« PreviousContinue »
ence which saddens towards middle life, just when the man of action is in full tide of thought annihilating affairs. A recluse like FitzGerald finds that his friends scatter, or marry, or die; he does not easily replenish the stock. On a dreaming mind-mirror, unclouded by strong will or desire, memories of vanished scenes and presences are vividly impressed, the flow of things, the sense of distances, contrasts, and changes
Yet ah! that Spring should vanish with the Rose, That youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close. "Life is a Dream" is the title given to his greatest drama by the profound Calderon. FitzGerald saw the events of life pass before him as incidents in a dissolving vision set in a circle of darkness, like a magic-lantern picture. Either one loses oneself in active life, and then it seems real, or one looks on, and then it seems like the scene played in Prospero's enchanted island by spirits. clothed in flesh, taking different parts, lightly appearing or vanishing heavily, in accordance with the will of an unseen Dramatic Author.
We are no other than a moving row
Of magic shadow-shapes that come and go Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held In Midnight by the Master of the Show. "You say sometimes," wrote FitzGerald from Wherstead, by the Orwell river, as early as 1835, "how like things are to dreams; or, as I think, to the shifting scenes of a play. So does this place seem to me. All our family are collected here; all my brothers and sisters, with their wives, husbands and children, sitting at different occupations, or wandering about the grounds and gardens, discoursing each their separate concerns, but all united into one whole. The weather is delightful, but when I see them passing to and fro, and hear their voices, it is like the scenes in a play." FitzGerald was twenty-six when he wrote thus, and another twenty years were to pass before he translated Omar-years of developement of his temperament, with no spell of active life to break the dream or normalize the mode of seeing and expressing. His life was the exact antithesis to, for instance, that of a sturdy pilgrim through nearly the same tract of time-- the late editor of the Edinburgh Review, whose recently published Letters afford a good standard of comparison.
One sees the dominant mood and style of FitzGerald maturing towards his world-disturbing poem. In 1844, for instance, his view of London from Carlyle's attic: "The window was open and looked out on nursery gardens, their almond trees in blossom, and beyond, bare walls of houses, and over these, roofs and chimneys, and here and there a steeple, and whole London crowned with darkness gathering behind like the illimitable resources of a dream." It is a true vision of the idea of London in the Platonic sense. Or here
again, in May, 1845: "The reign of primroses and cowslips is over, and the oak now begins to take up the empire of the year, and wear a budding garland about its brows. Over all this settles down the white cloud in the West, and the Morning and Evening draw towards Summer." It is the very movement and inner sense of Nature mirrored and reflected as perhaps it has been in any other writer of letters, save one, in this time and country.
FitzGerald happened upon Persian literature at the age of life when most men who have the time to brood, think with some sadness of the turn of their tide, and regret, after a fashion, joys natural to youth which have been sacrificed to work, a sense of duty, ambition, religion or to shyness. He had all his days to brood in, and his was that sensitive sensuous nature disjoined from capacity for action, more to be found in the South and East than in the energetic North. The poetry of Hafiz and Omar Khayyam, with its catch at the sweet fruit of life, came to him at the appropriate moment. Especially in Omar he found something to his own spirit. "June over," he writes in 1857, “a thing I think of with Omar-like sorrow. And the roses here are blowing-and going as abundantly as even in Persia." "Omar breathes," he said, “a sort of consolation to me." Not that FitzGerald ever ranked the Persians as intellectually on a a par with the great western poets, "their religion and philosophy is soon seen through, and always seems to be cuckooed over like a borrowed thing which people having once got, don't know how to parade enough"-but "Hafiz and Omar Khayyam ring like true metal." And, later on, he wrote to Cowell: "Oh, dear, when I do look into Homer, Dante and Virgil, Eschylus, Shakespeare, etc., those Orientals look-silly." After all, however, a goodly portion of the religion and philosophy of Western poets is soon seen through, and is but cuckooed over. There are few voices in the world and many echoes, it has been said.
FitzGerald was absorbed in the Persian for a few years, produced the wondrous piece of poetry in which his spirit lives like an enchanter in his magically built palace, and then passed away altogether from his Eastern wanderings. He had, it seemed, loaded all his "perilous stuff" on the ship thus launched on its voyage, and turned more than ever, in the rest of his life, to the books which dealt with the visible and human. Cervantes, Boccacio, Montaigne, Madame de Sevigne, Horace Walpole, Crabbe, Lamb, Dickens, Trollope, and above all, Walter Scott, and now and again an hour of Sophocles and Virgil, became the chief companions of his solitude. He loved best the writers in whom their To-day lived and breathed as a real presence; not the abstract thinkers or generalizing historians.
