Tuesday, October 31, 2006

9 November: Boreham on King Edward VII

A Modest Regime
This is the birthday of King Edward VII. For ten years, the date was observed as a public holiday. Nowadays it is allowed to pass in silence. No British sovereign ever slipped out of history as quietly and completely as he has done. It is a thousand pities. He is worth remembering, for, as Sir Charles Petrie has pointed out, no wearer of our Crown did more than he to bring the Throne into vital and palpitating touch with the life of the common people. In this respect he set a new fashion in kingship. Those who knew London in the early days of the century will remember meeting him on the streets. He was quite unattended. Walking along like any ordinary citizen, he would watch the traffic, glance at passers-by, and occasionally pause in front of a shop window. It is difficult to imagine any of his predecessors behaving similarly.

The life of Edward the Seventh represents a stately romance. It opened unfortunately. His childhood was by no means a happy one. No boy was ever subjected to so many harsh regulations, severe restrictions, and unnatural repressions. He was permitted to play no games, to read no books, and to have no companions of his own age. He spent all his time in the company of very excellent, but distinctly elderly, gentlemen. He was not even allowed to be alone. Ceaselessly watched, he was resentfully conscious of the galling guardianship. His education was made as nauseous as it was possible to make it; the text books employed were as dreary as the Sahara. Most people, knowing the facts, sincerely pitied him.

A Lover Of His Fellow-Men
Left, during those long years, to his own devices, the prince developed an extraordinary genius for getting to know all sorts and conditions of men. He sincerely believed that every man he met was capable of teaching him something, and his mind was ravenous for that morsel of knowledge. Sir Sidney Lee says that he developed an uncanny faculty for extracting the most valuable information from the most unpromising sources. He simply revelled in an animate conversation; and, although never a brilliant talker, atoned by the grace and charm of his manner for any deficiency in self-expression. He possessed, moreover, the inestimable advantage of being able to make himself delightfully at home in any country and in any company.

He travelled widely because he thoroughly enjoyed it. But there was a deeper reason. Shuddering at the very thought of war, he honestly believed that the best way of preserving the peace was to encourage the nations to cultivate each other's intimate acquaintance. There were no Iron Curtains or Bamboo Curtains or any other separating and segregating partitions in his day. He went everywhere; was hail- fellow-well-met with everybody, and he aspired, above everything else, to impress the princes, potentates, and peoples of Europe with a sense of British friendship and good will.

Blunt Man For An Uneventful Time
Summarising his basic and essential characteristics, Sir Sidney Lee lays stress on his physical courage, his fondness for animals, his fidelity to his friends, and the breadth of his interests and sympathies. There was a certain robust but exquisite chivalry about him. Loathing ill-natured gossip, he could slay at a glance any man who lightly uttered in his presence a sinister or malicious word. The soul of loyalty to his friends and associates, he never forgot a kindness, no matter how trivial, and would astonish his benefactor by recalling it on some suitable occasion many years afterwards.

The placid temper of his time, and the tranquil events that marked his reign, gave him no opportunity of displaying the more Homeric qualities of kingship. It was not his to mount the whirlwind or to ride the storm. He will always be remembered as a typical English gentleman. Born in another environment, he would have made an excellent Scottish laird, or, dwelling in a secluded countryside, would have made the perfect village squire. He was, above everything else, essentially a man of the world, gifted with abounding and overflowing humanity, suffused, in his later days, by a simple and sturdy piety. If he is destined to occupy a relatively modest and obscure place in English history, he nevertheless gave us abundant reason to keep his memory green. The prosaic record of his reign will always be cherished by those who felt the radiations of his quiet goodness and realised the magnetism of his charm.

F W Boreham

Image: King Edward VII

8 November: Boreham on John Milton

A Princely Poet
This is the anniversary of the death of John Milton. No figure in our literary annals is more familiar than his. We all seem to have watched him as, with seraphic face, he dictates to one or other of his daughters the glowing stanzas that have made his name immortal. Clad in his suit of coarse grey cloth, he sits in summertime among the sweet-smelling flowers of his well-kept garden; whilst in wintertime, garbed in black velvet, he imprisons himself in his dreary chamber, hung with its rusty green tapestry, and wings his inspired fancy on its most audacious flights. His rich auburn hair, which retained something of its gold to the last, falls over his slightly stooping shoulders, setting off a face remarkable for its sweetness, its strength and its serenity. His soft grey eyes give no hint of their sad secret.

Seldom has a man set himself as deliberately as did he to a colossal task, and, with so little encouragement, carried it to its completion. He was a callow youth when he conceived the stupendous project; he was an old man when he rolled up the finished manuscript. In the interval he travelled far, learned much and became engrossed in many cares. But the dream of his boyhood was never forgotten. Like the Temple, erected without beat of hammer or clink of trowel, the glorious work was silently growing in the poet's soul. He brooded upon it in secret; his masterpiece was always at the back of his mind. "You ask me," he writes as a young fellow in the twenties, "what I am thinking about. Why, with God's help, immortality! Forgive the word. I only whisper it in your ear. Yes, I am pluming my wings for a flight!" He felt that there was no hurry. He allowed his earliest conceptions to simmer in his mind. He exposed his plastic fancy to the moulding influence of great events. And a moment's reflection will show that the events of his time were by no means lacking in impressiveness and grandeur.

The Laureate Of A National Transformation
Milton was only seven when Shakespeare died. He was ten when Sir Walter Raleigh was executed. He was twelve when the Mayflower sailed. His youthful enthusiasms were awakened by the tumult of thought that swept the scientific world as a result of the sensational discoveries of Harvey and of Kepler. Much of "Paradise Lost" was written whilst London was being decimated by the Great Plague, and it was amidst the charred ruins of the metropolis that he handed the manuscript to his publisher. He lived through the whole of the Civil War. He mingled freely with the principal actors in those stormy and dramatic scenes. He saw the rise and fall of the Commonwealth, the execution of the King and the death of Cromwell. The pulsations of such momentous happenings stirred the deepest emotions of a singularly sensitive and impressionable spirit; they inscribed themselves indelibly upon his memory; and, taking to themselves weird and fantastic shapes, they wove themselves into the splendid fabric of his priceless epic. For the poem that reads like a story of war among archangels is, in actual fact, the transfigured record of a war among Englishmen.

Milton was the loneliest man of his time, just as, through all the ages, he takes his place as the most solitary figure in either history or fiction. He stands altogether detached, an arresting and pathetic personality. "He dwelt apart," as Wordsworth puts it in his fine apostrophe:—

Thy soul was like a star and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea,
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way.

He married three times, and each of his wives regarded his insatiable penchant for composition as a tiresome mania. Even his daughters felt the boredom of his everlasting dictation to be intolerable. And when at last his ponderous manuscript was complete, nobody saw anything in it. Pitying his sightlessness, an enterprising publisher gave him five pounds for the copyright, promising him another five if, by any strange chance, the work reached a second edition.

The Singer Of The Centuries Unborn
On the appearance of the poem the critics surveyed the vast array of incomprehensible stanzas and shook their heads. Edmund Waller, the poet, was then in the heyday of his popularity. "The old schoolmaster, John Milton," wrote Waller, "hath published a tedious poem on the Fall of Man; if its length be not considered a merit, it hath no other." But John Milton was not writing for the likes of Edmund Waller. Waller belonged to Grub Street; Milton belonged to the Seraphim and Cherubim. Milton felt in his bones that he was creating treasure that would be prized when Waller was forgotten. Mark Rutherford declares that, a thousand years hence, a much better estimate of Milton will be possible than that which can be formed today. John Milton had a tryst to keep with the immortals, and it mattered very little to him what the seventeenth century had to say about it. Even in our own time, Milton is rather revered than loved. We never become intimate with him. But we feel at the same time that, by the purity of his personality and the august sweep of his influence, our literature and our history have been incalculably enriched.

During three momentous centuries Milton has slowly but surely grown upon the imaginations of men. He is more reverenced every year. To tear him from our annals and traditions would be to create an aching void that could never by any possibility be filled. "Never," as Dr Garnett once said, "never, before or since has such a splendid figure crossed the broad stage of English public life. He is the Sir Galahad of literature—born a knight."

There are men who stand aside from the period which happens to give them birth. Their genius is embarrassing, majestic, terrifying. The world holds aloof from them. They are the citizens, not of an age, but of the ages. And the ages, quick to identify their own, hail them, applaud them, crown them. Of such stately and deathless spirits, John Milton is the supreme and peerless representative.

F W Boreham

Image: John Milton

Sunday, October 29, 2006

7 November: Boreham on Alfred Russell Wallace

Rivalry and Chivalry
Alfred Russell Wallace, the anniversary of whose death this is, will always be remembered as the friend of Darwin, but he was no mere subordinate or understudy. He himself penetrated and explored many spacious and important fields that Darwin never troubled to enter. Travelling extensively, and with his eyes wide open, he knew the world pretty thoroughly, and made effective use of all his observations. Few books of travel have appealed more deeply to the popular fancy than the story of his adventures on the Amazon. His experiences among the gigantic forests, the gorgeous birds, the titanic reptiles, and the barbarous peoples of the South American jungles are always fascinating and often sensational. His biography is as variegated as an Oriental mosaic. His alert and hungry mind was perpetually searching for fresh realms of conquest. Political economy, the problems of industry, the conundrums of philosophy, and the mysticism of theology were all within the compass of his domain. He hated to feel that any stick or stone in the entire universe had eluded him.

He was, however, dogged by early misfortune. He was 25 when he went to South America. Darwin was then 39. With a view to elaborating his conclusions and proving his points, Wallace gathered from the recesses of the South American wilds one of the most extraordinary and exhaustive zoological collections ever carried across the Atlantic. It was a floating menagerie. All at once, to the horror of the unhappy naturalist, the ship caught fire. Wallace, with the crew, escaped in a leaky boat, but he suffered the indescribable mortification of watching the birds, beasts, and reptiles that he had been at such pains to capture, plunging either into the flames on the one hand or into the sea on the other.

