Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, AN ACTOR'S REMINISCENCES, by GEORGE BARLOW (1847-1913)

Poetry Explorer

Classic and Contemporary Poetry

AN ACTOR'S REMINISCENCES, by                    
First Line: You want to follow in my steps?
Last Line: To play othello: 'tis my benefit.
Subject(s): Actors & Actresses; Professions; Theater & Theaters; Actresses; Stage Life

You want to follow in my steps? You choose
The Stage for a profession?—Well and good.
But weigh the matter fully. 'Tis no slight
And facile matter when a man decides
What path with all his ardour to pursue
Till death;—and when the path is set with thorns
—With here and there amid the thorns a flower
Splendid (I know it)—then the choice becomes
Of weightier and more solemn import still.—

So weigh the matter carefully. Meanwhile
It may be of use and cannot be of harm
If I narrate to you before you start
Some of my own maturer thoughts and dreams—
Giving you not so much the outward acts
As the results of these; experiences
Wrought into thoughts, and thoughts made slowly ripe
By further thought,—till now at last, the Stage
Stands clear before me as it is, and as,
Please God, it one day will be. Listen then.

Now, first of all, if once you choose the Stage
For your profession, see that night and day
You "magnify your office"—with St. Paul.—
Let no man slight your calling unrebuked:
Aye, and no woman either; there are those
—Oh, I have met them,—met them many a time!—
There are fair English ladies even now
Who looking back towards eras long since dead
Scoff at the Stage, and ask what worthy thing
"Came out of Nazareth,"—or Drury Lane!
They will quote Mrs. Browning; who declared—
Somewhere in her letters—that it needs no high
Imagination to enjoy the Stage:
Nay, that its strong enjoyment seems to imply
A low imagination, unrefined
And coarse and unideal and commonplace.
These arguers you must meet, and meet them full.
Be frank at first; confess that there is truth
(Much—yes, too much) in what they do affirm.
The Stage has been degraded: doubt it not:
Degraded by the public just as much
As it has lowered the public:—own it quite.
But then go on to say, with emphasis:—
"Of all professions that a man can choose
And can pursue before the face of God
In holy humble earnest,—looking up
Straight from his furrow of labour unto Him,—
Of all these callings there has never been
One that can be pursued more holily,
Or more in deadliest earnest, than the Stage.
Why, what is worship?"—so you next will urge—
"In what does worship lie? Most surely in
Pure depth of feeling, earnestness of soul,
Exalted passion of spirit, ardent life.
These on the Stage you have,—more strongly there
Than elsewhere; and such feeling leads to God.
Why, you yourselves"—pursue your argument—
"You yourselves would confess that deep delight,
Strong passion, ever lift the soul on high,
Gifting the wingless with superb new wings
And adding to the wingful fiery force
Of rustling plumage:—you would say no doubt
That God is found not only in a Church
But in the deep green fragrant woods as well
And in the gold-starred meadows, and beside
The foaming white unfathomable sea.
A man can worship—so you would admit—
While riding, hunting,—or while steering hard
A Yorkshire coble over crests of waves,
Or even while fighting.—Good. I claim the same
Fair liberal judgment for the Stage, and say
That when man's spirit is most exalted, man
Is nearest to his Maker."—You can quote
In full pursuance of your argument
That noble sonnet Matthew Arnold gave
To Rachel; in his vision seeing her
Sick and dejected on an August day
In Paris—the white walls ablaze with heat—
Making her carriage stop before the door
Of the French Theatre,—and gazing hard,
Her swift eyes full of tears, at that strange fane
Wherein the passion of her life was spent.
Now she was dying; Paris, stricken by heat,
Was quite deserted: but the woman came—
The mighty actress came (my reverence
For a true actor or actress is so large
I never speak in thought the name of one
Without in thought uncovering my brow)—
The actress came and with her dying eyes,
Alone with her own spirit and with God,
Yearned o'er the place where most of all her soul
Had been endowed with superhuman might,
Exalted and exultant most of all,—
The place that was to her a temple indeed,—
Temple, and altar of the living God.
Of all strange incidents half-sad, half-sweet,
I know no sadder, sweeter, than this pause
Of dying Rachel at her Theatre,—
There summing up in one swift dream, perhaps,
Before she left this world to give account
To God of all her acting, her whole life;—
Hearing again the mighty applause ring forth
And feeling once again the elastic boards
Bend at her footfall: seeing again the crowds,
The Theatre "lined with human intellect"
(As Mrs. Siddons said of that first night
When she flamed forth and triumphed),—seeing again
In one strange awful great unfathomed glimpse
The tiers of seats, the faces,—ere she turned
To act her last part with no hand to applaud
Save only God's:—This story you should quote
To show the people how divinely great
Acting may be when a great spirit acts.
And that word "acting" leads me to the next
Thought that I would most earnestly impress
And stamp into your soul,—yes, "acting" indeed!
"Acting!"—just so. O foolish people, ye
Say "acting," and ye think that "acting" means
Just that and nothing more; a dressing up
As children do to play at soldiers; or
A shy at Amateur Theatricals!
"O fools and slow of heart" do ye not know
That acting is just living: nothing more
And nothing less,—no actor ever yet
Was great, but he was great, potentially,
In life as well as acting: yes, Stage tears
Come from the heart, if they be there at all
In any spirit-moving potency.
The heart must weep, before the eyes can weep;
The soul must suffer, ere the breast can pant
And tremble: what we see upon the Stage
Must first be learned by thought and suffering;—
I speak of course of acting worth the name.
Acting not worth the name—there's plenty such!—
Has made men think that acting is unreal—
Acting as such,—as this poor weak stuff is.
But this is not the case: there is no life
So full of life intensified and great
And real and deep and vivid and sublime
As that the actor lives, if he be true
To his own calling, and the voice within.
Consider, too, the comfort of the thing
Besides the glory of it,—how divine
After a snow-clad wind-tossed London day
(Or just a foggy dreary London day)
To have the Stage for refuge, and the warmth
And light; and, wonderful and most of all,
The quick electric rush of sympathy
That passes through a crowd in unison.
I never acted yet but I have felt
The better for it,—though I may have been
Ill and depressed and saddened through the day.
The acting woke me up, the electric thrill
Rushed through me, and I have surpassed myself
Sometimes when feeling up to the very hour
Of acting so forlorn and sad and weak
That never a word—I thought—could pass my lips.

And then the changes! Here on earth we live
One single life,—and that too often dull
And sable-winged and dreary: on the Stage
We live through countless fiery lives, and blend
Our sober proper personality
With endless modes of being,—passing through
Each passionate human phase of mind in turn.
