I returned to Europe touching at Bombay and getting just a whiff of the intoxicating perfume of that wonderland with its noble, though sad, spiritual teaching which is now beginning through the Rig Veda to inform the best European thought.
I stopped too at Alexandria and ran up to Cairo for a week to see the great Mosques: I admired their splendid rhetoric; but fell in love with the desert and its Pyramids and above all with the Sphinx and her eternal questioning of sense and outward things. Thus by easy, memorable stages that included Genoa and Florence and their storied palaces and churches and galleries, I came at length to Paris.
I distrust first impressions of great places or events or men. Who could describe the deathless fascination of the mere name and first view of Paris to the young student or artist of another race! If he has read and thought, he will be in a fever; tears in his eyes, heart thrilling with joyful expectancy, he will wander into that world of wonders!
I got to the station early one summer morning and sent my baggage at once by fiacre to the Hotel Meurice in the rue Rivoli; the same old hotel that Lever the novelist had praised, and then I got into a little Victoria and drove to the Place de la Bastille. The obvious cafe life of the people did not appeal to me; but when I saw the Glory springing from the Column of July, tears flooded my eyes, for I recalled Carlyle’s description of the taking of the prison.
I paid the eocher and wandered up the rue Rivoli, past the Louvre, past the blackened walls with the sightless windows of the Tuileries palace — a regret in their desolate appeal, and so to the Place de la Grevo with its memories of the guillotine and the great revolution, now merged in the Place de la Concorde. Just opposite I could distinguish the gilt dome of the Church of the Invalides where the body of Napoleon lies as he desired: “On the banks of the Seine, in the midst of that French people I have loved so passionately!”
And there were the horses of Marly ramping at the entrance to the Champs Elysees and at the far end of the long hill, the Arch! The words came to my lips:
Up the long dim road where thundered
The army of Italy onward
By the great pale arch of the Star.
It was the deep historic sense of this great people that first won me and their loving admiration of their poets and artists and guides. I can never describe the thrill it gave me to find on a small house a marble plaque recording the fact that poor de Mxis set had once lived there, and another on the house wherein he died. Oh, how right the French are to have a Place Malherbe, and Avenue Victor Hugo, an Avenue de la Grande Armee too, and an Avenue de L’Imperatrice as well, though it has since been changed prosaically into the Avenue du Bois de Boulogne.
From the Place de la Concorde I crossed the Seine and walked down the quays to the left, and soon passed the Conciergerie and Ste Chapelle with its gorgeous painted glass windows of a thousand years ago and there before me on the Ile de la Cite. The twin towers of Notre Dame caught my eyes and breath and finally, early in the afternoon I turned up the Boul’ Mich and passed the Sorbonne and then somehow or other lost myself in the old rue St. Jacques that Dumas pere and other romance-writers had described for me a thousand times.
A little tired at length having left the Luxemburg gardens far behind with their statues which I promised myself soon to study more closely, I turned into a little wine-shop restaurant kept by a portly and pleasant lady whose name I soon learned was Marguerite. After a most excellent meal I engaged a large room on the first floor looking on the street, for forty francs a month, and if a friend came to live with me, why Marguerite promised with a large smile to put in another bed for an additional ten francs monthly and supply us besides with coffee in the morning and whatever meals we wanted at most reasonable prices: there I lived gaudy, golden days for some three heavenly weeks.
I threw myself on French like a glutton and this was my method, which I don’t recommend but simply record, though it brought me to understand everything said by the end of the first week. I first spent five whole days on the grammar, learning all the verbs, especially the auxiliary and irregular verbs by heart, till I knew them as I knew my Alphabet. I then read Hugo’s Hernani with a dictionary in another long day of eighteen hours and the next evening went to the gallery in the Comedie Francaise to see the play acted by Sarah Bernhardt as Doha Sol and Mounet Sully as Hernani. For a while the rapid speech and strange accent puzzled me; but after the first act I began to understand what was said on the stage and after the second act I caught every word and to my delight when I came out into the streets, I understood everything said to me. After that golden night with Sarah’s grave, traisante voire in my ears, I made rapid because unconscious progress.
Next day in the restaurant I picked up a dirty toj’u copy of Madame Bovary that lacked the first eighty pages. I took it to my room and swallowed it in a couple of breathless hours, realising at once that it was a masterwork; but marking a hundred and fifty new words to turn out in my pocket dictionary afterwards. I learned these words carefully by heart and have never given myself any trouble about French since.
What I know of it and I know it fairly well now, has come from reading and speaking it for thirty odd years. I still make mistakes in it chiefly of gender. I regret to say, and my accent is that of a foreigner, but taking it by and large I know it and its literature and speak it better than most foreigners and that suffices me.
After some three weeks Ned Bancroft came from the States to live with me. He was never particularly sympathetic to me and I cannot account for our companionship save by the fact that I was peculiarly heedless and full of human, unreflecting kindness. I have said little of Ned Bancroft who was in love with Kate Stevens before she fell for Professor Smith; but I have just recorded the unselfish way he withdrew while keeping intact his friendship both for Smith ami the girl: I thought that very fine of him.
He left Lawrence and the University shortly after we first met and by “pull” obtained a good position on the railroad at Columbus, Ohio.
He was always writing to me to come to visit him and on my return from Philadelphia, in 1875 I think, T stopped at Columbus and spent a couple of days with him. As soon as he heard that I had gone to Europe and had reached Paris, he wrote to me that he wished I had asked him to come with me and so I wrote setting forth my purpose and at once he threw up his good prospects of riches and honor and came to me in Paris. We lived together for some six months: he was a tall, strong fellow, with pale face and gray eyes; a good student, an honorable, kindly, very intelligent man; but we envisaged life from totally different sides and the longer we were together, the less we understood each other.