Making His Own Loss His Rival's Gain
Wallace has himself described the mental anguish of that tragic moment. To obtain that collection, he had penetrated to places on which no European foot had previously trod. He had struggled on, when almost overcome by ague, in the rapturous prospect of displaying to the people of England the weird and attractive fauna of the unexplored territories in which he had repeatedly risked his life. And now everything was gone! "I knew," he adds, philosophically, "that such bitter regrets and lamentations were vain, and I tried to think as little as possible about what might have been." Would the preservation of that remarkable and priceless collection have expedited the development of Wallace's theories, and, by so doing have given him an advantage over Darwin? We shall never know. He himself could never make up his mind upon that point; but, at the time he regarded his loss as the most devastating that a man could suffer.

A few years later, whilst Darwin was putting the finishing touches to the book that gave men an entirely new conception of the universe, and that created a greater sensation than any scientific treatise since the days of Copernicus, Wallace was lounging under the palm groves of a tropical island in the Pacific, revolving in his restless brain the stateliest problems with which science is called to deal. Wrapped in heavy blankets, he was slowly recovering from a serious illness, and had plenty of time for abstract cogitation. "All at once," he says, "there suddenly flashed upon me the idea of the survival of the fittest, and, in the two hours that elapsed before the ague fit was over, I had thought out the whole of the theory." How was he to know that, for 20 years, Darwin had been painfully working his way to the very same conclusion? Yet, confident of Darwin's interest, he wrote to him. Darwin received the letter on June 18, 1858. "It contains," Darwin told a friend, "the astounding news that the theory that I have been elaborating during 20 years has been suddenly reached by Mr. Wallace in the East. I would far rather burn my whole book than that he or any other man should think that I had behaved in a paltry spirit." Here was a dilemma! What was to be done?

A Pooling Of Ideas That Enriched Mankind
Darwin sent Wallace's letter to Sir Charles Lyell. "I never saw a more striking coincidence," he told Lyell. "If Wallace had seen my manuscript, he could not have made a better abstract. Even his terms now stand as heads of my chapters. So all my originality, whatever it may amount to, will be smashed." Wallace's sentences, penned before he had seen Darwin's book, represent the articulation of Darwinism in its most pronounced form. The most engaging feature of this remarkable web of circumstance lies in the fact that the dual discovery awoke in the breast of neither philosopher the slightest tinge of jealousy. Darwin admitted Wallace's claims with the utmost frankness, whilst Wallace, recognising that his rival held the field, hurried to his side and rendered him all the assistance in his power.

A fast friendship sprang up between them, and, when Wallace forgot his own part in the formulation of the theory, Darwin had more than once to remonstrate with him concerning his self-effacement. "You are the only man I ever heard of," Darwin wrote, "who persistently does himself an injustice and never demands justice. But you cannot burke yourself, however hard you try!" Darwin was right and the world soon came to recognise that, whilst Darwin and Wallace agreed generally, they differed in detail. Wallace's discipleship was not slavish, but distinctive. In one or two respects he out-Darwined Darwin; but, as against this, he held strongly that the complexity of living structures emphatically implies a creative power, a directive mind, and an ultimate purpose. He closes his monumental work by stating his agreement with Darwin as to the fundamental spirituality of man, although he reached that goal by a somewhat different route. Darwin was inclined to the view that the human mind could have been evolved from those of a lower order. Wallace dissented. Both, however, were very sure of God and very jealous of the majesty of man. And, blending their voices in that basic and exalted harmony, we may very well take our leave of them.

F W Boreham

Image: Alfred Russell Wallace

Saturday, October 28, 2006

6 November: Boreham on Richard Jefferies

A Prince of Naturalists
The birthday of Richard Jeffries, which we mark today, will appeal to lovers of the open air the wide world over. No man was ever more deeply enamoured of life than was Jefferies. He simply revelled in it. The advent of Spring was to him the year's high festival. With the most microscopic precision he joyously noted each successive item in the superb programme of the vernal season. He tells us the exact date on which we may expect the first buds on the blackthorn; he knows to a nicety when to look for the first swallows skimming over the mill dam; he can predict almost the hour at which the first butterfly will flutter across his garden, the first cuckoo be heard in the primrosed woods, the first nightingale call from the copse. But although he writes of the season with such punctilious and scientific accuracy, it is easy to see that it is not, strictly speaking, the season itself that interests him.

Jefferies loved the Spring, not so much for its own sake as for the sake of the life that the Spring so abundantly reveals. Life was his passion; it fascinated and hypnotised him. The lissom bound of the hare, the playful leap of the rabbit, the song that the thrush and the finch cannot help singing, the soft cooing of the dove in the hawthorn, the blackbird ruffling out her feathers on the rail—all this was the light of his eyes and the breath of his nostrils. He so luxuriated in every fresh vision of life, and so revolted from the chilly spectre of death that his finger often refused to press the trigger of his rifle. Many a time, he assures us, he raised his gun, hesitated, and then, lost in admiration of the beautiful creature before him, he would let the partridge scurry back into the fern, or allow the hare to bound off unharmed over the furrow.

Living Close To Nature's Heart
Even as a boy, Jefferies was different from other boys. He could see no sense in cricket. It kept you too long in one place. Fielding in the covers, he would allow the ball, hot from the bat, to go whizzing past his head to the boundary; and, on being asked why he made no attempt to catch it, would explain that he was at that moment studying the gyrations of a skylark or observing the antics of a squirrel in a neighbouring oak. He often had to confess, on reaching school, that he did not know his lessons. All unsuspected by his teachers, he was becoming deeply versed in a thousand things of which they themselves were sublimely ignorant. The gawky lad knew the habits and the ways of all the foxes, hares, stoats, moles, and hedgehogs in the neighbourhood. He knew exactly the direction in which, at certain times, the rooks and the wild geese would fly, and he boasted that, if he could not draw any of the maps in the school atlas, he could at least draw a map of the fields round Choate Farm, showing the routes and the resorts of all the birds and beasts that lived there.

He was the despair of his father, who pointed with disgust at "our Dick poking about in them there hedges," whilst the men of the district derided him as always "looking for summat," but never by any chance tackling any kind of work. Imagine the amazement of these censorious seniors of his when, at the age of 17, Jefferies was able to exchange, for coin of the realm, the notes that he made in the course of his rambles. It soon occurred to him that if his boyish crudities were worth a little money, the same sort of thing, expressed with artistry and polish, would be worth much more. He studied the classics to see how the great masters did their work, and, in the process acquired a sense of the music of language and the beauty of words. With unaffected simplicity and crystal clarity he began to set down in black and white the wonders that had captivated him. And so he penned those delightful causeries, since published in hundreds of thousands, all of them redolent of the fragrance of the English fields and vibrant with the song of the English birds.

Tracing The Stream To Its Source
At the age of 30, Jefferies experienced for the first time the thrill of real success. His essays, published in London, soon caught the popular fancy. They struck a new note. Just at first, men scarcely knew what to make of them. But they soon felt their charm; and then, for five years, an eager and appreciative public clamoured for more and yet more of his work. But at 35, he fell a victim to a pain that was, he says, like a rat gnawing at a beam or like the burning of corrosive sublimate. Even then, his insatiable craving for new revelations of life persisted. A few weeks before the end, his hungry eye came to rest upon a Bible on a shelf opposite his chair. It flashed upon him that the volume represented an aspect of life that he had never explored, a realm of which he had always been a trifle suspicious. He asked his wife to read it to him. She selected the third of the four gospels—the work that, written by a physician, tells with special care of all the wonders of healing wrought in those Galilean days. It was to Jefferies a vision of life triumphing over frailty, infirmity, disease, and even over death itself.

In those last days Jefferies became enamoured of the radiant Figure at the centre of the graceful story that his wife was so sympathetically reading to him. He recognised in Him the life that he so passionately loved, in its most attractive and most exalted form. It was like turning from the stream to the fountainhead. He expressed poignant and pathetic regret that, in his tireless quest of life, he had somehow overlooked this sublime source and spring. "These are true words and good ones," he murmured as his wife rendered the melodious cadences that have enchanted the ears of twenty centuries, "these are good words: I have been wrong in neglecting them!" He discovered that, although Nature had taught him much, she had failed to teach him the things that he most needed to know, and he revelled in this ampler vision of life that came to him at the last. He died at 37, his eyes resting sadly on a dozen notebooks crammed with ideas for the books that he had fondly dreamed of writing.

F W Boreham

Image: Richard Jefferies

Friday, October 27, 2006

5 November: Boreham on Samuel Coleridge

A Rugged Bard
It was on November 5, 1797, at the Valley of Rocks, near Linton, that Dorothy Wordsworth suggested to Coleridge the idea that afterwards took shape as "The Ancient Mariner." Stopford Brooke used to say that all that Coleridge did well could be bound up in twenty pages; "but," he charitably added, "those twenty pages should be bound in pure gold." Most of us would be more generous. It would take the twenty pages to reproduce "The Ancient Mariner."

But Coleridge is worth remembering if only as one of the sublimest oddities that ever strode the stage of English letters. De Quincey thought that, for sheer intellect, the ages could produce nothing to rival him. "He is," Hazlitt declares, "the only person I ever knew who answered to my idea of a man of genius." Wordsworth used to say that he had known many men who could do wonderful things; but only one really wonderful man, and that man was Coleridge.