And that is rapture,—rapture absolute
To those who finding one life all too short
Would blend their fiery souls with other souls
And know the passions of the universe
As God discerns them all, ideally;
Passing from Faust to Mephistopheles,
And Romeo to Macbeth,—and knowing in each
The very inmost sacred spirit of each,
And speaking as each separate being prompts.
And this is "acting": not to mouth a part,
But with keen grip of mind to apprehend
The innermost essence of each character
And then to be that woman or that man,—
Becoming him or her so veritably
That all the sense of petty self is lost,
Absorbed, transfused, and swallowed up in each
Creature whom you would faithfully portray.
This is "creation"—word so much misused.—
For when some sorry actor takes a part,
Rampages through it, fills it out with "gag,"
Imprints his soul upon it (such a soul!)
Winks at the gallery, and reveals himself
(And such a self to exhibit!) to the gods,
We call it a "creation": blasphemy!
The true "creation" is to recreate
Some soul long dead: to bring it back to earth
And make it walk the earth, alive indeed.
Yes: not to manifest one's live small soul
But to create again some dead great soul
And bring the audience face to face with him.
And this being real "creation" is the cause
Why actors and true poets are akin:
Aye, far more closely akin than any yet
Has fancied: here remains a work to do
For the far future—to bestow the gift
Of acting on all poets, and the true
Poetic inspiration on the Stage.
Ah! then will come the Stage's golden day;
When actors act as highest poets write,
And poets do not only write at home
Locked in the silent study, but, besides,
Speak forth with resonant voice their great ideas
And gather stimulus to further toil
From the rapt faces of their fellow men.
Poets reach only half their height as yet,
And actors not a quarter of their height,
Because they think and speak and write and act
As separate, not as mingled, entities.
Does any man for instance dream or think
That even the greatest actors we have seen
Could play Hernani as the author could?
That is to say if he from early youth
Had but been trained—as poets will be trained—
To use not only his heart and brain and soul,
But also voice and eye and hand and limb.
Till author also is actor, we shall fail
In all its rounded fulness to be 'ware
Of what a giant work of art might be.
Shakespeare as Romeo!—think of that, my friends!
Sheridan as Joseph Surface,—or as Charles!
"She stoops to Conquer," with the author cast
For some one of the leading characters!
The very thought is dazzling,—but it's true.
Barring infirmity, or want of strength,
The author must be ever most of all
The man to indicate the subtle charm,
The nuances, and the dainty various traits,
Of his creations: take that as assured.
No acting yet has equalled, nor come near,
The acting of the future: heights undreamed
Yet tarry in front, and will be scaled at last.
The one thing wanting yet is earnestness,—
Religious earnestness,—upon the Stage.
In France they have it; have it more than we.
To see a Frenchman act the simplest part
Often puts us to shame; our slovenly style
Of getting through the thing in the least time,
Then off to supper,—or to catch the train!
'Tis the old story; nothing can be done
Without religion, or at any rate
The spirit of religion—earnestness.
If we were thrilled and held and quite inspired
By a due sense of Art, should we start up
Before the Play is over—seek for wraps
And shawls and opera cloaks and comforters
While Irving's drawing out his weird last groan
Or Sarah Bernhardt's dying on the stage?
Never: we should sit still,—as we in Church
Sit still a moment at the sermon's end,—
Out of pure reverence; or if not for that
Just out of common formal courtesy
To the performer struggling to attain
For our sakes and his own a passionate goal.
Better it is to miss the train, or miss
The festive supper, than to dull our brains
And scar our hearts by hurling out of each
Emotion ere 'tis finished: passion needs,
Like music, gradually to die away,
Not to be choked out in a search for wraps!
But when we're more in earnest, all these things
Will be amended. Then the Stage will seem
Worthy of e'en the first ability,
And men who now seek honour at the Bar
Or in the Church, will seek it on the Stage.
Then women who now dread to "act" for fear
Of coarse companionship and vulgar tongues
Will seek the Stage by instinct: for thereon
And there alone can passion, otherwise
Pent up and tight-imprisoned, burst its chains.
There only can one quite forget oneself
And pass into the measureless great joy
Of so forgetting self:—I saw one day,
Watching some Amateur Theatricals,
A lady whom it was delight to watch;
Full of that special nerve-force which implies
An actress-nature: full of fun and wit
And silvery ready laughter; able too
To hold and magnetise the hearer's heart.
Well, there are thousands such: it cannot be
But that in England there are numberless
Bright girls who would, on an Ideal Stage,
If trained and cultured, more than quite surpass
The Terrys and the Bernhardts of the world,—
Bringing their lady-like and tender power
To bear upon the crude unpolished Stage
And adding grace and beauty by their touch.
It cannot but be so: but now they shrink,
Shrink (and no wonder!) from the ordeal set
Before them,—knowing that, even the ordeal passed,
Night after night they'll have to act their part
Unchanged, however weary they may be;
Night after night, for months and months and months.
This kills all genius: this blind selfishness
Upon our parts. The public ought to see
That delicate genius be not choked like this.
O public, if you had seen—as I have seen—
Real fresh glad acting full of grace and charm
And life and infinite variety,—
If you could realise how sweet a thing
Is the real pure life-acting of a girl
Who acts because she really loves to act
And not because she's paid by the night to act,—
You'd see that there's a difference as great
'Tween real fresh vivid acting and the stale
Poor tawdry tinselly stuff we christen so
As the eternal difference between
The rouged pearl-powdered kiss of harlotry
And the moss-rose-like kiss of pure young love.
But acting of this sort you'll never see
Upon your modern Stage,—or see it but
By faintest briefest glimpses,—and the cause
Is plain: if you take up your genius-girls
And set them on the stage and treat them like
Mere bloodless heartless puppets, soulless dolls,
And make them act for several hundred nights
Not like live women but like dead machines,
Why the result is certain: either you
Subtract the genius by this constant strain
Or else, the genius being left, the girl
Herself succumbs, and 'ill have no more of it.
There's not a nervous system that will stand
Acting eight times in six successive days
(As the great Paris actress just has done)
Without deterioration, falling off,
Ruin of tissue, lessening of its force
And tender sweet suggestive subtlety.
Even the greatest actress—all her art
Taken for granted—would be distanced quite
By the fresh acting of an untired mind,
If we had eyes to see what acting is,
For acting is enjoyment; and no laugh
Not merry itself can make another laugh,
And all the ripples of delight must flow
Outward and onward from the actor's soul
Firstly, before they can impinge upon
The spirits of his hearers: and you mar,
Yea, mar for ever and most hopelessly,
The actor's rich enjoyment of his part
(And, worse than all, the actress's of hers)
If you set him or her the dreary task
Of acting Romeo or Juliet
Straight off for say a couple of hundred nights.