In everything we were antipodes; he should have been an Englishman for he was a born aristocrat with imperious, expensive tastes, while I had really become a Western American, careless of dress or food or position, intent only on acquiring knowledge and, if possible, wisdom in order to reach greatness.
The first evening we dined at Marguerite’s and spent the night talking and swapping news. The very next afternoon Ned would go into Paris and we dined in a swell restaurant on the Grand Boulevard. A few tables away a tall, splendid-looking brunette of perhaps thirty was dining with two men: I soon saw that Ned and she were exchanging looks and making signs. He told me he intended to go home with her: I remonstrated but he was as obstinate as Charlie, and when I told him of the risks he said he’d never do it again; but this time he couldn’t get out of it. “I’ll pay the bill at once”, I said, “and let’s go!” but he would not, desire was alight in him and a feeling of false shame hindered him from taking my advice. Half an hour later the lady made a sign and he went out with the party and when she entered her Victoria, he got in with her; the pair on the sidewalk, he said, bursting into laughter as he and the woman drove away together.
Next morning he was back with me early, only saying that he had enjoyed himself hugely and was not even afraid. Her rooms were lovely, he declared; he had to give her a hundred francs: the bath and toilette arrangements were those of a queen: there was no danger. And he treated me to as wild a theory as Charlie had cherished: told me that the great cocottes who make heaps of money took as much care of themselves as gentlemen. “Go with a common prostitute and you’ll catch something; go with a real topnotcher and she’s sure to be all right!’ And perfectly at ease he went to work with a will.
Bancroft’s way of learning French even was totally different from mine: he went at the grammar and syntax and mastered them: he could write excellent French at the end of four months; but spoke it very haltingly and with a ferocious American accent. When I told him I was going to hear Taine lecture on the Philosophy of Art and the Ideal in Art, he laughed at me; but I believe I got more from Taine than he got from his more exact knowledge of French. When I came to know Taine and was able to call on him and talk to him, Bancroft too wanted to know him. I brought them together; but clearly Taine was not impressed, for Ned out of false shame hardly opened his mouth. But I learned a good deal from Taine and one illustration of his abides with me as giving a true and vivid conception of art and its ideal. In a lecture he pointed out to his students that a lion was not a running beast; but a great jaw set on four powerful springs of short, massive legs. The artist, he went on, seizing the idea of the animal may exaggerate the size and strength of the jaw a little,
emphasize too the springing power in his loins and legs and the tearing strength of his front paws and claws; but if he lengthened his legs or diminished his jaw, he would denaturalize the true idea of the beast and would produce an abortion. The ideal, however, should only be indicated. Taine’s talks, too, on literature and the importance of the environment even on great men, all made a profound impression on me. After listening to him for some time I began to see my way up more clearly. I shall never forget, too, some of his thought-inspiring words. Talking one day of the convent of Monte Casino, where a hundred generations of students, freed from all the sordid cares of existence, had given night and day to study and thought and had preserved besides the priceless manuscripts of long past ages and so paved the way for a Renascence of learning and thought, he added gravely:
“I wonder whether Science will ever do as much for her votaries as Religion has done for hers: in other words, I wonder will there ever be a laic Monte ( Visino!”
Taine was a great teacher and I owe him much kindly encouragement and even enlightenment.
I add this last word, because his French freedom of speech came as pure spring water to my thirsty soul. A dozen of us were grouped about him one day, talking when one student with a remarkable gift for vague thought and highfalutin’ rhetoric, wanted to know what Taine thought of the idea that all the worlds and planets and solar systems were turning round one axis and moving to some divine fulfillment (accomplissement). Taine, who always disliked windy rhetoric, remarked quietly: “The only axis in my knowledge round which everything moves to some accomplishment is a woman’s cunt (le con d’une femme). They laughed, but not as if the hold word had astonished them. He used it when it was needed, as I have often heard Anatole France use it since. and no one thought anything of it.
In spite of the gorgeous installation of his brunette, Ned at the end of a week found out how blessed are those described in Holy Writ, who fished all night and caught nothing. He had caught a dreadful gonorrhea and was forbidden spirits or wine or coffee till he got well. Exercise, too, was only to be taken in small doses, so it happened that when I went out, he had to stay at home and the outlook on the rue St. Jacques was anything but exhilarating. This naturally increased his desire to get about and see things, and as soon as he began to understand spoken French and to speak it a little, he chafed against the confinement and a room without a bath; he longed for the centre, for the opera and the Boulevards, and nothing would do but we should take rooms in the heart of Paris: he would borrow money from his folks, he said.
Like a fool I was willing and so we took rooms one day in a quiet street just behind the Madeleine, at ten times the price we were paying Marguerite. I soon found that my money was melting; but the life was very pleasant. We often drove in the Bois, went frequently to the Opera, the theatres and music-halls and appraised, too, the great restaurants, the Cafe Anglais and the Trois Freres as if we had been millionaires.
As luck would have it, Ned’s venereal disease and the doctors became a heavy additional expense that I could ill afford. Suddenly one day I realised that I had onlv six hundred dollars in the bank: at once I made up my mind to stop and make a fresh start. I told my resolution to Bancroft: he asked me to wait: “he had written to his people for money”, he said, “he would soon pay his debt to me”; but that wasn’t what I wanted: I felt that I had got off the right road because of Mm and was angry with myself for having wasted my substance in profligate living and worst of all in silly luxury and brainless showing off.
