her, in writing to those who were comparatively strangers, to say but little that would find a place in what are called distinctively " religious " biographies. But that little is at once real and precious, and I cannot better close the series which I have put together than by two or three short utterances which show what the writer of these poems was in her acts and her prayers for others.
The first is in acknowledgment of a payment for literary work, which seemed to her in excess of what she had a just claim to : —
"The other half would in any case be God's money. Could you not use that for some good deed ?"
What follows was written for the friend in whose love she found one of the great blessings of her life : —
" A joyous new year ! May God our Father bless you and keep you and hold you close to Himself ; then you will be safe and happy. * * *
"Adieu, my darling. God bless you : Christ keep you : the Holy Ghost be near you."
I know not if I have succeeded in bringing before those who read these pages the living picture which stands out so distinctly in my own memory. I have not thought it right, — scanty as the materials were, occupied, as I am, with other things, — to decline the task. The fact that it was my lot unconsciously to exercise some influence over the growth of " Sadie's " mind, when she was just passing into girlhood, that the later years of her life again brought us into con- tact, and gave me the opportunity of determining, in some degree, the form of her literary work, seemed a sufficient reason to me why I, in the absence of any-better qualified, should undertake this office, leaving to others the task of collecting and editing her 'Remains.' Others must judge how I have fulfilled it. I shall be content if I have not altogether disappointed those who knew her, if I have led some who did not know her to sympathise and love.
There has been, I need not say, a sorrowful pleasantness in reviving these recollections of a life that passed away before it had attained, as we judge, its full ripeness, growing into the " blade " and the " ear," but not " the full corn in the ear." One remembers it now with some touch of regret that more was not done for it and by it on earth, but also with the confident hope that all its capacities will grow elsewhere to their full stature, and all its cravings be satisfied in the light of God's presence, and all its incompleteness become full-orbed in the completeness of the Eternal. To quote her own words once again : —
" The Great Master is a perfect gardener .... There is room for unfinished souls in Heaven."
E. H. P.November 23rd, 1868.
|UNDER THE MULBERRY TREE||15|
|A FACE SEEN AT A WINDOW||25|
|O FY H&N GYMRAEG||31|
THE DOOM OF THE PRYNNES.
|THE DOOM OF THE PRYNNES||37|
SONGS OF COMRADES.
|AT THE BREACH||65|
|THE OLD ASTRONOMER||68|
|OUT OF DARKNESS INTO LIGHT||74|
|OMAR AND THE PERSIAN||77|
|SWINGING THE CENSER||91|
|" DISCHARGED HONOURABLY"||95|
|"BETTER A LIVING DOG THAN A DEAD LION "||110|
|THE COAST-GUARD'S STORY||102|
|THE ROUNDHEAD'S CHAUNT||108|
|IS IT SO, O CHRIST IN HEAVEN?||123|
|"SORROW AND SIGHING SHALL FLEE AWAY"||128|
|IN TIME OF DOUBT||133|
|DOMINE DIRIGE NOS||139|
|"NAZARENE, THOU HAST conquered!"||148|
|1. A Portrait||159|
|2. Walking in darkness||163|
|3. Youth and Maidenhood||167|
|4. A Song of Dragons||171|
|5. Peasant Bard to Noble Mistress||175|
|9. Sheltered — Unsheltered||189, 190|
|5. City Maid to Country Lover||177|
|6. A Plea||180|
|10. A Prayer of Blessing||192|
|13. A Dream||204|
|16. Trysting Time||218|
|17. Dead ! my love is dead||222|
|11. Afar off||198|
|13. Mountain Passes||208|
|15. Never Again||216|
|16. In the Polar Seas||220|
|SONG OF THE WATER-NIXIES||229|
|THE WAR-CRY OF THE WINDS||231|
|SNOWDON TO VESUVIUS||233|
|flowers in the east wind||244|
|poesy and the poet||253|
|crutch the judge||258|
|servant and master||262|
|THE WOEFUL LADY||276|
|" THERE THEY BURIED HIM "||278|
|CENSOR AND CAVILLER||289|
|A LOST FRIEND||291|
|LIGHT AT EVENING||293|
|MUSIC AT NIGHT||298|
- " From the time he was told that some admissions of his had been used to condemn his mother to death, the child never spoke until shortly before he died, eighteen months after, in the eleventh year of his age."
- Written after the Oxford Election of 1865.