Actors and actresses should take more change:
Should learn from Nature and from movement more:
Think more; talk less; and win more pleasure in life.
The slaves they are of the gaslights, as it is
To-day; the slaves of the ring, or sharp short "ping"
That lifts the curtain,—and once more they "act".

I said just now that "worst of all it is"
To mar the actress's delight and bring
Fatigue upon her,—and the reason's plain.
In acting, as in love, the first force flows
Straight from the woman,—and she paves the way
For all that's noble, histrionically.
This is the reason why, when poets act,
They'll act so well:—because they, most of all,
Incomparably chief and most of all,
Are sensitive to woman's influence.
Set your true poet to act, and let him fall
In love with the actress—the result you'll get
Will be superb: she'll draw him on and on
And quite encompass and surround him with
Her strange magnetic influence, till he breathes
As she breathes, pulses with her very pulse,
Becomes a very living part of her,
And acts as if he spoke before God's stars
Watching, instead of flaring flames of gas,
And felt not the chill draught from corridors
But the cool sea-wind lifting his hot hair.
"Why, this is love!" you'll say: and so it is.
But acting, living, loving, all are one:—
The man who loveth best, will act the best,
And he who liveth highest too will reach
The highest mountain-plateaus of his art.
It needs imagination to become
A very part and portion of each scene,—
And that is why the poets who possess
Strong clear imagination most of all
Ought most of all to act: they have the power
By their creative force to turn the Stage
Into the very thing it represents.
Is it a lonely common? Then to them
It is a lonely common; and they see
The dandelions springing 'mid coarse grass
And seem almost to inhale the scent of furze
Or mark the purple heather blossoming.
Is it a mountain-region? Then on them
Swiftly arise the white eternal snows
And they can see the peaks in the blue air
And hear the ringing horns of mountaineers.
Is it a garden? Then the roses gleam
Fragrant and red and glad before their gaze
And through the sunlit noon or moonlit night
They see the green trees bend before the breeze
And hear the insects murmur in the leaves,—
Watching the daisies growing on the lawn.—
Or is the scene a scaffold? Most of all
Then their imagination hath avail,
And they can see the crowd of sansculottes
Seething just like an angry dark-waved sea
Around the foot of the scaffold, and can hear
The fierce mad Babel of revengeful tongues
All clamouring for their swift and violent death.
This is imagination: and this shows
How far out Mrs. Browning was when she
(Quoted above) declared that never high
Imagination revelled in the Stage.
The truth is just the very opposite:—
It needs imagination to enjoy
The Stage,—and though she had the poet's gift
(In noble excess, God knows!) yet this one gift,
This one theatric special fancy-side,
She had not, knew not,—else she had never dubbed
The drama-loving fancy poor or "low".
It needs imagination to create
Out of the lifeless bony skeleton
Presented on the Stage the fleshy frame,
The blood, the nerves, the sinews, and to give
To each its proper place, and all their life.
And, in this making of the unreal real,
You use the audience for galvanic band
Or chain,—for an electrical machine,—
Gathering from them their swift magnetic force
That you may use it as creative power.
The music helps too: whence I think the plan
The French pursue of leaving music out
Between the Acts an obvious mistake,
Though done with a right motive,—motive, viz.,
That all shall be in earnest and the whole
Quite independent of accessories.
But music helps; the notes vibrate along
The nerves and brain and add creative vis
(But then it should be music suitable,
Not, as too often in our theatres,
Lightest dance-music in the intervals
Of some grim soul-absorbing tragedy
And vice versâ).
As I said, you get
From the spectators half your nervous force.
And that is why, if their attention swerves,
Yours swerves as well: you form a corporate whole—
You all are members of one wide-branched tree,
And if one twig shakes, the great branches shake:
Such is your indivisibility.
And that is why in a French theatre
You feel much more at home,—because you are
En rapport with each other and the whole
Audience;—they follow with attention fixed
(They view late-comers with intense disgust
For one thing)—and their solid complex force
Supports and cheers and lifts and stimulates.
You raise your finger, and you sway the whole;
Indeed they form your body for the time
(This is the triumph and the crown of Art)
And you can rule and move the whole of them
As if they were your arms and legs and feet
And you the guiding brain and heart of all.
This is the glory of acting; thus to sway
A thousand hearts as if they were but one.—
Just as a poet reads his lines aloud
To some fair girl and holds her quite spell-bound
So that she folds her hands at last and sways
From side to side with rhythmic movement timed
In strict accordance to the waves of verse:
And he can see—being a lover perhaps—
How all her sweet face flushes at some line,
And he laughs inwardly and feels his power.
Just so the audience is but one rapt girl
Hanging upon the actor's voice and lips
If he but hath the power to hold them fast,
And he can almost make the women at least
(For these are ever the most sensitive
And sweetly open to emotion's waves)
Sway listening pliant forms from side to side
And sob a low accompaniment to him.
This is the triumph of Art; and no such height
Can any other of the professions reach.
Not pleading, no, nor preaching; not in these
(Though they be glorious and their scope be large),
Encumbered as they are with purpose set,
And definite responsibility,
Can such a goal of mighty human force
Be reached and such a triumph be achieved
As on the Stage:—where, losing all of self,
You pass by loss of self to higher life,
And share with God, and with the stars and sun,
Impassioned boundless immortality.
Moreover all the spirits who came before
Unite to lift and buoy the actor up:—
This most of all on great historic boards.
At Drury Lane, at Covent Garden, at
The Théatre Français, what strange memories throng
The actor's soul and render him sublime!
Macready, Siddons, Rachel, Mathews, Kean,
Garrick, Desclée, Robson, Peg Woffington,—
These and a hundred others storm the heart
Of a great actor pacing the same boards
And fill his eyes with tears, his soul with fire,
And mightily inspire and comfort him,
So that his thoughts are not his own at all
But theirs: there comes a rush of fiery wings,
"A sound as of a mighty wind and tongues
Cloven:" the spirit of the past descends
Upon the worthy actors of to-day,
And they now act not only unto us
But unto these,—that grim stern critic-band
Gazing upon them from the Green-Room door,
Saying—"Outstrip, surpass us if you can".—
To these (as at the tomb of Charlemagne
Don Carlos prays) the earnest actor prays,—
Lifting up heart and soul and eager hands
To these the dead great spirits, and their God.
Just as—I well remember—when I first
Entered Queen Mary's Palace, Holyrood
(E'en now I almost tremble at the name),
There came around me such a rush of wings
And all the eyes of such a ghostly crew
That I fell back, and wept for very awe.