I declared I was ill and was going to England at once; I must make a new start and accumulate some more money and a few mornings later I bade Bancroft “Good-bye” and crossed the Channel and went on to my sister and father in Tenby, arriving there in a severe shivering lit with a bad headache and every symptom of ague.
I was indeed ill and played out: I had taken double doses of life and literature, had swallowed all the chief French writers from Rabelais and Montaigne to Flaubert, Zola and Balzac, passing by Pascal and Vauvenargues, Renan and Hugo, a glutton’s feast for six months. Then, too, I had nosed out this artist’s studio and that; had spent hours watching Rodin at work and more hours comparing this painter’s model with that: these breasts and hips with those.
My love of plastic beauty nearly brought me to grief at least once and perhaps I had better record the incident, though it rather hurt my vanity at the time. One day I called at Manet’s old studio which was rented now by an American painter named Alexander. He had real power as a craftsman but only a moderate brain and was always trying by beauty or something remarkable in his model to make up for his own want of originality. On this visit I noticed an extraordinary sketch of a young girl standing where childhood and womanhood meet: she had cut her hair short and her chestnut-dark eyes lent her a startling distinction.
“You like it?” asked Alexander. “She has the most perfect figure I have ever seen!”
“I like it”, I replied; “I wonder whether the magic is in the model or in your brush?” “You’ll soon see”, he retorted, a little piqued, “she’s due here already” and almost as he spoke she came in with quick, alert step. She was below medium height; but evidently already a woman. Without a word she went behind the screens to undress, when Alexander said: “Well?” I had to think a moment or two before answering.
“God and you have conspired together!” I exclaimed, and indeed his brush had surpassed itself. He had caught and rendered a childish innocence in expression that I had not remarked and he had blocked in the features with superb brio:
“It is your best work to date”, I went on, “and almost anyone would have signed it.”
At this moment the model emerged with a sheet about her and probably because of my praise Alexander introduced me to Mlle. Jeanne and said I was a distinguished American writer. She nodded to me saucily, flashing white teeth at me, mounted the estrade, threw off the sheet and took up her pose — all in a moment. I was carried off my feet; the more I looked, the more perfections I discovered. For the first time I saw a figure that I could find no fault with. Needless to say I told her so in my best French with a hundred similes. Alexander also I conciliated by begging him to do no more to the sketch but sell it to me and do another. Finally he took four hundred and fifty francs for it and in an hour had made another sketch.
My purchase had convinced Mlle. Jeanne that I was a young millionaire and when I asked her if I might accompany her to her home, she consented more than readily. As a matter of fact, I took her for a drive in the Bois de Boulogne and from there to dinner in a private room at the Cafe Anglais. During the meal I had got to like her: she lived with her mother, Alexander had told me; though by no means prudish, still less virginal, she was not a coureuse. I thought I might risk connection; but when I got her to take off her clothes and began to caress her sex, she drew away and said quite as a matter of course: “Why not faire minette?”
When I asked her what she meant, she told me frankly: “We women do not get excited in a moment as you men do; why not kiss and tongue me there for a few minutes, then I shall have enjoyed myself and shall be ready ”
I’m afraid I made rather a face for she remarked coolly: “Just as you like, you know. I prefer in a meal tho hors d’oeuvres to the piece de resistance like a good many other women: indeed I often content myself with the hors d’oeuvres and don’t take any more. Surely you understand that a woman goes on getting more and more excited for an hour or two and no man is capable of bringing her to the highest pitch of enjoyment while pleasing himself.”
“I’m able”, I said stubbornly, “I can go on all night if you please me, so we should skip appetizers.”
“No, no!” she replied, laughing, “let us have a banquet then, but begin with lips and tongue!”
The delay, the bandying to and fro of argument and above all, the idea of kissing and tonguing her sex, had brought me to coolness and reason. Was I not just as foolish as Bancroft if I yielded to her — an unknown girl.
I replied finally, “No, little lady, your charms are not for me”, and I took my seat again at the table and poured myself out some wine. I had the ordinary American or English youth’s repugnance to what seemed like degradation, never guessing that Jeanne was giving me the second lesson in the noble art of seduction, of which my sister had taught me long ago the rudiments.
The next time I was offered minette, I had grown wiser and made no scruples; but that’s another story. The fact is that in my first visit to Paris I kept perfectly chaste, thanks in part to the example of Ned’s blunder; thanks, too, to my dislike of going with any girl sexually whom I didn’t really care for, and I didn’t care for Jeanne: she was too imperious and imperiousness in a girl is the quality I most dislike, perhaps because I suffer from an overdose of the humor. At any rate, it was not sexual indulgence that broke my health in Paris; but my passionate desire to learn that had cut down my hours of sleep and exasperated my nerves: I took cold and had a dreadful recurrence of malaria. I wanted rest and time to take breath and think.
The little house in a side-street in the lovely Welsh watering-place was exactly the haven of rest I needed. I soon got well and strong and for the first time learned to know my father. He came for long walks with me, though he was over sixty. After his terrible accident seven years before (he slipped and fell thirty feet into a drydock while his ship was being repaired), one side of his hair and moustache had turned white while the other remained jet black. I was astonished first by his vigor: he thought nothing of a ten-mile walk and on one of our excursions I asked him why he had not given me the nomination I wanted as midshipman.