A thing of fits and starts, of wayward moods and gorgeous fancies, there were times when he sang like an archangel, and times when he jabbered like an idiot. Charles Lamb liked to dilate on both aspects of the poet's grotesque personality. Lamb seldom joined his boon companions without having some new tale to tell of Coleridge that would set the entire company in a roar.

Yet, though he laughed at him, he loved him; and the gentle Elia's soft eyes often moistened as he bore affectionate and grateful witness to the downright goodness of his friend.

Master Of The Art Of Talking
Coleridge was great as a poet; he was greater as a philosopher; but he was at his golden best as a conversationalist. Since the world began, nobody ever talked as Coleridge talked. Like Johnson, one of his few serious rivals, he spouted hurricanes of nonsense at times; yet those brilliant critics who surrounded his chair declare that, at its highest level, Coleridge's conversation has never been equalled. When Coleridge began to talk, Hazlitt affirms, you hoped that he would talk for ever.

It speaks volumes for his versatility that Madame de Stael, who was intimate with the most brilliant wits in Europe, thought it the height of human felicity to sit at the fireside of Coleridge, drinking in his torrent of reason and his flow of soul. She would hang upon his lips for hours at a stretch. She regarded it as sorrow's crown of sorrow that such a wealth of wit and wisdom should be embalmed in no permanent form.

It is true that a couple of volumes of Coleridge's "Table Talk" have been preserved; but, in these uninviting tomes, the scintillation and the sparkle have evaporated. The atomic observations of Dr. Johnson, set down as Boswell does it, are like flowers encased in ice, or bees in amber; the conversation of Coleridge, as recorded in his "Table Talk" is like a bunch of roses kept between cardboard; the life, the beauty, and the fragrance have faded and fled. We exult over the appetising morsels that Boswell spreads before us; the "Table Talk" merely compels a yawn.

If only somebody had done for Coleridge what Boswell did for Johnson, the author of "The Ancient Mariner" would have figured like a colossus on our literary horizon.

Unmoved By The Beauty About Him
The most remarkable thing about this remarkable man was his extraordinary incapacity to receive adequate impressions from his environment. Tourists who today visit the idyllic lake land scenery by which the home of Coleridge is surrounded, invariably remark that, set amidst panoramas of such bewitching loveliness, anybody could be a poet. They are startled when informed that, with his arrival at Keswick, Coleridge's career as a minstrel abruptly ended. After making his home there, he wrote nothing worthy of remembrance.

The fact is that, strange as it may seem, Nature, even in her most captivating mood, made no appeal to him. She left him cold. He spent some of the most impressionable years of his life in the Valley of the Otter. It is one of the most charming and picturesque landscapes to be found among the beautiful dales of Devonshire; yet, save for a single sonnet, there is no reflection of its incomparable grace in anything that he wrote.

He gazed upon the most enchanting vistas with the eyes of Peter Bell; a primrose by the river's brim, a yellow primrose was to him and it was nothing more. He reminds us, not of a bird that builds its nest with materials that it has industriously collected, but of a silkworm that, shutting itself up in the darkness, weaves its dazzling web from some mysterious store within the compass of its own being.

The wonder is that a man of his temper and of his habits, should have given us so much that is worth cherishing. He wrote, as was inevitable, reams of rubbish. But when the rubbish has been sorted out, there remains that priceless residue that Stopford Brooke would bind in covers of pure gold. He deserves our gratitude as an amazing personality that it is a joy to contemplate, as an acute philosopher, as a brilliant conversationalist, and as a poet who at times attained to real super excellence.

Moreover, he was an illustrious member of that select circle, the brotherhood of the Lake Poets, that stands unrivalled among all literary groups and coteries; and, gathering his friends from so choice and exalted a company, he grappled them to himself with hoops of steel. Which, in itself, is eloquent of much.

F W Boreham

Image: Samuel Taylor Coleridge

4 November: Boreham on Felix Mendelssohn

The Soul of a Composer
Those whose musical instincts are even slightly developed will like to be reminded that it was on the fourth of November, 1847, that Felix Mendelssohn died, whilst still a youth in his thirties. The immortal composer had been one of that remarkable group of babies born in 1809. Men were following with bated breath the march of Napoleon and waiting, with feverish impatience, for the latest news of the wars. Nobody took any notice of the babies that were being born. Yet, in one year, lying midway between Trafalgar and Waterloo, there stole into the world a host of heroes. Gladstone was born at Liverpool; Tennyson was born at Somersby; and Oliver Wendell Holmes appeared at Massachusetts. On the very selfsame day of that fateful year Charles Darwin was born at Shrewsbury, and Abraham Lincoln drew his first breath in Old Kentucky. And, among the other celebrities of the year, Frederic Chopin was born at Warsaw and Felix Mendelssohn at Hamburg.

As though he knew that his days must be few, Mendelssohn got to work early. He made his first public appearance at the age of nine; composed a cantata the following year; wrote five symphonies 12 months later; and, at the age of 12, had created such an impression that Goethe invited him to be his guest at Weimar. Whilst still a boy he had the world at his feet. Yet, as Dr. W. S. Rockstro points out, he never lost his head. "The temptations to egoism by which he was surrounded would have rendered most clever students intolerable. But the natural amiability of his disposition, and the healthy influence of his happy home life, counteracted all tendencies towards inordinate self-assertion; and he is described by all who knew him as the most charming boy imaginable." During the years that followed he made triumphal tours of all the great European capitals; he 10 times visited London, being treated by Queen Victoria with a respect that almost amounted to personal affection; and then, overtaken by several domestic sorrows in swift succession, his sensitive spirit snapped and he died quite suddenly at the age of 38.

Harmony Articulation Of History
Music like Mendelssohn's has two distinct values; it has an inherent value and an associational value. Its intrinsic worth is obvious. The fact that a noble composition or a haunting melody can captivate the ear when it is heard for the first time proves that it possesses a virtue of its own, quite apart from any sacred or sentimental associations that may afterwards gather about it. We all know the story of the way in which, after a long agony of misfortune, Sparta applied to Athens for a leader. They expected a tall and stalwart soldier. To their disgust, they received a lame little schoolmaster, one Tyrtaeus. They soon discovered, however, that the odd little man could make music that set every soul on fire. And, inspired by his patriotic airs, the armies of Sparta were soon marching once more from victory to victory. Great music possesses this primary virtue.

But its secondary value is scarcely less vital. Carlyle has shown that, when the stirring chords of the "Marseillaise" fell upon the ears of the grim and silent revolutionists for the first time, the effect was instantaneous and electrical. But today those strains are invested with poignant historic significance; and to that supplementary fact they owe much of their extraordinary influence. The thoughts and memories that have become interwoven with the stirring music make such an appeal to the hearts of Frenchmen that they will, with that melody ringing in their ears, dare any death or make any sacrifice. The sound of the "Marseillaise," Carlyle affirms, will make the blood tingle in men's veins; whilst great assemblies, and armies on the march, infected by it and by all that it represents, will sing it with eyes streaming and hearts burning, hurling defiance at all the forces, material or spiritual, that may, dare to oppose them.

Mendelssohn As Part Of Sublime Pageant
There is something in the soul of man, whether he be a musical man in the technical sense or not, to which strains like those of Mendelssohn's choicest compositions irresistibly appeal. He may not be able to tell why they affect him, or how; he only knows that he feels differently after listening to them. Feeling differently, he acts differently; and thus music becomes woven into the web of actual life. It is, as Carlyle says in another essay, like Orpheus building the walls of Thebes by the mere sound of his lyre.

The Church recognised, very early in her history, the magic spell that music placed at her disposal. The world knew little of music until the angels sang over the fields of Bethlehem. In his "History of Music," Charles Burney declares that the ancients never indulged in simultaneous harmony. In their respective masterpieces, Mehaffy and Sir John Hawkins comment upon the crudity of the music of both Greece and Rome. But, as Dr. Storrs has demonstrated, when Christianity broke upon the world, the spirit of man had to find a richer voice for richer feeling. The laws of harmony appeared. Little by little, instruments were introduced until the organ, the triumph of the medieval monks, was perfected. And so, as Dr. Storrs says, music became ever richer and grander, in anthem, mass, and mighty oratorio. The rich, exultant, and lofty spiritual joy that poured itself into the world when Christ was born at Bethlehem, has awakened the sublimest minstrelsies of all the ages that have followed. And in that pageant of lyrical development, no name stands higher than the name of the inspired composer whose anniversary we gratefully mark.[1]

[1] This editorial appeared in the Hobart Mercury on November 1, 1947, to commemorate the century of Mendelssohn's death on November 4, 1847.

F W Boreham

Image: Felix Mendelssohn

3 November: Boreham on William Thompson

Overhauling the Universe
It was on November 3, 1846 that Lord Kelvin, by delivering his first lecture as Professor of Natural Philosophy at Glasgow University, inaugurated his brilliant public career. At his burial in Westminster Abbey, it was said of Lord Kelvin, that nothing was too simple for his experiment, nothing too abstruse for his powers of calculation. He was no specialist. He took the world for his workshop; he aimed at repairing, reconstructing, or improving everything in it; and, by the time that he laid aside his tools, there were very few activities in life that did not work more smoothly and more effectively because of his skilful touch. Beginning early—he was wrangler of his university at 17, and professor at 22—he was distinguished by a set of rare qualities seldom found in harmonious combination. Never before or since were the theoretical and the practical so perfectly poised in a single personality. His vivid fancy enabled him to visualise the invisible. He saw, as clearly as if he had visited the spot, the inaccessible theatres of operation upon which he bent the powers of his intellect.