And then along the air Queen Mary came—
I felt her and I knew that it was she—
Her quick robes swept around her as she came
And touched me, passing,—and for half the day—
Aye, for a week or more—I walked the town
And watched the grim grey tall crags in a dream.
Just so the garments of the mighty dead
Rustle by modern actors; and they bring
Strange intuitions, and a sense of awe,
And in the end divine ascendency.
And this is why I have so often felt
That acting is the one most restful thing
In all the world: you have the gathered force
Of living beings to help you, and the dead
As well. When summer sets her flowers upon
Green bank and hedgerow, and the airs are sweet,
And lovers wander 'neath the moon o' nights,
And the warm woodbine scents the window-pane,
And star-beams kiss the slowly-rocking sea,—
Then people say, "In summer what a task
It surely must be thus to act and act
And act!" And yet—I know not—but it seems
To me that grander than all ocean-space
Lit by a summer moon, and sweeter even
Than summer forests filled with smell of ferns,—
Lordlier than mountains whose high peaks of blue
Stare sunward,—more august than all these things
And more divine and sweeter (and I speak
Who know),—it is to hold a thousand hearts
Like one heart in the hollow of your hand.
For, after all, to us poor human souls
Humanity is all and everything:
And, after yachting over boisterous seas,
Or mountain-climbing,—or just one small cruise
At Whitby or at Brighton,—how divine
Gleams the first fairy petticoat on shore!

Yes: I was speaking to a poet once
And envying his high calling ('twas before
I learned the true wide bearings of the Stage).
"Ah! not for you," I said, "the drudgery
Of nightly acting: not for you the toil;
The base companionship; the smell of gas;
The dust; the tumult; and the slavery
To some coarse master of a manager.
Your Stage is all wide Nature, and the sea
Is your orchestra, and the countless stars
Are your footlights; and what you need of praise
You win from all the true hearts of the world
—From living souls, and from posterity:
Not from an audience flattered for one night.
Not yours the painted trees; the painted girls;
The painted horrid canvas waves of seas;
The painted staring flowers; the rattle of tin
For thunder, and the flashing in the pan
Of gunpowder for lightning;—most of all
Not yours the simulated pale stage-love
When fingers curve around a waist but fear
To touch, and lips may never dare to close
For fear of rubbing off the paint!—or else
For fear that she the actress will resent
(I have known cases) a too amorous kiss
And in the Green-Room afterwards exclaim
'That was no stage kiss, most presuming man!'
And bring an action 'gainst the luckless fool.
"Yours least of all is this. Yours most of all
The whole wide world of rosy womanhood
(Rosy this time without a touch of paint!)
To love and to rejoice in: land on land
Wherein to seek the lady of your dreams,
While we are chained to the incessant boards.
Yours is the living blue sea: yours the clouds
Whence the live resonant red levin leaps
And the live thunder: yours the pathless crags
(Innocent, like your women, of all paint;
Perhaps more so): yours the vivid sunset sky
And the gold sunrise (when did actor see
Sunrise or sunset?): yours the blossoms couched
In the green midmost of entangled woods
Where scanty sunrays pierce the flexile boughs
(What actor ever sees a real green wood
Or gets beyond the Green-Room?): yours the air
Of summer days, intolerably sweet
With odours of a million blossoms mixed.
"Your Manager is Nature, and your own
Untrammelled spirit that guides and leads you on
And the pure universal voice of things."

"Yes," said the poet; "but another side
There is to this: if I were not a bard
I'd choose to be an actor most of all,
And choose it with deliberate preference.
There are but two professions in the world,
Acting and writing: and these two indeed
Are in their highest noblest issues one.
You act: I write:—but were we but combined
Nought could withstand our mingled potency!
The perfect marriage of the two ideas
Is yet to come,—we shall not see it yet;
But when its consummation-hour is reached
There will be a new force within the world.
The offspring of this marriage of two arts
Will be a Drama and a Poetry
Such as the world has neither seen nor dreamed.
"I have lived long"—so he went on to say—
"Lived long, done much, seen much,—and suffered much;
I have seen Paris and I have seen Rome;
Revelled in the blue skies of Italy;
Walked knee-deep for long sultry happy hours
In the bright heather of Scotland and of Wales;
Gathered lush hart's-tongue in Devonian lanes;
Watched the grey granite boulders cropping up
Amid the shining leagues of golden gorse
In Cornwall, near Tintagel and the sea;
Yes, and I've known the fair delight of love
And the strong joy of passion,—many times,—
I've seen the women whom you style so fresh
And pure and paintless (there I have my doubts!)—
Seen them in England, Berlin, Italy;
Admired a thousand, and made love to some;
But still for all that I would give the half
Of my life, full and vivid though it has been,
For just one month of fullest freest fling
And unchained measureless passion on the Stage.
"For, look you, take in parts and analyse
The real true essence of a poet's life:
Lift it and separate it in your hand
As one divides the petals of a flower:
Consider what it really means and is:
Think of the long sad hours of loneliness,
Of voiceless suffering, which the Stage would cure
(Or, if it would not, nothing will but death)—
What is the wandering over dreary hills
Or up the sandy ferny Sussex lanes
Or over wolds where the far heather gleams,—
What is it to be one with butterflies
And placid anglers and dull silvery brooks
And rush and sedges, and the twinkling wren,
And stags in Richmond Park with liquid eyes
And boats that climb the ridgy crests of seas
And all those sunsets that you speak about
(Sunrise I do not mention: poets know
As little of sunrise as an actor perhaps!)—
What is it to be one with all these things,
Dull, dreary, mute, inanimate, most of them,
Compared to being one—for but one night—
With the blood-pulses of one's fellow-men
And of one's fellow-women,—lifting these
By the majestic force within one's soul,
And thus, by seizing and absorbing theirs,
Expanding so one's personality
That at the last it does in truth become
The mingling of our manhood with a God?
"Yea, most of all the greatest poet-souls
Have ever yearned for action. Never yet
Was there a greater poet-soul than she
Who wrought her work in prose and not in song,
Wonderful Charlotte Brontë: and she felt
Within herself the spirit of acting, fierce
And clamorous and aggressive oftentimes—
Read of the 'acting' in Villette, and see.
"This, like so many poets, she retained
Unused, scarce conscious of it to herself
Save when at seasons underneath the stars
Or watching miles of purple heather wave
At Haworth, or the great sea-meadows wave,
She felt within herself a power unknown
That could be used, but might not upon earth:—
The power of drawing all men unto her,
As in that Brussels drawing-room some she drew,
Not by mere written words,—but, greater far
And sweeter, by the actual glance of eye
And actual swift inflections of her voice
And actual rhythm of her neck and hand."
