Thursday, January 18, 2007

11 February:

All essays (one for each day of the year) have been posted on this site.

The essay for the 11 February can be found in the February 2006 archives or by hitting this link:

11 February: Boreham on Thomas Edison

Geoff Pound

10 February: Boreham on Lord Lister

A Golden Tradition
In view of the sensational strides that surgery has taken in recent years, it is eminently fitting that we should offer our homage to the illustrious memory of Lord Lister, the anniversary of whose death we mark today. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the history of surgery divides itself into two epochs—before Lister, and after. In the old days, as Tyndall put it, "we were scourged by invisible thongs, attacked by impenetrable ambuscades, and it was only under the leadership of Lister that the light of science was thrown upon the murderous dominion of our foes." The brave story represents one of our classical romances.

With no traditions to suggest such a destiny or move him in that direction, Lister resolved, when quite a child, to be a surgeon. None of his relatives were attached to the medical profession, and it is doubtful if the boy had ever spoken to a doctor in his life. He was adamant, however, and never for a moment swerved from his early purpose. As soon as he entered his 'teens he began to macerate the bones and articulate the skeleton of every creature he could lay his hands upon. His parents, Quakers of the old school, viewed his grim propensities with feelings akin to horror. His father was proud of the boy's penchant for scientific research, but he shook his head gravely at the ideas of his son becoming a surgeon.

Surgery The Handmaid Of Nature
For what, after all, does the antiseptic doctrine amount to? If we forsake for the nonce the technical and academic terminology of the schools, and reduce the matter to the common parlance of the street and the fireside, it simply means that Pasteur in France and Lister in England aroused the medical fraternity to a recognition of the fact that, favourable conditions having been secured, Nature itself is the supreme healer. It is not the business of the surgeon to heal, but to obtain for Nature those conditions for which it imperatively stipulates. Any surgeon will confess that it is not in his power to heal a wound. The wound must heal itself. His duty consists in keeping it so immune from foreign substances, and so free from malignant bacteria, that the injured limb gets a fair chance of compassing its own restoration. Some vague hints of all this had been detected, and their significance suspected, away back in mediaeval times. But it was reserved for Lister to read the secret rightly and to transform our schools of surgery by giving it practical demonstration and effect. The work was slow, but he never lost heart and never looked back, and, in a way of which he never even dared to dream, he came into his own at the end.

Within the memory of men still living, Lister stood, with his back to the wall, fighting as a man fight for his life on behalf of that new conception of surgery with which his name will always be associated. He fought, not as a pugilist, but as a knight. There was a winsomeness and a chivalry about his engaging personality that completely disarmed his critics and opponents. He was absolutely sure of his ground, and he exhibited his confidence, not in noisy bluster, but in quiet strength. W. E. Henley, the poet and the friend of Robert Louis Stevenson, was once operated upon by Lister. Acknowledging his indebtedness to the distinguished surgeon who had thus saved his life, Henley said that "his rare, wise smile was sweet with certainties." The exquisite phrase reflects, as eloquently as mere words can do it, the calm and gracious poise of Lister's mind.

Laurels That Were Late, But Luxurious
At the time of Lister's advent, the situation was desperate. Doctors stood appalled at their own helplessness. The stars in their courses seemed to be fighting against them. Disease was spread by the very people who were seeking most assiduously to cure it. Surgeons carried contagion from patient to patient; nurses bore it from bed to bed on their aprons, bandages, and sponges. To sentence a patient to an operation was like signing his death warrant. Lister was worried to the point of distraction. He resolved to probe the problem to its very heart. As a result, he came to a sensational conclusion. The whole trouble, he announced, was—dirt! So, to the elimination of dirt, in every shape and form, he applied his stately powers. His new crusade awoke a storm of opposition. At the meetings of the British Association held at Leeds in 1869, Lister was roundly charged with arrant stupidity. Four years later, the "Lancet" warned the entire profession against him. At Edinburgh, Professor Caird, then a student, was solemnly adjured to have nothing whatever to do with him. The fierce campaign lasted until 1877, Lister being then 50. In that year the tide turned.

Lister was made Professor of Clinical Surgery at King's College Hospital. Almost immediately, his former enemies rallied to his side. Sir James Paget recanted and frankly withdrew earlier strictures. "I look back with shame," Sir James declared, "on that part of my life." In 1883, Lister was made a baronet, and, in 1897 was raised to the peerage. It was the first occasion on which a member of the medical fraternity had been so honoured. At the Coronation of King Edward the Seventh, Lister was made a Privy Councillor. "What pleased me far more than the honour," he said, "was the fact that the King shook hands with me, and said that, but for me, he could not have lived to wear the crown." Lister died in 1912. A grave in Westminster Abbey was offered, and declined, but a noble monument perpetuates his memory there. Men of such a mould are the glory, not only of a nation, but of all mankind; and it is fitting that, on every suitable occasion, we should recall their heroic achievements and acknowledge the incalculable debt under which they have placed us.

F W Boreham

Image: Lord Lister

9 February: Boreham on Thomas Coram

A Sailor's Philanthropy
Nothing in the nature of romance appears to underlie the announcement contained in the latest English newspapers to the effect that the children of the Foundling Hospital have now taken possession of their new home at Ashlyns, Berhampstead.[1] In point of fact, however, one of the most affecting stories in the annals of the Empire—a story that may almost be classified as an epic—is revived by that apparently prosaic item of intelligence. It is nearly 200 years since the Foundling Hospital was founded, and the record of its establishment is one that history—too intent on the clash of armies, the amours of kings and the squabbles of statesmen—cannot afford to forget.

One of the adornments of the new institutions at Berkhampstead is the noble statue of Capt. Thomas Coram which, standing beside the old hospital at Bloomsbury, was for many years one of the landmarks of London. Having been born in the days in which Sir Christopher Wren was laying his plans for repairing the havoc wrought by the Great Fire, and possessing no social or educational advantages of any kind, Thomas Coram became an ordinary seaman. He rose to the rank of a merchant captain, and afterwards did a work for England, and for humanity with which the achievements of few men, much more highly gifted, can for a moment compare. In his plain, blunt way, he set himself, in the course of his roving life, to confer upon his fellows every benefit that he had in his power to give them. He contrived to touch life at an extraordinary number of vital points. To this day his name is honoured in Georgia and in Nova Scotia as one of the prime movers in the establishment of those important settlements. For a few years he made his home at Taunton, Massachusetts, labouring there as a shipwright, and before he left, although his business was a particularly modest one, he presented the local authorities with 60 acres of land on which to erect a church and a schoolhouse, while the first library that the town ever possessed was also the captain's gift. All through his long and adventurous life, he showed remarkable ingenuity in discovering avenues of useful service to mankind; but all these earlier and preparatory ventures were eventually put to shame by the historic enterprise to which he applied his powers in his later days.

When Life Was Cheap
When the old captain felt that the time had come to leave a seafaring life to younger men, he settled down quietly at Rotherhithe on the Thames-side. It is a favourite haunt of old sailors; they are under the shadow of St. Paul's, in touch with the hub of the universe on the one hand and with ships and seamen on the other. In taking his morning stroll in this riverside resort however, the retired mariner made a discovery that sickened and appalled him. He seldom returned to his rooms for his midday meal without having seen lying in the gutter, one or more babies that, unwanted and unwelcome, had been disposed of in this crude and heartless way. Some of them were alive and in excellent condition; some of them were emaciated and at their last gasp; some of them were already dead. He deplored the inhumanity of this common-place spectacle and he realised the pitiful waste that it represented. Others, thousands of them, had grieved over the evil, even as he did. Some of them had upraised their voices in protest; but nothing had been done to remedy it. The sorrow of Thomas Coram differed from the sorrow that had so often been expressed inasmuch as, with hard sailor-sense, he decided that the abominable practice must be stopped and its ravages overtaken. He at first attempted to heal, as far as possible, this open sore by taking one or two of the most promising of the children into his own care and by inducing other men and women to follow his excellent example. But it soon became obvious that so immense a malady could not be cured by so meagre remedy, and Capt. Coram decided that the time had come to awaken a public conscience. The matter was of national importance; he would endeavour to stir the nation to solicitude and activity. He petitioned Parliament to prevent the frequent murders of poor, miserable children at their birth, and to suppress the human custom of exposing new-born infants to perish in the streets. It is to the credit of British people that, when a need is brought under their notice, sympathies are swiftly stirred and practical assistance is cheerfully given. In 1739, to Capt. Coram's delight, the Foundling Hospital of London was incorporated by Royal Charter "for the maintenance and education of exposed and deserted young children." But if the good captain imagined that, with this important step, all his problems had been solved, he was doomed to a bitter and violent disillusionment.

