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xsvl 2/7/21

Source global Wall Street Journal     time 2022-07-11 01:18:19
Typefacelarge in Small

xsvl 2/7/21

London, like all great things, has about it a quality for which I do not know the word, but when I was at school there was a Greek word for it. “Manifold” is too vague; “multitudinous” would not explain the idea at all. What I mean is a quality by which one thing contains several (not many) parts,[9] each individual, each with a separate life and colour of its own, and yet each living by a common spirit which builds up the whole. Thus London, a great town, is also a number (not a large number) of towns within. And to this man, who had cultivation and so often wrote upon the creative work of other men, the spirit and the delight of each quarter was well known. The words “Chelsea,” “Soho,” “Mayfair,” “Westminster,” “Bloomsbury”—all meant to him things as actual as colours or as chords of music, and each represented to him not measurable advantages or drawbacks, but separate kinds of pleasure. He loved them all, but he gravitated, as it is right and natural that a man of his wealth and sort should do, to the houses north of Oxford Street and south of the Marylebone Road. He had no territorial blood, nor had his ancestry engaged in commerce; he was European in every ramification of his descent. He came of doctors, of soldiers, of lawyers, and in a word, of that middle class which has now disappeared as a body and remains among us only in a few examples whose tradition, though we respect it, is no longer a corporate tradition. For three hundred years his people had had Greek, Latin, and French, and had in alternate generations experienced ease or constraint according to the circumstances of English life. He was the first to enjoy so complete a leisure. To this part of London, therefore, he naturally turned at last, and following the sound rule that[10] a man’s rent should be one-tenth of his income—if that income is moderate—he looked about for a large and comfortable house. The very streets had separate atmospheres for him. He fixed at last upon what seemed a very nice house indeed in Queen Anne Street. First he looked at it well from without, admired the ironwork and the old places for lanterns, and the extinguishers; he looked at the solid brick, and at that expression which all houses have from the position of their windows. It was a house such as his own people might have built or lived in under George III, and in the earlier part of the reign of that unfortunate, though virtuous, monarch. In a little while he had gone so far as to get his ticket from the agent, and he would view the house. He came one day and another; he was very much taken with the arrangement of it and with the quiet rooms at the back, and he was pleased to see that the second staircase was so arranged that there would be little noise of service. He remembered with a sort of sentimental but pleasing feeling his childhood passed in such a house, for his father had been a surgeon, somewhat famous, and they lived in such rooms and in such a neighbourhood. He was pleased with the old-fashioned arrangements for heating the water; he did not propose to change them. But he was glad that electric light had taken the place of gas, and he did propose to change the disposition of this light made by the last tenants. With every day that he visited the place it pleased[11] him more. It became a daily occupation of his, and it took up most of his thoughts. The agents were gentle and kind; no mention of competitors was made, and the reason for this would have been plain to any other but himself, for he was offering a larger rent than the house was worth. But his offer was not yet confirmed. Many years of successful investment, in which, as I have said, he had neither increased nor diminished his fortune, had given him a just measure of prudence in these affairs, and he would not sign in a definite way until the whole scheme was quite clear in his mind. For a week he visited and revisited, until the caretaker, an elderly woman of rich humour, began to count upon the conversation which she enjoyed at his daily appearances. In the wealthier part of London—next door to the modern abomination of some new man or other who was destined to no succession, to no honour, and whose fate in the future would probably prove to be some gamble or other upon the Continent—next door to such a house, just round the corner, so that you could only see the Park sideways, lived an admirable woman. She was the wife of a Peer and the mother of numerous children, of whom the eldest now served as a soldier and was an expense to them, as was the youngest, from the traditions of his school, which was also expensive. It was her[12] husband’s business, when that half of the politicians to which he belonged was not in office, to speak at meetings and to write lithographed letters imploring aid of the financial kind for institutions designed to relieve the necessities of the poor. He also shot both on his own land and on that of friends, and he would fish in Scotland, but as he had no land there, he had to hire the fishing. The same was true of his sport with the birds in that Northern Kingdom; so one