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THE AUTHOR OF THE SPANISH BROTHERS

 

CHAPTER XIV

THE SHADOW AND THE EVENING STAR

"FOR the taken, God be praised; for the left, God be pitiful." And He was pitiful. On September 22, Miss Alcock writes to J. D.

One line, dear friend, to thank you for your true, loving sympathy and to ask you to go on praying for us.

I cannot get words now, but we are well (D. G.) and God is with us. He was with our dear one to the end, it was wonderful and beautiful, how he had not a pang of mind or body — lay as in sleep from the time of his first seizure, till he breathed his soul out most gently.

Ever yours,

D. A.

When Mr. Alcock resigned his office as Archdeacon he was succeeded as Rector of St. Patrick’s by his curate Mr. Line, who had truly served with him as a son with a father; but it was arranged that Mr. Alcock should still remain in the house as long as he lived. This made his widow all the more anxious to give it up as quickly as possible when he was gone. Deborah always felt that the Lord had "prepared a resting-place for them." Only a few houses farther along the road, was one called "Newtown Park" then empty; and directly the funeral was over, this house was taken. It was rather larger than the Archdeaconry, with pretty grounds, and a view down a green, steep slope to the river winding below. The removal was accomplished by the end of one month after Mr. Alcock’s death. Mrs. Alcock was in a fever till this was done: then it seemed as if all earthly care departed from her, and instead came the perfect peace of one who has nothing more to fear, in life or death. The worry and occasional sharpness of speech that showed themselves in her at times of anxiety and overstrain were all gone; he whom her soul loved rested now — and so did she.

Happily, Mr. Alcock’s private income had been so far increased that there was no need to retrench. "I would not have anything altered, while mama lived," Deborah said — "not even if we had to sink a little capital." A little — perhaps one or two hundreds — of her own, she sank, and it was well worth it to have so sweet a home in the old familiar neighbourhood.

The new house had a little room off the drawing-room which she could take for her own study, and write there. Her first task was to finish a story she was contributing to Our Own Gazette. One monthly part had to be postponed, the Editor explaining why; then with a great effort the author compelled herself to write to the end. As usual the heartache only deepened as the time went on, and after the first flood of letters full of admiration and sympathy, the silence of love’s deepest chord was felt.

To J. D.

Your letter found its way to where your letters do go, as a rule, "to my heart," being manifestly "from very heart." I am not good myself — not one bit: the tears are as ready to come as the first day, and though I try to wear a cheerful face in the world and the family, my whole inner life seems just a yearning cry

For the touch of a vanished hand

And the sound of a voice that is still.

Poetry, loved all my life, turns on me now and tortures me. There is not a heartache, not a variation of sorrow or pain, for which some too appropriate expression does not come surging up from the depths of memory to haunt me. Oh, do you know that poem of Mrs. Browning’s, The Fourfold Aspect?

Happy places have grown holy.

If ye went where once ye went,

Only tears would fall down slowly,

As at solemn Sacrament.

That is a good word you say about our Lord’s sympathy with the tears He knew all the time were needless. That is a great comfort. People will keep telling you you ought not to grieve. Did you ever notice the force of the As for me in Gen. 48?

*****

I am going to try and write my dear father’s biography. You will understand the mixture of pleasure and shrinking with which I look forward to the task, but I fear the latter feeling predominates. Do pray for me that I may be helped to do it.

The sacred task was begun in snatches even before the removal was accomplished. But Miss Alcock still found time for sympathy.

 

To a Friend mourning a Failure. 1886.

MY OWN DEAR FRIEND, —

Your letter of today has gone down to the very depths of my heart. You were quite right and most wise in writing to me just now of yourself — the best thing you could have done for me! Oh, I feel for, or rather with you, more than I can say — this sorrow is so different from mine, where there is nothing I dare to wish different; the Lord Himself seems saying to me, "Tell Me, My child, could I have done it better, for him, and for you?"

I can only say, God Himself comfort you, and show you that even your very mistakes are taken up by Him and wrought into His plan for you, — as a Master Gardener would take advantage of some knell or fissure, and not only hide the defect but graft upon it a new beauty which otherwise would not have been thought of. And, rest assured, He has taken care also of any other life which your life influenced. He is not so poor in expedient as to let others suffer by our mistakes. He knows how to control and guide the "ALL things," and will not fail, or be worse than His own promise that they shall work together for good.

Looking back upon our own faults or mistakes in the past, I am often so glad of the word, "I will restore unto you the years that the cankerworm hath eaten." Aye, even when the cankerworm was "sent" as a chastisement.

There is another thing I should like to say, only for fear of "rushing in where angels fear to tread" — that is, that if there was true love waiting for you, which you did not, through misunderstanding, take and enjoy — why, "the things not seen are eternal," and it may be there still for you, in God’s keeping. There is all eternity yet, and God’s glorious and beautiful plans and purposes for us unrevealed and waiting, in the future.

We go on fairly . . . but my heart seems dead.

To J. D.

Have you ever read Castle Warlock by George MacDonald? It is a right good wholesome story, full of faith in God and man, some of the thoughts very beautiful — e.g., "God loves better to help us from within than from without."

To the same.

September, 1887.

We will pray God Himself to take what you call "the great anguish" out of that poor wounded heart. More and more I feel that this is an anguish He would not wish her to have, and that she need not have . . . No doubt she prayed, much, and often, and earnestly, for that dear brother. May not this be amongst the many answered prayers of which He does not yet let us see the answer here, but keeps it amongst the blessed things that are prepared for us hereafter?

For myself I cannot feel the hopelessness others do about those taken, as he has been, without visible and decided faith in Christ — if there has been the desire to find the light and to obey it as far as known. But I must not begin on this now. The enclosed lines of Whittler’s on "The Eternal Goodness" say something of what I feel, and have been a great comfort to me.

Thanks for your loving words about the Anniversary. But do you know I think it is less trying because the sorrow is NEVER away from me, and therefore cannot well be much more present one time than another?

It was my fate to have a Working Meeting on Wednesday! . . . I thought it all round and felt it right to have it. . . I thought of the text, "And thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face." And it is what one can do very well, when one must."

On January 26 the memoir was "Finished in a kind of way." On February 15, "Finished copying. Very sad and trying." It came out at the beginning of June — and then came another outburst of love and admiration that richly overpaid the writer’s toil.

To Miss Kift.

NEWTOWN PARK, 1887.

. . . I am very glad my dear friend likes it, and thinks I succeeded "far beyond" her expectations. Oh, I cannot tell you what the writing of it was to me, either the joy or the pain of it! I should not have thought before that I could have done it, but the power comes with the effort, and after all, the part that cost was the last chapter. I wrote that at first, thinking I would be quite unable to do it afterwards, but had to alter, and indeed re-write it at the end, to make it fit in with what went before.

I had a splendid little outing, quite unexpected too, in the month of August. I rather knocked up then, and had a touch of my old enemy, the haemorrhage; so my cousin Mary Smith said, "You must go away for a change, and go somewhere where you will not be meeting people, or speaking at meetings." Said I, "I will, then, if you will come with me!"

"Done," said she. Said I, "Let us go to Killarney. You have never seen the far-famed lakes, and I forget them, besides they are easily accessible from here, and if we choose to go round by Cork and Glengariff, my friends the Sandfords will be delighted to take us in." This delightful programme we fulfilled to the letter. We stayed two days in Cork, one of which we spent in a visit to Frankfield — a great pleasure to us both! Then we spent a Sunday at Glengariff, went on by coach to Killarney, and had a delightful ten days there, in a nice quiet hotel quite in the country, and commanding a lovely view of the lakes and mountains. We were so fortunate as to meet friends most unexpectedly . . . and it was very pleasant to be able to join them for the drives and excursions. Deb Gore kindly came and stayed here with Mama while we were away, so that we did not feel that the old people were lonely, while we were playing . . . Now we have Mary’s sister, Mrs. Ashe, with us. She is very bright and pleasant, and a great pleasure to me, and is just now helping me with the work for India.

Aunt Sally is only poorly, and seems failing a good deal. Although really younger than Mama, she looks and is in all ways much older . . .

Poor Miss McKenny never held up her head after her brother-in-law’s death, and on January 4, 1888, she passed away, after only four days of serious illness. So ended a true, though narrow life, which, whatever its faults, had been of great service to Deborah, for she had been able to take many an hour to herself which she would not have done, had Mrs. Alcock been alone.

The sister left behind felt the loss deeply at the time; but it was in Deb, not Sally, that her heart was centred now. "And sorrows come to the aged gently — like footsteps on moss," Deborah often said. Mr. Devenish came to the funeral, "A great comfort," — and constantly there is mention of the unfailing tender sympathy of the Bishop and Mrs. Day. Miss Alcock told me that the new life had brought "a great sense of physical rest" long unknown before. This was deepened now — one less to think and care for.

The two letters following belong to an earlier date, but were left over not to interrupt the narrative.

To J. D.

As to the Light of Asia, it is beautiful as poetry, but that is not the chief thing. The chief thing is the extraordinary parallelism between Gautama or Siddâitha (the hero and founder of the Buddhist Religion) and One far greater. This is not Arnold’s doing, though he emphasizes it. The legends on which the poem is founded are wonderful. Its second title is The Great Renunciation, and all turns on the self-sacrifice of Gautama, who, a prince, and surrounded by everything that could minister delight, gave up all, and became poor for the love he bore to his fellow-men, and that he might try to help them. But underlying is the thought that after all he had no better help to give than sympathy, and the promise of victory over the troubles and passions of life, and final Nirvana. Still, it seems to me a splendid spring towards the light, for heathen thinkers to have made their religion centre in an act and a life of self-sacrifice.

Yes, indeed I did read and enjoy the article on Matthew Arnold’s poetry, in the Spectator. There are pieces of his I delight in, but oh, the sadness of them! They are saturated in the very essence of the Gospel of Despair.

And still on Christ’s unopened Grave

The Syrian stars look down,

seems the keynote of all.

. . . Party politics are a great and ever growing perplexity to me. Can honest people go on even thinking principles are involved, when each Party outbids the other for popular support?

To the same

(after alluding to the death of W. E. Forster).

His translation of St. Patrick’s prayer I have not seen, though I well know and love a part of that remarkable prayer, and have often used it too: "May Christ be in my mouth when I speak, and in the ear of every one that hears me." Have the Saint and his translator met by now, I wonder! . . .

I have not read Earth’s Earliest Ages, but I have seen a real live Buddhist. I do not wonder at the newly revived popularity of this very ancient faith or unfaith. It is literally a combination of Atheistic dogma and Christian sentiment — in other words, the aspirations of Christianity divorced from its facts. A man comes to the terrible confusion that Force, mere blind Force, is the origin of all things — and as to all the rest we have believed or trusted in, we have only made it ourselves! We carry the "hobby horse" that we fancy carries us. An infinitely pathetic poem of Robert Browning’s, (footnote: The Epilogue) beginning —

Gone now, all gone into the dark so far,

is the best expression of this phase I have ever seen; it ends —

Oh, dread succession to a dizzy post,

Sad sway of sceptre whose mere touch appals,

Ghastly dethronement, cursed by those the most,

On whose reluctant brows the crown next falls.

Human hearts, thus left desolate, end by making human gods for themselves, and the "Buddas," or "enlightened ones," are about the best things yet heard of in that line. That "passion of humanity," which Christ has enkindled, burns still in hearts that deny Christ.

It finds noble expression in that legend of Gautama which Edwin Arnold has embodied, and decked with flowers plucked from the Gospels, in The Light of Asia. Gautama in fact, was a weaker Christ — a Christ done in water-colours, so to speak, without the Divinity. In other words, Love without Power.

Is it unnatural that, disbelieving the Power but still capable of feeling the beauty of the Love, and even finding faint reflections of it in themselves, men should turn to Gautama? I say men, but I fear there are women too, God help them! God in His mercy help them, when they come to stand beside their dead! Or sadder still, perhaps, to watch the gradual fading. As I said to my Buddhist friend, I think the most sensible thing for us all to do, would be to lie down together and take a nice, comfortable draught of hemlock, or some such thing.

Miss Alcock has a reason for distinguishing men from women here, but as a rule she insisted strongly that they are included wherever the word "men" represents the race — mankind. "I always say out very distinctly in the Creed, ‘Who for us men and for our salvation,’ " she said.

To Miss Kift

(after a visit to London).

NEWTOWN PARK, 1888.

. . . Another day I spent with Mrs. Charles, and her dear aged mother, now 84. They were full of love and most charming, but, would you believe it? they have turned into strong Home Rulers! Of course, I argued my best with them, and have just now written Mrs. Charles a long letter on the subject. English people who do not know Ireland make a great many mistakes about us, in spite of the very best intentions.

"Then I had two days with my Scotch friend Miss Moncrieff, and her charming sister, Mrs. Ballard, at Red Hill; and one day with Mrs. Meredith, about whom a great organization has grown up, and I was much interested in what I saw of her work, even in that short time. My passage home was very rough, but I felt I could not grumble, as I had had so much enjoyment of my time, and not the slightest shadow upon it, except that the accounts from home were not quite all I could have wished. But mamma was well taken care of during my absence, as Annie Gore and Ellen Alcock are here, besides Miss Grayden. Ellen’s two nephews, my cousin Dan’s sons, are coming down to us next week for a fortnight. Nattie is seventeen and has just entered college — Bertie fourteen. It will feel strange for us to have a couple of boys in the house.

We also expect Mary Smith some time next month, and are to have a German literary friend whom I have never seen, but who has translated nearly all my books into that language. I expect GéneviPve to come out as a volume about October.

To J. D.

NEWTOWN PARK, WATERFORD,

November 12, 1888.

DEAREST J.,

I have this minute finished the "Life" [of Right Hon. W. E. Forster], and while my heart is hot within me I must write one line at least to say how intensely I have enjoyed it, especially the last volume. The end is most touching. I can scarcely trust myself to write of it — that slow going down with a beloved, hand in hand, to the brink of the dark river, — how well I understand it! and always one comes back alone! But how glad one’s heart is made by the record of those two prayers, and that simple, humble faith — "Help my unbelief."

But I want to speak of the Life, not of the death. A thing which I had not known before was his insistence upon having the Bible read in schools, and the battle he fought about it. For this I was hardly prepared. His thorough-paced honesty, truthfulness and generosity I knew before. True, strong, tender — this was the threefold cord of his thread of life. The Irish Administration is the most interesting part of the biography, except the end. The story is full of lessons, the grandest being that which Browning has crystallized for us:

"For what is our failure here but a triumph’s evidence

For the fullness of the days!"

(words which, by the way, always ring through one like the blast of a trumpet). It was a noble thing for a strong man thus to set himself with all his might to do justice and judgment, even though his only pay and recompense would be the hatred of those for whom he worked, and the misunderstanding of those for whom or with whom he worked. "Heaven is for those who failed on earth — failed so." Perhaps even on earth he would not have failed had he been allowed to continue his work long enough in his own way. He had to buy his experience . . . driven into sternness by the sight of cruelty, as many a merciful, tender-hearted man has been ere this, since Dante

"Hated well because he loved well,

Hated wickedness that hinders loving."

And the rod might possibly have done its work, if only poor Gladstone’s inveterate sanguineness had not spoiled all. If it was to be my last word, and "I was to be made a Martha at the stake" for it, I can’t help saying I believe the man means well, and has a noble heart, but a fatal imagination.

He is a poet spoiled, more’s the pity, and the facts of his early life confirm this theory.

To the same.

Undated.

Who is Mrs. — , who evidently lives in the expectation of wearing a sealskin jacket in the next world? I think that is a delicious idea. I have just received a loan of the German translation of The Spanish Brothers. It makes a handsome volume, very nicely got up, and with a laudatory preface by the Court Preacher, Frommel. I am getting quite aristocratic — translated by a Countess, and prefaced by a Court Preacher! "In the Desert is to be translated by Fräulein Klee . . . Some other lady has asked for leave to translate The Czar, and Under the Southern Cross."

To the same.

[on a phase of literature then already beginning to pass away]

All that stuff about "want of sympathy" seems to me morbid and unhealthy. Nothing can be worse, especially for young people, than to be encouraged to think themselves

"too bright and good

For human nature’s daily food."

"Nobody can understand me," "Nobody can sympathize with the deeper parts of my nature," "My inner life is a solitary one." So they go on — "sad as night in very wantonness" — until roused perhaps by the removal of the unappreciated bit of common clay so unfit to mate with their fine porcelain! Then all at once they discover that they are desolate and broken-hearted, and have got a very real sorrow to replace their imaginary ones. Of course, I consider it a great sin and a terrible mistake to marry without love; but being married — "We must be patient in the reins He finds us in," as Mrs. Whitney says in Hitherto. Do you know Hitherto? It is one of the books I partly know by heart, and take up for refreshment in odd minutes. In a world where Death is, one gets terribly impatient with people making sorrows for themselves . . .

One of the many "Testimonies" sent me, describes how the writer went to Miss Alcock and poured out her distress, spiritual and mental. "What is all this nonsense about?" said Deborah — and then she went on to put the true case, plainly, but so tenderly the listener was not only convicted — she loved the hand that smote her.

In the early part of 1889, I first had the happiness of personal acquaintance with Miss Alcock, though only by letter, then. Her life of her father must have come into our house in the winter or early spring of 1888, when both my parents were ill and confined to bed. They were so fascinated by the book, I had to ply between the two rooms with it, when one patient went to sleep, the other had it. I longed to write and tell her how it was valued, and thank her for all she had been to us. The fear of intrusion prevented, and perhaps lack of time. I can never cease to regret it, as if I had written, she might have come out to see us while in London in ‘88, and she and my dear father — spirits so congenial! — would have met. He went Home in November that year. In the following April, a little paper of mine, on "Religious Fiction of the Day," came out in Woman’s Work, in which I alluded to her stories, and the help they had been — not only to ourselves but to many others I knew, especially the young. A friend sent a copy to Miss Alcock, and it brought me the following letter —

WATERFORD,

April 11, 1889.

DEAR MADAM, —

Your kind and generous words in Woman’s Work for April have met my eye, through the thoughtfulness of friends who take the magazine. I write to thank you for them with a full heart, for there can be no deeper joy than to be the bearer of "strength and solace" to others; and those who let us know that we have been used by God for this purpose bear to our lips the sweetest and most refreshing of "cups of cold water." Somehow, too, these often come to us when we are thirsty and tired — a circumstance which makes them doubly welcome, since it shows they are sent to us by Him who knows our frame, and are proofs of His watchful love and tenderness, as well as of the kindness of our friends, whether personally known or unknown to us.

I am pleased, and also a little surprised, at your liking so well my touch on the life-chord usually labelled "Love." I have always felt that touch myself to be weak and wavering, because lacking strong personal sympathy.

In my last story, "GéneviPve," (which appeared in The Sunday at Home, and, is now passing through the press for publication as a volume), there is rather more of it than usual, perhaps, for who is there who would not have loved Pascal!

On receiving this, I hesitated no longer, but wrote what was in all our hearts about her father’s memoir. I remember saying: "It was heavenly company to be with him even on the printed page; what must it have been to lose him?" I also put the long-deferred question, "When a story has so possessed you that, as Mrs. Prentiss puts it, you hardly know whether you are in the body or out of it, and your own identity is gone — what do you do about your prayers?"

Her answer, beginning, as ever, with sympathetic courtesy, goes on —

NEWTOWN PARK, WATERFORD,

May 17, 1889.

. . . Your words about the life of the Imagination, its separations and its temptations, have a very special interest for me. I have often thought of Mrs. Sherwood’s words: "Those who have not Imagination have no conception of the inner lives of those who have." This is literally and profoundly true!

Do you know I have never yet met anyone who is "possessed by a story" just in the same way that I am, and that you evidently are too. Even Mrs. Charles is not, in our sense. Your remarks about her are quite true. Her genius — for genius she has, unmistakeably — is didactic and descriptive, rather than dramatic. It is as a thinker she is great, and her beautiful thoughts are most helpful to the heart. States of feeling she describes admirably, often touching the very deepest chords, but — if I may mix metaphors — they are "built below the tide" of individual character. "Based on the crystalline sea of thought and its eternity." She once said to me, "You know, living should always be the first thing, not writing." I assented, feeling how truly it was so with her, but that, vae mea culpa! it was by no means so with me, when I was seized upon and altogether demented by Carlos, George Wishart, Majal Désubas, Alexander I, or any of the rest who have possessed me!

You call this possession coming down upon you "like a wolf on the fold." I call it a "fever," or at greater length a "historical fever." I have thought much and often on the problem of its relation to the spiritual life. In my youth I gave up writing for years, but I was led back into it gradually, by God’s own Hand as I venture to think; and such sweet testimonies as yours about George Duncan confirm the thought. I think when God gives us a special faculty, which proves its reality by spontaneous activity, clamouring for utterance whether we will or no, He must mean us to use it.

Every story has seemed to me as a direct call from Him, so, and as such, I have obeyed it, though alas! not without bringing on that feeling of "distance" you speak of, sometimes. Not always, nor do I think it is inevitable. On the other hand, the feeling of utter dependence on God for the power to write — the strong conviction that it is not in me, but that He gives it at His pleasure, sometimes has seemed to bring me nearer, and keep me closer. It is a help not to let oneself off direct work for Him, even when most "possessed." I mean such work as Sunday School teaching and Bible Classes. But I think the great secret is to make Him the sun and centre of the ideal world. Let Him be to our noblest, dearest, and fairest creations what we desire Him to be to ourselves.

It may be asked indeed, is there not a subtle danger in this also? a danger of using Christ for their needs in place of our own? — believing and loving (say) for Carlos, in place of for myself? I do not deny this, but I think, if we earnestly desire to be real, and ask God to keep us so, He will. We must never forget that it is the Ideal which is really the True, not the Actual.

If I realize imaginatively, for Carlos, a higher faith and a deeper love than I have myself (so that I am real and true, and honestly desire to have it), I suppose God sees it in His idea of me, and will work it out in me at last. And it ought to help (not hinder) me to have seen and known and wanted it. So I believe God means us to have, and enjoy, and use the life of the Imagination, but always holding Christ as the centre of both that life and the life of the soul, and thus holding them in harmony.

Doubtless as a free-will offering one may abstain; but this opens out such reaches, I will not even begin upon it. We must not only get general guidance for all our lives, but special guidance for each period of them. "Step by step, He leads us, and day by day," says Mrs. Charles. I should think your "wolf" a decided "leading," and invite him to the "fold" at once. For my own part, I may say that if God should send me such a desire and passion now, I would thank Him for it with all my heart.

It is as you guessed, my wound is not healed. I do not want the loved and loving memory which is my life to grow one atom less fresh and near, but I ought not to sit down idly and live upon the Past. As Mrs. Browning says of imaginative visitings —

Sometimes, through life’s heavy swoon

We long for them."

So now I sometimes long for the old joy and glory which has not come to me, since I sat beside my dead — perhaps will never come again.

Your Mother’s book Ragged Homes was much appreciated by us all in the days long past. Mrs. Sewell’s life I as yet only know in reviews, but hope soon to know it really.

I could write much more on this fascinating subject, which so few understand at all, but I will only suggest one other thought. Has it ever struck you that this work is more like God’s own than any other, and so lets us into some secrets of His working? Its very name "creative art," "Creation," shows this. The difference is that we, like children, make imitations.

God only makes the live shape at a jet.

Even our imitations, when really alive with genius, acquire a kind of independence of ourselves. "I did not do it — they did it themselves," said Thackeray of two of his characters. We do really stand to them (I say it with reverence) in somewhat of the same relation God stands to us. And this helps to explain a little the dread mystery of pain. "He whom the Poet loves, he makes to suffer." Here again long vistas of thought stretch out, but I must pause. This long and (I fear) rather confused letter will serve at least to show you how truly I enjoyed yours, and how pleased I shall be to hear from you again.

I remain,

Yours very truly,

DEBORAH ALCOCK.

Here was indeed a letter to be prized. In return, I think I must have sent her a copy of an address of my mother’s, given in Edinburgh just after the great Bank failure, on Psalm iv. 7, 8. It was reprinted as a booklet. Miss Alcock writes in reply: —

GLASGOW, May 25, 1889.

"Thou hast put gladness in my heart" — I have sometimes thought of the imaginative life, as the corn and wine, and oil of this passage, and the vine and fig-tree of Habakkuk iii. 18, hoping that His very best may be given, if this be withheld. But again, there are times of re-action and depression when the whole inner life seems to stagnate. Do you find it so? — when one’s appropriate prayer seems to be "My soul cleaveth unto the dust, quicken Thou me." But this comes no doubt from individual fault and sin, not necessarily inhering in the imaginative character. We must not lay the blame on "the nature that Thou gavest me," when we are beguiled and transgress. One of the secrets of Kingsley’s utter nobleness (do you love Kingsley?) was that he gave no quarter to "les défauts de ses qualités."

I could not help writing in answer that she was evidently suffering, not sinning. One passage I must give, from her next letter: —

WATERFORD, June 3.

. . . Re George Eliot’s words about human sympathy — have you ever thought of the light they throw on the sympathy of Christ? He only does not "die of the roar on the other side of silence" because he is God as well as man . . .

. . . I have a faint hope that another story may yet be given me."

A hope not deferred. The Morning Star of her childhood shone out through the evening twilight now.

To the same.

WATERFORD, July 10, 1889

. . . I was longing to write to you, because I felt you would be "real" glad for me that the "fever" has come back! I felt it so strange to read in your dear letter that Mrs. Bayly and you had actually prayed that "It" might come to me. Yet why should these answers to prayer seem so marvellous in our eyes? Well, "it" has come, and with such a rushing tide that I am almost carried off my feet. I weakly yielded, so glad to have it. Words cannot express the change it makes in the inner life, and the wonder of feeling the old joy, that I thought was quite dead, come back again. But all the same I must try to introduce some method into my madness, or I shall be naughty altogether. I am like an old horse long tied to a weary round, turned loose again in a grassy meadow! Whether I succeed or no in writing the things that are rising within me, I thank God with all my heart for giving me this brightness. And I thank you and your dear mother for asking it of Him for me. Before I tell you what the "fever" is about (I mean to do this, though one peculiar, and indeed absurd, feature of my fevers has always been a strange reluctance to mention the subject. I have lost the chance of valuable books sometimes, because I could not bring myself to ask for them) — I want to say it is too true that I lack interest in the lesser things, and especially in the brighter side of life. I am not without humour, and I intensely enjoy it, but a kind of shyness, as well as want of confidence in myself, keeps it out of my books. I should scarcely have chosen to write yet another martyr story, but the martyr seems to have chosen me, and will give me no peace till I tell his story!

I have enjoyed a pleasure I never knew before — that of going to the spot where the events happened, and seeing everything that could recall them. Being already so far as Paris, and feeling the old story of the Council of Constance and its martyr — well-known and loved from my eleventh year — coming over me again, I actually went down to the dear old German town, and explored it all, with, for my companion, a much loved cousin who was brought up with me, and who is as a sister to me.

[Then she paused to tell how they used to play stories.]

I mention this to show you I have had some sympathy in the life of the Imagination, and also to mark the pure pleasure it was to explore Constance with such a companion, and find exactly where everything happened.

Beautiful it is, too, to find the name and memory of the humble, patient, Christlike martyr everywhere. The very spot on the floor of the Cathedral where he stood, remembered — "marked evermore with white." I ought to add, nevertheless, that the stately figure of Gerson, the Chancellor of Paris, and reputed author of The Imitation of Christ, fascinated me also, and I shall hope, if I can keep my temper with him, to do him some sort of justice . . .

To the same.

NEWTOWN PARK, WATERFORD,

August 7, 1889.

(But in that land where shines the light "which never was on sea or shore" it is June 8, 1415)

It is so strange that after these many years I should be writing that story of Huss now; but I have placed myself under very severe restrictions. I do not feel free to give him one word, still less one act, which is not historical. I wonder what you think about this question? With me it is a matter of feeling. When I come to love and realize a character so, I would not violate its individuality; I should not presume. I feel as if he might blame me for it, in that hereafter where I hope we shall meet one day. Mrs. Charles is even more strong on this point than I am. Now with Gerson, I don’t feel the same at all. I think fiction admissible there, though to be used very modestly, almost reverently. When I wanted him to express his intolerance, crushing down the pleadings of my fictitious hero in favour of Huss, I took passages from a book of his own, for the purpose; and I make him as kind and tender as I can to Hubert at the same time. I am doing here as in the S.B. and The Dark Year of Dundee — avoiding the actual sights of martyrdom, leaving it to happen "off the stage" and to be told by others . . .

. . . You say I have chosen an "intricate and interesting orchestra" in the Council, and that is just what I have done, and what makes my chief difficulty. It is too intricate, and the characters one is tempted to bring in would be too numerous; but I am trying to set my face as a flint against everything that does not immediately concern either the Great Martyr or the Great Chancellor (Gerson).

I mean to bring in what I feel to be so important for Hubert’s character, and indeed "generally necessary" to the full greatness and completeness of a man’s character — much more than of a woman’s, as I think.

To the same.

October 1, 1889.

About suffering . . . Perhaps the hardest thing to recognize is that it is "worth while" for those we love. Here our love for our dear ones in real life produces an effect strangely opposite to our "poet" love for our creations.

I put the last lines to my story yesterday, concluding with the Moravian Doxology —

Glory be to Him, in the Church which is around Him,

And in that which waiteth for Him.

Amen.

You know the Moravian Church sprang from the ashes of Huss; Now I am in the "cold fit" of the fever, and think it all poor, weak and inadequate. It is a disadvantage to the story that it had to go on after the martyrdom; then my own interest in it flagged, and the chariot wheels drave heavily. As to the love affair it is perfectly miserable! I leave it indeed for the most part to the reader’s imagination.

"The tension is very high throughout," as the one friend here, besides my cousin, to whom I read a portion of it, remarked; and the letting down into daily life proved almost impossible. My motto I mean to be —

What is our failure here but a triumph’s evidence

For the fullness of the days?

*****

Surely there is a great talk lying waiting for us somewhere in the future!

XV. ALONE

 

 

 

 

 

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Thank you for your prompt service. My 13yr old and 10yr old sons enjoyed the first 3 books immensely (Scout). I just read "Secret of the Swamp" for the 3rd time to my 10yr old. He can't get enough of Scout. Thanks again, L.C.