It is now worth asking what is this philosophy of which Omar Khayyam is the father, and the spirit and style of FitzGerald is the English mother, and, next, what is it in the present condition of the Anglo-Saxon world which has of late given so successful a career to this philosophy? Some commentators, with ingenuity greater even than that of those who composed the headings to the Chapters of the Song of Solomon in the English Bible, have supposed Omar to be a mystic religionist signifying divine love under the images of the wine and long-tressed cupbearer, as Hafiz and other Sufi poets did, or pretended to do or have been supposed to do. Mr. FitzGerald himself could not take this view. "Omar," he remarks in his Preface, "is said to have been especially hated and feared by the Sufis, whose practice he ridiculed, and whose faith amounts to little more than his own, when stripped of the mysticism and formal recognition of Islamism under which Omar would not hide. . . . Having failed (however mistakenly) of finding any Providence but Destiny, and any world but this, he set about making the most of it; preferring rather to soothe the Soul through the Senses into acquiescence with things as he saw them, than to perplex it with vain disquietude after what they might be. Thus Omar, despairing of a solution of the enigma of life, fell back, in theory at least, upon sensual pleasure as the only true wisdom, and only diverted himself with speculative problems of Diety, Destiny, Matter and Spirit, Good and Evil, and other such questions, easier to start than to run down, and the pursuit of which becomes a very weary sport at last."
If, in accordance with FitzGerald and commonsense, one takes Omar Khayyam as a material Epicurean of the twelfth century, meaning what he says, his teaching is old and simple enough. He plays upon an instrument with few strings. Nothing is known beyond the circle of sensation. All revelations are but as tales told by dreamers who wake for a moment, then fall to sleep again. Philosophic explanations are as empty and truthless as religious revelations. Heaven and Hell are but creations of imagination:
Heav'n but the Vision of fulfilled Desire, And Hell the Shadow from a Soul on fire, Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.
alter nothing. Sin is a meaningless word. Nothing is certain except the pleasure of the present hour-life itself is but a "momentary taste of Being from the well amid the waste." Therefore enjoy while you may the flower garden, the forbidden wine, and the rosy lips of the beloved. Waste not your hour, nor in the vain pursuit Of This and That endeavor and dispute; Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape, Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit. "Make haste to eat, drink, and be merry," etc. "The result," says FitzGerald, "is sad enough, saddest perhaps when most ostentatiously merry; more apt to move sorrow than anger toward the old Tent-maker, who, after vainly endeavoring to unshackle his steps from Destiny, and to catch some authentic glimpse of Tomorrow, fell back upon To-day (which has outlasted so many Tomorrows!)as the only ground he had to stand upon, however momentarily slipping from under his feet." It is, in fact, the wisdom of Horace, but incarnated in a warmer and more passionate poetry than could arise from the mind of the habitue of the Via Sacra.
Men are like pieces on a chess board endowed with consciousness which makes them fancy that they govern their own movements. They exult in success, or despond in failure, but really are placed, and moved, and removed by the player. Or they are as a ball tossed down into the polofield and driven hither and thither. Destiny governs all from the first of days to the last; in vain men pray, and weep, and struggle; they can
Doubtless to us Omar Khayyam would be nothing were it not for FitzGerald. Magic indeed is the power of verse. Every quatrain in the version will outlive all articles written in excellent prose upon important topics in the solemn Times, from its first morning of creation to its last dawn of reckoning. The poem lives with an astonishing life of its own, perhaps to endure as long as the Psalms of David. Like the finest poet of the present day, FitzGerald might have said, though he certainly would not have said:
Yea, ere Saturnian earth her child consumes, And I lie down with outworn ossuaries,
Ere death's grim tongue anticipates the tomb's Siste, viator; in this storied urn
My living heart is laid to throb and burn,
Yet their poetic vigor and beauty alone do not. explain the amazing hold which these quatrains, after their obscure birth and childhood, have suddenly taken upon the English race.
Something in their spirit, perhaps, suits a wandering and dissatisfied folk, camping here and there about the planet in virgin deserts, or upon the ruins of old civilizations. In India, that "battered Caravanserai, whose portals are Calcutta and Bombay, where Viceroy after Viceroy with his Staff abides his destined Hour and goes his Way," or in South Africa, or Australia, or the American Far West, where searchers for settlement are here to-day and gone to-morrow, the verse of the immobile dweller by the Deben may best express the sense of the transitory and the unreal. An American Ambassador has told us that he heard a western pioneer mutter a FitzGerald quatrain as he struck his little mining camp.