"Well," said I—thinking so to comfort him—
For he had grown impassioned, and his eyes
All full of fire and half afloat with tears
Showed that his fervent yearning rankled deep;
"Well," said I, "perhaps, like Charlotte Brontë, you
Will do your acting in another world
And on a better Stage"—but he flamed out:
"Nonsense! a hopeless sapless sort of hope!
The very vaguest dream of all things vague!
What, join the angels with their golden wings
And golden lyres, and act a play with them!
Cast Moses for Hernani, and St. Paul
For Macbeth, and St. Peter and St. James
For Romeo and Orlando, and some grim
Stiff strait-laced angel-woman for Rosalind!
Ezekiel for a bandit; Gabriel
For the persistent 'villain of the piece,'
And the slim seraphs for your ballet-girls!
No, that won't do. No, I would rather be
(Thank you) in gas-lit dingy Drury Lane
Carrying a banner, or high-horsed upon
Some glittering tinsel pantomimic car
At Covent Garden, than thus mixed with these
Unhistrionic seraphs up on high!
"That always is the way"—so he went on—
"The longed-for things we cannot compass here,
In the next world we shall be sure to have
We say,—and win some comfort from the thought.
No: give me no vague next world; give me this
To act and love and write in; give me thorns
It that's the only way to win a rose,
And rough fierce breezes if they be the breath
Of the blue wholesome everlasting sea!"
Designing then to turn his mind away
From the sad thoughts that held him for a time,
I said, "What think you of the present age,
Its art, its sculpture, and its poetry?"
"Its sculpture?" he repeated scornfully:
"It has no sculpture. Having lost the eye
For form, what noble sculpture can it have?
Look at your public buildings; worst of all
Your public statues,—those damned sooty things
That shame the summer in your dusty squares,
Standing erect, each with its inky scroll
Of parchment tightly held in outstretched hand;
Each with its wrinkled stony trousers; each
With stony black frock-coat, and stony boots,
And stony waistcoat (full), and stony gaze!
Good God! the sense of form is wholly lost,
Wholly, I say; or how could men endure
To see true form blasphemed on every side?
"A woman's body is the divinest thing
God ever made: but boots and narrow stays
And heavy cumbrous clothes have changed it quite.
No woman walks:—they crawl and limp along,
Fashion's devoted and most helpless slaves.
Can any woman dance upon your Stage?
I trow, not any. Oh, if Greeks were here,
How would they hide their horror-stricken eyes
At such unheard-of travesties of form!
Just in some two or three—'tis hardly more—
Studios the true tradition lingers yet;
But that is not the chief point; for no race
Has ever yet produced true poets of form
Save when the forms around wrought through the eye
Upon the heart, and stamped themselves therein.
"Now, looking round them, what do sculptors see?
Indeed, it seems a mockery to ask.
All that they see must dim their sense of form,
Or else create a wrong sense (this it does
Too often): never was there city yet
With such divine potentialities
Within it both of matter, and of flesh
And soul, as London,—which at the same time
So heedlessly threw all these gifts away,
Clothed in its own perennial hideousness.
"Black, black, and grey; and black again, and grey,
And grey and black—such are the colours mixed
Upon our London palette:—Notice how
The mere coarse green or red or dirty blue
Head-shawl or apron of an organ-girl
Lights up the street, and take your hint from that
Of how the city might be lighted up
By seemly dress, artistically worn.
"As to the æsthetes, and the 'cultured' dames,—
The china-worshippers,—the idle girls
Who, when they might be mending socks at home,
Try hands at mending modern Art instead—
Form 'mutual admiration' cliques, and think
That true great poets' fame can be enhanced
By gossipping small-talk societies—"
"Well, as to these?"—"Well, as to all of these,
May God deliver us from all of these.—
The God of simplest plainest common sense!
"'Twas but the other day they had a show
Somewhere in the West End; a wondrous show.
What had they, think you? Garibaldi's shirt
Much torn and tattered,—and a broken tooth
Of his ('decayed: a molar: stopped with gold':—
So said the label fixed with infinite care
By some fair female æsthete's loving hands)—
And then another tooth—(and this one 'stopped
With best "amalgam"'; so the label said)—
And then a rag: this had been round his foot
When he was wounded, and his sacred blood
(Too sacred for this fatuous sort of thing!)
Was sprent upon it:—this immortal rag
(It looked just like a pocket-handkerchief
With which some schoolboy's nose had been concerned)
Was closed in carefully by silken doors,
And only one might see it at a time!
"Well," said the poet, "all this sort of thing
Is rankest folly; and, at the same time,
We have for critics such a virtuous crew
That when the mighty German brings the old tale
Of Tristram and of Iseult,—old as the hills!—
And with his priceless music girds it round,
We are straightway told, 'His opera is wrong:
All Wagner's work is sensual: Tristram,—fie!
Fell madly in love with his own uncle's wife!'
"With critics so supremely virtuous,
And women the reverse of virtuous
(Too many), we are likely soon to see
Strange things; and perhaps may even live to see,
Some of us, the beginning of the end
Of England's ocean-wide supremacy.
"For nations, like ourselves, must have their day;
Be born and wax and reach their destined height,
Then pass their zenith, their fair golden noon.
Grow old, decay, and perish. Will the sight
(Not seen before) of the best cricket team
We know, completely beaten by the young
Australian gang of nameless vigorous men,
Be ever repeated on a wider field?
"And will they ever beat us not alone
In cricket, but in greater weightier things?
In Science, Culture, Sculpture, Music, Art,
The Drama, Painting? Will those nobler ends
Which you yourself opine the Stage will reach
Be reached not in our London, but in some
Chicago or some Sydney of the West?
I think it may be so. I think that match
When at the Oval our best English team
Was beaten,—aye, and very shamefully,—
I deem that match historic: for it shows
That there are men as keen of eye and hand,
As tough of sinew and as bold of heart,
As steady and persevering, and as strong
In all the points that make a winning game,
As any of our vaunted English race,
Our Graces and our Hornbys, after all!
This great match was historic then, I say.
For what these men with might of muscle and hand
Did, their descendants may most surely do
With the superber might of brain and heart!
Why not? The green Australian glades may see
Their Miltons and their nascent Shakespeares yet:
Their dawning Cleopatras who may win
One day the passionate homage of a world:
Their Newtons and their Bacons who may push
The realm of Science o'er a wider sphere:
Yes, and their actors who may quite surpass
The highest we have seen or hope to see.
"For just consider what a worn-out thing
Is English civilisation after all!
What men, what women, meet us here in town
Or in the country; men all cut and dried,
And women on a certain model shaped
(The dressmaker's; as bad a model as they
Can get by trying!)—all divisible
Into some obvious classes two or three,
With nought original outside these bounds.