way and another they were not rich for their position, and this admirable woman it was who made all things go well. She was strong in body, handsome in face, and of a clear, vivacious temper, which pleased all the world about her, and made it the better for her presence. But none of these attributes were so worthy, nor gave her so general an admiration, as the splendid and evident virtue of her soul. There was in her very gesture, and in every tone of her voice when she chose to be serious, that fundamental character of goodness which is at once the chief gift to mortals from Almighty God, and the chief glory and merit of those recipients who have used it well. She had done so, and the whole of her life was a sacrament and a support to all who were blessed with her acquaintance. Among these was the Man who was taking the House, for he had known her brother very well at college. She was much of the same rank as himself, though a little older. During many years of[13] his youth he had so taken for granted her perfections and her companionship, that these had, as it were, made his world for him; he had judged the world by that standard. Now that he knew the world, he used that standard no more. It would not be just to say that at her early marriage he had felt any pain save a necessary loss of some companionship. He had never had a sister; he continued to receive her advice and to enter her house as a relative, for though he was not a relative, the very children would have been startled had they ever chosen to remember that he was not one, and his Christian name came as commonly upon their lips, upon hers, and upon her husband’s as any name under their own roof. He would not, of course, finally take this house until she had seen it. He was waiting, therefore, in the hall one morning of that winter a little impatiently to show her his choice, and to take her verdict upon certain details of it before he should write the last letter which should bind him to the place. He heard a motor-car come up, looked out and saw that it was hers, and met her upon the steps and led her in. She also was pleased with everything she saw, and her pleasure suddenly put light into the house, so that if you had seen her there, moving and speaking and laughing, you would have had an illusion that the sun had come shining in all the windows; a true physical illusion. You would have remembered the place as sunlit. She noted the panelling, she[14] approved of one carved fireplace, she disapproved of another; she said the house was too large for him; she was sure it would suit him. She showed him where his many books would go, and warned him on a hundred little things which he had never guessed at, in the arrangement of a home. She was but half an hour in his company, and still smiling, still full of words, she went away. He was to see her again in a very short time; he was to lunch at their house, and he stood for a moment after the door had shut in the silence of the big place, as though wondering how he should pass his time. The hall in which he lingered was surely very desolate; the bare boards he was sure he would remember, however well they were covered; he never could make those cold walls look warm.... Anyhow, one didn’t live in one’s hall. He just plodded upstairs slowly to what had been the drawing-room of the house, and the big brass curtain rods offended him; the rings were still upon them. He would move them away, but still they offended him. The lines were too regular, and there was too little to appeal to him. He hesitated for a moment as to whether he would go up farther and look again at the upper rooms which they had discussed together, but the great well of the staircase looked emptier than all the rest; the great mournful windows, filled with a grey northern sky, lit it, but gave it no light. And he noticed, as he trod the bare wood of the last flight, how dismally his[15] footsteps echoed. Then he called up the caretaker and gave her the key, surprised her with a considerable fee, and said he would communicate that day with the agents, and left. When he got to lunch at his friends’ house he told them that he would not take the Empty House after all, whereat they all buzzed with excitement, and asked him what he had found at the last moment. And he said, in a silly sort of way, that it was not haunted enough for him. But anyhow he did not take it: he went back to live in his rooms, and he lives there still. The Landfall IT was in Oxford Street and upon the top of an omnibus during one of those despairing winter days, the light just gone, and an air rising which was neither vigorous nor cold, but sodden like the hearts of all around, that I fell wondering whether there were some ultimate goal for men, and whether these adventures of ours, which grow tamer and so much tamer as the years proceed, are lost at last in a blank nothingness, or whether there are revelations and discoveries to come. This debate in the mind is very old; every man revolves it, none has affirmed a solution, though all the wisest of men have accepted a received answer from authority external to themselves. I was not on that murky evening concerned with authority, but with the old problem or rather mood of wonder upon the