Battalions Of Babies
He soon discovered, to his dismay, that he had only abolished one evil to make room for another. In his "Eighteenth Century Vignettes," Mr. Austin Dobson has tellingly depicted the embarrassment of the founder of the hospital as soon as its doors were for the first time opened. As soon as the existence of the institution became known, babies poured in from every corner of the kingdom. It became a lucrative trade, Mr. Dobson says, for carriers to convey infants from remote villages and hamlets to Capt. Coram's hospital. Once a waggon brought eight to town on one trip, seven of whom were dead when they reached their destination. On another occasion a man with five babies in baskets got drunk on the road and three of his little charges were suffocated. Many of the babies were sent anonymously; on some of them distinguishing marks had been placed by the parent. These marks often consisted of coins, trinkets, pieces of cotton or ribbon, or doggerel verses scrawled on scraps of paper. In a register kept at the hospital, a description of the clothes—if any—was carefully entered. One of these records reads: "Paper on the breast: clout on the head." The inevitable outcome of all this was that the governors of the hospital found themselves utterly unable to maintain the battalions of babies that swooped down upon them from all points of the compass. They accordingly applied to Parliament for help, and Parliament voted them 10,000 pounds, but in making the grant Parliament still further disconcerted them by stipulating that they must receive all-comers. A basket was hung at the gateway in Guilford St., on the spot that was afterwards occupied by the famous statue of Capt. Coram, and, on the very first day of the appearance of this basket 117 babies were placed in it! In less than four years 15,000 children were forwarded to the hospital, and the record grimly adds that "a vile trade grew up among vagrants of undertaking to carry children from the country to the hospital, an undertaking which was seldom performed, or performed only with great cruelty." In the early years of the hospital’s existence, it was only possible to coax one child in every four into surviving the injuries and handicaps that had marked its condition when admitted.

Golden Links
In addition to the celebrated statue of its founder, the hospital carries into its new environment at Berkhampstead many interesting links with these early days. It still possesses, for example, the organ presented to the institution by Handel in 1750, an instrument on which the great composer himself often played. Handel was very much in love with the work that Capt. Coram was doing. In the beautiful chapel which Jacobson added to the hospital in 1747, Handel formed a choir of blind inmates who frequently rendered "The Messiah" under the composer's personal direction. And when, in 1759, Handel died, he bequeathed to the hospital a manuscript copy of his greatest oratorio. The other day, as the children assembled for the first time in their new home at Berkhampstead, selections were played from Handel's "Messiah" on Handel's organ.

The new buildings also contain Hogarth's fine painting of Capt. Coram—a canvas from which, as Mr. Dobson says, "the ruddy, kindly face of the brave old mariner, with its curling white hair, still beams on us." Hogarth, like many of the most eminent painters of his time, was lost in admiration of the unselfish and constructive work of Capt. Coram. For some years the nation's most brilliant artists arranged an annual exhibition of their pictures at the hospital; and this exhibition led, in 1768, to the formation of the Royal Academy.

At so many points does the sturdy personality of the old sea-captain weave itself into our national story! In the middle of the Eighteenth Century, men and women of all ranks of society vied with each other in acknowledging the incalculable debt that the nation owed to Capt. Coram, and the transfer of the hospital from Bloomsbury to Berkhampstead provides the present generation with a fitting opportunity of recognising the perennial value of the heroic work that he inaugurated exactly two centuries ago.

F W Boreham

Image: Thomas Coram

[1] This editorial appears in the Hobart Mercury on February 19, 1938. The 9th of February marks the anniversary of Coram's death.

8 February: Boreham on Jules Verne

Imagination and Science
At the age of 20, Jules Verne, whose birthday we mark today, burst upon Paris. For years he had cherished romantic dreams of tasting the bohemian life of the capital. He arrived to find the city in the throes of revolution. Blood was flowing in the streets; paving stones were being torn up to build barricades; the king was being bundled off the throne.

Bewildered and dumbfounded, Jules Verne felt as a man might feel who, having accepted an invitation to stay with a relative, reaches the house just as his host, in a fit of drunken fury, is smashing the windows and setting fire to the furniture.

Five years later, Paris having regained her sanity, one might meet, on the Champs Elysses, a young dandy of striking, open face, with curly hair falling about his massive forehead. He wears an immaculate velvet jacket and an elaborate bow tie. As a law student, he has become fond of Paris and has written a sheaf of trifles, including daring flights of fancy, modelled partly on Alexandre Dumas and partly on Edgar Allan Poe. For Jules Verne has not yet found Jules Verne.

Various Professions As Stepping Stones To Fame
Three years later, to the consternation of his father, he relinquished his legal studies and became a stockbroker. Two considerations dictated the change. Desperately anxious to marry, he needed money, and he thought that he could achieve wealth more swiftly on the Stock Exchange than in chambers. And he fancies that the new vocation will give him more time for literary enterprise.

As a matter of fact, his application to the law and his devotion to the Stock Exchange were, both of them, harmless flirtations. At heart he was neither barrister nor stockbroker. He aimed at authorship, and, the moment that he had attained that elevation, he was resolved to throw down the ladder by which he had climbed.

He had to wait six long years. After a few months as a stockbroker he had realised the first of his dreams; he married his beloved Honorine. And then he set to work to attain his second goal. He rose at five every morning, snatched something from the pantry, rushed to his desk, and wrote frantically for five hours. Then, at ten o'clock, Jules Verne the Visionary became magically transformed into Jules Verne the Stockbroker, and, a city person to the last bootlace, he set off for the office.

An Eager Prospector Strikes Gold At Last
It was in 1863, at the age of 35, that he found his metier. It was the age of the balloon. Fugitive ascents had often been made in the course of the centuries; but, at that time, Glaisher was experimenting on behalf of the British Association, reaching on one occasion an altitude of 37,000ft.

Giving rein to his fancy, Jules Verne exploited the passion of the period. He published his "Five Weeks in a Balloon" and felt in his very bones that he had pegged his claim to world-wide renown.

When his publisher congratulated him on his triumph, the young author startled him by reeling off the plots of a dozen highly imaginative novels stacked away amidst the grey matter of his fertile brain. He was as excited as a schoolboy. Whilst the mood was upon him, he called together his friends on the Bourse. "I am leaving you," he cried to the astonished stockbrokers. "I have written a novel of an entirely new kind. If it succeeds, it will be a gold mine. I shall go on writing without a break, while you continue to buy shares the day before they slump, and sell them the day before they soar! Goodbye!" That speech marked the birth of Jules Verne as the world knows him.

He travelled in order that his oceans of fancy might be studded with picturesque islands of fact. By introducing into his weird narratives actual descriptions of real places, he provided, as Pooh Bah would say, some corroborative detail, designed to give artistic verisimilitude to an otherwise unconvincing narrative. But the excursions of his body were mere evening strolls compared with the excursions of his brain. He liked to set his plots in places that no human eye had ever beheld; amidst such scenes he was immune from contradiction. In graphically portraying the centre of the earth, the bed of the ocean, and the surface of the moon he could let himself go; he had invaded a realm that was exclusively his own.

Keeping himself abreast of the science of his time, he allowed his vivid imagination to go just one step ahead. He regarded each sensational invention as embryonic; it foretold a still greater wonder. For this reason, there was something prophetic about him; many of his wildest imaginings were but the shadows of things to come. Nursed by his faithful Honorine, he died in the early morning of a perfect Spring day in 1905. He was then 77. Four days later, 5,000 people, including troops of school children who had devoured every line that he had written, followed him to his grave.

F W Boreham

Image: Jules Verne

7 February: Boreham on William Huggins

A Celestial Alchemist
Sir William Huggins, whose birthday this is, was essentially one of the pick-and-shovel men of science. He was known as the Chemist of the Stars. He had his own ideas; he worked along his own line without thought of fame or fortune; but he eventually compelled the world to pay rapt attention to his discoveries. Approaching the normal span of human existence, he was elected to the presidency of the British Association, and his address from the chair on "The History of the Development of Prismatic Astronomy" is still cherished as one of the most notable contributions to modern science. For five successive years he was president of the Royal Society; and when, in 1902, King Edward instituted the Order of Merit as a special recognition of distinguished services rendered to mankind, Sir William Huggins, then nearly eighty, was one of the very first to receive the coveted honour. During the closing years of his long and useful life, the learned societies and prominent universities of almost all nations showered upon him brilliant decorations. Every department of investigation and research sought his counsel.

Richard Anthony Proctor, the eminent astronomer, used to speak of Huggins as the Herschel of the spectroscope. He was no more the inventor of the spectroscope, that is to say, than Herschel was the inventor of the telescope. But just as Herschel opened up new worlds to the conquest of the one instrument, so Huggins extended almost indefinitely the triumphs of the other. In the year that witnessed the Great Fire of London, Isaac Newton, then a youth of twenty-four, had amused himself by taking a ray of light to pieces. Shutting himself up in a dark room, he bored a hole in the shutter, caught on a prism the spear of light that shot in, and admired on a screen the rainbow-tinted hues into which that one white ray was thus divided. Acting upon this hint, other thinkers elaborated the procedure until Kirchhoff of Heidelberg set himself to analyse, not only the sunlight, but the sun itself. He talked of his experiments as if he had laid the sun on the table of his laboratory and had carved and probed it at his pleasure. It was the work of Kirchhoff that suggested that of Huggins, but it was Huggins who, lifting the spectroscope from the backwash of stagnation, gave it standing and recognition in the scientific world.

Opening Door That Had Been Closed For Ages
In his early days Huggins felt painfully dissatisfied with astronomical research as it was then conducted. But, as soon as he heard of Kirchhoff's exploits, he saw his own course with dramatic clearness. A feeling as of inspiration seized him. He felt, he said, as if he had it now in his power to lift a veil which had never before been raised, as if a key had been placed in his hands which would unlock a door that had been closed from the foundation of the world. He would apply the principles of chemistry to the phenomena of astronomy and solve the inscrutable mystery as to the true nature of the heavenly bodies. Nothing could have been more modest or unpretentious than the equipment with which he started. His telescope was a grotesquely primitive affair, whilst his spectroscope, constructed entirely to his own design, was a tiny instrument with a total length of less than five inches. His one stroke of luck was the invention, just in time to be of use to him, of dry-plate photography.

