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beginning, the acquaintance remained superficial until 1873, when, I hardly know how, it ripened suddenly into au intimate friendship. From that time, until he left London about 1878, I saw Swinburne very frequently indeed, and for several years later than that our intercourse continued to be close. These relations were never interrupted, except by his increasing deafness and general disinclination to leave home. I would, then, say that the memories I venture to bring forward deal mainly with the years from 1874 to 1880, but extend a little before and after that date.


The physical conditions which accompany and affect what we call genius are obscure, and have hitherto attracted little but empirical notice. It is impossible not to see that the absolutely normal man or woman, as we describe normality, is very rarely indeed an inventor, or a seer, or even a person of remarkable mental energy. The bulk of what are called entirely "healthy" people add nothing to the sum of human achievement, and it is not the average navvy who makes Darwin, nor the typical daughter of the plough who develops into an Elizabeth Barrett Browning. There are probably few professional men who offer a more insidious attack upon all that in the past has made life variegated and interesting than the school of robust and old-fashioned physicians who theorize on eccentricity, on variations of the type, as necessarily evil and obviously to be stamped out, if possible, by the State. The more closely we study, with extremely slender resources of evidence, the lives of great men of imagination and action since the beginning of the world, the more clearly we ought to recognize that a reduction of all the types to one stolid uniformity of what is called "health" would have the effect of de

priving humanity of precisely those individuals who have added most to the beauty and variety of human existence.

This question is one which must, in the near future, attract the close and sympathetic attention of the medical specialist. At present, there seems to be an almost universal confusion between morbid aberration and wholesome abnormality. The presence of the latter amongst us is, indeed, scarcely recognized, and an unusual individuality is almost always treated as a subject either of disease or of affected oddity. When the physical conditions of men of the highest celebrity in the past are touched upon, it is usual to pass them over with indifference, or else to account for them as the results of disease. The peculiarities of Pascal, or of Pope, or of Michelangelo are either denied, or it is presumed that they were the result of purely morbid factors against which their genius, their rectitude, or their common sense more or less successfully contended. It is admitted that Tasso had a hypersensitive constitution, which cruelty tortured into melancholia, but it is taken for granted that he would have been a greater poet if he had taken plenty of outdoor exercise. Descartes was of a different opinion, for though his body was regarded as feeble and somewhat abnormal, he considered it a machine well suited to his own purposes, and thought the Cartesian philosophy would not have been improved, though the philosopher's digestion might, by his developing the thews of a ploughboy.

These reflections are natural in looking back upon the constitution of Swinburne, which I believe to have been one of the most extraordinary that has been observed in our time. It would be a pity if its characteristics should be obscured by caricature on the one hand or by false sentiment ou the other. In the days when I

watched him closely, I found myself constantly startled by the physical problem: What place has this singular being in the genus homo? It would easily be settled by the vague formula of "degeneration," but to a careful eye there was nothing in Swinburne of what is known as the debased or perverse type. The stigmata of the degenerate, such as we have been taught to note them, were entirely absent. Here were, to the outward and untechnical perception at least, no radical effects of disease, hereditary or acquired. He stood on a different physical footing from other men; he formed, as Cowley said of Pindar, "a vast species alone." If there had been a planet peopled by Swinburnes, he would have passed as an active, healthy, normal specimen of it. All that was extraordinary in him was not, apparently, the result of ill-health, but of individual and inborn peculiarity.

The world is familiar, from portraits and still better from caricatures, with his unique appearance. He was short, with shoulders that sloped more than a woman's, from which rose a long and slender neck, surmounted by an enormous head. The cranium was out of all proportion to the rest of the structure. His spine was rigid, and though he often bowed the heaviness of his head, lasso papavera collo, he seemed never to bend his back. Except in consequence of a certain physical weakness, which probably may, in more philosophical days, come to be accounted for and palliated-except when suffering from this external cause, he seemed immune from all the maladies that pursue mankind. He did not know fatigue; his agility and brightness were almost mechanical. I never heard him complain of a headache or of a toothache. He required very little sleep, and occasionally when I have parted from him in the evening after saying “Good-night,” he has sim

ply sat back in the deep sofa in his sitting-room, his little feet close together, his arms against his side, folded in his frock-coat like a grasshopper in its wing-covers, and fallen asleep, apparently for the night, before I could blow out the candles and steal forth from the door. I am speaking, of course, of early days; it was thus about 1875 that I closely observed him.