But this is not the full explanation either. Just as in the 'fifties there was something in FitzGerald's mood which made the old Persian's poetry a fertilizing seed-place, so there is now some recent change in the mood of the Anglo Saxon race that has caused this wide response to Omar-in-FitzGerald. It is, one must imagine, that there has of late been a wide and rapid decline in religious belief, so that a vast number of English people are able to understand and largely sympathize with the old rebel against the orthodox Islamite Puritanism of the East. Christian wisdom is exactly opposite to that of Omar Khayyam, in that it affirms a knowledge of the meaning and end of life, and of that which is outside or behind life, most incomplete, indeed, but sufficient to serve as a practical guide. A Christian might admire the beauty of FitzGerald's poetry and think that it was the best possible expression of life unillumined by revelation and unguided by faith.
Christians have at all time accepted the belief that the world is under the Divine Government of the Being whom they call by different names in their different languages; that this Being was made manifest in the person of Jesus Christ; that men are here in the world merely as pilgrims on their way to their own country; that they are responsible for their conduct, and are bound to live soberly and seriously; that they should look on the things on earth not as ends in themselves, but merely as provisions for the way. Enjoyments of the body or intellect are in the Christian view, not indeed to be condemned, but to be used with great caution and moderation least they should prove temptations drawing men away from their true path, the road of ad patriam. In this view, suffering willingly and patiently endured, after the example of the founder of the religion, is a higher ideal by far than any pleasure, however legitimate. This whole conception of life is so absolutely different from Omar's "Counsels of Despair" that, unless there had been some weakening of it, popular reprints of the English version could hardly have been appearing annually in England "and almost daily" in America. English and American taste for fine poetry cannot alone account for this; it is not sufficiently strong or pure.
It is clear in England, and far more in America, there is much thought and feeling seeking for a new guiding conception and direction in life. It resembles capital which has lost its old investment and is seeking for new securities. There is a disintegration of the solid and undoubting and matter-of-fact belief. This is the reason of the extraordinary popularity in England, and still more in America, of books attempting to find a new basis for religion, like those of the late Mr. Henry Drummond. Another sign is the increas
ing capture of adherents by those wizards (in a respectful sense) who, lit by a dim but waxing moon, follow Spiritualism, Christian Science and the like obscure by paths. Another curious sign is the development of a kind of religion of patriotism. Anti-Catholic journals and orators, the new priesthood have, since the Revolution, in Latin countries, steadily taught the people to worship abstract images called La France or Italia. These hierophants recall by their wrath when any insult (to be avenged by seas of blood) is offered to these goddesses, that of those who cried out: "Great is Diana of the Ephesians." To their honor even honor itself is to be sacrificed. Even in England and America there are some few signs of this tendency to hypostasize the natural love of one's country into the worship or adoration of an imaged Abstraction. A recent proposal that all children in national schools should perform a daily act of salutation to the national flag would have seemed strange to our grandfathers, and idolatrous to Cromwell and Milton. Not long ago a London newspaper laid it down that "to extend the area of Englishmen and the English language was the new religion of Anglo-Saxon civilization."
Alas! in need, sorrow, sickness, or any other adversity, no man will derive consolation from the existence of the British Empire or the American Republic, and, on the approach of death, these circumstances, relatively speaking So great, will seem but as the shadow of a dream. They minister to our pride, these vast national estates, but console not our sorrows, and this is why, in spite of enormous success, we are still, as a German philosopher called us, "the most melancholy of races." There is no real cheerfulness or lightheartedness for those who are burdened with great possessions, and tormented by never satisfied desires.
FitzGerald first published his Omar Khayyam when the tide of optimistic belief in the sufficiency of material civilization was running its strongest, and when our complacency was hardly disturbed by the caveats entered, in their different ways, by Carlyle, and Matthew Arnold, and Ruskin. Epicureanism, based on a pessimistic Agnosticism, clothed though it was in a heart-penetrating form, could not then produce its full effect. The present popularity of the poem, which FitzGerald did not live to suffer under, marks, I think, the rapid decline at once of the old religious Protes tant conviction, and of the sanguine optimistic temper due to the rapid movement of scientific discovery and mechanical invention. Realization, as ever, has fallen far short of anticipation, and an excessive estimate of the value of life has been followed by a tendency to question its whole wider purpose. As of old, voluptuous Sirens appeal to mariners weary of the sea, and doubtful
whether there is any end to their labors, or mean. ing in their voyage. Why not end the voyage in these ever-alluring islands of pleasure, instead of passing them by with averted faces on the way to unknown seas? If this life is all, is it not absurd to refuse the wine fobidden to Mussulmans, the "free love" forbidden to Christians? Why not yield to that immense constant attraction? Thus the thought of Omar Khayyam, with the penetrating point given to it by the Suffolk dreamer, touches multitudes whose like it would fifty years ago have left indifferent. The garrison has been partly withdrawn from their hearts.