When he was grappling with the problems of oceanic telegraphy, the oozy bed of the Atlantic was so clearly before his mind's eye that its hills and its hollows, its geological formations, and its submarine forestry seemed as familiar to him as the leafy lanes around his own home. When he was occupied with the magnetic needle, and was compelled to ponder the illusory centre of gravitation, he talked about the interior of the earth in terms so graphic and convincing that one might almost assume that he had just visited those nether regions. When dealing with the vast infinitudes of space and the astral phenomena of distant worlds, the same principle held good. He seemed to have toured the universe on some magic carpet. He spoke as if he had lived among, and become intimate with, the things that held his thought. Such a faculty, wisely checked and scientifically trained, was an invaluable asset to him. He saw each difficulty at a glance, and, neither minimising nor exaggerating it, was able to consider as though on the spot, the best means of surmounting it.

Hemisphere Talks To Hemisphere
Never was there a man who could be less justly accused of being a mere dreamer. Kelvin ruthlessly submitted each separate idea to the acid test of concrete experience. The vision had to square with reality or it was jettisoned at once. Things had to work or he abandoned them with scorn. He possessed a woman's faculty for seeing what was wanted and for setting his wits to work to contrive some expedient to meet the need. His greatest and most characteristic triumph, although his name is seldom associated with it, was the laying of the trans-Atlantic cable. Lord Kelvin was the heart and soul of this stupendous enterprise. The engineers would, of course, have succeeded sooner or later in laying the cable without any assistance from him; but it is one thing to lay the cable and another thing to get messages along it.

Day after day, Kelvin puzzled over the strictly electrical aspect of the matter until he could tell to a nicety exactly what any fiven current of electricity would do under any one of a thousand different conditions. It was for his work in this connection that he received his knighthood. His experiences at sea opened his eyes to the necessity of improving all kinds of nautical and maritime appliances. The compass then in use had many drawbacks. It was affected by the roll of the ship and by the substances employed in the vessel's construction. Kelvin invented a much more accurate instrument, which, except in minor details, has not since been improved upon. He noticed at once that the method of sounding was both clumsy and laborious, and he invented an appliance for taking soundings with the greatest ease at depths that, until then, could not be measured at all. And he devised a new and more reliable system by which a captain could determine his position.

Sublimity Matched By Simplicity
His adventurous mind scorned all physical limitations. His work covered every branch of intellectual research and he published no fewer than 621 treatises on various scientific subjects. A complete list of his inventions would cover many pages. He was thrice called to the presidency of the Institute of Electrical Engineers. He was made president of the Royal Society, and, during the year in which he held that exalted office, Queen Victoria raised him to the peerage. Like the greatest of the great, he was in his simplicity sublime. Universally revered, no man was more reverent. He was a very great Christian. With all his superb gifts and cyclopaedic knowledge, his faith was the faith of a child. He loved God, loved his Bible, loved his Saviour. When staying with his sister, Mrs. King, in St. John's Wood, the Sunday turned out wet. Church was impossible, and Lord Kelvin suggested, and largely led, a Bible reading. He did more than any other man to show that the Darwinian theory of evolution was not necessarily hostile to religion. "If," he said, "all things originated in a single germ, then that germ contained within it all the marvels of creation—physical, intellectual, and spiritual—that were afterwards evolved." The creation of that germ was as wonderful as the creation, ready-made of the solar system.

All the great European powers heaped their highest honours upon him. When, at the age of 83, he died, he was buried at Westminster Abbey amidst such demonstrations of popular veneration and affection as had never before been accorded to any scientist. "To him," as Principal Russell of Faraday House said, "it has been given to make history which will abide as long as intelligent man survives upon the earth." In the city of Belfast, with which he was closely associated, stands an imposing statue erected to his memory by the proud and grateful citizens. The inscription declares, in words that have always been regarded as singularly felicitous, that Lord Kelvin was pre-eminent in elucidating the laws of Nature and in applying them to the service of man." Lord Balfour used to say that no man in the 19th century exercised upon humanity a more wholesome influence. It would be difficult to conceive of a loftier eulogy.

F W Boreham

Image: Lord Kelvin (William Thompson)

Thursday, October 26, 2006

2 November: Boreham on Jenny Lind

A Nightingale of Yesterday
It was on November 2, 1887, that death contrived to silence one of the richest, purest, and most beautiful voices by which human ears have ever been enchanted. It was the distinguishing triumph of Jenny Lind that she was able to attune herself to the tastes and temperaments of those whose musical sensibilities had never attained to the lofty level on which she herself so naturally and familiarly moved. Once in a generation there appears a Lind, a Patti, or a Melba—a divinely-gifted songster whose musical range and understanding appear to be absolutely without a limit. But for one such prodigy there are millions who, possessing musical talent and technique of the most modest quality, can nevertheless be profoundly moved by a haunting song, that conveys to their ears a concourse of sweet harmonious sounds and to their minds an intelligible sentiment. With these millions of musical mediocrities the average genius has little or no patience. Even Dame Melba—who could scold like a termagant as well as sing like an archangel—would at times unmercifully hector these unfortunates. "Do you realise," she exclaimed, during the last year of her public life, "that when I go to big towns which possess, according to popular tradition, such excellent taste, I am compelled to sing, time and again, the same old songs? Wherever I go, people ask me to sing Tosti's 'Goodbye,' 'Comin' through the Rye,' 'Home Sweet Home,' and all the other old tunes that they have heard a thousand times! I try Debussy, I try Dupare, Ravel; I try anything and everything which strikes me as beautiful and fresh, and always I am greeted with the same response. People ask for the old favourites and receive them with positive uproar. I have no patience with it!"

By way of contrast, Jenny Lind betrayed an intense and even affectionate sympathy with people of this class. She mastered the high art of educating and cultivating the musical taste of the ordinary people by exciting the latent powers that they already possessed and by leading them from that point to something higher than the lowly standard that they had already attained. She recognised that to set before them music of the highest quality in such a way as to establish no point of contact with the sense of melody that slumbered, undeveloped, within them, was simply to weary and repel them. She therefore met them on their own ground; she entertained them most charmingly; and, winning alike their devotion and their confidence, she gradually led them to those more exalted altitudes in which she herself luxuriated.

The love of music cherished by the average man is a subtle affair. He ought, ideally, to love music for its own sake. Unhappily, however, he has not yet attained to that aesthetic pitch of celestial perfection. He loves music, but loves it not so much for its own sake as for the sake of the emotional and psychological effect that it has upon him. On a pleasant Summer evening he will saunter within sound of a band and enjoy to the full the harmony that it dispenses, but will suddenly become aware that he is not only listening to music but is looking at pictures. What memories those familiar tunes revive! The first time that he heard that particular air was at a school-treat in England many years ago. It all comes back to him with cinematographic vividness as he listens once more to the inspiriting strains. He can see the procession, the banner, the field ablaze with buttercups, the games, the races, the scrambles, the old dominie, the teachers and the old familiar faces.

A second tune reminds him of a fete to which he was once talken. The tawny tents and the sensational sideshows, with all their gaudy accessories, stand once more before him. The giants and the dwarfs, the freaks and the monstrosities, the performing dogs and the tame snakes, the waxworks and the merry-go-rounds, how they all rush back to mind! He sees again the highly-coloured daubs that proclaimed to all and sundry the marvels to be witnessed on the other side of the canvas; he hears again the strident voices of the showmen; he can even smell the trampled sawdust that so plentifully besprinkled the grassy floor of each tent.

A third tune brings back to memory an exciting cricket match that he once attended. While that very one was being played by the band more shall 20 years ago, a brilliant young player—one of the idols of his youth—brought off a most amazing and spectacular catch, imparting to the game a totally new complexion. The ground as it appeared at that moment, the astonished and applauding crowd; the retiring batsman; the feeling that the match had entered upon a new phase; all these recur to his mind, under the spell of the symphony, more clearly than they have done for many years. Other music, considered as music, might have been just as beautiful but it could not have been as enjoyable to them. For these old and well-remembered tunes unlock the secret treasures of his heart, and, beneath their magic, memory outpours her precious hoard.

The practical and womanly sagacity of Jenny Lind enabled her frankly to recognise that, quite apart from music's own intrinsic value, this appeal—the appeal that it makes to sentiment and to memory—constitutes one of its greatest and most imperishable charms. Moreover, she had the penetration to perceive that the very ability to be moved in this dreamy and reminiscent way argues a substratum of genuine musical appreciation. For the very fact that a man remembers a certain tune, and recognises it when he hears it again, proves conclusively that the melody captivated his fancy and made an indelible impression upon his mind when he heard it for the first time. Jenny Lind would have argued that the series of pictures arising out of the past—the pictures that were presented to his mind as he listened to the strains of the band—abundantly demonstrated the fact that a good tune has an inherent virtue of its own; else how could this man have carried it in his heart through all the years and recognised it again so easily? The domestic and historical associations that gather about the tune are merely a supplementary tribute to its essential worth. Carlyle has shown that when the stirring chords of the Marseillaise first fell upon the ears of the grim and silent revolutionists, the effect was instantaneous electrical. But today those same chords are invested with traditional significance, and to that extraneous and correlative fact they indisputably owe much of the extraordinary influence. The recollections that have become interwoven with the strains make such an appeal to the hearts of the Frenchmen that they will, with that music ringing in their ears, dare any death or make any sacrifice. "The sound of the Marseillaise," Carlyle says, "will make the blood tingle in men's veins; whole armies and assemblies will sing it, with eyes weeping and burning, with hearts defiant of Death, Despot, and Devil."

In another essay he gives a concrete illustration. He instances the perilous position in which the French Army found itself in the struggle with Austria. "Dumouriez is swept back on this wing, and swept back on that, and is like to be swept back utterly, when he rushes up in person, speaks a prompt word or two, and uplifts the Hymn of the Marseillaise. Every heart leaps at the sound; they rally, they advance, they rush death-defying, man-devouring; carry batteries, redoubts, whatsoever is to be carried; and, like the fire-whirlwind, sweep all manner of Austrians from the scene of action." It was like Orpheus, Carlyle adds, building the Walls of Thebes by the mere sound of his lyre. And, reverting to the matter in his essay on Natural Supernaturalism, he avers that not only was Thebes built by the music of an Orpheus, but that, without the music of some inspired Orpheus was no city ever built; without it no work in which man glory was ever done.