He was more a hypertrophied intelligence than a man. His vast brain seemed to weigh down and give solidity to a frame otherwise as light as thistledown, a body almost as immaterial as that of a fairy. In the streets he had the movements of a somnambulist, and often I have seen him passing like a ghost across the traffic of Holborn, or threading the pressure of carts eastward in Gray's Inn Road, without glancing to the left or the right, like something blown before a wind. The present writer then held a humble post at the British Museum, from which he was freed at four o'clock, and Swinburne liked to arrange to meet him half-way between that monument and his own lodgings. One of Swinburne's peculiarities was an extreme punctuality, and we seldom failed to meet on the deserted northern pavement of Great Coram Street. But although the meeting was of his own making, and the person to be met a friend seen every day, if I stood a couple of yards before him silent, he would endeavor to escape on one side and then on the other, giving a great shout of satisfaction when at length his eyes focussed on my face.

He was very fond of talking about his feats of swimming and riding as a boy, and no one has written about the former exercise with half so much felicity and ardor:

As one that ere a June day rise
Makes seaward for the dawn, and tries
The water with delighted limbs

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and that he was only a little older than (I think he said, not so old as) Shelley when he was drowned. He further recorded that in the state of the tide the fishing-boat which saved him could not return for some time, and that the sailors wrapped him in a sail and perched him on the deck, where, to their amazement, he recited the poems of Victor Hugo in a very loud voice, until they got back to Etretat. These incidents are, I think, not mentioned by Guy de Maupassant in his very picturesque account of the occurrence.

No physiologist who studied the physical condition of Swinburne could avoid observing the violent elevation of spirits to which he was constantly subject. The slightest emotional excitement, of anger, or pleasure, or admiration, sent him into a state which could scarcely be called anything but convulsive. He was like that little geyser in Iceland, which is always simmering, but which, if it is irritated by having pieces of turf thrown into it, instantly boils over and flings its menacing column at the sky. I was never able to persuade myself whether the extraordinary spasmodic action of the arms and legs which accompanied these paroxysms was the result of nature or habit. It was violent and it was longcontinued, but I never saw that it produced fatigue. It gradually subsided into a graceful and smiling calm, sometimes even into somnolence, out of which, however, a provocative remark would instantly call up again the surprising spasm of the geyser. Swinburne seemed to me to divide his hours between violent intellectual excitement and sheer immobility, mental and physical. He would sit for a long time together without stirring a limb, his eyes fixed in a sort of trance, and only his lips shifting and shivering a little, without a sound.

The conception of Swinburne, indeed, as incessantly flamboyant and

There is nothing to approach it elsewhere in literature. It was founded on experience in the surf of Northumberland, and Swinburne's courage and zest as a bather were superb. But I was assured by earlier companions that he made remarkably little way by swimming, and that his feats were mainly of floating, his little body tossing on the breakers like a cork. This was the cause of the accident which so nearly cost him his life, when he was bathing at Etretat in 1870. He was caught by the race of the tide under the Porte d'Amont, because of the weakness of his stroke. He was pursued, floating like a medusa with shining hair outspread, and was caught a long way out to sea, behind the Petite Porte, by a yachtsman who, oddly enough, happened to be Guy de Maupassant. I may record that, in describing this incident to me not long after it happened, Swinburne said that he reflected with satisfaction, when he made up his mind that he must be drowned, that he had just finally revised the proofs of Songs before Sunrise,

convulsive, is so common that it may be of value to note that he was, on the contrary, sometimes pathetically plain. tive and distressed. The following impression, written down next day (January 4th, 1878), reveals a Swinburne little imagined by the public, but frequently enough to be observed in those days by intimate friends. It describes a somewhat later period than that on which I have hitherto dwelt:

"Swinburne has become very much at home with us, and, knowing our eating-times, he drops in every fortnight or so to dinner, and stays through the evening. All this winter he has been noticeably worn and feeble, sometimes tottering like an old man, and glad to accept a hand to help him up and down stairs. I hear he is very violent between whiles, but he generally visits us during the exhaustion and depression which follow his fits of excitement, when he is tired of his loneliness at Great James Street, and seems to crave the comfort of home-life and the petting that we lavish on him. Last night he arrived about 5 p.m.; he was waiting to see me when I came back from the office. The maid had seen him into my study, brightened the fire and raised the lamp, but although she left him cosily seated under the light. I found him mournfully wandering, like a lost thing, on the staircase. We happened to be quite alone, and he stayed on for six hours. He was extremely gentle, bright, and sensible at dinner, full of gay talk about early memories, his recollections of Dickens, and odd anecdotes of old Oxford friends, Jowett, Stubbs, and the present Bishop of Ely [James Russell Woodford]. Directly dinner was over he insisted on seeing the baby, whom on these occasions he always kisses, and worships on his knees, and is very fantastic over. When he and I were alone, he closed up to the fire, his great head bowed, his knees held tight to