"There are the men of science—Tyndall's set—
A lively pleasant joyous sort of set—
Men whose chief glory it would be to kill
The living universe (if but they could!)
And then dissect it. Men who'd take the stars,
The eyes of heaven, from heaven to analyse,
And, having cast their petty sounding lines
Across the blue infinity up there,
Would come and tell us that there is no God
Because, forsooth, God took no heed of them!
"And then there are the clergy:—some engaged
In a strange warfare about copes and albs
And chasubles and many mystic things
That the lay heart quite fails to understand:
And some crying out,—'The world is on its way
To swift perdition; every soul is damned
By nature. If you would escape the fires,
Believe ... believe ... believe.' ... Believe in what?
In Mr. Tomkins, or in Mr. Smith,
Or Mr. Noddy: yes, it comes to that.
And then there is the Broad Church lusty school,
The school of Canon Kingsley (greater man
Than they); the tribe of stalwart priests with big
Biceps and sunburnt cheeks and freckled hands;
The men who'd save the world by making it
'Believe' in cricket and athletic sports;
The men who rush away in intervals
Of their hard toil (yes: they work very hard)
To climb the Alps, or take a scamper through
The far-stretched lonely desert of Sinai.
Or else they take a tourist ticket: run
And snatch a glimpse of Rome: then home they come,
Prepare some 'sermons for the people,'—give
Their shallow impressions to a shallow crowd,
A congregation at their beck and call.
"And then the women; we must not forget
The women in thus summing up the age!—
The women: oh, the women! You will find
That, like the men, they are divided too.
For some preach faith, and some are atheists,
And some are antivivisectionists;
And some are ardent vivisectionists
(I used to wonder at this: but I have lived
Two years in London now, and so of course
By this I never wonder at anything):
And some are good and ugly: some are bad
And handsome,—some are good and handsome too:
And some assist in getting up, to help
The poor, Art-Exhibitions at the East End,
And label all the pictures daintily,
As this—'A breezy day at sea. A good
Picture to look at on an August day
In Whitechapel' (a carper might remark
The show was held at Easter). Then again
They send Art-needlework, which all must know
Is very grateful for poor starving folk
To gaze on,—fills their bellies through their brain,—
And gives them useful patterns for the socks
And shirts and waistcoats of their men at home.
"Oh, if our ladies,—if they only knew
The worth of their own womanhood! If they
Would use their splendid birthright; mix their souls
With the sea-wind that lifts their golden hair,
And blend their being with our stars and waves!
If they would see that nobler work is theirs
Than just to copy Paris fashions,—strive
Each day to pinch within a smaller shoe
A still more shapeless hoof! If they would rise
To the full stature of their destiny!
But now they follow along the easy path
Of hollow false Conventionality,
And, if one steps aside, it is to seek
Some alien strange æsthetic edifice,
Or pseudo-scientific edifice,
Or ritualistic gaudy temple perhaps:
Never to seek for Nature; never that.
"And then there are the country Rectors: men
Who spend their days in planning harvest-homes,
And smoking pipes, and taking country walks.
Most worthy men: yet what can these men know
Of all the strife and stress of modern thought
That roars its way along the streets of towns
And lifts our spirits upon its tidal waves?
They marry and bestow in marriage: these.
God and the angels when they find in towns
No Churches left, but all these given away
To modern scientific lecturers
And Comtists, and to Health Societies,
Will surely have to beat a swift retreat
To Surrey or to Yorkshire; finding there
Still a surviving island-Church or two
Stemming the flood of infidelity!
"And then the Spiritualists: a wondrous flock
Of gaping, credulous, but earnest men,
Who see strange visions, and bring Shakespeare back
And Milton, to declaim and rant and spout
And utter frothy nonsense by the yard
Or write it (if so, damnably misspelt!)
In dusty airless rooms in Bloomsbury.
Wonderful creatures, these! You pay your fee
And take your choice. 'Will you have Moses up,
Or Peter, or perhaps Aaron?—Moses? Good.'
And in a twinkling, with a long grey beard
('Of course it's Moses. Look at the grey beard!'
So some believing dear old lady says),
Moses appears, and he lays down the law
Not on ten tablets, but with fingers ten
That rap upon the table in the dark.
Or, if you'd rather see a female ghost
—Many would rather see a female ghost,—
There is less danger: for the strong male ghosts
Can sometimes rap your knuckles very hard!—
If you would rather see a lady ghost,
You've but to say: there are so many ghosts
Waiting; kept waiting just outside these rooms
Always. They stand in rows like Hansom cabs
Outside the doors, until the medium calls
And, at their proper moment, they appear.
Proper, or half improper: for they come
Sometimes just covered with a scanty shawl
Or bit of lace—the mere ghost of a dress—
As if they'd fled, and fled precipitately,
From sitting as nude models up in heaven,
Or elsewhere, to angelic sculptors.—Well,
You pay your money, and you name your ghost:
Queen Mary, Cleopatra,—any one:
The odds are that that very ghost will come
And,—if you're nice and show your interest,—
That very ghost will answer queries all
And, ere she melteth, kiss you on the cheek.
Now if that is not cheap for such a show
—The real great Scottish Mary,—only think!—
The very Cleopatra tawny-skinned
(The ghost was tawny-skinned; or dirty-skinned)—
The very Cleopatra who o'erthrew
The whole world for the pleasure of her kiss.
Natures change fast in heaven. Some lose pride,
And some lose sense; and some forget the parts
Of speech, and mix their grammar woefully!—
But all their natures change,—else how should she,
The proud sweet Queen of Egypt, hurry down
At the coarse bidding of this medium
To kiss a casual clerk in Bloomsbury!—
Well, as I said, I think that such a show
Is cheap, dirt-cheap (no dwelling on the word!)—
It is so pleasant just to pay your bob
And thus to be allowed to summon up
The Queen of Sheba, or an 'Indian girl'—
There are such lots of ghostly 'Indian girls'!—
While 'Gather at the River' 's slowly sung,
Sung out of tune (it must be out of tune;
Or else the ghosts would recognise it not).
"And then they tell you such delightful things
About yourself; things that convince you quite
(Unless you're the most sceptical of men,
A Donkin or a Lankester indeed!)—
Things that convince you fully once for all
That you are dealing not with flesh and blood
But with real disembodied entities!
"They'll tell you, just for instance, that one day
Ten summers since you pulled a grey hair out
At half-past eight in the morning. While you look
Aghast, and struggle to fling memory back
And realise this most important deed,
The circle grows impatient: and at last
The former faithful dear old lady says,
'Depend upon it, Sir, the spirit is right:
They always are'. At which you quite subside.