Jenny Lind felt that the high priests and vestal virgins who serve the pure altars of the muses must not hurl impatient and unsympathetic maledictions upon the multitude whose ears are less sensitive and whose voices are less tuneful than their own. It by no means follows, because a born minstrel can detect the gentlest vibrations and finest gradations of aural sweetness, that those who possess no such nicely-adjusted powers of perception and discrimination are utterly destitute of musical appreciation or ability.

Music is music, and music, like wisdom, is justified of all its children. We all take pride in those who, highly-endowed and skilfully-trained, take their places by every right as the princes and peers of music's rapturous realm. Is it too much to ask, in return, that they from their supernal eminence, should accord us some thing a little less caustic than disdain? It may be true that our only evidence of aesthetic susceptibility consists in a vulgar fondness for pretty or familiar melodies. But the very fact that we fell in love with those attractive airs before they became familiar argues that, somewhere within the compass of our complex composition, there is a dormant capacity to applaud a lovely sound when we hear it. The circumstance that the eye brightens and the face lights up to the music of any tune is proof that we are not altogether beyond hope. Right down to the moment of her death on that late Autumn evening in 1887, Jenny Lind insisted that the pontiffs and potentates of the musical world must welcome the responsiveness of the rabble in whatever way it is exhibited, and must strive, by means of it, to lead the popular taste to a still loftier and purer plane.

F W Boreham

Image: Jenny Lind

1 November: Boreham on Remembrance

Festival of Memory
That nation has the best memory which remembers the best things. We do well, therefore, to set aside one day in the year to reflect on the ideals for which, in the course of two titanic conflicts, such superb sacrifices were made. As we approach Remembrance Day, our powers of recollection and reminiscence are at their golden best. To keep the hallowed feast, Memory attires herself in her most beautiful garments, and, even though there be a suspicion of moisture in her eyes, her face glows with a deathless pride.

At ordinary times the human memory is fickle, inconstant, even treacherous. Augustine Birrell, when he left the British Cabinet, was urged to write his autobiography. Although he had touched life at so many points, and had a really great story to tell, he firmly declined. He had, he explained, once stated publicly that, at a dinner at Liverpool, he had seen Charles Dickens introduced to a Miss Weller, and had been amused by the odd conjunction of names. It was afterwards pointed out to him that the incident took place seven years before he himself was born. He had heard the story told so graphically, and had pondered it so frequently, that he had come to believe that he had actually witnessed the episode. And the knowledge that his memory had played so embarrassing a prank upon him rendered him unduly apprehensive of committing to paper the things that, in all good faith, he seemed to recall.

The Dangers Of Forgetful Green
People who are troubled by the facility with which they forget things, often declare with vexation, that they have a memory like a sieve. They have failed to observe that, whilst a sieve allows the fine sand to escape, it retains the larger nuggets. The memory often works on a diametrically opposite principle. A man remembers the first fish that he ever caught long after many of the more momentous events of his career have faded from his mind. The winning hit that he once made for the school eleven lingers pleasantly in his thought when the twists and turns of his later history have passed into the oblivion of forgetfulness.

Greatheart, Bunyan's redoubtable guide, pointed out to the boys that their father's famous tussle with Apollyon took place on the fringe of Forgetful Green; and Forgetful Green, he added meaningfully, is the most dangerous place in all those parts. Everyone knows what Bunyan meant. Moses wrote a whole book on the subject. It is popularly known as the Book of Deuteronomy; but a modern author would have called it The Dangers of Forgetful Green. It is a treatise on the peril of forgetting the very things that we are in duty bound to remember. The Israelites had passed through experiences so dramatic, so miraculous, and so poignant, that the very memory of them would, if cherished, prove a compelling inspiration to them amidst the tests and trials that still awaited them. To forget such a Past would be to imperil all the Future.

To Forget Is To Be Forgotten
In a memorable passage Macaulay argues that the nation that fails to treasure the memory of all that is heroic in its stately Past will achieve nothing worthy of being remembered by its remote descendants. There is a high artistry in training the memory. It must not be left to chance. Mr. Gladstone possessed a phenomenal memory. Asked as to his secret, he replied that, as a basis, a man must form a clear perception as to the things best worth remembering. Properly understood, all our most impressive religious observances are cunningly devised contrivances to save us from jettisoning our most valuable recollections. We close our shops on one day of the week in order that we may remind ourselves, and one another, of the things that we cannot afford to let slip. In all the churches, the Communion service is a sacrament of memory. "This do in remembrance of Me." It is all 'lest we forget.' The solemnities of Remembrance Day fit perfectly into this pattern. Our chastened minds hark back to the tender grace of a day that is dead. We recall old faces and old experiences. We do honour to those whom we have loved long since, and lost awhile. And, in the process, a new grace steals into our own hearts and we find ourselves braced to loftier endeavour by our retrospective excursion into other years.

F W Boreham

Image: Remembrance Day gathering

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

31 October: Boreham on John Evelyn

The Triumph of a Busybody
This dapper little gentleman, pottering about in his beautiful garden at Sayes Court, cocking his head, with its flowing locks, first this way and then that, to make sure that, in pruning his roses, he is making the cut at exactly the right place, is John Evelyn, the greatest diarist of all time, and today happens to be his birthday. It may almost be said that he reached for his diary as he lay sprawling in his cradle and only laid it aside 86 years later when his coffin was brought in. During an extraordinarily adventurous life, in the course of which he went everywhere, met everybody and saw everything, he conscientiously confided to that journal of his, an exact record of his experiences and reflections. In many respects fortune singularly favoured him. Everything seemed to play into his hands. Seeing that he was destined to earn renown as a diarist, he entered the world at the best possible place at the best possible time.

He was born at Wotton, in Surrey, in 1620. It was a moment in world history at which the stage was being set for some of the most dramatic happenings the centuries have seen. In that year Oliver Cromwell came of age and the Mayflower reached New England. If Evelyn had been permitted to choose his birthplace, how could he have improved upon Wotton? Wotton is Arcady, with Babylon just round the corner. You may stand among the greenest of green fields, with the fragrance of the hawthorn in the air and the vesper-song of the birds in your ears, and you may feel that you have left the fevered, thronging world infinitudes behind. But when the sun sinks and twilight falls, the lights of London flare across the sky and you realise that the sylvan glade that had seemed to be at the other end of nowhere is separated only by a sheet of tissue paper from the hub of the universe. The beauty of the Surrey hills—that paradise of Londoners—enfolded the young diarist from his infancy.

Contrasts In Literary Contemporaries
Evelyn was so constituted that both the throbbing life of the adjacent metropolis and the riot of natural loveliness immediately surrounding him made simultaneous appeals to his nature. For he cherished two passions—he loved to watch people and he loved to watch plants. Indeed, by a stroke of genius he converted his fondness for flowers into a magic key that would admit him to the hearts of the people whom he most desired to know. He was remarkably skilful in introducing himself to, and ingratiating himself with, all ranks of society, and he discovered that his familiarity with his garden powerfully assisted him in this respect. Princes and prisoners, statesmen and scavengers, have little in common, but they all love gardens. When Evelyn saw a man with whom he specially desired to converse he would pass a casual but penetrating observation concerning the good man's buttonhole or the floral decorations, and the door he wished to enter swung immediately open.

It takes all kinds of people to make a world. It is difficult to think of John Evelyn without thinking of Izaak Walton. The two men inhabited the same period. In taste and temperament they had much in common, and their souls vibrated day by day to the same tremendous happenings. But turn from the men to their manuscripts and no contrast could be more striking. Evelyn is completely immersed in the spirit of his age. Walton is as completely detached from it. Not many miles from the gabled room in which, seated by the lattice window, the angler writes of the glitter of dew on the speargrass, the notes of the thrush in the blackthorn and the breath of the brier in the hedgerows, John Evelyn bends over the sheets of his diary. And here we have the other side of the picture. For the most part these 2,000 pages of personal impressions conduct us only among courts and crowds. We are in the swirl and the rush and the bustle all the time. We flit from place to place; we leave the drawing-room of my Lady This only to be ushered into the library of my Lord That. We feel the throb and the fever of the exciting period. We hear all the gossip and the tittle-tattle; we pick up every scrap of news and every spicy morsel of rumour. We experience all the thrills attaching to the spectacular and sensational events. We are infected at every turn by the agitations and anxieties of a particularly restless age.

Eyewitness Breaks Silence Of Centuries
Just because of this, Evelyn is the ideal historian. In the diary we are in intimate touch with an eye-witness. The ghastly horrors of the Great Plague and the lurid splendours of the Great Fire have been more elaborately, but never more tellingly, described than in Evelyn's vivid and nervous pages. Through his eyes we seem to see the grim piles of the dead and watch the course of the blazing inferno. In the same graphic and realistic way we witness the dragging of the "carcase" of Cromwell from its tomb at Westminster to be ignominiously hanged at Tyburn. We are painfully present at public executions; we see men put to the torture in the prisons of Paris; we gaze upon amputations and other surgical operations in the days when anaesthetics were unknown; and we watch a very gallant horse baited to death by dogs—for sport! Much of the diary is gruesome, much amusing, much exciting, but it is all interesting and instructive.

It was not until two centuries after the first sheets were penned that it occurred to a firm of publishers that the journal the courtly old royalist had so diligently kept, might merit the scrutiny of other eyes than his own. The dusty bundles of yellow sheets were opened, the faded entries deciphered and, to the delight of a generation very different from his own, Evelyn's colourful and convincing account of life in the days of the Stuarts was at long last presented to the world.