It is a time of disenchantment and doubt. That common-sense, non-mystical Protestantism, foe to all enthusiasm and symbolic adoration which satisfied men like Hoadly, and Wake, and Warburton, and Paley, and Whately, and prosaic Englishmen at large, has received its mortal wound at the hands of Rationalism and Free Criticism, its own children. Like the character in "Ariosto" it goes on fighting although, without perceiving it, it is dead.
E'l poverino, che non se n'era accorto Andava combattendo, ed'era morto.
It is not yet replaced. Yet we cannot live forever upon individual and national comforts and successes, or upon Stoical maxims, or without a wider, truer, and more adequate conception and embodiment of the Christian religion. Our race is too serious and sober, has been Christian for too many centuries, inherits too much that is good from Catholic and Puritan, to do more than listen to the songs of the Sirens, half regretting that it cannot make surrender. What is to follow? Perhaps the most permanent result of our occupation of India will be, not the over-precarious empire itself, but restoration under influences flowing from the East of the true and essential meaning of our own religion, so debased in the West by association with utilitarian ends, optimistic philosophy, and worldly prosperity. The translation in the nineteenth century of the Sacred Books of the East, when the gold in them is sifted from the dust, may prove to be even more important than the revival of Greek learning in the sixteenth. Or, at any rate, we shall learn from the weariness born of success, if not from great disasters, to esteem at its true value, neither more nor less, all that intellectual and material progress, the rapidity of which has somewhat disturbed correctness of vision during these later ages of the world. BERNARD HOLLAND.
ON THE SHELF.-"You really have no business here, my friend," said the book of verse to the paper-backed novel. "Oh! why not?" "Well, to be frank, you are not literature." "But I am in my sixty-sixth thousand!"-"Pure Fables," in London Academy.
"Twenty years ago Lafcadio Hearn was a reporter on the staff of a Cincinnati newspaper which I was directing. He came from—no man knew where. He was a tiny fellow physically, and as myopic as a bat. He knew nothing about news, but he could write a 'story' that was as polished and as full of color as if it had come from the pen of Gautier himself. Despite his physique he was as courageous as a lion, and there was no assignment of peril that he would not bid for avidly. I remember that one day a famous steeple climber was going to scale the spire of the cathedral to repair the cross that topped the spire two hundred feet above the sidewalk. It was a feat that all other steeple climbers had balked at, but this fellow was master of his trade and accepted the contract. The afternoon he first scaled the spire, thousands of people watched him breathlessly as he slowly made his way up the outside of the steeple, fixing his ropes and footholds as he went. Of course he was interviewed, and he said boastingly that the task was so easy that he could just as well carry a man up on his back. That noon Hearn came to me and said timidly that he had read of the steeple climber's offer and would be glad to ascend the spire on his back. I was amazed, and tried to point out to Hearn the peril of the thing.
He would not listen. Finally my desire to get a 'good story' overcame my scruples, and I told Hearn I'd arrange the matter with the steeple climber. I thought the latter was making a huge bluff for business and advertising ends, but I was mistaken, He was as zealous as Hearn. Well, I brought the two together. They arranged their end of the feat, and I washed my hands of further responsibility for either the steeple climber's or Hearn's safety.
"At the appointed time, Hearn mounted the steeple climber's shoulders, and the dizzy journey began. began. Tens of thousands of people watched the foolhardy pair. At last the cross was reached, and Hearn left his pearch on the climber's shoulders. The steeple-Jack swarmed up the cross and stood on his head on the apex of it. The mob in the streets below cheered the daring fellow, but he was so high up in the air that the cheers were inaudible. The two men returned to the ground safely. Hearn came back to the office, and sat down and wrote two columns of a story describing his sensations, and the glories of the view be had obtained from the steeple top. It was literature, this story, and it is regretable that it has been lost in the obscurity of a forgotten newspaper. Such a glowing description of a city seen from a great height I never read before or since. The most interesting thing about it to was the fact that Hearn couldn't see five feet beyond the tip of his nose, so myopic was he.
Interesting Notes in a Philadelphia Catalogue of Them. The second number of The Bulletin of the Free Library of Philadelphia Mr. John Thomson devotes to the description of that series of works known as "The Library of Old Authors." The same excellent method as shown in Mr. Thomson's descriptive catalogue of the writings of Sir Walter Scott is followed out. This catalogue, the Number Two, then, is not alone valuable to librarians, but is of great use to readers. Just such publications awaken the interest of the public, for they engender curiosity, and curiosity is in fact the beginning of a desire for further knowledge.