He was curiously silent and waved the subject aside with: “The Navy for you? No!” and he shook his head. A few days afterwards, however, he came back to the subject of his own accord.
“You asked me”, he began, “why I didn’t send you the nomination for the midshipman’s examination. Now I’ll tell you. To get on in the British Navy and make a career in it, you should either be well-born or well-off: you were neither. For a youth without position or money, there are only two possible roads up: servility or silence, and you were incapable of both.”
“Oh, Governor, how true and how wise of you!” I cried, “but why, why didn’t you tell me? I’d have understood then as well as now and thought the more of you for thwarting me.”
“You forget”, he went on, “that I had trained myself in the other road of silence: it is difficult for me even now to express myself”, and he went on with bitterness in voice and accent:
“They drove me to silence: if you knew what I endured before I got my first step as lieutenant. If it hadn’t been that I was determined to marry your mother, I could never have swallowed the countless humiliations of my brainless superiors! What would have happened to you I saw as in a glass. You were extraordinarily quick, impulsive and high — tempered: don’t you know that brains and energy and will-power are hated by all the wastrels and in this world they are everywhere in the vast majority. Some lieutenant or captain would have taken an instantaneous dislike to you that would have grown on every manifestation of your superiority: he would have laid traps for you of insubordination and insolence probably for months and then in some port where he was powerful, he would have brought you before a courtmartial and you would have been dismissed from the Navy in disgrace anad perhaps your whole life ruined. The British Navy is the worst place in the world for genius.”
That scene began my reconciliation with my father; one more experience completed it.
I got wet through on one of our walks and next day had lumbago; I went to a pleasant Welsh doctor I had become acquainted with and he gave me a bottle of belladonna mixture for external use: “I have not got a proper poison bottle”, he added, “and I’ve no business to give you this” (it is forbidden to dispense poisons in Great Britain save in rough octagonal bottles which betray the nature of their contents to the touch). “I’ll not drink it”, I said laughing. “Well, if you do”, he said, “don’t send for me, for there’s more than enough here to kill a dozen men!” I took the bottle and curiously enough, we talked belladonna and its effects for some minutes. Richards, (that was his name) promised to send me a black draught the same evening and he assured me that my lumbago would soon be cured and he was right: but the cure was not effected as he thought it would be.
My sister had a girl of all work at this time called Eliza, Eliza Gibby, if I remember rightly. Lizzie, as we called her, was a slight, red-haired girl of perhaps eighteen with really large chestnut-brown eyes and a cheeky pug nose, and freckled neck and arms. I really don’t know what induced me first to make up to her; but soon I was kissing her; when I wanted to touch her sex however, she drew away confiding to me that she was afraid of the possible consequences. I explained to her immediately that I would withdraw after the first spasm, and then there would be no more risk. She trusted me and one night she came to my room in her night-dress. I took it off with many kisses and was really astounded by her ivory white skin and almost perfect girlish form. I laid her on the edge of my bed, put her knees comfortably under my armpits and began to rub her clitoris: in a moment the brown eyes turned up and I ventured to slip in the head of my sex; to my surprise there was no maidenhead to break through and soon my sex had slipt into the tightest cunt I had ever met. Very soon I played Onan and like that Biblical hero “spilt my seed upon the ground” — which in my case was a carpet.
I then got into bed with her and practiced the whole art of love as I understood it at that time. A couple of hours of it brought me four or five orgasms and Lizzie a couple of dozen, to judge by hurried breathings, inarticulate cries and long kissings that soon became mouthings.
Lizzie was what most men would have thought a perfect bedfellow; but I missed Sophy’s science and Sophy’s passionate determination to give me the utmost thrill conceivable. Still in a dozen pleasant nights we became great friends and I began to notice that by working in and out very slowly I could after the first orgasm go on indefinitely without spending again. Alas! I had no idea at the time that this control simply marked the first decrease of my sexual power. If I had only known, I would have cut out all the Lizzies that infested my life and reserved myself for the love that was soon to oust the mere sex-urge.
Next door to us lived a doctor’s widow with two daughters, the eldest a medium-sized girl with large head and good grey eyes, hardly to be called pretty though all girls were pretty enough to excite me for the next ten years or more. This eldest girl was called Molly — a pet name for Maria. Her sister Kathleen was far more attractive physically: she was rather tall and slight, with a lithe grace of figure that was intensely provocative. Yet though I noted all Kathleen’s feline witchery, I fell prone for Molly. She seemed to me both intelligent and witty: she had read widely too and knew both French and German; she was as far above all the American girls I had met in knowledge of books and art as she was inferior to the best of them in bodily beauty. For the first time my mind was excited and interested and I thought I was in love and one late afternoon or early evening on Castle Hill I told her I loved her and we oecame engaged. Oh, the sweet folly of it all! When she asked me how we should live, what I intended to do, I had no answer ready save the perfect self-confidence of the man who had already proved himself in the struggle of life. Fortunately for me, that didn’t seem very convincing to her: she admitted that she was three years older than I was and if she had said four, she would have been nearer the truth, and she was quite certain I would not find it so easy to win in England as in America: she underrated both my brains and my strength of will. She confided to me that she had a hundred a year of her own: but that, of course, was wholly inadequate. So though she kissed me freely and allowed me a score of little privacies, she was resolved not to give herself completely. Her distrust of my ability and her delightfully piquant reserve heightened my passion and once I won her consent to an immediate marriage. At her best Molly was astonishingly intelligent and frank. One night alone together in our sitting-room which my father and sister left to us, I tried my best to get her to give herself to me. But she shook her head: “it would not be right, dear, till we are married”, she persisted.