gether, and his finger-tips pressed to his chest, in what I call his 'penitential' attitude, and he began a long tale, plaintive and rather vague, about his loneliness, the sadness of his life, the suffering he experiences from the slanders of others. He said that George Eliot was hounding on her myrmidons to his destruction. I made out that this referred to some attack in a newspaper which he supposes, very groundlessly I expect, to be inspired by George Eliot. Swinburne said that a little while ago he found his intellectual energy succumbing under a morbid distress at his isolation, and that he had been obliged steadily to review before his conscience his imaginative life in order to prevent himself from sinking into despair. This is only a mood, to be sure; but if there be any people who think so ill of him, I only wish they could see him as we see him at these recuperative intervals. Whatever he may be elsewhere, in our household not a kinder, simpler, or more affectionate creature could be desired as a visitor. The only fault we find with him is that his little mournful ways and his fragility drag painfully upon our sympathy."

This, it will be admitted, is not the Swinburne of legend in the 'seventies, and that it is so different may be judged, I hope, my excuse for recording it. A very sensible further change came over him when he was attacked by deafness, an infirmity to which, I believe, most members of his family have been liable. I do not think that I noticed any hardness of hearing until 1880, when the affliction rapidly developed. He was, naturally, very much concerned at it, and in the summer of that year he said to a lady of my household, "If this gets worse I shall become wholly unfit to mix in any society where two or three are gathered together." It did get worse; it was constitutional and incurable, and for

the last quarter of a century of his life he was almost impervious to outward sound. All the more, therefore, was he dependent on the care of the devoted friend who thenceforward guarded him so tenderly.


The conversation of Swinburne, in the days of his youth and power, was very splendid in quality. No part of a great man disappears so completely as his table-talk, and to nothing is it more difficult afterwards to reconstruct an impression. Swinburne's conversation had, as was to be expected, some of the characteristics of his poetry. It was rapid, and yet not voluble; it was measured, ornate, and picturesque, and yet it was in a sense homely. It was much less stilted and involved than his prose writing. His extreme natural politeness was always apparent in his talk, unless, of course, some unfortunate contretemps should rouse a sudden ebullition, when he could be neither just nor kind. But, as a rule, his courtesy shone out of his blue-gray eyes and was lighted up by the halo of his cloud of orange hair as he waved it, gravely or waggishly, at the company. The ease with which finished and polished sentences flowed from him was a constant amazement to me. I noted (January, 1875) that somebody having been so unwise as to speak of the "laborious" versification of Catullus, Swinburne burst forth with a trumpetnote of scorn, and said, "Well, I can only tell you I should have called him the least laborious, and the most spontaneous, in his god-like and bird-like melody, of all the lyrists known to me except Sappho and Shelley; I should as soon call a lark's note 'labored' as Catullus'." This might have been said of Swinburne's amazing talk; it was a stream of song, no more labored than a lark's. Immediately after leaving him I

used sometimes, as well as I could, to note down a few of his sentences. It was not easy to retain much where all was so copious and rich, but a whole phrase or even colloquy would linger long in the memory. I think these brief reports may be trusted to give his exact words; nothing could recall his accent and the spontaneous crescendo effect of his enthusiasm. I quote from my note-books almost at random. This is in 1875, about some literary antagonist, but I have neglected to note whom:

"He had better be careful. If I am obliged" [very slowly] "to take the cudgel in my hand" [in rapid exultation] "the rafters of the hovel in which he skulks and sniggers shall ring with the loudest whacks ever administered in discipline or chastisement to a howling churl." All this poured forth, in towering high spirits, without a moment's pause to find a word.

Often Swinburne would put on the ironical stop, and, with a killing air of mock modesty, would say, "I don't know whether you can reasonably expect me to be very much weaker than a tame rabbit"; or, "Even milk would boil over twice to be treated in that way."

He was certainly, during the years in which I knew him well, at his best in 1875. Many of the finest things which I tried to capture belonged to that year. Here is an instance of his proud humility:

"It is always a thorn in my flesh, and a check to any satisfaction which I might feel in writing prose, to reflect that probably I have never written, nor shall ever write, one single page that Landor would have deigned to sign. Nothing of this sort, or indeed of any sort whatever, troubles me for a moment when writing verse, but this always does haunt me when I am at work on prose."

In 1875 he had become considerably


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