Mr. Thomson's catalogue is an extensive one, representing a great many volumes of the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. At the conclusion there is to be found a careful index. Taking at random some of the old authors represented, here is George Chapman, known to us by "The Iliad of Homer" and "The Odyssey of Homer." It may be said that of the nine hundred and ninety-nine Americans or English in the thousand, all that they know about Homer is derived from Chapman. The particular edition Mr. Thomson describes is the one with introduction and notes by the Rev. Richard Hooper, of 1888, and he writes:
George Chapman as a poet was cleverly described as "a rough nut externally, but one who contains a most sweet kernel." His translation of Homer has been variously esteemed. It is in rhymed verse of fourteen syllables. The last twelve books were translated in less than fifteen weeks. His Homer is generally admitted to be one of the great achievements of the Elizabethan age, a monument of skill and devotion." Daniel, Ben Jonson, Waller, Pope, Coleridge and Lamb have all paid tribute to the energy and force of this translation. No one denies that it is a free translation, but Emerson, Swinburne, and notably Keats (in his well-known Sonnet), have all been enthu siastic admirers of Chapman's labors.
In the note on "The Odyssey of Homer," by Chapman, Mr. Thomson gives something of the history of the man and his books.
Chapman's "Odyssey" was originally published in folio, 1614-16. Of this translation the edition now under description was, in 1857, the only edition besides that superintended by the author himself. Chapman adopted the ten-syllabled heroic couplet for the "Odyssey," and the greatest complaint concerning his translation is that he "too frequently wandered from the original and not seldom curtailed passages."
Of the main incidents of his life we have no record. "What he was," says Mr. Hooper, "where he lived, whether he was married, are all unknown to us."
It has been maintained (see Minto) that Chapman was the rival poet referred to by Shakespeare in his Sonnets.
William Drummond of Hawthorden (1585-1649) is certainly worthy of comment, for was he not "distinguished as the first Scottish poet who wrote well in English?"
Hallam and Hazlitt have both written highly in commendation of his sonnets. There is one piece at the end of the volume which is attributed to Drummond, but as to the authorship of which doubt must always exist. It is unlike anything else he wrote, and was not published till 1691. It is entitled "Polemo-Middinia," or the battle of the dunghill. It has the appearance of being a part of a larger poem, and alludes to some rustic dispute which was probably a matter of considerable notoriety. The facts seem unknown now. It is the first macaronic poem by a native of Great Britain, and the burlesque verse, with the intermingling of English with Latin words and the contortions of the English by the use of Latin terminations and Latin construction, is very clever and amusing.
The author was a firm royalist in principles and kept as clear as he could of the risks and troubles of the civil war, but did not long survive the murder of Charles I, his own life being shortened by grief for the death of his sovereign. Drayton and Ben Jonson were among his friends.
Here are the notes on another royalist poet, Richard Lovelace (1618-58). whom Lovelace loved?
Who was Lucusta,
* * *
The poet fought for the King (Charles I), but in 1648 was imprisoned for political reasons for a year, and ten years later died in great poverty: Lucusta to whom a large number of the poems relate or were addressed, was probably the same lady as the poet's Amarantha. It is surmised that the gentlewoman's name was Lucy Sacheverell, whom Lovelace called his Lux Casta. She was a person of great beauty and fortune. Alexis in the "Amarantha" is the poet himself. It is curios to notice that in the first edition of "Lucusta," published in 1649, Amarantha is misprinted Aramantha on the title page.
Some time ago there was printed in The Times Saturday Review surmises as to the date of the imprisonment of Sir Thomas Malory, the year of his death and his bequests. The great interest all the world has in Sir Thomas Malory is because of his work "La Mort d'Arthure." The edition in the Philadelphia Free Library is by Thomas Wright, 1889. Mr. Thomson writes:
Sir Thomas Malory, who was probably born about 1430, compiled these romances early in 1470, or more than fifteen years" before Caxton printed them, in 1485. For a full account of Caxton's edition, of which "only one complete copy is known," and of Wynkyn de Worde's edition of 1498, see Dibdin's "Typographical Antiquities" (Vol. I, pp. 241-255), and the same author's "Bibliotheca Spenceriana" (Vol. IV, pp. 403-409). Dibdin includes several interesting wood cuts in his description of the latter edition.
The edition under description is printed from a reprint in 1634, when "the last of the black-letter editions was published in three parts, in 4to, with three separate titles." It has been also "collated with the text of Caxton," and any important variations are shown in the notes.