"Enough of spirits. The æsthetic band
Of pseudo-poets claims attention next:
The men whose souls are so intensely wrought
That they can watch a lily all the day
Open, and watch it folded all the night,
And never tire nor hunger,—no, nor thirst,—
Feeding their souls on sweetness and on dreams.
These are great men: and they inspire the age
Greatly. They teach it that of nothing worth
Are virtue, heroism, love of man,
Courage and self-denial, purity,
Compared to just the curving of a neck,
Or arch of eyebrow, or the tender tints
Upon the crispèd petals of a rose.
They live not on the vulgar bread and cheese,
Beefsteak and chops, of ordinary men:
They live on blossoms, and they feed their souls
On sunsets, and they follow along the shore
The dimpled marks of Aphrodite's feet
With long hair streaming in the laughing wind!
"And they have women-worshippers who throng
Their churches—the æsthetic lecture rooms—
And who to carry out their precepts, dress
In clothes of many colours: peacock green
And terra-cotta red, and many shades
Of subtle sweet intense alluring brown.
These are grand women: giant intellects:
Great followers of the great apostles: fit
Seductive sage-green social missionaries
To spread the æsthetic gospel through the world.
If they were beautiful or really knew
Deep things of Art, they would not preach so well.
Not for the first time the best preachers are
The shallowest and most ignorant of all."
"Well, you should go upon the Stage," I said
(I thought by this time he had stormed enough),
"And work your spleen off. Perhaps before you die
You'll hold the listening people spell-bound yet,
And add the laurels of dramatic fame
To your undying green poetic bays."
The mere thought flushed him. What strange sensitive
Half-morbid curious minds these poets have!
"Nor," I went on, "do I entirely hold
Your view (I hold it partly); for I think
That, though the æsthetic movement has its fill
Of folly and of arrant childishness,
It has its wholesome healthy side as well.
The ladies who assist at Whitechapel
For instance, do this just because they feel
The insufficiency of common life.
They do it to escape themselves; as you
Would seek forgetfulness upon the Stage.
They do it just because—to quote from you—
'To feel the sea-wind mingling with their hair
And to blend beings with the stars and sea'
Is sweet (I doubt it not), but rather vague
For English active energetic girls
To find support in: and in the same way
They've taken up this strange æsthetic craze
That you're so hard on, just to give themselves
Something outside themselves to dwell upon;
Just to give outness to their inward thought.
Even a flimsy dubious form of Art
Is better perhaps than quite no Art at all,
And they may climb by these æsthetic steps
To higher places whence may burst upon
Their startled vision Nature's very self.
"And then again there never was a time
(Though we've no noble sculpture, I admit)
When landscape-painting reached a grander height
Or landscape-vision marked so many things.
Go to the Royal Academy: then go on
To the French Salon: you will note two things.
First you will note,—and sorrow as you note,—
How far diviner, and more subtle far,
Is the French average eye for human form.
This finer eye undoubtedly they have,
In spite of all their nude extravagances
(Wrought through a love of form and deep desire
To win the glory of new modes of form
And ever newer modes, which we in our
Form-disregarding folly never quite
Appreciate or fully understand).
But, secondly, you cannot fail to note
How though the glory of form is hidden as yet
From us—yes, even of pure Grecian form,
A thing apart from French fantastic form—
Still, all the glory of Nature and the sea
Is ours: the splendour of the sunsets' fire,
The golden long shores, and the rustling reeds
And steel-blue mountain-tarns and heathery slopes
And ferny deep dim fairy-haunted woods:
These, perfectly, our painters reproduce.
"And then what women there are! in spite of 'form'
Decried and mocked at and misunderstood.
'Our civilisation is a worn-out thing'
You say: but can it be a worn-out thing
When 'spite of boots and stays and Fashion's laws
Such women every moment may be met,
Their feet deformed and shapeless certainly,
But otherwise unspeakably divine.
I saw one in Bond Street the other day,
A woman to go mad about,—if I
Were a susceptible quick bard, like you!—
She leant back in her carriage (I admit
I did not see the shapeless pointed feet
Which tapped the carriage-rug below no doubt)—
She leant back; and I marked the shapely head
So full of breeding,—small, and nobly set
Upon the firm white pillar of a neck;
An olive-clear complexion: clear brown eyes:
Lips curved, and somewhat haughtily: the hair
Just of that very loveliest of all shades
(To me)—the deep brown verging into black,
But not quite black; 'black-brown' you poets call,
If I remember right, the lovely tint:—
And, with consummate and delightful taste,
The bonnet poised upon her dainty head
(A steely glittering spangled kind of thing)
Had in its centre a broad velvet band
Of black, jet-black,—the harmonious complement
Of colour to the brown-black of the hair.
A very lovely woman she was indeed:
A woman of the brunette darker type.
And then I met another; a fair girl
More of the pink-cheeked average English type,
Less lovely and less striking, much, to me.
But perhaps she would have been to many eyes
More pleasing; she was in a carriage too
And she was in Bond Street: she had light-brown hair
And bright grey eyes and girlish happy smile.
"Well, there are just as many as you like
To look for of these fair-cheeked handsome girls
In London and in England; and there are
(No, not so many) but a goodly crowd
Of the dark-eyed black-brown-haired sweet brunettes
Besides:—and so I say that England still
Has hope (in spite of the lost cricket-match!),
Since still her women are so very fair,
And full of grace as ever in the old days.
Yes: when the Irish steamer darts across
The weltering Channel, think you that it brings
Not often and often Irish girls across
(Still with the immemorial Irish eyes
Of keen clear grey, and 'black-blue Irish hair')
As fair as Iseult when with Tristram she
Crossed that same Channel, and the blue waves laughed
To see their lips cling so inseparably
After the love-draught from the golden cup?
"So much for bodily grace. But when you come
To mental quality, there I own you have
A case: and that reminds me I have here
A letter shown me some few days ago—
Written by a lady in London to amuse
Her sister in the country:—she describes
(Particularly well, as you will see)
Her visit to some London Theatres.
I'll read the letter. This is how it begins:—
"'My very dear old Charlotte, I received
Your letter gladly, and I hasten now
To send the promised answer long-deferred.
I hope so that you're well, and that the "Chicks"
Are well: kiss Tottie will you, dear, for me,
And please tell Willie that I've got a box
Of wonderful tin soldiers,—quite alive
They look, each man of them!—which he shall have
(If only he's good!) as soon as I return.
And, Charlotte, did I leave that Spanish fan
(With the green-petticoated girl; you know
The one I mean?) upon the mantel-piece?
