Page images
PDF
EPUB

crowd of this uncomfortable plural. We are no Aristarchus, but a wellwisher, always kindly interested in the fellow-traveller who treated us with such flattering but unexpected confidence. Yet we must add that the stories of Sir Francis are not very brilliant; and that thought it is pleasant to meet anywhere with such a good-humoured talker, who says little that is disagreeable about other people if he sometimes says too much about himself, yet print is an injurious medium for gossip: and we sincerely counsel him to publish no more, except it be poetry, of which a candid critic might have something more agreeable to say.

The sailor who carries a Turkish ensign at his bow, but who is (alas! was) a delightful English daredevil, a seaman of the fine old Marryat type, is quite another matter. His book is just the kind of book to make boys run away to sea, after an old fashion which seems to have died out in this decorous age. Not that he has anything to tell the lads that is very attractive in respect to his own early experiences. The sketch with which he begins of the tyrantcaptain and the old-fashioned ship in which his despotism was supreme, is such a scene as could not be found nowadays. These sufferings, too, are things of the past-but not, we hope, the boyish pluck and stamina which, through the horrors of such an introduction to sea life, still loved the sea and the ship and the service, and no more dreamed of complaining than of deserting. We should have been disposed to believe that such devotion was much less likely nowadays, if we had not been lately privileged to hear from the artless lips of the last new middy who has joined, that the great sea-monsters which now plough the deep in

place of the stately cruisers of old, have somehow in their bigness and wonderfulness found a similar magic with which to impress the imaginations at least of "the young gentlemen," and that even such a monstrous machine as the Devastation is an object of pride to the sailors of the future. We are glad of it, though it is difficult to understand the charm.

When Mr Midshipman Hobart joined, all was dirty, dreary, miserable below. The poor little fellow was pitched into his hammock amid all the smells and noises of a crowded cabin, and mast-headed next day, before he knew how to climb or even to stand steady on the moving deck. This latter proceeding "was as near akin to murder as it could be, for I don't know how it was I did not fall overboard, and then nothing could have saved my life. However, as I didn't fall," says this bold seaman, "I was not drowned, and the effect on me was curious enough. For all I had seen and suffered on that, the opening day of my sea-life, made me think for the first time—and I have never ceased thinking-how to oppose tyranny in every shape." "Let us leave the subject," he concludes, "with the consoling thought that we shall never see the like again." Such rough treatment apparently did little harm on the whole; and the boy, who thus began his career, developed into the ideal seaman, with a heart for any fate, and a special preference for the most dangerous services. Many of his sketches carry us back delightfully to the old Marryat days, to Midshipman Easy and a more intimate recollection still to the ever delightful Log of Tom Cringle. Nautical writers nowadays are apt to put forward the privations and miseries of their calling. Mr Clark Russell,

though some of his sea-novels are admirable, never fails to point out that, however fair a face the sailor may put upon it, at bottom he is generally sick of the sea. To be sure it is of necessity that there should be a shipwreck, attended by specially tragical circumstances, in every nautical romance. But this is not the impression which Admiral Hobart leaves on our minds. The wild (but profitable) episode of blockade-running, which forms one of the most entertaining chapters in this book, is exactly such an adventure as Marryat would have delighted in. It would be too long to quote the breathless narrative, or follow the swift, silent, smokeless ship, "as handy a little craft as ever floated," in any of her hair-breath escapes, or daring runs under the enemy's very nose into the blockaded harbour. How far the proceeding is to be justified in view of international law, we can scarcely say, but morality at least had nothing to do with it, and the blockading ships seem to have enjoyed the bloodless breathless conflict as much as the daring adventurers who so often balked them. When Captain Hobart's that is to say, Captain Roberts's -ship was taken at last, he himself had left the service: but that there was very little ill-feeling between the chasers and the chased is evident from his account of this

event:

"The first remark that the officer made on coming aboard her was, 'Well Captain Roberts, so we have caught you at last!' and he seemed much dissapointed when he was told that the captain they so particularly wanted went home in the last mail,

The corvette which had chased and

had been cheated by the Dn the day before, was lying in the port when she was taken. Her captain, when he saw the prize, said, I must go on board and shake hands with the

gallant fellow who commands that vessel!' and he did so, warmly complimenting Con the courage he had shown, thus proving that he could appreciate pluck, and that American naval men did not look down on blockade-running as a grievous sin, hard work as it gave them in trying to put a stop to it."