fate of the soul. As I so mused to the jolting of the bus I began unconsciously to compare the keenness of early living with the satiety or weariness of later years; and so from one thing to another, I know not how, I thought of horses first, and then of summer rivers, and then of a harbour, and then of the open sea, and then of the sea at night, till this vague train[17] took on the form of an exact picture, and my mind lived in an unforgotten day. In my little boat, with my companion asleep in the bows, I steered at the end of darkness eastward over a warm and easy sea. It was August: the roll was lazy, and the stars were few and distant all around, because the sky, though clear, was softened by the pleasant air of summer at its close; moreover, an arch of the sky before me was paling and the sea-breeze smelt of dawn. My little boat went easy, as the sea was easy. There was just enough of a following wind dead west to keep her steady and to keep the boom square in its place right out a-lee, nor did she shake or swing (as boats so often will before a following wind), but went on with a purpose gently, like a young woman just grown used to her husband and her home. So she sailed, and aft we left a little, bubbling wake, which in the darkness had glimmered with evanescent and magic fires, but now, as the morning broadened, could be seen to be white foam. The stars paled for an hour and then soon vanished; although the sun had not yet risen, it was day. The line of the horizon before me was fresh and sharp, clear tops of swell showed hard against the faint blue of the lowest sky, and for some time we[18] were thus alone together in the united and living immensity of the sea: my sleeping companion, my boat, and I. Then it was that I perceived a little northward and to the left of the rising glow a fixed appearance very far away beyond the edge of the world; it was grey and watery like a smoke, yet fixed in outline and unchanging; it did not waver but stood, and so standing confirmed its presence. It was land; and this dim but certain vision which now fixed my gaze was one of the mighty headlands of holy Ireland. The noble hill lifted its mass upon the extreme limits of sight, almost dissolved by distance and yet clear; its summit was high and plain, and in the moment it was perceived the sea became a new thing. It was no longer void or absorbing, but became familiar water neighbourly to men; and was now that ocean, whose duty and meaning it is to stream around and guard the shores on which are founded cities and armies, families and enduring homes. The little boat sailed on, now in the mood for companions and for friends. My companion stirred and woke; he raised himself upon his arm, and, looking forward to the left and right, at last said, “Land!” I told him the name of the headland. But I did not know that there lay beyond it a long and narrow bay, nor how, at the foot of this land-locked water, a group of small white houses stood, and behind it a very venerable tower. [19]It was not long before the sun came up out of a sea more clear and into a sky more vivid than you will see within the soundings of the Channel. It poured upon all the hills an enlivening new light quite different from the dawn, and this was especially noticeable upon the swell and the little ridges of it, which danced and shone so that one thought of music. Meanwhile the land grew longer before us and this one headland merged into the general line, and inland heights could be seen; a little later again it first became possible to distinguish the divisions of the fields and the separate colours of rocks and of grassland and of trees. A little while later again the white thread showed all along that coast where the water broke at the meeting of the rocks and the sea; the tide was at the Hood. We had, perhaps, three miles between us and the land (where every detail now stood out quite sharp and clear) when the wind freshened suddenly and, after the boat had heeled as suddenly and run for a moment with the scuppers under, she recovered and bounded forward. It was like obedience to a call, or like the look that comes suddenly into men’s eyes when they hear unexpectedly a familiar name. She lifted at it and she took the sea, for the sea began to rise. Then there began that dance of vigour which is almost a combat, when men sail with skill and under some stress of attention and of danger. I would not[20] take in an inch because of the pleasure of it, but she was over-canvased all the same, and I put her ever so little round for fear of a gybe, but the pleasure of it was greater than the fear, and the cordage sang, and it gave me delight to glance over my shoulder at that following rush which chases a small boat always when she presses before a breeze and might poop her if her rider did not know his game. That which had been a long, long sail through the night with an almost silent wake and the bursting of but few bubbles, and next a steady approach before the strong and easy wind, had now become something inspired and exultant, a course which resembled a charge; and the more the sea rose the larger everything became—the boat’s career, the land upon which she was determined, and our own minds, while all about us as we urged and