“Suppose we were on a desert island”, I said, “and no marriage possible?” “My darling!” she said kissing me on the mouth and laughing aloud, “don’t you know, I should yield then without your urging:
you dear! I want you, Sir, perhaps more than you want me.” But she wore closed drawers and I didn’t know how to unbutton them at the sides and though she grew intensely and quickly excited, I could not break down the final barrier. In any case, before I could win, Fate used her shears decisively.
One morning I reproached Lizzie for not bringing me up a black draught Doctor Richards had promised to send me. “It’s on the mantle-piece in the dining-room”, I said, “but don’t trouble, I’ll get it myself”, and I ran down as I was. An evening or two later I left the belladonna mixture the doctor had made up for me on the chimney piece! Like the black draught it was dark brown in color and in a similar bottle.
Next morning Lizzie woke me and offered me a glassful of dark liquid: “Your medicine” she said and half asleep still, I told her to leave the breakfast tray on the table by my bed and then drained the glass she offered to me. The taste awoke me: the drink had made my whole mouth and throat dry: I sprang out of bed and went to the looking-glass, yes! yes! the pupils of my eyes were unnaturally distended: had she given me the whole draught of belladonna instead of a black draught? I still heard her on the stairs but why waste time in asking her. I went over to the table, poured out cup after cup of tea and drained them: then I ran down to the dining-room where my sister and father were at breakfast. I poured out their tea and drank cups full of it in silence: then I asked my sister to get me mustard and warm water and met my father’s question with a brief explanation and request. “Go to Dr. Richards and tell him to come at once: I’we drunk the belladonna mixture by mistake; there’s no time to lose.” My father was already out of the house! My sister brought me the mustard and I mixed a strong dose with hot water and took it as an emetic; but it didn’t work. I went upstairs to my bedroom again and put my fingers down my throat over the bath: I retched and retched but nothing came: plainly the stomach was paralysed. My sister came in crying. “I’m afraid there’s no hope, Nita”, I said, “the Doctor told me there was enough to kill a dozen men and I’ve drunk it all fasting; but you’ve always been good and kind to me, dear, and death is nothing.”
She was sobbing terribly, so to give her something to do, I asked her to fetch me a kettle full of hot water; she vanished downstairs to get it and I stood before the glass to make up my accounts with my own soul. I knew now it was the belladonna I had taken, all of it on an empty stomach: no chance; in ten minutes I should be insensible, in a few hours dead: dead! was I afraid? I recognized with pride that I was not one whit afraid or in any doubt. Death is nothing but an eternal sleep, nothing! Yet I wished that I could have had time to prove myself and show what was in me! Was Smith right! Could I indeed have become one of the best heads in the world? Could I have been with the really great ones had I lived? No one could tell now but I made up my mind as at the time of the rattle-snake bite, to do my best to live. All this time I was drinking cold water: now my sister brought the jug of warm water, saying, “It may make you throw up, dear” and I began drinking it in long draughts. Bit by bit I felt it more difficult to think, so I kissed my sister, saying, “I had better get into bed while I can walk, as I’m rather heavy!” And then as I got into bed I said, “I wonder whether I shall be carried out next feet-foremost while they chant the Miserere! Never mind, I’ve had a great draught of life and I’m ready to go if go I must!”
At this moment Dr. Richards came in: “Now how, how in Goodness’ name, man, after our talk and all, how did ye come to take it?” His fussiness and strong Welsh accent made me laugh: “give me the stomach pump, doctor, for I’m full of liquid to the gullet”, I cried. I took the tube and pushed it down, sitting up in bed, and he depressed it; but only a brownish stream came: I had absorbed most of the belladonna. That was nearly my last conscious thought, only in myself I determined to keep thinking as long as I could. I heard the Doctor say: “I’ll give him opium — a large dose”, and I smiled to myself at the thought that the narcotic opium and the stimulant belladonna would alike induce unconsciousness, the one by exciting the heart’s action, the other by slackening it Many hours afterwards I awoke: it was night, candles were burning and Dr. Richards was leaning over me: “do you know mel” he asked and at once I answered: “Of course I know you, Richards”, and I went on jubilant to say: “I’m saved: I’ve won through. Had I been going to die, I should never have recovered consciousness.” To my astonishment his brow wrinkled and he said, “drink this and then go to sleep again quietly: it’s all right”, and he held a glass of whitish liquid to my lips. I drained the glass and said joyously: “Milk! how funny you should give me milk; that’s not prescribed in any of your books.” He told me afterwards it was Castor-oil he had given me and I had mistaken it for milk. I somehow felt that my tongue was running away with me even before he laid his hand on my forehead to quiet me saying: “There please! don’t talk, rest! please!” and I pretended to obey him; but couldn’t make out why he shut me up? I could not recall my words either — why?
A dreadful thought shook me suddenly: had I
been talking nonsense! My father’s face too appeared to be dreadfully perturbed while I was speaking.
“Could one think sanely and yet talk like a mad-man? What an appalling fate!” I resolved in that case to use my revolver on myself as soon as I knew that my state was hopeless: that thought gave me peace and I turned at once to compose myself. In a few minutes more I was fast asleep.
The next time I awoke, it was again night and again the Doctor was beside me and my sister: “Do you know me?” he asked again, and again I replied: “Of course I know you and Sis here as well.”
“That’s great”, he cried joyously, “now you’ll soon be well again.”