Huggins had only been four years at work when he was able to demonstrate, more clearly and convincingly than it had ever been demonstrated before, the essential and fundamental unity of the universe. In a lecture delivered before the British Association in 1866—exactly two centuries after Newton had bored the hole in the shutter—Sir William Huggins completed in the most conclusive way six valuable and epoch-making demonstrations. He proved that all the brighter stars have a structure analogous to that of the sun; he proved that the stars contain material elements common to the sun and the earth; he proved that the colours of the stars have their origin in the chemical constitution of the atmosphere which surrounds them; he proved that, the changes in brightness of some of the variable stars are attended by charges in the lines of absorption of their spectra; he proved that, in the construction of the stars great physical changes are in constant operation; and he proved that there exist in the heavens true nebulae, composed entirely of luminous gas.

Giving The Observatories A New Outlook
From that hour, our knowledge of the skies entered upon an entirely fresh phase. There is a sense in which astronomy is the oldest of all the sciences: it was the playground of antiquity: the first man sat on the first log that he felled and, gazing into infinity, speculated as to the principles of light that twinkled tantalisingly above them. But there is also a sense in which Sir William Huggins made it the youngest of the sciences: he brought the stars into the laboratories of the chemists. Subsequent generations, as they come and go, owe it to themselves to rescue the brave records of such men from the oblivion into which they have fallen, and to weave about their names their full meed of admiration and appreciation.

Sir William Huggins lived to be eighty-six, loved and honoured by all within his own immediate circle, and held in proud veneration by the most trusted academicians of his time. As an old man he took the greatest delight in his lifework, as he had every right to do. To the end, he was never tired of acknowledging his heavy obligations to those whose novel experiments and preparatory researches had suggested to him his own initial ventures. "We found the new astronomy," he used to say, "a newborn child. We take leave of her, in the full beauty of a vigorous youth, receiving homage in all the observatories of the world." It will speak poorly for the discernment and the gratitude of the race if one who did so much for science, and by the repercussions of whose salutory influence every branch of civilisation has been incalculably enriched, should ever be forgotten or ignored.

F W Boreham

Image: William Huggins

6 February: Boreham on Christopher Marlowe

A Dog with a Bad Name
Christopher Marlowe, whose birthday this is, has been regarded as the scapegrace of English literature always. His character was supposed to be entirely disreputable and it was deemed incorrect to mention his name in polite society. He was said to have lived a short and shameless life and to have died, at the age of 29, a disgusting death in a drunken quarrel. The records elaborated this unsavoury narrative with dramatic embellishments and circumstantial verisimilitude, and it was nobody's business to initiate a searching investigation into the accuracy of the generally-accepted story. Recent years have, however, treated Marlowe's memory more kindly. Impressed by the fact that he was the trusted and admired friend of so knightly a figure as Sir Walter Raleigh, and that some of the most eminent scholars of the period delighted in his society, a searching scrutiny of the records was made by Lord Coleridge, then Chief Justice of Great Britain, with the approval and assistance of the greatest living writers.

Immediately it became clear that many of the ugly stories that have adhered to the name of Marlowe sprang into existence long after his death. As the evidence accumulated, the investigators became convinced that Marlowe was a man of an incomparably finer type than had been generally supposed, and in the end steps were taken to erect in England a monument that would stand as a worthy, if belated, recognition of the poet's influence and work. Few English writers have better deserved such a tribute from posterity. Milton thought Marlowe, "a kind of second Shakespeare." Some have even asked: Was he not the first Shakespeare, the Bard of Avon being the second? Shakespeare himself would have regarded no praise of Marlowe as being too inflated.

Master At Whose Feet Shakespeare Sat
It is scarcely too much to say that Marlowe taught Shakespeare his art. If Shakespeare had never heard of Marlowe, we should probably never have heard of Shakespeare. To begin with, Marlowe was the pioneer of blank verse. Shakespeare saw at once the possibilities of the new style and adopted it in all his plays. But Marlowe was the inventor, the experimenter, the pathfinder, and Shakespeare would have been the first to ascribe to him the glory. Moreover, it was Marlowe who opened Shakespeare's eyes to the immense potentialities of the tragic note. The dramas of the Sixteenth Century lacked tremendousness. Marlowe recognised the defect and in some measure repaired it. But he did more. To the everlasting gain of English letters, he made Shakespeare see life through his eyes, and the sublime tragedies of our stateliest bard are the impressive monuments of Marlowe's salutary influence upon him.

Swinburne thinks that, apart from anything that Marlowe himself wrote, he deserves to rank with the immortals in virtue of his authority over the minds of others. To no other man, Swinburne declares, have so many of our greatest poets been so deeply and directly indebted. If we owed Marlowe nothing more than the treasure that he has given us through the medium of Shakespeare and his contemporaries, our debt would be incalculable. But in cold fact we owe him immensely more than this. His own work is never again likely to create a furore, but for all that it is of first-class elegance, power and beauty. Goethe thought that, in some respects, Marlowe's "Faustus," was the finest composition in the world's literature. "How greatly it is all planned!" he exclaimed. And an English critic of scarcely less eminence has given it as his deliberate and considered judgment that few masterpieces of any age or of any language can stand beside Marlowe's "Faustus" for the qualities of terror and splendour, for intensity of purpose and sublimity of note.

If Boyish Brilliance Could Have Blossomed
At least a dozen respects in which Marlowe stands without a rival—unique, peerless, magnificently alone—could easily be set down. The pity is that he died—it matters little how—at 29. Scouting the sinister stories that arose from later controversies, Gabriel Hervey positively asserts that Marlowe perished of the plague, and there is no reason to doubt his word. But the point that will more appeal to Twentieth Century students is the speculation that emerges most naturally from his amazing record. For if, as a mere boy, he could instruct men of the calibre of Shakespeare and Milton in the technique of their art, what would have been the measure of our indebtedness had he lived to maturity or old age?

A similar question, it may be said, confronts us whenever we contemplate the records of Chatterton, Shelley, and Keats but in none of these cases is the problem so intriguing, or the lamentation as poignant as in the case of Marlowe. His premature death, as Hazlitt puts it, extinguished powers which, had he lived, would have qualified him to rank among the very foremost. Sir Sidney Lee does not hesitate to affirm that the genius which enabled Christopher Marlowe, in his youth, to portray man's intensest yearnings for the impossible—for limitless power in the case of Tamburlaine; for limitless knowledge in the case of Faustus; for limitless wealth in the case of Barabas—would assuredly have rendered him in middle life a formidable rival to the most splendid of our tragic poets. Such regrets are, however, pitifully futile. They stand among history's imposing might-have-beens. We must take the man, not as we like to fancy him but as he actually is. And Christopher Marlowe, as he actually is, has so thoroughly carved a place of high honour and lasting renown that we can well afford to dispense with the proud dreams, pleasing conjectures and enchanted imaginings that the thought of his youthful death inevitably inspires.

F W Boreham

Image: Christopher Marlowe

5 February: Boreham on Thomas Carlyle

A Literary Calamity
On this anniversary of the death of Thomas Carlyle it is good to remember the day when, John Stuart Mill drove up to the home of the Carlyles in Cheyne Row to make an astounding confession. When Carlyle had completed the first volume of his "French Revolution," he lent the manuscript to Mill for inspection and suggestion. In some way, that has never been satisfactorily explained, Mill left it in such a position that his housemaid mistook it for waste paper, and burned it! It is to the everlasting honour of Carlyle that, although the revelation almost broke his heart, he never let Mill realise the immensity of his deprivation. Carlyle is one of the truly Homeric figures of our literary history. The interest that we feel in him is the interest that we feel in Vesuvius. Other great men are like great mountains; they leap from the common plane and stand out with grandeur and ruggedness against the horizon; but Carlyle is essentially volcanic. His personality is awe-inspiring; his temperament is fiery; his utterance is like a turgid flow of lava. He holds for us the fascination that attaches to all things that are terrible, weird, explosive. He takes knowing. The reader who picks up "Sartor Resartus" or "The French Revolution" for the first time feels that he is crossing a ploughed field in silk slippers. The going is hard and the gait ungraceful; but there is novelty in it, and after a while he gets accustomed to the rough track and begins to enjoy the smell of the upturned soil and the tang of the bracing air. Feeling a personal interest in this strange and uncouth writer, he proceeds to the biographies. Little by little he gets to know Carlyle, and for some time at any rate does not altogether like him. He contemplates the writer's personality much as a small boy contemplates a caged bear. He is glad to have seen something of him, but he does not sigh for a closer acquaintance. The great man is all snaps and snarls and grunts and growls. We are repelled by his tactlessness towards his wife, by his ill-temper towards the unfortunates who incur his displeasure, and by his constant approximation to savagery. Yet, just as, in the one case, the boy will gladly walk a good many miles to see the bear again, so in the other, we only need a fresh invitation to study Carlyle, and we cheerfully respond. The geologists have taught us that the world is all the better and all the safer for having a few volcanoes and it is certainly the better for having men of the type of Thomas Carlyle.