raced for shore were the loud noises of the sea. We ran straight for a point where could be seen the gate to the inland bay; we rounded it, and our entry completed all, for when once we had rounded the point all fell together; the wind, the heaving of the water, the sounds and the straining of the sheets. In a moment, and less than a moment, we had cut out from us the vision of the sea, a barrier of cliff and hill stood between us and the large horizon. The very lonely slopes of these western mountains rose solemn and enormous all around, and the bay on which we floated, with only just that way which remained after our sharp turning, was quite[21] lucid and clear, like the seas by southern beaches where one can look down and see a world underneath our own. The boom swung inboard, the canvas hung in folds, and my companion forward cut loose the little anchor from its tie, the chain went rattling down, and so silent was that sacred place that one could hear an echo from the cliffs close by returning the clanking of the links; the chain ran out and slowly tautened as she fell back and rode to it. Then we let go the halyards, and when the slight creaking of the blocks had ceased there was no more noise. Everything was still. There was the vision that returned to me. I was in the midst of it, I was almost present, I had forgotten the streets of the treacherous and evil town, when suddenly, I know not what, a cry, or some sharp movement near me, brought me back from such a place and day, from such an experience, such a parallel and such a security. With that return to the common business of living the thought on which my mind had begun its travel also returned, but in spite of the mood I had so recently enjoyed my doubts were not resolved. The Little Old Man IT was in the year 1888 (“O noctes coenasque deum!”—a tag) that, upon one of the southern hills of England, I came quite unexpectedly across a little old man who sat upon a bench that was there and looked out to sea. Now you will ask me why a bench was there, since benches are not commonly found upon the high slopes of our southern hills, of which the poet has well said, the writer has well written, and the singer has well sung:— The Southern Hills and the South Sea They blow such gladness into me That when I get to Burton Sands And smell the smell of the home lands, My heart is all renewed, and fills With the Southern Sea and the South Hills. True, benches are not common there. I know of but one, all the way from the meeting place of England, which is upon Salisbury Plain, to that detestable suburb of Eastbourne by Beachy Head. Nay, even that one of which I speak has disappeared. For an honest man being weary of labour and yet desiring firewood one day took it away, and the stumps only now remain at the edge of a wood, a little to the south of No Man’s Land. [23]Well, at any rate, upon this bench there sat in the year 1888 a little old man, and he was looking out to sea; for from this place the English Channel spreads out in a vast band 600 ft. below one, and the shore perhaps five miles away; it looks broader than any sea in the world, broader than the Mediterranean from the hills of Alba Longa, and broader than the Irish Sea from the summit of the Welsh Mountains: though why this is so I cannot tell. The little old man treated my coming as though it was an expected thing, and before I had spoken to him long assured me that this view gave him complete content. “I could sit here,” he said, “and look at the Channel and consider the nature of this land for ever and for ever.” Now though words like this meant nothing in so early a year as the year 1888, yet I was willing to pursue them because there was, in the eyes of the little old man, a look of such wisdom, kindness, and cunning as seemed to me a marriage between those things native to the earth and those things which are divine. I mean, that he seemed to me to have all that the good animals have, which wander about in the brushwood and are happy all their lives, and also all that we have, of whom it has been well said that of every thing which runs or creeps upon earth, man is the fullest of sorrow. For this little old man seemed to have (at least such was my fantastic thought in that early year) a complete acquiescence in the soil and the air that had bred him, and[24] yet something common to mankind and a full foreknowledge of death. His face was of the sort which you will only see in England, being quizzical and vivacious, a little pinched together, and the hair on his head was a close mass of grey curls. His eyes were as bright as are harbour lights when they are first lit towards the closing of our winter evenings: they shone upon the daylight. His mouth was firm, but even in repose it permanently, though very slightly, smiled. I asked him why he took such pleasure in the view. He said it was because everything he saw was a part of his own country, and that just as some holy men said that to be united with God, our Author, was the end and summit of man’s effort, so to him who was not very holy, to mix, and have communion, with his own sky and earth was the one banquet that he knew: he also told me (which cheered me greatly) that alone of all the appetites this large affection