F W Boreham

Image: John Evelyn

30 October: Boreham on Dual Personality

The Missing Equation
A good deal is said from time to time on what is called dual personality, but is there such a thing? In his "Random Reminiscences," Mr. Charles Brookfield, the anniversary of whose death we mark today, says that it was he who first suggested to Robert Louis Stevenson the idea that he developed in "Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde." They were talking of a man named Samuel Creggan. "He's a man who trades on the Samuel," Stevenson declared in his musical Scottish voice. "He receives you with Samuel's smile on his face; with the gesture of Samuel he invites you to a chair; with Samuel's eyes cast down in self-depreciation he tells you how well satisfied his clients have always been with his dealings; but every now and again you catch a glimpse of the Creggan peeping out like a ferret; Creggan's the real man; Samuel's only superficial." The idea quickly captured Stevenson's imagination, and, very shortly afterwards "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" took the world by storm.

It does sometimes seem as if every man is two men. Ian Maclaren has told us how Drumsheugh fought the dealers at Drumtochty for every sixpence and earned for himself a miser's ill repute. But secretly he was helping with the money the woman whom he had once hoped to win, but who, rejecting him, had since married disastrously. "Drumsheugh," exclaimed Dr. Maclure when he discovered the truth, "ye're the most accomplished liar in Drumtochty and—the best man I ever saw!" In his Reminiscences, Sir Henry Hawkins, the great criminal lawyer, tells of a woman whom he once defended. Whilst her husband and son murdered a servant girl, she held the hands of the struggling victim. But when, in the course of the trial, she saw that all three of them would be convicted, she insisted that the deed was entirely hers and that neither her husband nor her son had anything to do with it. "Now here," says Sir Henry, "was a strange mingling of diabolical cruelty and noble self-sacrifice in one breast!" Cases like these do convey the impression that such a thing as dual personality really exists.

Two Selves Within A Single Skin
That a certain self-contradictory element does actually characterise our common humanity, it would be futile to deny. All the best expositors of life have stressed it. Take Fielding, for example. Fielding's supreme excellence lies in his intense humanness. His heroines, however lovable, are never angelic; his scoundrels, however detestable, are never fiendish. He did not believe in unadulterated virtue or unmitigated vice. He found men very much of a mixture and he so depicts them. His heroes are speckled by grevious faults, while his villains occasionally astound us by their genuine goodness of heart. He tells us of "the trembling wretch who has been hanged for a robbery, but to whom the judge spoke cordially because he had been a kind father, husband, and son. And his greatest creation of all, Tom Jones, is "a piebald miscellany," characterised by "bursts of great heart and slips of sensual mire." Each of us has but to turn his eyes inward in order to be convinced of the existence within us of these parallel factors.

It is for this reason that we resent both unqualified censure and unmodified praise. None of us deserves either. Whatever may be said to our credit or condemnation, there is always another aspect of the case to be considered. We feel like Woodbine Willie's famous Digger—

Our Padre, 'e says I'm a sinner, and John Bull says I'm a saint;
And they're
both of 'em downright liars, for I'm neither of them, I ain't.
I'm a man, and
a man's a mixture, right down from 'is very birth,
For part of 'im comes from
'eaven and part of 'im comes from earth.
There's summat as draws 'im upwards,
and summat as drags 'im down
And the consekence is 'e wobbles 'twixt muck and
a golden crown.

Out of this consciousness of inner conflict, this sense of continuous secret strife, has sprung the conception of dual personality. But does that conception cover all the ground?

Two Kingdoms Beneath A Single King
Is there not a missing equation, a third quantity, to be taken into account? Quite apart from the goodness of the man and the badness of the man, what of the man himself? There is his vital personality, his essential ego to be considered. Where do his deepest sympathies lie? In his "Pilgrim's Progress," Bunyan has nothing more suggestive or more penetrating than his treatment of this very problem. Christian and Pliable set out together from the City of Destruction as pilgrims to the Celestial City. Christian goes eagerly: Pliable is not so sure about it. They fall together into the Slough of Despond. Floundering in the filthy bog, their behaviour, whilst apparently similar, is marked by one fundamental distinction. Pliable automatically struggles towards the bank nearer the City of Destruction from which he had come; Christian instinctively turns towards the bank nearer the Celestial City on which his heart is set. In those differing attitudes, the two personalities stand revealed.

In the biography of the famous Bishop Westcott there occurs an account of Dr. Westcott's visit to the death bed of Bishop Lee of Manchester. In his closing days, Dr. Lee's mind became clouded and he confessed to Bishop Westcott that the only prayer that he could still offer was the dubious petition: "Lord, I believe; help Thou mine unbelief." At first sight it appears to be the prayer of a man who is simultaneously a saint and a sceptic. "Lord, I believe!" there stands the saint; "help Thou mine unbelief!" there stands the sceptic. But Dr. Westcott pointed out to the dying bishop that, beneath both the saintliness and the scepticism, the element of personality dominates the situation. As anyone can see who glances at the personal pronouns in the wavering petition, the man in the gospel story and the sick prelate both took their stand beside their faith and repudiated their unbelief as a thing to be pitied and deplored. The key to the entire problem lies there.

F W Boreham

Image: Frank and Stella Boreham in their old age.

29 October: Boreham on Walter Raleigh

When Chivalry Flowered
In reminding ourselves that today marks the anniversary of the execution of Sir Walter Raleigh, we involuntarily conjure up the image of one of the most picturesque personalities in our British annals. Raleigh cuts a striking figure in a stirring period of our history, yet no individual in all our imperial drama is more baffling or enigmatical than he. Estimates of the character of Raleigh jostle each other in rare profusion upon the shelves of all our libraries; contemporary chroniclers and subsequent historians have done their utmost faithfully to present him for our contemplation; yet it must be confessed that a perusal of these equally authoritative but flatly contradictory records only deepens our bewilderment and renders our confusion worse confounded.

We are assured, on the one hand, that Raleigh represented, in his own person, the loftiest expression of English chivalry. Handsome in appearance, courtly in bearing, gentle in manner, and the soul of honour, he is said to have been the very embodiment of knightliness. Sir Walter Scott, Charles Kingsley, and other writers scarcely less eminent, have woven the story of Raleigh into their most stirring romances, his fame has been the burden of many poem and the theme of many a song, whilst a wealthy cluster of golden traditions has encrusted itself about his name.

Only Remembered By What He Has Done
If, however, the entire vocabulary of eulogy has been requisitioned in order that his admirers might fitly chant his praise, it is no less true that his detractors have run the whole gamut of vituperation in their desire to expose and vilify one whose life they abhor and whose death they applaud. Forgetting that, in the spacious days of great Elizabeth, intrigue was the breath of a courtier's nostrils, they charge him with an infinite variety of subterranean enterprises. Forgetting, too, that the ordinate vanity of the Queen exalted the employment of flattery to the level of a fine art, they accuse him of obsequiousness and dissimulation. Fortunately, we are not entirely at the mercy of such conflicting witnesses. Unaffected by the adulation of Raleigh's friends and the malice of his foes, the hard facts of his life are before us and those facts speak for themselves. We have it on the authority of those who cared nothing for the whims and foibles of Elizabeth, that Raleigh carved out for himself a career so useful, so diversified, and in every respect so extraordinary, that it stands without a parallel in the records of any nation.

Macaulay is famous for the pains with which he sifted heaps of documentary evidence before committing himself to a critical opinion as to any historical personage or fact. And, having read all that the chroniclers have to say in praise and in condemnation of Sir Walter, Macaulay expresses his regret that he has not the space in which to do justice to Raleigh, the soldier, the sailor, the scholar, the courtier, the orator, the poet, the historian, the philosopher, whom we picture to ourselves sometimes giving chase to a Spanish galleon, then answering the chiefs of the country party in the House of Commons, then again murmuring one of his sweet love songs too near the ears of Her Majesty's maids of honour, and, shortly after, poring over the Talmud or collating Polybius with Livy. It is difficult to call to mind any other instance of such amazing versatility. And, that being so, it is no wonder that the philosophers who exhaust the resources of the language in his praise, and those who look askance upon his character and conduct, agree in deploring the petty pique, the outrageous injustice and the glaring indiscretion that sent a man of such commanding powers to the executioner's block.

When Justice, Blindfolded, Loses Her Way
The tragedy that we recall today was both a crime and a blunder. There can be no doubt that the King first decided upon Raleigh's destruction and then, in order to compass that end, set his minions to find some offence of which his victim could plausibly be accused. The sentence came first; the trial and the impeachment followed. Unable to find anything that lent itself more readily to their purpose, the Crown prosecutors fell back upon a charge of treason that had been levelled against Raleigh many years before. Whether or not he had ever desired to set Arabella Stuart on the English throne we shall never know. He had, however, already languished for 13 years in a dungeon on account of that accusation, and it was absurd to revive the matter, as a pretext for his execution after so long an interval.

Whatever the authorities thought or said or did, the people felt that the King was himself a traitor. Raleigh was one of the Elizabethan heroes who had spent all their days in fighting Spain. As a result of his own valour, and that of the other admirals, the sovereignty of the seas had passed, once and for all, into the hands of England. But it had suited James to enter into friendly relations with the nation's bitterest foes. The people of England saw, as Hallam points out, that, in Raleigh's execution, the most renowned of Englishmen had been sacrificed to the vengeance of Spain. The blood of Raleigh was, he says, a stain upon the throne. Macaulay bluntly classifies the execution as a dastardly murder. Looking back upon it all, in the cold perspective that we today are able to commend, we recognise in Sir Walter Raleigh a high-minded, chivalrous, but unfortunate Englishman, audacious in exploit, shrewd in council, loving his country above everything beside, and meeting a cruelly unjust death with unaffected dignity and quiet courage. To say that he had his faults is but to say of him what can be said of any man. But it can at least be claimed for him that, while his faults were essentially faults indigenous to his period, he exhibited with them virtues that, distinctively his own, will make a resistless appeal to all subsequent ages.