“Of course I shall”, I cried joyously, “I told you that before: but you seemed hurt; did I wander in my mind?”
“There, there”, he cried, “don’t excite yourself and you’ll soon be well again!”
“Was it a near squeak!” I asked.
‘You must know it was”, he replied, “you took sixty grains of belladonna fasting and the books give at most quarter of a grain for a dose and declare one grain to be generally fatal. I shall never be able to brag of your case in the medical journals”, he went on smiling, “for no one would ever believe that a heart could go on galloping far too fast to count, but certainly two hundred odd times a minute for thirty odd hours without bursting. You’ve been tested”, he concluded, “as no one was ever tested before and have come back safe! But now sleep again”, he said, “sleep is Nature’s restorative.”
Next morning I awoke rested but very weak: the Doctor came in and sponged me in warm water and changed my linen: my nightshirt and a great part of the sheet were quite brown. “Can you make water!” he asked, handing me a beddish: I tried and at once succeeded.
“The wonder is complete!!” he cried, “I’ll bet, you have cured your lumbago too”, and indeed I was completely free of pain.
That evening or the next my father and I had a great, heart-to-heart talk. I told him all my ambitions and he tried to persuade me to take one hundred pounds a year from him to continue my studies. I told him I couldn’t, though I was just as grateful. “I’ll get work as soon as I am strong”, I said; but his unselfish affection shook my very soul and when he told me that my sister, too, had agreed he should make me the allowance, I could only shake my head and thank him. That evening I went to bed early and he came and sat with me: he said that the doctor advised that I should take a long rest. Strange colored lights kept sweeping across my sight every time I shut my eyes: so I asked him to lie beside me and hold my hand. At once he lay down beside me and with his hand in mine, I soon fell asleep and slept like a log till seven next morning. I awoke perfectly well and refreshed and was shocked to see that my father’s face was strangely drawn and white and when he tried to get off the bed, he nearly fell. I saw then that he had lain all the night through on the brass edge of the bed rather than risk disturbing me to give him more room. From that time to the end of his noble and unselfish life, some twenty-five years later, I had only praise and admiration for him.
As soon as I began to take note of things, I remarked that Lizzie no longer came near my room. One day I asked my sister what had become of her. To my astonishment my sister broke out in passionate dislike of her: “while you were lying unconscious”, she cried, “and the doctor was taking your pulse every few minutes, evidently frightened: he asked me could he get a prescription made up at once: he wanted to inject morphia, he said, to stop or check the racing of your heart. He wrote the prescription and I sent Lizzie with it and told her to be as quick as she could for your life might depend on it. When she didn’t come back in ten minutes, I got the Doctor to write it out again and sent Father with it. He brought it back in double-quick time. Hours passed and Lizzie didn’t return: she had gone out before ten and didn’t get back till it was almost one. I asked her where she had been? Why she hadn’t got back sooner? She replied coolly that she had been listening to the Band. I was so shocked and angry I wouldn’t keep her another moment. I sent her away at once. Think of it! I have no patience with such heartless brutes!”
Lizzie’s callousness seemed to me even stranger than it seemed to my sister. I have often noticed that girls are less considerate of others than even boys, unless their affections are engaged, but I certainly thought I had half won Lizzie at least! However, the fact is so peculiar that I insert it here for what it may be worth.
During my convalescence which lasted three months, Molly went for a visit to some friends: at the time I regretted it; now looking back I have no doubt she went away to free herself from an engagement she thought ill-advised. Missing her I went about with her younger, prettier sister Kathleen who was more sensuous and more affectionate than Molly.
A little later, Molly went to Dresden to stay with an elder married sister: thence she wrote to me to set her free and I consented as a matter of course very willingly. Indeed I had already more real affection for Kathleen than Molly had ever called to life in me.
As I got strong again I came to know a young Oxford man who professed to be astonished at my knowledge of literature and one day he came to me with the news that Grant Allen, the writer, had thrown up his job as Professor of Literature at Brighton College: “why should you not apply for it: it’s about two hundred pounds a year and they can do no worse than refuse you.”
I wrote to Taine at once, telling him of the position and my illness and asking him to send me a letter of recommendation if he thought I was fit. By return of post I got a letter from him recommending me in the warmest way. This letter I sent on to Dr. Bigge, the Headmaster, together with one from Professor Smith of Lawrence and Dr. Bigge answered by asking me to come to Brighton to see him. Within twenty-four hours I went and was accepted forthwith, though he thought I looked too young to keep discipline. He soon realised that his fears were merely imaginary: I could have kept order in a cage of hyenas.
A long book would not exhaust my year as a Master in Brighton College; but only two or three happenings require notice here as affecting my character and its growth. First of all, I found in every class of thirty lads, five or six of real ability, and in the whole school three or four of astonishing minds, well graced, too in manners and spirit. But six out of ten were both stupid and obstinate and these I left wholly to their own devices.
Dr. Bigge warned me by a report of my work exhibited on the notice-board of the Sixth Form that while some of my scholars displayed great improvement, the vast majority showed none at all. I went to see him immediately and handed him my written resignation to take place at any moment he pleased. “I cannot bother with the fools who don’t even wish to learn”, I said, “but I’ll do anything for the others.”
Most of the abler boys liked me, I believe, and a little characteristic incident came to help me. There was a Form-master named Wolverton, an Oxford man and son of a well-known Archdeacon, who sometimes went out with me to the theatre or the roller-skating rink in West Street. One night at the rink he drew my attention to a youth in a straw hat going out accompanied by a woman.