for one’s own land does not grow less with age, but rather increases and occupies the soul. He then made me a discourse as old men will, which ran somewhat thus:— “Each thing differs from all others, and the more you know, the more you desire or worship one thing, the more does that stand separate: and this is a mystery, for in spite of so much individuality all things are one.... How greatly out of all the world stands out this object of my adoration and of my content! you will not find the like of it in all[25] the world! It is England, and in the love of it I forget all enmities and all despairs.” He then bade me look at a number of little things around, and see how particular they were: the way in which the homes of Englishmen hid themselves, and how, although a great town lay somewhat to our right not half a march away, there was all about us silence, self-possession, and repose. He bade me also note the wind-blown thorns, and the yew-trees, bent over from centuries of the south-west wind, and the short, sweet grass of the Downs, unfilled and unenclosed, and the long waves of woods which rich men had stolen and owned, and which yet in a way were property for us all. “There is more than one,” said I in anger, “who so little understands his land that he will fence the woods about and prevent the people from coming and going: making a show of them, like some dirty town-bred fellow who thinks that the Downs and the woods are his villa-garden, bought with gold.” The little old man wagged his crooked forefinger in front of his face and looked exceedingly knowing with his bright eyes, and said: “Time will tame all that! Not they can digest the county, but the county them. Their palings shall be burnt upon cottage hearths, and their sons shall go back to be lackeys as their fathers were. But this landscape shall always remain.” Then he bade me note the tides and the many harbours; and how there was an inner and an outer[26] tide, and the great change between neaps and springs, and how there were no great rivers, but every harbour stood right upon the sea, and how for the knowledge of each of these harbours even the life of a man was too short. There was no other country, he said, which was thus held and embraced by the mastery of the Atlantic tide. For the patient Dutch have their towns inland upon broad rivers and ships sail up to quays between houses or between green fields; and the Spaniards and the French (he said) are, for half their nature and tradition, taught by a tideless sea, but we all around have the tide everywhere, and with the tide there comes to character salt and variety, adventure, peril, and change. “But this,” I said, “is truer of the Irish.” He answered: “Yes, but I am talking of my own soil.” Then when he had been silent for a little while he began talking of the roads, which fitted into the folds of the hills, and of the low long window panes of men’s homes, of the deep thatch which covered them, and of that savour of fullness and inheritance which lay fruitfully over all the land. It gave him the pleasure to talk of these things which it gives men who know particular wines to talk of those wines, or men who have enjoyed some great risk together to talk together of their dangers overcome. It gave him the same pleasure to talk of England and of his corner of England that it gives some venerable people sometimes to talk of those whom[27] they have loved in youth, or that it gives the true poets to mouth the lines of their immortal peers. It was a satisfaction to hear him say the things he said, because one knew that as he said them his soul was filled. He spoke also of horses and of the birds native to our Downs, but not of pheasants, which he hated and would not speak to me about at all. He spoke of dogs, and told me how the dogs of one countryside were the fruits of it, just as its climate and its contours were; notably the spaniel, which was designed or bred by the mighty power of Amberley Wildbrook, which breeds all watery things. He showed me how the plover went with the waste flats of Arun and of Adur and of Ouse, and he showed me why the sheep were white and why they bunched together in a herd. “Because,” he said, “the chalk pits and the clouds behind the Down are wide patches of white; so must the sheep be also.” For a little he would have told me that the very names of places, nay, the religion itself, were grown right out of the sacred earth which was our Mother. These truths and many more I should have learned from him, these extravagences and some few others I should have whimsically heard, had I not (since I was young) attempted argument and said to him: “But all these things change, and what we love so much is, after all, only what we have known in our[28] short time, and it is our souls within that lend divinity to any place, for, save within the soul, all is subject to time.” He shook his head determinedly and like one who knows. He did assure me that in a subtle mastering manner the land that bore us made us ourselves, and was the major and the dominant power which moulded, as with firm hands, the clay of our being and which designed and gave us, and continued in us, all the form in which we are.


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