F W Boreham

Image: Walter Raleigh

28 October: Boreham on the Plough

God Speed the Plough
The fact that, at this time of year, the people of Australia hold their great Agricultural Shows recalls an interesting and suggestive incident which occurred in Chichester Cathedral a few weeks ago.[1] A plough was towed into the sacred fane and placed in front of the choir screen. And then, with the cathedral crowded with young farmers and with girls of the Land Army, the Bishop (Dr. G. K. A. Bell) solemnly blessed the huge implement that, at first blush, seemed so out of place in that impressive environment. It was, as "The Times" points out, the revival, after three centuries, of a very ancient rural custom. The ceremony may fittingly remind us of the immense debt that civilisation owes to agriculture. The plough is at once the instrument and the index of our progress. We get into the habit of regarding the cities as the natural expression of the amazing strides that scientific discovery has made. It is not without a salutary shock of surprise, therefore, that we are now and again confronted by the fact that the tilled field is far more truly typical of our modern social order than is the crowded city street.

Indeed, it is not too much to say that it was not until agriculture became an actuality that city life became a possibility. So long as the arts of pasturage and tillage were treated with contempt, barbarism held, age after age, its universal sway. When, on the other hand, the culture of the soil came to be regarded as an honourable pursuit, then some of the finest pages in human history came to be written. Those who have enjoyed "Hereward the Wake"—one of the greatest historical romances in the language—will scarcely forget the sudden transition in the last chapter. Throughout the entire book Kingsley has dealt with the redoubtable exploits of Hereward's sword. There is a splash of blood on every page. But the last chapter magnifies the achievement of Hereward's successor, Richard de Rulos, "the first of those agricultural squires who are England's blessing and England's pride." Over the tomb of Hereward, his admirers wrote the inscription: "Here lies the last of the old English"; but over the grave of Richard they wrote: "Here lies the first of the new English"; and all men felt that his was the finer tribute. The new and better day had dawned.

The Worship Of Mars Made Progress Impossible
During that dark and peaceless age in which Britain was successively invaded by the Romans, the Saxons, and the Danes, war was regarded as the only science worthy of true manhood. Children were carried by their fathers to the sanguinary conflicts in order that they might imbibe the fearful passion for slaughter. Only such tillage was undertaken as was absolutely needful. The culture of the soil was looked upon as the pursuit of the feeble and the timid; it was only undertaken by slaves, prisoners-of-war and men destined to exist under the scowl of their fellows. A labourer who learned to love such tasks was treated as having fallen below the level of the brutes. To guard against such a degrading attachment, the magistrates of that rude age were instructed to see that all tilled fields changed hands at least once a year. It was deemed an indelible disgrace to acquire by the sweat of one's brow what might have been attained by pillage and bloodshed.

The same sorry ideals found favour among the Scythians, Tartars, and other peoples who infested Northern Europe during the earlier centuries of the present era. The entire nation was an army and the people were perpetually on the march. A settled life was an abomination to them. Agriculture was regarded as an effeminate pursuit. Their herds of cattle constantly accompanied them. They lived exclusively on flesh and milk. The camp, never well arranged, was a butchers' shambles and historians have agreed in attributing to those constant scenes of cruelty, and to the nature of their diet, the ferocious and sanguinary propensities of these primitive peoples.

Mystical Forces Operate Behind The Scenes
About the beginning of the eleventh century a remarkable and beneficent transformation spread itself over the face of Europe, revolutionising the history of every nation. The Danes and the Scandinavians, the two peoples most of all responsible for the ages of unrest, discovered the benefits of agriculture and settled down to pursue the new science with characteristic energy and vigour. They found to their astonishment, and revealed to other nations, that the soil beneath their feet was itself the natural source of those boons and blessings which they had vainly sought on fields of carnage. They beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning-hooks; and, slowly but surely, a new day dawned.

But the ceremony at Chichester touches a still deeper chord. It used to be said that the farm is everybody's business:

It's the business of the kings upon their thrones;
It's the business of the
man who's breaking stones;
It's the business of the squire up at the
It's the business of the ostler at the stall;

And so on. But the ceremony at Chichester Cathedral reminds us that heaven itself regards the processes of the field as its business also. Having assumed the responsibility of creating us in such a way that we are utterly dependent upon the fruitfulness of the farm, Almighty God sees to it, year by year, that our expectation, in this regard, is not disappointed. There is always such an abundance in one place that the deficiencies of another are fully redressed. Nobody knows how the subtle processes of fertilisation and germination are performed. The scientist cannot tell; the farmer has no idea. We only know that the seed is committed to the ground; it rots and dies; it seems to be lost for ever; and then, by some magic or miracle beyond the limits of our thought it springs up, lives again and is multiplied a hundred-fold. Nobody who gives serious thought to this phenomenon will wonder that, from the time of its inception, the annual Agricultural Show in Melbourne has always been opened with the Doxology.

[1] This editorial appears in the Hobart Mercury on October 20, 1945.

F W Boreham

Image: A plough

27 October: Boreham on James Cook

The Chivalry of the Seas
In view of the fact that Australia owes him a debt that it can never repay, it is fitting that we should recognise today the birthday of Capt. Cook. His story is one long romance. We are so enamoured of the record of his fruitful voyages of exploration that we are apt to forget that, long before he set out on those memorable enterprises, he had served under Gen. Wolfe at Quebec and had contributed materially in securing the immortal victory on the heights of Abraham. It was, indeed, this adventure, with its characteristic audacity, its brilliant success and its hairbreadth escape that brought the young navigator into prominence and gave him his chance. Until then—and he was already 31—he had enjoyed no educational advantages whatever. In the record of his birth, his father is described as a day labourer, and, in the register containing the entry of the elder man's death, he is still classified in the same modest way. After the notable exploit at Quebec, however, influential admirers took him in hand; he was taught astronomy and the science of navigation; he took to such learning as a fish takes to water; and, soon he won for himself preferment and distinction.

The British are a restless people; they have never earned the philosophy of folded hands. Every great war has been followed by a fruitful era of exploratory adventure. As soon as peace has been declared, the tireless energies of the nation have sought some other outlet. The voyages of Capt. Cook illustrate the operation of this law. For years the nation had been at war. "Never," says Green, "had England played so great a part in the history of mankind." Three of these victories—Rossbach, Plassey and Quebec—changed the face of the world and switched the destinies of humanity into a new channel. Then the long and world-shaking conflict came to an end, and the sword as scarcely in its scabbard when the new national conciousness stirring in the hearts of the British people showed itself in the alacrity with which our seamen penetrated into far-off seas. In the year that followed the Peace of Paris, two British ships were sent on a cruise of discovery to the Straits of Magellan; three years later Capt. Wallis reached the coral reefs of Tahiti; and, later still, Capt. Cook traversed the Pacific from end to end.

Splendour Of Achievement Matched By Motive
In the last book that he wrote, Joseph Conrad enthroned Capt. Cook as the beau ideal among explorers. The most splendid and most exciting adventures in all history, Conrad argues, have been the adventures that have been undertaken from motives nobler than the mere lust of material gain. He confesses to a secret but savage pleasure to the discomfiture of those pertinacious searchers for El Dorado who climbed mountains, pushed through jungles, swam turgid rivers and floundered through malarial bogs without giving a thought to the science of geography.

Over against this, Conrad lauds the fine character and heroic achievements of Capt. Cook. Cook's three voyages, he maintains, are free from any taint of acquisitiveness. His aims need no disguise. They are absolutely and exclusively scientific. His deeds speak for themselves with the masterly simplicity of hard-won success. Cook's own record of his gipsyings—so charmingly modest and so scrupulously exact—stands among the most treasured classics of our literature. Sir John Lubbock included it among the hundred best books in the world. Its influence has been phenomenal. Some of our most eminent travellers, have confessed that they drew their earliest inspiration, and gleaned their most valuable suggestions, from the lucid and illuminating records of Capt. Cook. The modern missionary movement was pioneered by William Carey; but it was the perusal of Capt. Cook's journals that fired his consecrated brain with the sublime idea. The reader who pores over these thrilling pages finds himself in an inevitable quandary. Which is he to admire the more—the qualities that the redoubtable navigator displayed or the ends that he encompassed by means of them?

Master Of Oceans And Master Of People
A tabulated list of Capt. Cook's triumphs takes one's breath away. Apart from his historic work in the long, long wash of Australasian seas, he traversed the Antarctic Ocean again and again, charted a great part of the coast of New Caledonia, explored 3,500 miles of the North American shoreline, discovered the Society Islands and many other groups, and poked his way among the frozen seas of the North Pacific. Nor is this all. For, as Sir Walter Besant has pointed out, his voyages would have been impossible and his discoveries could never have been made but for his researches into the secret of avoiding scurvy.

Yet, splendid as all this is, it is but a revelation of the soul of the man himself. The intrepidity, the humanness, the skill, the sagacity and the sterling commonsense of Capt. Cook will rank, as long as the world stands, as a model for all those—soldiers, explorers, missionaries and the like—who are called to move among indigenous tribes and to handle unfamiliar peoples. It was his character that secured his conquests. His solicitude for his own men, and his tact in dealing with barbarous tribesmen were among the most admirable of his superlative qualities. He came by his tragic death through his insistence on standing between his followers and a horde of infuriated savages. His men escaped; the gallant commander alone fell a victim to the ignorant brutality of the unreasoning blacks. The spot on which he was murdered is marked by a gigantic obelisk and is visited annually by a British warship. Australia, recognising the purity of his superb genius, is dotted with monuments to his deathless fame. The naming after him of the great graving dock is simply the latest of such tributes. Yet, as Sir John Laughton has finely said, his truest and best memorial is the map of the Pacific. He made these seas peculiarly his own, and, in the lands that owe so much to his patriotic daring, his name will always be pronounced in accents that render it not only a priceless memory but an inspiration and a challenge.