“Look at that”, said Wolverton, “there goes So and So in our colors and with a woman! Did you see him!”
“I didn’t pay much attention”, I replied, “but surely there’s nothing unusual in a Sixth Form boy trying his wings outside the nest.”
At the next Masters’ Meeting, to my horror, Wolverton related the circumstance and ended up by declaring that unless the boy could give the name of the woman, he should be expelled. He called upon me as a witness to the fact.
I got up at once and said that I was far too short-sighted to distinguish the boy at half the distance and I refused to be used in the matter in any way.
Dr. Bigge thought the offence very grave: “the morals of a boy”, he declared, “were the most important part of his education: the matter must be probed to the bottom: he thought that on reflection I would not deny that I had seen a College boy that night in colors and in suspicious company.
I thereupon got up and freed my soul; the whole crew seemed to me mere hypocrites.
“In the Doctor’s own House”, I said, “where I take evening preparation, I could give him a list of boys who are known as lovers, notorious even, and so long as this vice is winked at throughout the school, I shall be no party to persecuting anybody for yielding to legitimate and natural passion.” I
had hardly got out the last words when Cotteril, the son of the Bishop of Edinburgh, got up and called upon me to free his House from any such odious and unbearable suspicion.
I retorted immediately that there was a pair in his house known as “The Inseparables” and went on to state that my quarrel was with the whole boarding-house system and not with individual masters who, I was fain to believe, did their best.
The Vice-principal, Dr. Newton, was the only one who even recognized my good motives: he came away from the meeting with me and advised me to consult with his wife. After this I was practically boycotted by the masters: I had dared to say in public what Wolverton and others of them had admitted to me in private a dozen times.
Mrs. Newton, the vice-principal’s wife, was one of the leaders of Brighton society: she was what the French call une maitresse femme, and a born leader in any society. She advised me to form girls’ classes in literature for the half — holidays each week; was good enough to send out the circulars and lend her drawing-room for my first lectures. In a week I had fifty pupils who paid me half a crown a lesson and I soon found myself drawing ten pounds a week in addition to my pay. I saved every penny and thus came in a year to monetary freedom.
At every crisis in my life I have been helped by good friends who have aided me out of pure kindness at cost of time and trouble to themselves. Smith helped me in Lawrence and Mrs. Newton at Brighton out of bountiful human sympathy.
Before this even I had got to know a man named Harold Hamilton, manager of the London & County Bank, I think, at Brighton. It amused him to see how quickly and regularly my balance grew: soon I con fided my plans to him and my purpose: he was all sympathy. I lent him books and his daughter Ada was assiduous at all my lectures.
In the nick of time for me the war broke out between Chili and Peru: Chilian bonds dropped from 90 to 60: I saw Hamilton and assured him that Chili if left alone, could beat all South America: he advised me to wait and see. A little later Bolivia threw in her lot with Peru and Chilian bonds fell to 43 or 44. At once I went to Hamilton and asked him to buy Chilians for all I possessed on a margin of three or four. After much talk he did what I wished on a margin of ten: a fortnight later came the news of the first Chilian victory and Chilians jumped to 60 odd and continued to climb steadily: I sold at over 80 and thus netted from my first five hundred pounds over two thousand pounds and by Christmas was free once more to study with a mind at case. Hamilton told me that he had followed my lead a little later but had made more from a larger investment.
The most important happening at Brighton I must now relate. I have already told in a pen-portrait of Carlyle published by Austin Harrison in the “English Review” some twelve years ago how I went one Sunday morning and called upon my hero, Thomas Carlyle in Chelsea. I told there, too, how on more than one Sunday I used to meet him on his morning walk along the Chelsea embankment, and how once at least he talked to me of his wife and admitted his impotence.
I only gave a summary of a few talks in my portrait of him; for the traits did not call for strengthening by repetition; but here I am inclined to add a few details, for everything about Carlyle at his best, is of enduring interest!
When I told him how I had been affected by reading Emerson’s speech to the students of Dartmouth College and how it had in a way forced me to give up my law-practice and go to Europe to study, he broke in excitedly:
“I remember well reading that very page to my wife and saying that nothing like it for pure nobility had been heard since Schiller went silent. It had a great power with it . . . And so that started you off and changed your way of life? . . . I don’t wonder it was a great Call.”
After that Carlyle seemed to like me. At our final parting too, when I was going to Germany to study and he wished me “God speed and Goodspeed! on the way that lies before ye”, he spoke again of Emerson and the sorrow he had felt on parting with him, deep, deep sorrow and regret, and he added, laying his hands on my shoulders, “sorrowing most of all that they should see his face no more forever.” I remembered the passage and cried:
“Oh, Sir, I should have said that, for mine is the loss, mine the unspeakable misfortune now”, and through my tears I saw that his eyes too were full.
He had just given me a letter to Froude, “good, kindly Froude”, who, he was sure, would help me in any way of commendation to some literary position “if I have gone, as is most likely”, and in due time Froude did help me as I shall tell in the proper place.
My pen-portrait of Carlyle was ferociously attacked by a kinsman, Alexander Carlyle, who evidently believed that I had got my knowledge of Carlyle’s weakness from Froude’s revelations in 1904. But luckily for me, Sir Charles Jessel remembered a dinner in the Garrick Club given by him in 1886 or 1887, at which both Sir Richard Quain and myself were present. Jessel recalled distinctly that I had that evening told the story of Carlyle’s impotence as explaining the sadness of his married life and had then asserted that the confession came to me from Carlyle himself.