In very painful contrast to this light-hearted narrative, is a gloomy incident of the fruitless Baltic expedition in the Crimean war-the expedition from which so much was hoped and nothing came: which happened where the fleet lay sulky and disgusted in forced inaction in that wintry sea, scarcely striking a blow.

"One morning despatches arrived from England. A signal was made from the flag-ship for commanding officers to repair on board that vessel. On our arrival there we were asked to sit down to breakfast. Our chief, who was opening his letters, suddenly threw a depatch over the table to S- the admiral of the fleet, saying, What would ye do, mun, if ye received a letter like that?' S after reading the letter, said, 'If I received a letter like that, I'd attack Revel or Sveaborg, if I lost half my fleet.' Our chief's answer I will never forget. It was, I haven't got nerve to do it, and I'm dd well sure Chasn't.""

The shock with which these words must have been heard, among a band of English sailors all wild for action, is scarcely conceivable.

Most people will have bestowed upon their boys all the gift-books that are likely to fall to their share before these pages reach their eyes. We therefore add, with a light heart and no painful sense of possible guilt, in putting the Sea, that Siren into any likely lad's imagination, that were we a boy again, such might have been, we should much prefer Hobart Pacha to Mr Rider

as once we

Haggard and what could one say ture, is a little matter, but it stirmore?

There is no more delightful eccentricity in a library than the way in which books will occasionally group themselves in defiance of every rule of appropriateness or harmony. It is wrong, we know, and contrary to every rule, but we confess it gives us great gratification now and then to find our books arranged according to the good old rule and simple plan of common size, or shape, or binding, so that a stately Gibbon shall for once in a way find himself standing side by side (and much good would it do him) with Mr Pickwick; and Doctor Johnson, in his most solemn mood, lean upon the cultured impertinence of Mr Andrew Lang. In like manner, though the grouping is accidental, it amuses us to find our sportive seaman propping up, and giving way under the weight of the handsome and serious volume, much pretending, in all the asthetic finery of broad margins and uncut paper, which calls itself 'Sententiæ Artis,' but in reality contains the opinions of Mr Harry Quilter, barrister-at-law and art critic, upon painting and painters of the present day. This gentleman writes very well, and often very sensibly, with some insight and considerable eloquence of expression but he is unfortunately too conscious, as is the case with so many critics, of himself. It is a danger from which the anonymous critic is mercifully preserved. He cannot talk-Heaven be praised for it-of "the many personal attacks made on ME,' public how little he has "deigned to notice" these utterances. The let ter I, if we may paraphrase Scrip

or assure the

reth up great strife. However innocently it may occur, if we see too much of it we are moved to instinctive opposition. Human nature objects when the unauthoritative critic talks big about what "I have endeavoured to teach"____ notwithstanding the modest avowal afterwards that at best it is only an effort-and "what I have tried to do." All the same, however, we are bound to add that Mr Quilter's little plea for himself at the beginning of his book is good, and contains much truth. It is, though he does not take it so, a very strong argument for anonymous criticism, which is, we think, in the present constitution of the human race, the only possible way of stating an opinion truly on matters at least of literature and art. The man who can put forth his ideas in respect to his friend's work with absolute impartiality, approving or not approving as the case may be, and sign his name to them, must be braver and better than common men. The praise, if it is praise, is never warm enough, or it is not discriminating; and the blame, if it is blame, is intolerable. Mr Quilter says this in more elegant and well-chosen words: :

"A writer who does not attach himbut endeavours to stand alone and self to one special clique of critics, tell the truth all round, must suffer so much from abuse and isolation, that he had better break stones or make screws. To the best of my belief, I have never written a partial word of a friend, or an unjust one of an adversary; and I have lived to see most of the friends I had in the art

world fall away from me, and never yet found a single artist who did not in his heart of hearts think that it

1 Sententiæ Artis. First Principles of Art: For Painters and Picture Lovers. By Harry Quilter, R.A.

was a great injustice to have his shortcomings pointed out, as well as his merits praised. Damn the fel low; why doesn't he back his friends?' Ruskin once happened to overhear some one say of himself, and he left off from that date writing criticisms on contemporary painters. That is what I have heard many times directly and indirectly during the last decade."

must have afforded him some pleasure in the doing and we submit that the gratification thus procured, and the bondless applause, for example, of two Saturday Review,' ought to be taken into account, as well as the passive pleasure of looking at the leaves in autumn-which is perhaps too fine for flesh and blood.