F W Boreham

Image: Captain James Cook

26 October: Boreham on Abel Tasman

Charting a New World
We note today the death, in October 1659, of Abel Tasman, who played a brave part in the shaping of our Austral World. It is more than three hundred years since Tasman, having earlier sighted this island and called it Van Diemen's Land, added still further to his laurels by discovering New Zealand. "We have discovered two countries within two weeks," he proudly told his men, and nobody grudged him the gratification he so naturally felt. For Tasman was one of the most popular commanders whoever sailed these seas. Born in 1603, his patriotism was early excited by the fierce conflicts between Holland and Spain, and he was only 18 when his country became involved in the long agony of the Thirty Years War. Tasman himself, however, took most delight in the maritime prowess of his people. He early imbibed the conviction that the destiny of the Dutch was to be shaped upon the seas, and he looked with longing eyes on every tall ship he chanced to see.

Having signed on as an ordinary seaman, he lost no time in displaying his aptitude for the craft. He earned promotion at incredible speed and within two years was master of a vessel. He was still in his thirties when he was given command of the Heemskerk and the Zeehaen and despatched on that memorable voyage in the course of which he discovered first Tasmania and then New Zealand. Of the two experiences Tasman looked back upon the former of these exploits with the greater satisfaction; the latter was too deeply tinged with tragedy. As soon as the two vessels dropped anchor in one of those blue bays for which New Zealand is so famous, the Maoris treated the newcomers with obvious mistrust. Tasman did not like the look of things and sent seven men from his own ship to warn the crew of the other vessel of the danger he apprehended. The boat containing these men was, however, swiftly surrounded by native canoes, three of the sailors were killed and a fourth mortally wounded, and Tasman, half wishing he had never seen the horrid place, named the spot Bay of Murderers or Massacre Bay and set sail in search of happier conquests.

A Race That Improves Upon Acquaintance
This unfortunate introduction to the Maoris gave them a bad name, especially as the sinister impressions it left were confirmed by later voyagers. More than a century after Tasman, Marion du Fresne, a French navigator, was, with 16 members of his crew, brutally butchered and made the victims of a cannibal orgy. Ship after ship shared the same horrible fate. These sickening stories soon became the property of mariners all the world over and, in every cabin and forecastle on the high seas, the natives of New Zealand were discussed with terror as the most atrocious and bloodthirsty monsters on the face of the earth. For more than a century captains kept a wary eye upon the skyline for the first glimpse of the New Zealand coast and, on its appearance, ordered boarding-nets to be lowered immediately to prevent the dreaded savages coming to close quarters.

Yet, if only Tasman and his successors had known, there was another side to all this. The Maori was a much finer fellow than he appeared. He may, for example, justly claim to be ranked alongside the most enterprising pathfinders of our modern civilisation. The records of his daring voyages would have stirred the blood of Sir Francis Drake and kindled the admiration of Sir Walter Raleigh. Long before our own hardy navigators had fired the imagination of the world with visions of western empires and southern continents, these dauntless explorers, in large and shapely canoes, capable of accommodating and provisioning 150 men, had found their way across the immense spaces of the southern oceans. Long before the Vikings of the North had turned their frowning figureheads seawards, these Vikings of the South had completed voyages as wonderful as any in the history of the world. Monuments of these maritime adventures have been found along the coasts of Chile and Peru; up the banks of the Rio Negro, a great river of Patagonia; which discharges its waters into the Atlantic; and even up the slopes of the Andes and on the great plains of Argentina.

One Of Civilisation's Transformation Scenes
Nor did Tasman suspect, as he hastened to place a wide belt of blue water between himself and these bloodthirsty Maoris, that the swarthy race of which he had formed so unhappy an impression was in reality a people of high culture with the capabilities of imbibing a higher culture still. Even in Tasman's day, and long before, they possessed a wealth of tradition, mythology, and folk lore that has since won the unqualified admiration of the most eminent critics and taken its place as an integral part of the world's imaginative literature. And when this amazing people had the opportunity of infusing into their own life and literature the new spirit that came to them from overseas, an incredible transformation resulted.

In a few years there were Maori doctors, solicitors, clergymen, teachers, and members of Parliament. The people seemed to awake as from some horrid nightmare and take an honourable place among civilised and enlightened nations, while the sons and daughters of this race distinguished themselves in every department of scholarship and in all the arts of peace. It is in this setting, and against this background, that we have to admire the colonising triumph which, in the course of a comparatively short space of time, has enriched the Empire with a Dominion, loyal, vigorous, and united, of which the entire Commonwealth of Nations has ever increasing reason to be proud.

F W Boreham

Image: Abel Tasman

25 October: Boreham on Geoffrey Chaucer

The Singer of the Sunrise
A gentle little creature was Geoffrey Chaucer, our first warbler, the anniversary of whose death is marked today. If he had come into the world 50 years earlier, he would have enjoyed twice as large a constituency; for, between the date of his birth and the appearance of his first poem, half the population of England was swept away by the plague. Soft of foot, soft of voice, we seem to see him moving about his quaint old English cottage in slippered silence or pottering about his garden in the hope of producing still lovelier yellow roses. In the entire pageant of English letters no name shines with a brighter lustre than does his. He was born in London at a time when London was scarcely more than a village. In so diminutive a capital it was not insuperably difficult for a youth of outstanding ability and engaging presence to win his way to court. Endowed both with unusual talent and a pleasing personality, Chaucer quickly caught the eye of some of the most influential courtiers of his day. After a period of comparatively menial and domestic servitude, he covered himself with distinction, first in military and then in diplomatic duties, and was entrusted with delicate and responsible missions to other European courts. It was in the course of these travels that his literary instincts were first awakened.

Drama Of Europe
In France he fell under the infatuation of the French romanticists, and, studying their methods, conceived the idea of doing something of the same kind in England. English life was, to be sure, small, simple, and quiet, lacking the sparkle and vivacity and gaiety that he saw in Paris. Yet Chaucer fancied that, properly handled, the very seclusion and tranquillity of English life might be made to lend a distinctive charm to any literature that could be created there. After France came Italy. It was Chaucer's good fortune to find himself in Italy when the new breath of the Renaissance was exercising its invigorating influence on the minds of the people. Petrarch himself was still living, and so was Boccaccio, while Dante and Giotto had only recently passed away. A photographic plate is not more fitted to receive the impression of the scenery to which it is exposed than was the sensitive spirit of Chaucer to receive the impressions presented for his contemplation by this rich and suggestive atmosphere. The drama of history was pouring itself into his ardent mind; he imbibed every hour the condensed essence of mediaeval romance. The ambition that had fired his fancy in France flared up with new passion and new intensity in Italy. Surely it should be possible for some inspired bard to do for England what others had done for the older nations! And if such work were possible, why should he himself not make the brave attempt? It is not too much to say that it was in the mental struggle ensuing upon the emergence of such questions that our English literature was born.

A Patriot In Poesy
The secret of Chaucer's success lay in the fact that he was content to transfer to his broad canvas only what, with his own eyes, he actually saw. An Englishman, he made up his mind to paint England. A smaller soul, having felt the resistless magic of France, and having responded to the glamour of Italy, would have brought to his English work the spirit of his European adventures. But Chaucer resisted the insidious temptation. Having spread out his paper and seized his quill, he forgot France and Italy altogether and brought to his English work the essential spirit of England. This constitutes itself Chaucer's supreme claim to immortality. He was transparently honest. His artistry never stooped to affectation or artificiality. His inn is the village tavern with which he was perfectly familiar; his pilgrims are good trusty yeomen whom he thoroughly knew and understood; and, though he may have borrowed from Boccaccio the idea of making them tell each other tales, the tales that he makes them tell are as English as the oaks, the roses, and the lawns around him.

Women Of England
Although nobody ever felt the fascination of Europe more than he did, he loved England and made it his loftiest aspiration to set her to music. It may be objected that Chaucer's England is an idealised England, a dream England, an England that never was and never could be. There is some ground for the criticism, but it is inevitable. Love is notoriously blind. When a lover describes his lady, everybody knows that, though he may be the soul of veracity, he is not telling the whole truth. He has no eyes for the faults and foibles that seem so conspicuous in the sight of others. So was it with Chaucer, and, on the whole, we like him all the better for it. Take, for example his delineation of Fourteenth Century Womanhood. It was not customary, 600 years ago, to speak of women in the daintiest and most delicate terms. The common phraseology was hideously coarse. And if we turn to other pages than those of Chaucer we may rashly conclude that the womanhood of the period deserved no better treatment than was meted out to it. But, as Mr. Arthur Burrell has pointed out, Chaucer always treats English women with something more than chivalry. "All good women," he says, "are, to Chaucer, reflections of the Virgin Mary. The Clerke's Tale alone lifts the woman of the Middle Ages above the elegances of Herrick, above the calm honours of Tennyson, and above the critical or whole-hearted admiration of Browning. Not even in Shakespeare do we find such an abandonment of worship as we do here. Women have not yet learned to study the women of Chaucer, their own poet, their defender and their glory." Such a state of things cannot, however, last for ever. Before long we shall notice a general revival of interest in Chaucer and his poetry, and when that day dawns the world will recognise how deeply England—and especially the womanhood of England is indebted to the earliest and, in some respects, the sweetest of our English singers.

F W Boreham

Image: Geoffrey Chaucer