Carlyle stands, and stands conspicuously, among the prophets of the ages. He was, as Edmund Scherer, the French scholar, declares, the prophet of sincerity. Truth was his passion; he was tremendously in earnest. "Mr. Carlyle is no homoeopathist," said Mazzini, his Italian contemporary; "he never administers remedies for evil in infinitesimal doses; he never pollutes the sacredness of thought by outward concession or compromise with error. Like Luther, he hurls his inkstand at the devil without looking to the consequences; but he does it with such transparent sincerity that the devil himself could not be displeased as it were the moment not critical, and every blow of the inkstand a serious thing to him." There, then, stands the prophet—the prophet of sincerity—as great in his way as any prophet of the olden time! "No prophet," says Dr. Maclean Watt, "ever gripped and shook his generation with such a horny hand and such a grasp invincible." Dr. Watt contrasts Carlyle with Ruskin. "Ruskin approaches all his themes as if in broadcloth and with his gloves on; but the rugged Scotsman walks out with his budget of kingly truths, and, no matter what clothing he wears, you feel the homespun and naked grip of a strong man's influence." When Carlyle was an old man of 80, Lord Beaconsfield, in the Queen's name, offered him a peerage and an income capable of maintaining its rank and dignity. Such a distinction had never before been offered to any man of letters, and Carlyle was not unmindful of the honour done him. But he shook his shaggy old head. A prophet with a peerage and a lordly pension! "Very proper of the Queen to offer it," observed a London bus-conductor to J. A. Froude next day; "very proper of her to offer it, and more proper of he to say that he would have nothing to do with it." 'Tisn't the likes of they who can do honour to the likes of he!" Froude agreed with the conductor. "Yet," he adds, "the country was saved by the offer from the reproach of coming centuries, when Carlyle will stand among his contemporaries as Socrates stands among the Athenians, the one pre-eminently wise man to whom the rest are nothing." Thomas Carlyle as a peer of the realm would have cut an odd figure in polite society, yet we all like to think that he was excluded from that charmed circle; not by the ostracism of aristocracy, but by his own deliberate choice.

The lure of Carlyle arises in part from our invincible love of fair play. We instinctively feel that, at least in his early days, Carlyle received something less than justice. For years he lived in poverty among the moss-hags of Craigenputtock, writing the books that have taken their place among the immortals. But in those dour days, nobody recognised their worth. The honest man had put all his soul into what he had written; he would not modify a single sentence in order to render his work more acceptable to the popular palate. He had expressed himself in his own rugged way; he was too sure of himself to smooth out his style in order to harmonise it with the recognised standards. And then, with the proud consciousness of a good and honest workman, he resolved to test the market. He hoped to receive £200 for his manuscript; the publishers offered to print it if he paid them £150! A friend advised him to wait. "I will—to the end of eternity rather!" Carlyle replied. And he waited seven years, writing all the time. And when at length "Sartor Resartus" saw the light of day its reception was anything but sympathetic. One of the most influential critics of the period described it as a heap of nonsense. Through many years the judgment of those who occupy seats of authority was doubtful, if not actually hostile. A writer in Blackwood's declared bluntly that Carlyle was a blatant impostor. The London "World" assured its readers that "there is little that is extraordinary, still less that is heroic, in the character of Thomas Carlyle. Full of littleness and weakness of shallow dogmatism and blustering conceit, he must soon be forgotten—the sooner the better." Such opinions as these continued to be expressed to the end of his life, and even his biographers damned him with faint praise. It was said of Froude that he took his master's body from the grave with a pitch fork and turned it round and round to show his fellow-men, what very common clay it was.

The minds of men have revolted against this kind of thing. The world is equally shocked by fulsome eulogy and by unmerited severity. Recognising that Carlyle received less than was his due, men delight in reviewing his work and making tardy acknowledgment of his greatness. When he died, a grave in Westminster Abbey was offered, and like the peerage and the pension, declined. He had begged that he might be buried beside his father and mother in the old church yard at Ecclefechan by the Solway. For, beneath a stern and forbidding exterior, there dwelt in Carlyle a deep, rich, vein of human tenderness. It was his genuine love for his fellow-men that inspired his faith in the justice of posterity. When his contemporaries treated him with scorn, he waved his hand to the unborn generations. With all his surliness, his querulousness, his impatience and his ill-temper, he remains as Lord Morley said, one of the mightiest moral forces of all time, and his influence upon our literature is as wholesome as it is permanent.

F W Boreham

Image: Thomas Carlyle

4 February: Boreham on Mary Braddon

Lavender and Old Lace
The name of Mary Braddon, the anniversary of whose death we mark today, suggests fragrant memories. As it falls upon our ears we seem to be entering some old-world garden, redolent of hollyhocks, wallflowers, thyme, and mignonette. The name holds a special interest for Tasmanians. For Miss Braddon's brother, Sir Edward Braddon, P.C., K.C.M.G., became Premier of this State, played an important part in framing the Federal Constitution and represented Tasmania in the first Commonwealth Parliament. His sister, remaining in England, achieved her destiny along very different lines.

As a lively little thing, with short skirts and her hair in pigtails, Mary betrayed a flair for fiction. She was indeed only eighteen when her first story appeared in print and she pursued her chosen career so assiduously that, on laying down her pen at last she was able to survey a shelf of 75 novels bearing her name. She owed her introduction into the republic of letters to a singular and somewhat romantic friendship. As a girl of eighteen she became acquainted at Brighton with a youth of her own age, one William Sawyer, who held a modest position on the staff of a local newspaper. Through the good offices of this admirer, several of the woman's contributions were published. The two met frequently, discussing literature in general and their own share in its development in particular. After a while they reached the disturbing conclusion that their talents were being wasted in a provincial town. Why not go to London? Few of the great masters had achieved distinction until they had courted the notice of the metropolis. They agreed to try their fortunes simultaneously, entering into a solemn pact that each would share with the other the profits of the audacious adventure.

An Inborn Flair For Romance
They probably drifted apart as soon as they plunged into the seething maelstrom of the life of the great city; otherwise William Sawyer must have got very much the better of the bargain. Or it may be that, with fine chivalry, he declined to pool his humiliating failure with her brilliant success. However that may be, the fact remains that five years after her arrival in London, "Loves of Arcadia" was successfully produced at the Strand Theatre, and everybody was anxious to know something of the gifted girl who wrote it. In the same year, her first full length novel, "The Trail of the Serpent," entrenched her still more deeply in the affections of an admiring public; whilst, two years later, at the age of 25, she published "Lady Audley's Secret," a romance that took the world by storm. Both as a book and as a play, its success was phenomenal. Racing through edition after edition, the novel will always hold its place among the most gripping and exciting productions of the nineteenth century. To have achieved so outstanding a triumph at a time when Dickens and Thackeray, Charles Reade and Wilkie Collins, George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell were in full career was a notable performance indeed.

Miss Braddon displayed, it must be confessed, the weaknesses that are almost incidental to writers of her class. She allowed herself to be swept away on the torrent of emotion that she had herself created. It is easy to see that she seldom had the entire plot in mind when she penned the first pages of her manuscript. It is more than possible that she several times set out to write one story only to discover, when the work was finished, that she had written quite another.

Morality Suffused With Sentiment
It would be extremely unfair, however, to condemn Miss Braddon as purely a sentimentalist. It is altogether to her credit that she ranges at will the entire gamut of human emotions. She can be dainty; she can be elegant; she can be mysterious; she can be terrific. She can etch a doll or a brute with equal facility. In her entrancing pages we have the most delicate humour, the most moving pathos, the most agonising suspense side by side with grim horror and stark tragedy. She knows how to make her characters love, and she knows how to make them hate. She can, at will, endear her creations to us or make them utterly loathsome and detestable. She makes us feel that, when we have laughed at the old Victorian novelists to our heart's content, and have pilloried and parodied them to the point of exhaustion, it is still true that, for sheer interest and appeal, they can hold their own against all comers. To say that Miss Braddon is a sentimentalist is to say nothing to her disparagement.

Mary Braddon, therefore, had good ground for the line that she adopted. She followed the classical models; enriched her craftsmanship with all that was choicest and best in her own personality; made her manuscripts the medium of the highest type of self-expression; and the immense demand for her work furnished her abundant justification. She believed in God; believed that His world must of necessity be a good world; and believed that, in the last analysis, wrong must be overthrown and goodness vindicated. This is the basic theme of all her writings. In private life she was a most delightful woman, exquisitely modest and radiating the charm of infinite kindliness. The pity is, of course, that she wrote too much. If disdaining mere quantity of output, she had contented herself with telling, with a grace of artistry and a beauty of diction that she might easily have acquired, a few stories as thrilling as "Lady Audley's Secret," none among our most eminent writers would have won a fairer fame.

F W Boreham

Image: Mary Braddon

3 February: Boreham on George Crabbe

The Song of the Soil
George Crabbe, the anniversary of whose death we mark today, has two outstanding claims upon our everlasting gratitude. The first is that, in his own time, he achieved a phenomenal triumph in defiance of the most heartbreaking hindrances and handicaps; and the second is that, if he did not himself attain to the foremost rank among our English singers, he at least blazed a trail along which others—Wordsworth particularly—have made their way to eminence and immortality. At the outset of Crabbe's career, everything militated against aestheticism. In some of his earliest verses he derided the ugliness of his birthplace; and when, later on, the sea swept away the row of cottages that included his childhood's home, he clapped his hands as he saw the hideous structures crumble and collapse.

The son of a customs officer, he aspired to be a doctor, drifted into the ministry and ultimately achieved success as a poet. The surgeon to whom he bound himself apprentice tried to make a doctor of him by allowing him to wash bottles, scrub floors, run errands and perform menial tasks in the garden and on the farm. It was not altogether a success; but, happily, Nature had her eye upon the boy and initiated a programme of her own. She saw to it that he wandered in the woods, learning the lore of birds and of wild flowers; squatted at the feet of old shepherds who poured into his ear weird superstitious tales that had come down from time immemorial; and poked about among the ships at the quay, gathering from the sailors the thrilling narratives of wild adventure—real or imaginary—which had befallen them among pirates and buccaneers at sea and among smugglers and savages ashore. Cardinal Newman used to say that Crabbe's vivid description of his strange boyhood is one of the most affecting documents in the English language.

A Modest Love And An Illustrious Friendship
In spite of everything he became a doctor, and then his troubles began. For, five years before he took his diploma, he had fallen desperately in love with Sarah Elmy, and, since she was four years his senior, he felt that he could not keep her waiting indefinitely. But, his patients being for the most part as poor as church mice, money was pitifully scarce. What was to be done? It happened that his passionate lovemaking had inflamed his genius for versifying. The daring thought flashed upon him that perhaps minstrelsy rather than medicine represented his highway to fame and fortune. He resolved, at the age of 26, to take a tremendous hazard. He would throw up everything and go to London! With a small box of clothes, a case of surgical instruments, a bundle of his sweetly flowing stanzas and three golden sovereigns, he reached the metropolis; and the metropolis welcomed him by swiftly reducing him to the verge of starvation.

In his dire extremity, an audacious impulse proved his salvation. England was ringing with the fame of Edmund Burke. Burke's speeches on American affairs and his pamphlets and current political questions had created an extraordinary sensation throughout the whole country. Crabbe determined, in the hour of his abject wretchedness, to write to Burke. The letter is still in existence. It is a model of beautiful penmanship; its composition is as perfect as its caligraphy; it is marked by modesty, by self-respect, by good sense and by excellent taste. It made an immediate and irresistible appeal to the brilliant and good-natured Irishman. Burke responded in the most generous terms; gave Crabbe expert and valuable advice as to the best way of securing the publication of his poems; introduced him to influential and wealthy friends who were able to render munificent assistance; and—most amazing and most creditable of all—the illustrious statesman even took the poverty-stricken young doctor-poet into his own home. Never, probably, in the age-long history of letter-writing, did any one epistle effect such a startling transformation as did that one. It lifted a worthy suppliant from misery to comfort at a single bound, and it permanently enriched English literature by securing the recognition and coronation of a genuine poet.

Forgetting Past Gloom In Present Glory
From the hour at which, to his eternal honour, Burke lifted the wretched young poet from the gutter, Crabbe never looked back. Acting on Burke's advice, he forsook medicine and entered the ministry. He was appointed private chaplain to the Duke of Rutland and was taken into residence at Belvoir Castle. Later, he was Vicar of Trowbridge in Wilts and Isaac Pitman, of shorthand fame, was one of his Sunday school teachers. Marrying his patient little sweetheart in 1783, he lived for 30 years a life of idyllic domestic felicity. She died in 1813 and when, 20 years later, he followed her, her wedding ring was found in his desk wrapped in a beautiful poetic tribute to her sweetness and charm. From the moment at which Burke introduced him to his public, Crabbe was recognised as a really original genius, a minstrel who could set to music the common life of the common people.

In the days of his renown, Crabbe became the honoured companion of Dr. Johnson, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Charles James Fox and Mrs. Siddons, whilst, later on, Byron, Moore, Campbell, Canning and Sir Walter Scott delighted in his society. In his Life of Scott, Lockhart has a particularly beautiful passage telling of the refreshment imparted to the drooping spirits of Sir Walter whenever "that good old man, George Crabbe" visited him. Lockhart loved to watch the pair as, walking affectionately side by side, Crabbe poured into Scott's sympathetic ear the touching story of his early hardships. Among all Sir Walter's friends there were few, if any, whom he held in higher esteem. Crabbe may not merit a place among the great masters; yet, for sincerity, clarity and the realistic portrayal of the stark facts of actual life, he is without a peer, and the world will but reveal its shameful capacity for ingratitude if it ever allows his name to sink into oblivion.

F W Boreham

Image: George Crabbe

2 February: Boreham on Charles Talleyrand

A Tangled Web
No patriotic Frenchman allows the second of February to pass without reflecting that was on that day, that Charles Maurice Talleyrand was born. No name in history. excites, at one and the same time, as much admiration and as much execration as does his. No praise is sufficiently high, no strictures sufficiently severe, with which to characterise the diverse aspects of his contradictory behaviour. On the broad proscenium of public affairs, no person ever played such an amazing number of fiercely conspicuous and highly incongruous parts.

Talleyrand possessed qualities which, wisely trained and worthily applied, would have made him the most shrewd, farseeing and powerful statesman of all time. He and William Pitt were contemporaries. The two men met at Rheims in 1783, Talleyrand being then 29, and Pitt 25. He would have been a bold person who, seeing the two together, would have predicted for Pitt a more illustrious career than for his companion. As a diplomatist he has never been surpassed: he was a master of every move in the game. Indeed, he seemed gifted with every talent and every grace that a man could need in order to attain to a position of the most commanding power and the most ample prerogative. During that volcanic spasm of French history that began with the world-convulsing Revolution and that ended with the overthrow and exile of Napoleon, France produced an incomparable galaxy of imposing, forceful, and picturesque personalities. In that age of Homeric individualities, no figure, with the possible exception of Napoleon himself, is more familiar to us than the figure of that brilliant but baffling potentate whose fame we recall today.

Magnetism And Appeal Of A Strong Personality
Happily for us, he is easily visualised. His handsome and courtly presence casts its spell over some of the most eminent painters of his time. Through the stately canvases of Maclise, Gerard, Scheffer, Isabey, and others, the proud features that, in his lifetime, were so well known thoughout the world, have been embalmed and immortalized. Moreover, the dramatist has helped the artist to keep the illustrious Frenchman vividly in our gaze. In popular plays like Wills and Callingham's "Royal Divorce," we have seen Talleyrand strutting before our very eyes, and have been charmed by the flexible and mellifluous accents of his rich, persuasive voice. Assisted in this way by painter and playwright, we seem to have gazed for ourselves into that petit but perfectly-chiselled face, with its pale and delicate cast, its retrousse but not unshapely nose, its bright and piercing eyes, its thin firm lips, and its slightly protruding chin; the whole surmounted by a luxurious wealth of beautiful white hair. Immaculately attired in his velvet coat and knee-breeches, with silk stockings and silver buckles, Talleyrand looked every inch a prince.

In the arts and crafts of sophistry, chicanery, and duplicity, the specious Machiavelli could have taught Talleyrand nothing. Intrigue, with him, was not an expedient, but a passion. He revelled in it. To him it was a highly-staked game of skill, a duel with flashing blades, a battle of wits, a test of cunning. He loved it as champions love draughts or chess. He was a pastmaster in the gentle art of ingratiating himself in the confidence and affection of those over whose minds it was essential to his purpose that he should acquire an ascendancy.

The Supreme Exponent Of Facing Both Ways
Talleyrand was the most astounding quick-change artist of all time. With the most impressive and convincing plausibility, he could deny today what yesterday he had affirmed and could, without any apparent inconsistency, destroy today what he had but yesterday constructed. He could change his coat so quickly, so unostentatiously, and so naturally, that, as you looked upon the garment he now wore, you completely forgot that you had ever seen him in any other. He was an ardent royalist, but, with the agility of a dancing master, he stepped aside when the throne crashed, and suffered no share in its disaster. He became a fervent revolutionist; but when, like some mythological monster, the revolution began to devour its own children, he cleverly evaded its dripping fangs and talons. He did more than anyone else to create Napoleon, but when storm and darkness gathered about the path of the conqueror, the wily counsellor detached his fortunes from those of his master. It is part of the tremendous pathos and tragedy of history that, in the day of doom, when the magnificent fabric that Napoleon had erected was tottering, when he stood in desperate need of a staunch and dependable adviser, he found himself in the pitiless clutches of the most crafty, the most subtle and the most unprincipled counsellor of whom we have any record.

Talleyrand's only excuse lies in the fact that he was the eldest son of a wealthy aristocrat who, following the barbarous custom of the period, boarded out his children in a poverty-stricken home to save the parents the trouble of rearing them personally. Clambering on a wardrobe one day, young Talleyrand fell and broke his leg. It was nobody's business to set the fractured bones, and the boy was lamed for life. The father refused to recognise a cripple as his heir and the boy was left to make his own way as best he could. The experience soured him. He limped into life nursing an implacable resentment. To the end of his days he cursed his clumsy limb and cherished a bitterness which jaundiced his entire outlook and distorted the whole of his subsequent behaviour. The twig was bent by parental cruelty and the distortion disfigured all the years. It is intriguing to speculate as to what might have been had his boyhood been a happier one.

F W Boreham

Image: Charles Maurice Talleyrand

1 February: Boreham on Peter the Great

The Boy Who Built An Empire
It was at this time in 1725 that the people of Russia were in mourning following the death of Peter the Great on the twenty-eighth of January.[1] It seems incredible that Russia, which occupies so much of our attention nowadays, is in reality so extremely young. Queen Elizabeth was on the throne of England before the first foundations of national life in Russia had been laid. Even then the attempts of Ivan to mould his unwieldy empire into shape consisted for the most part of a series of fierce combats with peoples of the restless temper of the Cossacks and the Tartars. The chronicles show that, in the Seventeenth Century, the computations of the Russian Imperial Treasury were made by the help of balls of string hung on wires. The most splendid palaces were characterised by filth and misery of the most revolting description. And, in the year 1663, the gentlemen of the retinue of the Earl of Carlisle were, in the city of Moscow, thrust into a single bedroom and told that, if they did not remain together, they would be in danger of being devoured by rats. It was not until our own tumultuous revolutions and restorations had passed into history that the young and outcast Peter drilled the ragged companions of his childish games into the nucleus of a huge army and laid the foundations of an empire destined to fill a large place in the happenings of the days then hastening on.

The Vision Splendid
One of the great days of human history was the day on which the boy Peter chanced upon a broken boat. It was only an old, half-rotten, wooden skiff, thrown to the scrap heap with useless lumber in the little village of Ismailof, but, captivating the boy's fancy and stirring his imagination, he could not take his eyes from it. It changed the whole current of his life, filled his head with dreams of maritime adventure, and led to the construction of the Russian navy. The Russia of his infancy was an inland Russia, that had no outlet upon the great waterways of the world. Peter caught a vision. He fashioned his toy ships and launched them on his mimic lakes. He built his navies and sailed them on his inland seas. But this was poor fun and merely whetted his appetite. He dreamed of the Atlantic and the Pacific, talked incessantly of distant oceans and maritime highways, and, the more he dreamed and chattered, the more restless and ill at ease he became. A few years later his most splendid victories on land failed to satisfy him because none of them gave him an outlet for his ships. As soon as the first flush of triumph had passed, says Waliszewkski, he always came back to the ideal that tortured his fancy, sleeping and walking—a Baltic port, some means of access to the open sea, a window open upon Europe! And, by sheer strength of will and force of character, Peter achieved the desire of his heart.

Indelible Impress
In the middle of the Nineteenth Century Dean Stanley visited Russia and was most powerfully impressed by the way in which Peter the Great still dominated Russian thought and Russian aspiration. "The more one looks at the city of St. Petersburg, for example, the more one is struck," declared the Dean, "by the singular greatness of the man who, with all his barbarism and all his weaknesses and all his sins, con­ceived the idea of thrusting the nation into the light of Europe and erecting a new capital and a new empire among the cities and the kingdoms of the world. And, by one tremendous wrench, by his own manual labour and by his own gigantic strength, he forced his dream to fulfilment!" Russia, the Dean maintains, was literally dragged by the heels and kicked by the boots of the giant Peter into vital contact with the European world. The position which the awakening nation quickly assumed among the great Powers is in itself the most imposing monument to Peter's herculean vigour.

Abiding Authority
Yet he was a savage to the last, with a savage's ferocity and a savage's crudity. If, at dinner, the conversation became lively or the argument heated, Peter would rise in anger, draw his sword and unless overwhelmed by numbers, thrust it with murderous intent at the simpleton who had been so indiscreet as to contradict him. When driving in state between Amsterdam and The Hague he stopped the carriage 20 times to measure the width of a bridge, go into a mill—which he had to reach by crossing a meadow with the water up to his knees—or enter some quaint little cottage whose occupants had to be peremptorily ejected. He was always inquisitive, always whimsical and always in a hurry. When on foot he invariably ran, and when driving he ordered the coachman to keep the horses at a gallop. His visit to England was long remembered with amusement. The prodigious quantities of meat he devoured, the fabulous draughts of brandy he swallowed, the professional fool who jabbered at his feet and the monkey which perched, grinning, at the back of his chair—these, during those memorable weeks, provided themes for the excited gossip of the English people. And the more eagerly the crowds pressed forward to obtain a glimpse of him, the more he struggled to avoid their gaze. When, at the theatre, he discovered that the people were looking, not at the actors, but at him, he strode out of the building in high dudgeon. He was anxious to see the House of Lords in session, but when told he could not see it without himself being seen, he clambered on to the roof of the august edifice and peeped in through a small window. Behind all his oddities and barbarisms, however, we are compelled to admire the man himself—his gigantic stature, intellectual forehead, piercing black eyes, long raven hair, mouth expressing indomitable power—and, as century succeeds century, and Russia enters upon a destiny that no seer today can foretell, the thought of that masterful and titanic personality will continue to hold its sway over the imagination of mankind.

F W Boreham

Image: Peter the Great

[1] Two dates are commonly given for the death of Peter the Great in St Petersburg—8 February and 28 January (the latter being in the old style of calendaring).

31 January: Boreham on John Galsworthy

Sweetness and Light
Among writers of our time, is there one to whom we feel more deeply indebted than to John Galsworthy, the anniversary of whose death we mark today? To have read the Forsyth Saga is to have imbibed a liberal education, not only in letters but in life.

Galsworthy was one of the most magnetic and most dynamic figures of the years between the two wars. Rather above medium height, of well-proportioned and well-built frame, finely-chiselled face, kindly welcoming eyes, and possessing a voice that, though resonant and strong, was almost caressing in its softness, John Galsworthy, by his presence, gave an air of distinction to every circle in which he moved. He was, in the best sense of the term, the perfect gentlemen. He looked a gentleman; he spoke as a gentleman; he dressed as a gentleman; he behaved as a gentleman; he felt and thought as a gentleman; he was a gentleman.

He excelled in the gentleman's delicate art of putting his companion—whoever his companion might happen to be—delightfully at ease. He overawed nobody. In chatting with kings or with cabmen he was always himself. He never put on airs or stood upon his dignity.

The most celebrated men and women of his time revelled in his society. Little children, of whom he had none of his own, thought it as good as a holiday when he led their frolics or told them stories. His wife, even in sickness, found him the gentlest and most skilful of nurses, praising his velvety hands, while his horses and his dogs seemed to worship the ground he trod.

It was his wife who made an author of him. He had always longed to do such work, but felt it to be hopelessly beyond him. "Why don't you write? You're just the person!" exclaimed the girl whom he afterwards married. Galsworthy, who by this time had been called to the Bar, regarded the words as a challenge. He relinquished his chambers, announced that he had embraced literature as a profession, and settled down to write his first book.

Reaching Heights After Haunting Hollows
His first ventures by no means set the Thames on fire. They were kindly, though not enthusiastically, received; and the sales were fair. And then, having hovered uncertainly for nearly 10 years between the misty levels of mediocrity and the sunlit uplands of actual brilliance, John Galsworthy, in 1906, at the age of 39, produced the work that established him as one of the great masters. In that memorable year he published "The Man of Property," the first volume of the famous Saga, and also produced "The Silver Box," the first of his plays.

Galsworthy approached his 40th birthday with the pleasing consciousness that he had taken his place as one of the brightest stars in the literary firmament of his time. Men recognised that, in him they had an author who walked very closely with life. He was neither a dreamy idealist nor a vulgar realist. In all his novels and plays he submitted his characters to one acid test: Do men and women in real life talk and dress and behave like this?

He had no patience with figures in fiction who spend their time in making elaborate speeches to each other. Queen Victoria once complained that Mr. Gladstone addressed her as if she were a public meeting. The heroes and heroines of the old-fashioned novels had a similar ugly habit. John Galsworthy detested it, and determined to set a happier fashion.

Literature, so far as his work was concerned, should be a mirror held to the face of life. His men and women should be the sort of men and women whom one meets in banks and shops and restaurants and picture-shows and railway trains—ordinary but interesting, commonplace but lovable.

Inspired Himself, Galsworthy Inspires Others
John Galsworthy, who refused a knighthood, shares with Sir Hugh Walpole the distinction of having restored the massive and monumental novel to popular favour. "With all my heart," Walpole wrote to Galsworthy, "I congratulate you on bringing to completion so great a work. What a triumph to have created something that really beautifies the world and will go on doing so! You do not realise what a help your quietness and dignity are to many of us. The temptations to be cheap and nasty are now legion, and one has to hold on for dear life. When I hesitate I always think of you and you help me marvellously." It is not too much to say that, in these telling sentences, Sir Hugh Walpole spoke for all the writers of his time.

Galsworthy never moralised nor sermonised; yet, to him, his work was but a means to an end. The dominant passion of his life was to ameliorate the condition of all things that suffered. He laboured tirelessly to introduce mercy into slaughter-houses, to prevent vivisection of dogs, to remove ponies from the mines, and to open the cages of all wild birds. His play "Justice," revealed to Mr. Churchill, and to the public, the horrors of solitary confinement and led to a sensational reform in the treatment of prisoners.

Galsworthy made money at a prodigious rate, but he distributed it with a princely hand. On the day on which he received the Nobel Prize of £9,000 he gave away the entire amount. During the First World War he worked early and late, donating all his earnings to national funds. Mr. H. V. Marrat, who knew him intimately, declares that his outstanding characteristic was "an uncommon sweetness." By his masterly and masculine writings, John Galsworthy contrived to infuse the winsomeness and beauty of his own soul into the life and thought of the English people.

F W Boreham

Image: John Galsworthy

30 January: Boreham on Walter Landor

An Explosive Genius
An hour with Walter Savage Landor, whose birthday is marked today, is like a visit to the zoo. It is highly entertaining and instructive, but you come away with a vivid memory of gleaming fangs and ominous growls. Living to be nearly 90, he spent most of his time in singing like an archangel and fuming like a fiend. It is difficult to discover the name of one individual among his kinsfolk and acquaintances with whom, at some time, if not at all times, he did not violently quarrel. He looked superbly leonine. His head was said to have been the most magnificent that Italian painters and sculptors had ever seen, but when they begged him to sit for them he shook his glorious locks impatiently and, with a sniff of fine disdain, pursued his royal way. His second name was prophetically inspired, for with great kindness of heart he mingled barbaric ferocity and an abominable temper.

Among the authentic records is the story of a certain day on which, as he sat at table, he noticed that the joint had been ruined in the kitchen. Waxing furious, he sent for the cook and threw open the window. On the arrival of the culprit, to the amazement of the household, he hurled from the casement, not the ill-prepared sirloin but the terrified offender. He afterwards expressed sorrow, not at having hazarded the limbs and the life of the unhappy cook, but at having made a frightful mess of the seedlings in the flower beds! Yet some of the most masterly English ever given to the world bears his name. He was a born artist. The craftsmanship of letters was to him an almost sacred thing. From his earliest boyhood he cherished an exalted ideal as to how a sentence should be turned. No painter ever approached his easel animated by a purer zest for the expression of beauty on canvas than Landor felt when he set himself to the construction of a paragraph or a poem.

Content With Nothing Short Of Perfection
Not only had he something to say—a generous flow of intellectual inspiration—but he was determined to make the articulation of his soul as accurate and as tuneful as the limitations of language would permit. To use one word more than was absolutely necessary would have been to him the unpardonable sin but it was of even greater importance that each word selected should be the most impressive and the most sweet-sounding and the best language was to him what melody is to the composer, what colour is to the painter. Any misuse or abuse of it would be a kind of sacrilege. And the extraordinary thing is that, conceiving these exalted ideas as a schoolboy, he held true to them through a literary career that lasted for nearly 70 years. From the penning of his first poems in 1794 until he laid aside his pen in 1863, he did not once waver in his clear vision of what English prose and English poetry should be.

As soon as he set to work—and he was only 20 when his first work was published—it became clear that a genius of the purest and most dazzling type had appeared on the horizon of English letters. Southey, going into transports of delight over Landor's earliest ventures, eagerly sought his friendship, while in the year in which Nelson perished so gloriously at Trafalgar the boy Shelley used to march up and down the playgrounds of Eton declaiming the stately periods of Landor at the top of his voice. To such minds Landor's work made a resistless appeal. Charles Lamb, William Hazlitt, Thomas de Quincey, and, at a later date, Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Thomas Carlyle all fell under the wand of the magician. Each in turn saluted Landor as an oracle. The pity of it is that his vogue was almost exclusively confined to such master minds. Sidney Colvin opens his monograph on Landor by declaring that few men have ever impressed their peers so much, or the general public so little, as did he. It is a striking claim and a striking confession, revealing both the triumph and the tragedy of Landor.

Victimised By Variegated Enthusiasms
Like most fiery and impulsive natures, Landor was a man of overwhelming enthusiasms, and the wonder is not that he outgrew some of them but that he remained loyal to so many of them for so long. As a boy in his teens he was swept off his feet by a pretty Irish girl, Sophia Jane Swift, afterwards the Countess de Molande. It was purely a boy and girl infatuation, and neither of them took it seriously. She was known as Jane Landor, with poetic magic, transformed this into Ianthe. As Ianthe he embalmed her beauty in his poems. And though their lives were lived apart, and though he was nearly 80 when he heard of her death, he penned another poem in which he celebrated his delight that not all the oceans of the world could wash out his numerous tributes to her girlish loveliness. Unfortunately, his passionate enthusiasm did not always issue quite as pleasantly. He was 36 when, at a ball at Bath, he caught sight of Julia Thuillier—"a glorious creature with wonderful golden hair." "By heaven," he exclaimed, before he had even spoken to her, "I'll marry her!" And he did, almost immediately, but it ended miserably, as it was bound to do.

Another of his stormy impulses sent him rushing off to the Peninsula, to fight under the Duke against Napoleon, at the head of a regiment that he had himself recruited and financed. But, in war as in love, he was a blunderer, and the thing was a fiasco. Yet, while these incidental and subsidiary enthusiasms petered out, the supreme enthusiasm of his life, his passion for pure English, waxed rather than waned with the years. As a result he won for himself, as Swinburne puts it, such a double crown of glory, in verse and in prose, as has been won by no other Englishman but Milton. Landor sleeps under the cypresses in the picturesque little cemetery just outside the walls of Florence. Hard by are the tombs of Arthur Hugh Clough, Theodore Parker, and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and, leaving him in such excellent company, we gratefully salute him.

F W Boreham

Image: Walter Savage Landor

29 January: Boreham on Fyodor Dostoyevsky

The Artist of the Steppes
On this day, the day after the anniversary of his death, there will steal into the hearts of every Russian, a grateful thought of Fyodor Dostoyevsky, one of the most passionate patriots and one of the most powerful novelists of all time. Dostoyevsky's influence was phenomenal. When, he passed away, he was accorded such a funeral as his country people had never before witnessed. The entire nation mourned; loftiest and lowliest alike lamented; the cities were in tears. Forty thousand men followed the body to the grave. Tolstoy declared that the death of Dostoyevsky darkened the sky of Europe. Alike by his personality and his pen, he stirred the souls of millions. He stands in a class by himself, one of the world's outstanding originals. There is nobody, in any country or in any age, with whom one can reasonably compare him. His novels are still being published in the best popular libraries. For sheer tremendousness they are without parallel. His emotional intensity is at times overpowering, his dramatic splendour terrific. For versatility of sentiment he is peerless. He can be unutterably horrible and exquisitely tender. In his own line he blazes in solitary grandeur.

Dostoyevsky cuts an uncouth and singularly unattractive figure as he shuffles across the stage of Russian history. "Just look at his countenance," exclaims Dr Georg Brandes, the Danish traveller, "Half the face of a Russian peasant and half the physiogomy of a criminal." Of small piercing eyes, flattened nose, long, thick, untidy beard, and singularly ungainly figure, he was a thing of strange fancies and weird hallucinations. He gave the impression of having been cowed by torture into a mood of indelible gloom. A being so unusual and so complex must necessarily be self-contradictory. Dostoyevsky certainly was. We catch sight of him in European drawing rooms surrounded by distinguished men and women eager to see the man who has produced such masterpieces of imagination and psychology. In such a framework Dostoyevsky is shy, taciturn, and extremely awkward, he looks half-ridiculous and half-revolting. But in another setting he appears very differently.

A Prophet Who Was Inspired By Torture
We see him, as Necrassov saw him, an exile in Siberia, surrounded by his fellow-convicts, and he appears almost sublime. He moves among the most depressed and most degraded with his New Testament in his hand, reading to them its words of comfort and grace. With a witchery and a charm that are indescribable, he recites the parable of the Prodigal Son, the story he regarded as the most perfect gem in any literature, the story he wove into most of his own novels, and that he begged his wife to read to him once more on his deathbed. In this environment Dostoyevsky seems a reincarnation of some ancient prophet, solacing his fellow-prisoners in their sufferings, eagerly encouraging their attempts at goodness, gently rebuking their excesses, and speaking earnestly to them of poetry, of science and of God. His career is as romantic as his novels; indeed, his novels are, in the main, a reflection of his adventurous career. As a small boy, he revels in historical fiction, particularly that of Sir Walter Scott, and he enters so vividly into the thrilling experiences of the various characters that he is often found in a swoon, clasping the volume in his hands.

As a young fellow he interests himself in the welfare of his country, he joins a society that meets to discuss public questions, and at the age of 28 is arrested for meddling with such high matters. With 33 others he is charged with conspiracy and sentenced to death. On a bitter morning, with the temperature many degrees below freezing point, they are led to the scaffold and compelled to stand nearly naked for half-an-hour facing the soldiers with their muskets. A pile of coffins is suggestively stacked up in the corner of the yard. At the last moment, with the muskets actually at the shoulders of the Guards, a white flag is waved and it is announced that the Tsar has commuted the sentence to 10 years' exile in Siberia. Several of the prisoners lost their reason under the strain, and several others died shortly afterwards. Dostoyevsky bravely survived the ordeal but it affected his nerves. He never recalled the experience without a shudder and he refers to it with horror in several of his books.

Dire Extremity Produces A Rich Romance
This is the most painful incident in his life story. The most pleasant is his meeting with his second wife. By the time he had reached the age of 45 he had indulged in two unhappy love affairs, one of which had led to his marrying a perfect fury. Then, through voluntarily taking over the debts of his dead brother, his finances had become involved. Moreover, he had fallen into the clutches of an unscrupulous publisher, for whom he had contracted to write a novel on the understanding that, if it was not ready by a certain date, all the author's copyrights were to fall into the publisher's hands. As the date approached the impossibility of the task became evident. As a last desperate resort, Dostoyevsky resolved to engage a stenographer, but no stenographer could be found. There was, it is true, a girl of 19 who knew shorthand, but female stenographers were then unknown and the girl doubted if her parents would consent to her taking the appointment.

Dostoyevsky's fame, however, allayed the parents' scruples, and the girl set to work. At first the novelist frightened her. Gradually, as she understood his hopeless situation, she came to pity him. Working literally day and night to get the manuscript finished, she wrote the last sheets in the very nick of time. Although he was more than twice her age, they married and lived happily. From that day the fortunes of Dostoyevsky suffered neither collapse nor eclipse. As a sincere patriot, as a brilliant novelist and as a trusted teacher, his authority steadily grew, and when he died at the age of 60 the whole world lamented his passing.