We may say, however, in re- The comments thus made are spect to Mr Ruskin, in, as it were, often very judicious and somea parenthesis, that he has a curious times instructive, and they will gift, when he does not back his give much of the lively pleasure friends, of saying the most stinging of a personal talk and discussions, things possible about them in that to readers interested in art and exquisite diction of his; and also its professors, which means, of that he does back his friends-as course, to most educated persons. for instance the Tuscan young lady What is said of Leighton, Burne, and other protégés-in the most un- Jones, and Rossetti, is extremely abashed and superlative manner; good and discriminating, for inbut this by the way. "It does stance; but what have Miss Kate not much matter," adds Mr Quil- Greenaway and Mr du Maurier ter, with a mournful sentiment, to do among these big names? which perhaps is a little excessive Still more, what the-anything in the circumstances, and breathes Mr Quilter pleases--has M. Tisof "a blight," what the world sot to do in this bead-roll of says of one; and though it matters the greatest artists of the time? more that our personal affections and sympathies should be withered or stunted, even that may be borne silently. Sun and sky still remain, and the smell of the grasses in the spring, and the silence of summer's full-green life, and the colour of the leaves in autumn." Let Mr Quilter cheer up! There are consolations, no doubt, in store for him more substantial than the smell of the grasses. He has written (and printed) a very pretty book, with much in it that will be delightful for the cultivated classes to talk over and discuss : and though he tells us what an anguish it is to point out the shortcomings of his neighbours, and how his friends fall away from him, and abuse and isolation are his lot, he yet proceeds to touch up these friends with many neat little points and pricks, such as no doubt

"Tissot has but one rival in
England, nainely, Alma Tadema,"
he says; at which we feel a shriek
of horror burst from our lips.
No command of colour or com-
position can justify a comparison
between one of the most scholarly
and refined of painters and the
dashing author of so many obnoxi-
ous studies from the fashion-books
very mal portés indeed, and put
upon
the meretricious shoulders
of ladies from the demi monde.
Mr Quilter ought to be ashamed
of himself for making such a com-
parison, according even to his
own tenets-which reject the mere
art for art theory, and demand
meaning and thought and
tive, as well as mere "technical
mastery," in every piece of painted
canvas which claims to be called
a picture.

We will find only one other

fault with Mr Quilter, and that trifle with the lightest and the smallest possible for a moment. What does the reader think, talking of poetry, of the following lines?—

is not his own, but his quotation from Emerson, which is repeated in various portions of his book, and which seems to us to be false all through both in its statement and its theory

"As Emerson has finely said of the artist:

The hand that rounded Peter's dome, And groined the aisles of Christian Rome,

Wrought in a sad sincerity,

Himself from God he could not free,
He builded better than he knew,
The conscious stone to beauty grew.'

It is pretty to see the American Apostle, and Mr Quilter after him, condescending to patronise Michel Angelo. "He builded better than he knew"-did he?-that great rugged, splendid immortal! And Mr Emerson knows better and pats him on the back for it, and an English critic repeats the pat. Did ever modern presumption and opaqueness of vision go further? The great Tuscan who "rounded Peter's dome" (it was early in the history of American culture when this was written, and perhaps Mr Emerson did not know who he was) was the last man in the world to free himself from God, and without doubt that fine cupola suspended itself in the noble firmament of his imagination with a thousand times more grandeur than mortal skill could ever work out in marble or stone.

And pray, to drop into a much lower question, where did Mr Quilter or his poet find "groined aisles" in Rome? The man who quotes this pharisaical nonsense makes himself responsible for it.

We are going to be serious before we conclude, and discuss higher things: so let us pause and

[blocks in formation]

There's sunshine scarcely a wind at all Disturbs starved grass and daisies small On a certain mound by the churchyard wall.

Daisies and grass be my heart's bedfellows,

On the mound wind spares and sunshine mellows,

Dance ye reds and whites and yellows!"

We ask again, with bated breath, what does this jingle mean? Is it a jingle of some profound harmony too high for our comprehension? for it is signed by the name of ROBERT BROWNING, and it is the principal contribution to a funny but a pretty little book called by the not very appropriate title of the New Amphion,1 and designed to help the young men of Edinburgh University to get themselves a club. Why our young men, outnumbering Oxford and Cambridge, and able to make their professors the richest men in professorial Christendom, should not be able to get a club for themselves, is a question which may be asked in passing: but this is not the matter which chiefly occupies us. If Amphion piped like Mr Browning, do the gentlemen of the Fancy Fair think that the most doddered old willow in the Meadows would have lifted a leg, or the simplest shrub in the Princes Street Gardens danced to his music: or still less likely, that the stones in Craigleith quarries would have made one hop towards

1 The New Amphion: being the book of the Edinburgh University Union Fancy Fair.

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »