« AnteriorContinuar »
Who followed Drake; who fought with Blake; who broke the bar of Spain,
And who gave to timid traffic the freedom of the main;
To whom all things were barter-slaves, spices, gold, and gum; Who gave his life for glory; who sold his soul for rum—
I sing him, and I see him as only those can see
Who stake their lives to fathom that solveless mystery;
Who on the space of waters have fought the killing gale, Ilave heard the crying of the spar, the moaning of the sail;
Who never see the ocean but that they feel its hand
I see him in the running, when seas would overwhelm,
Lay breathing hard along the yard and sweating at the helm.
I see him drunk and fighting roll through some seaboard town, When those who own and rob him take to the street and frown..
O Sovereign of the Boundless! O Bondsman of the Wave!
In Britain's vast Valhalla, where sleep her worst and bestWhere is the grave she made you-your first and final rest?
Beneath no stone or trophy, beneath no minster tower,
Lie those who gave her Empire, who stretched her arm to power.
Below those markless pathways where commerce shapes the trail,
Unsung, unrung, forgotten, sleeps the Sailor of the Sail.
From "Songs of Sea and Sail."
Thomas Fleming Day.
It was my good fortune to know the late William Black from the very beginning of his career in London. He became a member of the literary staff of the Morning Star, the daily newspaper which then represented the political, economical and social views of Richard Cobden and John Bright.
Black had but lately come up from Scotland to seek his fortune in London, and he made himself welcome to the Morning Star by his brilliant gifts as a writer. His inclination at that time seemed to be towards the writing of poetry, as his inclination had previously been towards the art of the
painter. He wrote verses which had undoubtedly the true poetic touch and feeling in them; but his work on the Morning Star consisted chiefly of bright, descriptive prose. From the very first, he showed a genuine skill and power in describing any scene that came before his eyes-a street crowd, a landscape, a picturesque ceremonial of any kind, anything that had in it either color and movement, or color and absolute stillness. We had an evening edition of our paper called the Evening Star, and in that every day we had a special column or two entitled "Readings by Starlight," and to those "Readings by Starlight" Black contributed many a sketch. His contributions were essays on all manner of subjectsbright, odd fantasies, pictorial studies of landscape and crowd, short stories, vivid little essays; everything that gave a chance to his love for the poetic and the picturesque. During the war between Prussia and Austria, in 1866, Black went out as special correspondent from the Morning Star to the Prussian camp; and he did his work as a war correspondent well, as, indeed, he did everything well that he attempted; but it was not the kind of work that he would have chosen to do if absolutely left to himself, and I do not think he ever became a special correspondent again. He gained something from his experience, however, which was of use to him in more than one of his novels; and the experience, with all its roughness and all its difficulties, must have been in a certain sense congenial with his tastes, for he had an inborn love for German scenery and German literature. He was a dreamer about Germany before he ever saw the Rhine. I think that through his whole literary career the scenery in which he most delighted after that of his own Scotland, and of the England which he made his home, was that of Germany and of Brittany.
When the Morning Star ceased to exist, Black became attached to the editorial staff of the Daily News, and there I became once again a colleague of his, after I had been absent for a considerable time in the United States. Black, however, gave up journalism soon after my return to England. He had found his path in life as a writer of novels, and he held to that path and never showed the least desire to wander from it. I am not about to enter into any consideration of my dear old friend's place as an author of fiction. That has been settled long since. He opened a new chapter in novel writing, and his name will always be remembered when the literature of Queen Victoria's reign is called to mind. My desire is rather to say a few words about the man himself, during a friendship which lasted for more than thirty years. I have never met with a man who knew more thoroughly the kind of work which it best suited him to do. Rousseau has somewhere deplored the fact that so few men are able to make up their minds as to the value of this, that, and the other ambition of life to them, and to put away resolutely all that, in any sense, was of no account to them. William Black was certainly one of those rare and happy men. His tastes were very varied; he loved painting and music and reading, as he loved yachting and shooting and travel. Although he took no part whatever in active political life, yet he had clear and decided political opinions, and was in thorough sympathy with many a good cause. But he did not allow anything to withdraw him from his own especial work in life; and, happily for him, even his love of the sea, and of the moors and travel, only helped him to accomplish his own peculiar purposes, and supplied him with ever new material for the exercise of his craft. He had no ambition whatever to shine in society. His books, as
everyone knows, were greatly admired by Queen Victoria; and there were many inducements to him to seek for a welcome in the very highest circles of English life. But Black had no social ambition of that kind to trouble his mind, and would not have crossed the street for the sake of having his name chronicled in the pages of a society newspaper. Yet he was not in any sense whatever a self-centered or a lonely man. Nobody could have enjoyed pleasant company more than William Black did; he had as keen an appreciation of good fellowship as he had of mountain and of lake. He was a most charming host; and in his home -Paston House, Brighton-used to welcome gatherings of friends whose only qualification was to be bright and humorous and genial, and, above all things, not to be commonplace.
Black was not a great talker, although he could always say good things, and he loved to keep the talk going. Indeed, he impressed strangers by his habitual quietness and reserve; he did not care in the least to be lionized, and people who came obviously with the intention of transacting a literary conversation with him, were apt to set him down as naturally shy and silent. He was, however, a capital talker, and he had a great variety of subjects. He had been about the world a good deal, and he never went anywhere without bringing something back which other travelers might have left wholly unnoticed. Whatever he felt, he felt deeply. I remember his reading out one night at my house, many years ago, the whole of Swinburne's poem, "Hesperia," with a feeling, and what I might call a dramatic form of expression if it were not evidently altogether unstudied, which brought every shade of the poet's meaning to the heart and the intelligence of all his listeners, some of whom, before he began to read, were preju
diced against Swinburne, and could not believe there was anything in him that was not strained, overwrought and unnatural. One thing I believe William Black could not do: he could not make a speech. At least, so he often told me and others, and I am sure he meant what he said; but somehow, I think that if he had ever been forced by irresistible necessity to attempt an oration, he would have got out of the difficulty with some happy sentences destined to find a place in the memories of his listeners. He was, so far as I could see, perfectly unspoiled by his success, and those who can carry their recollections back to the days when "A Daughter of Heth" and the "Princess of Thule" made their appearance, will know what a success that was which lighted up a literary career hitherto comparatively obscure. Black thoroughly understood his own work and its value. As Thackeray says in the preface to "Pendennis," "He could no more ignore his success than he could any other event of his life." But Black never over-rated the value of his own work; he never fell into the mistake, so common among other authors, of idealizing what he had done, and feeding himself with the delusion that he had attained perfection. He was a thoroughly modest worker; he did his very best, and he did it in his own way; but he was a keen observer of everything, even of his own work, and he was too conscientious an artist to indulge in self-conceit. Some of his literary friends used to say that he had a very easy time of it, for, during a great part of his successful years, it was his custom to write but two hours a day, and that not by any means on every day in the week. But then, Black was working hard at his books before he put a pen to paper. He thought out his scenes and his characters, and their meetings and their talk (he had seldom much of a story to
trouble himself with); he thought them out in the streets, in hansom cabs, on the deck of his yacht, in long walks by the sea; and when he sat down to his desk he had only, as he told me himself more than once, to copy out what was already written down in his mind. Black's friends have gone, some of them, very different ways, since those far-off days when he wrote for the Morning Star; some have stuck to journalism and done nothing else, and grown prosperous, and some have The Academy.
stuck to journalism and have not prospered, and some have become successful painters, and some have gone into politics, and have almost lost touch of the delightful literary life, and one, at least, has become a supreme authority on finance, although in no wise personally associated with companies or speculations of nay kind; but one thing in common I think I can positively affirm of all Black's early friends, and that is, they all remained his friends up to the very last.
We need not consult the biography of the author of "Alice in Wonderland" for evidence that he understood the way to win the affections of little girls like Alice herself. He began, as we read, by being serious and polite; his manner, as all who knew him will remember, was composed, even to a certain primness of demeanor, and the humor which lay under the surface was reserved for the hours of matured confidence, and never exhibited as a means of attraction in the early stages of acquaintance. "Grown-ups," and especially men, are at a great disadvantage in winning the affections of children, for the latter are critical over a wide range, and only appreciative over a narrow one; wherefore, those who seek their regard, and ultimately their affection, have ten chances of making a blunder which will be remembered, against one of scoring a success of the positive kind. The greatest mistake of all, perhaps, is to try to be amusing. An error in all cases where the speaker has not got the social measure of his company, it is nowhere more coldly received than by children, who have in perfection the art of being severely literal when they disapprove of a joke, are intensely sensitive to be
ing laughed at, easily interpret what they only half understand as "chaff," and only like people because they are "nice," and never because they are clever. They are, as a rule, shy of accepting services, partly because they do not like it to be thought that they cannot do things for themselves; and are vastly careful, if they do, that it shall not be looked upon as involving a claim on their regard. When they discover for themselves that a grownup person is not only friendly, but useful, foundations for solid affection are often laid. But the benefits conferred must come impersonally. And those who can carry this atmosphere of goodwill and service as part of themselves, and inseparable as the shadow under a tree, find that children unconsciously gather to them. Then, if they pass in the final examination which the closer relations render possible, they may be rewarded by warm, and even adoring, devotion, which lasts sometimes beyond the time "when stream and river meet." Though it often passes away after childhood, the affection of children for their elders outside their family circle has an advantage over that between maturer friends. Once won, it is easily kept. Little hearts,
once unlocked, are ever open to the magic key, and eager to see and to add spontaneously fresh merits to those who have engaged their love. They are perfectly true, and distance does not diminish affection. Surprise and joy will almost overwhelm them when the object of this uncovenanted affection suddenly reappears after absence. The signs and tokens of emotion are perfectly spontaneous, and often most prettily expressed, and the chances are in favor of this deep affection having for its object some grown-up friend, and not a child. "It's my beloved Uncle Tom!" exclaimed one little girl, her face quite flushed with emotion, as the happy object of this attachment (who will never see fifty again) suddenly presented himself to an adoring little niece.
Ladies have an advantage over the other sex in the general competition for the liking of children. They are gentler, they are more attractively dressed; and children are particularly sensitive to color and texture in dress, hating things harsh to the touch; and women are much easier to make companions of-at the start-and do not seem to be doing it "on purpose." Later, men friends have perhaps equal chances; for they are acknowledged to be almost the best children's story tellers, and this is a mighty power, potent over their minds and affections. For the really gifted child's story teller, master of his art, will provide all the material for their fancy to play with daily and improve upon. He will create a whole world, not necessarily a large world, but one which will satisfy all their powers of imagination, people it with other children, and animals, who do as he wishes, think as he desires, and are identified by his hearers with themselves and himself in a way which must create the closest bonds of mutual interests and responsibilities. These are not fleeting impres
Greater (in their world) than those who make the songs of a nation are those who provide the stories for their children friends. For these stories, once made, are never forgotten. They are repeated, by request, as often as the maker will provide them; the characters may develop, but must remain the same, for good or bad; and the best beloved children, animals, or others in these epics of the nursery may be as edifying and didactic as the teller likes to make them. If their united example tends to incline his hearers to regard the author as a person deserving of their affection, who can blame his artful rhetoric? Its object is to please, and by pleasing to gain its reward, the liking of the listeners.
The love of children won by elders who are neither parents nor close relations is a special compliment, because they cannot compete with children in that physical beauty which has so great an attraction for other children. This is the direct and spontaneous motive which induces love, almost at first sight, between young children themselves. Yet, except in the case of young and lovely women, we can hardly believe that children see much beauty in their female elders, or in men at all. The point of view from which they see us is against this supposition. Those who are blessed with good looks are too tall, in comparison with them, ever to be seen to advantage. To be looking up at giants, seeing their features foreshortened from below, the least becoming of all points for the human face, cannot give them a pleasing impression. Neither do we see the beauty of children to the best advantage as we look down on their faces foreshortened from above. That is why the beauty of pretty children always appears irresistible when they are in bed, and their faces seen as they lie on their pillows, or even in sleep. The astonishing beauty of some chil