F W Boreham

Image: Fyodor Dostoyevsky

28 January: Boreham on Charles George Gordon

The Happy Warrior
It was on January the twenty-eighth, 1833, that Charles George Gordon was born in Woolwich, near London. The British people have seldom been more cruelly shocked than when they heard, on January twenty-sixth, 1885, that Khartoum had fallen, and General Gordon had been slain. Not since the news of the battle of Trafalgar and the death of Nelson had so profound an impression been made on the imagination of the British public. A tempest of emotion swept the world. Every conceivable passion was stirred. Grief, shame, anger, revenge, and a multitude of kindred instincts and impulses raged tumultuously and simultaneously in the universal mind. Even Queen Victoria lost her temper and sent Mr. Gladstone a furious telegram. The tragic episode quickly became the storm-centre of a heated political strife, and in many a newspaper controversy and on many a public platform the policy of the Gladstone government was vigorously denounced and as vigorously defended.

Those who like to torture their brains with the ramifications and complexities of an involved detective story will find a task to their taste in the bewildering records of the massacre at Khartoum. Who killed Gen. Gordon? Who was really to blame? And in all probability the average reader will reach the conclusion that the guilt was widely distributed. There are times in the experience of every household when everything goes wrong. We are confronted by a chapter of accidents. "It never rains," we say to one another, "but it pours." All the evidence goes to show that something of the kind happened in 1884. By some hideous refinement of perversity, everybody concerned did the wrong thing, or failed to do the right thing, simultaneously. Statesmen acted hesitatingly and dubiously, doubting at night the decisions that they had reached at noon. If the Relief Expedition had been despatched with greater promptitude, and if it had travelled with better speed, it would not have reached the scene of the disaster two days too late.

Uncompromising Enemy Of Tyranny
Nor is it possible to acquit Gordon himself of his share of censure. He was sent out to evacuate the Sudan. On arrival he decided that the right course was not to evacuate but to fight. His view was probably sound, but his change of front, in the teeth of implicit instructions, made confusion still worse confounded at home. And everything was made more difficult by the meagre channels of communication that were then available. Gordon, as "The Times" remarked, ranks with the heroes of antiquity, the warriors of renown, the knights of romance, the men who never die. Alike in the Crimea, in China, and in Africa he covered himself with glory. He is one of the people whom everybody seems to have met. We are all familiar with his well-knit but unimpressive figure, his fine head that somehow seems to be a size too large for him, his well-moulded face, lively and rich in eloquent expressiveness, the short curly hair that had once been black, and, above all, with his clear blue eye, full of merriment yet capable of startling gravity—the eye that seemed to look you through and through.

An uncompromising enemy of tyranny and slavery, and a man of the loftiest Christian principle, he could make no terms with a faith he felt to be false. He regarded it as his duty to repudiate and destroy the superstitions and fanaticisms that threatened to overwhelm the Sudan. During the final agony at Khartoum the Mahdi sent him an Eastern costume. "Put it on," said the embassy, "as a sign that you renounce your faith, and no harm shall come to you!" Gordon flung the robes to the ground and, in the sight of everybody, trampled them under his feet. "Then," says Lytton Strachey, "all alone, he went up to the roof of his high palace and turned the telescope, almost mechanically, to the north," looking, but looking in vain, for the relieving columns he knew to be on their way.

The Triumphs Of War And Of Peace
Gordon never married. He formed no close ties or intimate friendships. How could he? The roving nature of his commissions sentenced him to solitude. His one companion was his Bible, the Bible that afterwards became the treasured possession of Queen Victoria. His delight was in his boys, the waifs and strays he gathered about him when in England, and whom he endeavoured to fit for positions of honour and usefulness. On the monument in London it is said of him that, "he gave his strength to the weak, his substance to the poor, his sympathy to the suffering, and his heart to God." And on the four sides of the pedestal of the Melbourne statue it is recorded that: (1) He sought for little children to tend and clothe and train; (2) He rescued provinces from anarchy and would accept no reward; (3) He would not desert those dependent on him while life remained; (4) He sought to save the lost and bid the oppressed go free.

Gordon will go down to history as an Englishman who loved his country far better than he loved himself, as an illustrious soldier who, an utter stranger to fear, courted danger and death on countless honourable fields, and as the heroic victim of a malignant combination of hostile circumstances that seemed cruelly banded together for his destruction. Lord Tennyson penned his epitaph—

Warrior of God, man's friend, not laid below,
But somewhere dead, far in the waste Sudan,
Thou livest in all hearts, for all men know
This earth hath borne no simpler, nobler man.

The record of Charles George Gordon is one of the most stainless and chivalrous in our annals, and his name will be an incentive to high-minded devotion as long as patriotism survives.

F W Boreham

Image: Charles George Gordon

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

27 January: Boreham on W H Prescott

A Handicapped Historian
Few men have attained literary distinction in defiance of more formidable handicaps than those that hampered W. H. Prescott, the anniversary of whose passing occurs tomorrow. Although, in his modesty, he emphatically disclaimed the credit of having surmounted the cruel obstacles which lie in the path of the blind man, the fact is that he was nearly sightless. As a boy he was full of life and vivacity; as a youth, of fine face and handsome figure, he was the centre of every frolic; and it was one of those innocent revels that almost disqualified him for his life. Standing one day in the Commons Hall of the University, he turned suddenly to receive, full in the eye, a hard and sharp-edged crust of bread. From that moment he was totally blind in the injured eye, whilst a sympathetic nervous inflammation made it exceedingly difficult for him to see with the other. This was the first and greatest of his impediments.

The second was that, the son of parents well able to support him in comfort, there was really no need for him to work at all. His disposition was naturally lethargic. He was always lamenting his tendency to loll and lounge and loiter. Yet, although he had the best possible excuse for an idle life, he has left the world a series of voluminous histories that bear eloquent testimony to his painstaking research and tireless industry. Even in the days in which he was confined in a dark room, he conceived the idea of becoming the historian of the golden age of Spain. He learned Spanish, mastering that language so thoroughly that he could read it, write it, and even think in it. Buying big boxes of Spanish records, he engaged a secretary to read to him. In the process he made copious notes in hieroglyphics of his own invention. Later on, he travelled extensively in England, France and Italy; but never, strange to say, in Spain. One of the wonders of our literature is the fact that he who has described the natural and architectural glories of the Peninsula with so delicate and confident a touch, never even with his dim vision, gazed upon the scenes that he portrays.

The High Chivalries Of Literary History
Success pounced upon him almost instantly. The demand for his "Ferdinand and Isabella" was immediate and overwhelming. Alike in England and in America, it was acclaimed as a classic; the reviewers were unstinted in their praise; the volumes were swiftly translated into French, Spanish, and German and their author was honoured with the membership of the Royal Academy of Madrid. He resolved to follow up his initial triumph by making himself the historian of the Spanish conquests in Mexico and Peru. His invasion of these romantic fields of research will always be memorable because of the acts of chivalry which it elicited. While Prescott was delving into the archives of the Aztec Empire, it came to his knowledge that Washington Irving, who had already covered himself with glory by his "Life of Columbus" and his "Conquest of Granada," was exploiting the same rich vein. When Irving grasped the situation, he at once insisted on withdrawing from the field. Prescott urged him to go ahead; but Irving protested that he was only at the preliminary stage of the work; it was, he explained, little more than a nebulous idea floating in his mind; and, thus assured, Prescott proceeded. It transpired, however, that Irving's statement of the position was a white lie of his own manufacture; his work was, in reality, well advanced when he abandoned it in Prescott's favour.

Strangely enough, the same dilemma confronted Prescott when he embarked on his "Conquest of Peru." He discovered that John Lothrop Motley was similarly engaged. Each man begged the other to continue. Motley, however, assured Prescott that his mind had been captivated by a totally different theme. Having matched Irving's white lie with this one, he bent all his energies to "The Rise of the Dutch Republic," leaving Prescott to unfold to the world the stirring story of the Incas. Such courtesies intensified Prescott's sense of responsibility. He had deprived the ages of Irving's Mexico and of Motley's Peru. What could he give by way of compensation? He braced himself for a supreme endeavour.

Painting Fair Landscapes He Had Never Seen
Fired by these stimulating reflections, he has given us a couple of histories so colourful, so gripping and so picturesque that they read rather like epics of adventure written for the delectation of schoolboys, than like the carefully-compiled annals of fallen empires. Who that has once read them can ever forget the burning of the galleons, the loading of the argosies, the fabulous hoards of glittering gold, the martyrdom of Montezuma or the tears of Cortes as he gazed upon the tragic heaps of his gallant dead? Just as, in his earlier ventures, he had painted with dramatic effect the glories of the Alhambra and the beauties that envelop the Escurial, so, in his subsequent writings, he depicted the tropical scenery of the Western world with a vividness and precision that have never been surpassed.

At the age of sixty-two he was visited by an apoplectic stroke. A year later, after laughing and chatting with his wife, he went up to his library, apparently in the best of health, and was found there, dead, a few minutes later. He had given instructions that his body, while awaiting burial, should lie in that very room, surrounded by the books that, notwithstanding his difficulty in digging out their precious contents, had been his constant and treasured companions. He was followed to the tomb by the greatest concourse of celebrities that, on such an occasion, America had ever seen; and, at the graveside, George Bancroft, the author of the "History of the United States," said that, in reviewing the character, the endowments and the conduct of Prescott, he could recall no detail that he could wish otherwise. It was exalted eulogy; but it was endorsed by everybody who, in any way, had been brought into touch with the purity of Prescott's mind and the charm of his personality.

F W Boreham

Image: W H Prescott