I somehow fancy that I left it there,—
At least I have not got it: kindly look.
And then I want some flowers to wear at night;
I think that if you would explain this, dear,
To Steel the gardener, he might manage perhaps
To cut some every morning the first thing
And send them (nicely packed in cotton-wool:
Be sure you don't forget the cotton-wool!)
To London for me by the early train.
I'm sorry to be such a bother, dear,—
I'm really sorry; but you see that girl,
That horrid Hunter girl, wore flowers last night,
Real flowers (they made her fat cheeks look so pale!)—
And so I'd better get some, had I not?
Oh, by the bye, that just puts me in mind—
They say that Mr. Verger's teeth are false!
You'd never think so, would you? Mrs. Crewe
Was talking quite by chance the other night
To thin Miss Brown (she is a skeleton!)
And she, Miss Brown—so curious it is!—
Knows several people who know the Fergussons,
And at the Fergussons' the other day
A Mr. O'Tolmach (such a pretty name!
Whenever anybody's name begins
With O', I think of claymores and of kilts!
Send me that kilting, do. I want it so.
I've asked you for it in every letter yet!)—
Where was I?—Mr. O'Tolmach knows a man
Who goes to Mr. Verger's dentist: so
You see it must be true he has no teeth.
"'But now you'll want to know about the play.
Yes, we have been to the Theatre several times,
And thoroughly enjoyed it. Do you know
How very low the dresses are this year,—
Low-necked I mean? Of course one has to be
Quite in the fashion: but one catches cold.
"'We went to the Lyceum, Tuesday night.
The scenery was most magnificent;
So were the dresses: and oh, Charlotte dear,
There was a lady sitting in the stalls
So fat she filled them both—"the fatted calf
Installed" rude Charlie (you know Charlie Bruce)
Kept calling her: he made me laugh quite loud
And all the people looked: he is great fun.
He dressed up like a gipsy the other day
And came round begging with a real guitar
And made us give him pennies: 'twas at that
Delightful Fancy Fair at Bedford Park,
When, you remember (did I tell you, dear?
Oh this is my first letter: so it is)
That Mr. Barnes the great tall clumsy man
Dressed as a bearded woman: it wasn't nice.
"'And now I think I've written you a long
And interesting letter, have I not?
Please send the letter on to Cousin Anne,
Will you? She wanted so to know about
The acting. Oh, by the bye, there's one thing more,
The French Plays—I thought Sarah Bernhardt poor
And disappointing: women mostly do:
They're better judges of acting than the men.
And now I'll say Good-bye. Best love to you,
And to Papa,—and kiss the kitten for me,
Will you? (I do wish we could dress it up
Like Charlie Bruce, and give it a guitar,
And have it photographed, and send him one,—
One of the photographs,—d'you think we could?
It would be such real rich delightful fun!)
"'Well now, Good-bye again. I'm going out
First in the Park and then to make a call.
Think of me at the Theatre to-night.
Your very very loving sister, Jane.
"'P.S. Be sure you find the Spanish fan
And have the roses wrapped in cotton-wool.
And, if you find the fan, you might send too
That other fan,—I think t'would be of use,—
The one I've had so long—the ivory one;
I think I left it somewhere in my room.'"
"Well, do you know," the poet smiling said,
"I have a letter in my pocket too,—
In fact I have a couple,—and the first
Is from a lady devotee of Art
(I'm the recipient of some hundreds such).
I will not read it all: don't be afraid.
This is a passage from the middle of it.
She's at the sea-side; and she writes like this:—
'The red sea-weed is most adorable,
And there are mollusks with resplendent shells
Dyed in the fiery sunsets: do you know,
I think that you could write great sonnets here,
Far greater than the foggy dreary town
Will ever inspire you with. I saw to-day
A fisher-maiden coming back from shrimps'
(From catching shrimps, she means. Her style is terse)
'With such a face and brow! She might have sat
To Raphael for Madonna. On her back
She bore the pink pellucid crispy shrimps
Encradled. How they twisted, these, and leapt
And fought just like a herd of struggling snakes,
Small wriggling boa-constrictors of the sea'—
Enough. You see the style. And, after this,
It gets more confidential: 'twould be wrong
If I made public all her wondrous heights
Of aspiration and ideal dreams.
Only I would remark—a mere remark
En passant; nothing of much consequence;
That shrimps are brown, not 'pink,'—until they're boiled,
"And then I have a letter,—wonderful
And dim and great and learned and obscure
(To all save only the writer, but to her
Translucid doubtless; let us trust it is!)
It is from a female Spencerian
(You know the species?)—listen; thus it runs.
"'I've read your letter; but I can't agree.
Why, there is not the slightest evidence
In all creation of a conscious God!
Not God created man: nay, man made God
In his own image surely: from the first
Adding to Godhead every attribute
That he himself deemed noble and of worth.
You ask me "am I satisfied?" oh yes.
I am content: yes more than that, I am
Triumphant at the thought that we shall pass
Like summer flowers and leave no trace behind.
Will you read Herbert Spencer? Never man
Yet thought as he thought, or expressed himself
As this vast genius has expressed himself,
Bringing the Cosmos into concrete form.
The man's a god: he is not merely man.
For, taking up the rough chaotic world
Dispersed as it were in floating nebulæ
He has condensed and focussed and arranged
The wandering atoms in a perfect whole,
And given the world a priceless final gift,
His new Synthetic grand Philosophy.
When man has slowly learnt to do without
That old immoral figment of a God
(The certain cause of every kind of crime)—
When he at last has learnt to stand alone
Without the aid of priests and churches, then
The earth will garb her for her wedding-day
And all the rocks and hills and streams will sing.
It is this tiresome fiction of a God
—To which men cling incomprehensibly—
Which, acting like a brake upon the wheels
Of progress, makes us move so slowly along
The glittering far-stretched iron rails of Time.
Once fairly cast it off, and we shall rise
Into a larger and more liberal air,
And be our own gods; praying not to God
But to the silent god within ourselves,
And worshipping the holy eternal Soul
Revealed continuously within the race'—
So on, and so on."
"Well," I said, "this makes
One reason why you yearn for acting, plain.
It would be, certainly, a vast relief
After high abstract arguing such as this
To turn one's sleeves up, turn one's trousers up,
And turn one's nose up, and perform a part
In some rich modern realistic play,
If only the part of some poor stable-man
Who by the light of a lantern overhears
The villain plotting, and frustrates him quite."
And then he left me: and that brings me back
To my own proper subject, viz., the Stage.
Directly or indirectly, now, I think
I've mooted most of my own theories.
Now I must go and dress. I have to-night
To play Othello: 'tis my benefit.

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