At that dinner Sir Richard Quain said that he had been Mrs. Carlyle’s physician and that he would tell me later exactly what Mrs. Carlyle had confessed to him. Here is Quain’s account as he gave it me that night in a private room at the Garrick. He said:
“I had been a friend of the Carlyles for years: he was a hero to me, one of the wisest and best of men: she was singularly witty and worldlywise and pleased me even more than the sage. One evening I found her in great pain on the sofa: when I asked her where the pain was, she indicated her lower belly and I guessed at once that it must be some trouble connected with the change of life.
“I begged her to go up to her bedroom and I would come in a quarter of an hour and examine her, assuring her the while that I was sure I could give her almost immediate relief. She went upstairs. In about ten minutes I asked her husband, would he come with me? He replied in his broadest Sootch accent, always a sign of emotion with him:
‘I’ll have naething to do with it. Ye must just arrange it yerselves’.
“Thereupon I went upstairs and knocked at Mrs. Carlyle’s bedroom door: no reply: I tried to enter: the door was locked and unable to get an answer I went downstairs in a huff and flung out of the house.
“I stayed away for a fortnight but when I went back one evening I was horrified to see how ill Mrs. Carlyle looked stretched out on the sofa, and as pale as death. ‘You’re worse!’ I asked.
‘Much worse and weaker!’ she replied.
‘You naughty obstinate creature!’ I cried.
‘I’m your friend and your doctor and anything but a fool: I’m sure I can cure you in double-quick time and you prefer to suffer. It’s stupid of you and worse — Come up now at once and think of me only as your doctor’, and I half lifted, half helped her to the door: I supported her up the stairs and at the door of her room, she said:
‘Give me ten minutes, Doctor, and I’ll be ready. I promise you I won’t lock the door again.’
“With that assurance I waited and in ten minutes knocked and went in.
“Mrs. Carlyle was lying on the bed with a woolly-white shawl round her head and face. I thought it absurd affectation in an old married woman, so I resolved on drastic measures: I turned the light full on, then I put my hand under her dress and with one toss threw it right over her head. I pulled her legs apart, dragged her to the edge of the bed and began inserting the speculum in her vulva: I met an obstacle: I looked — and immediately sprang up: ‘Why, you’re a virgo intacta’ (an untouched virgin!) I exclaimed.
She pulled the shawl from her head and said: ‘What did you expect?'
‘Anything but that’, I cried, ‘in a woman married these five and twenty years!’
“I soon found the cause of her trouble and cured it or rather did away with it: that night she rested well and was her old gay, mutinous self when I called next day.
“A little later she told me her story.
“After the marriage”, she said, “Carlyle was strange and out of sorts, very nervous, he seemed, and irritable. When we reached the house we had supper and about eleven o’clock I said I would go to bed, being rather tired: he nodded and grunted something. I put my hands on his shoulders as I passed him and said “Dear, do you know that you haven’t kissed me once, all day — this day of days!” and I bent down and laid my cheek against his. He kissed me; but said: “You, women are always kissing — I’ll be up soon!” Forced to be content with that I went upstairs, undressed and got into bed: he hadn’t even kissed me of his own accord, the whole day!
“A little later he came up, undressed and got into bed beside me. I expected him to take me in his arms and kiss and caress me.
“‘Nothing of the sort, he lay there, jiggling like’, (“I guessed what she meant”, said Quain, “the poor devil in a blue funk was frigging himself to get a cock-stand.”) ‘I thought for some time’, Mrs. Carlyle went on, ‘one moment I wanted to kiss and caress him; the next moment I felt indignant. Suddenly it occurred to me that in all my hopes and imaginings of a first night, I had never got near the reality: silent, the man lay there jiggling, jiggling. Suddenly I burst out laughing: it was all too wretched! too absurd!’
“‘At once he got out of bed with the one scornful word ‘Woman!’ and went into the next room: he never came back to my bed.
“‘Yet he’s one of the best and noblest men in the world and if he had been more expansive and told me oftener that he loved me, I could easily have forgiven him any bodily weakness; silence is love’s worst enemy and after all he never really made me jealous save for a short time with Lady Ashburnham. I suppose I’ve been as happy with him as I could have been with anyone yet — ’
“That’s my story”, said Quain in conclusion, “and I make you a present of it: even in the Elysian Fields I shall be content to be in the Carlyles’ company. They were a great pair!”
Just one scene more. When I told Carlyle how I had made some twenty-five hundred pounds in the year and told him besides how a banker offered me almost the certainty of a great fortune if I would buy with him a certain coal-wharf at Tunbridge Wells (it was Hamilton’s pet scheme), he was greatly astonished. “I want to know”, I went on, “if you think I’ll be able to do good work in literature; if so I’ll do my best. Otherwise I ought to make money and not waste time in making myself another second-rate writer.”
“No one can tell you that”, said Carlyle slowly, “You’ll be lucky if you reach the knowledge of it yourself before ye die! I thought my Frederic was great work; yet the other day you said I had buried him under the dozen volumes and you may be right; but have I ever done anything that will live? — ”
“Sure”, I broke in, heartsore at my gibe, “Sure, your French Revolution must live and the “Heroes and Hero Worship”, and “Latter Day Pamphlets” and, and — ”
“Enough”, he cried, “You’re sure?”
“Quite, quite sure”, I repeated. Then he said, “You can be equally sure of your own place; for we can all reach the heights we are able to oversee.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:09