Puslapio vaizdai
PDF
„ePub“

first time in the world, millions of people are making the adventure of faith, engrossed in the effect of immortality, the effect of God, not as a dogma of the next world, but as a practice for this one. There is nothing new about immortality, there is nothing new about God; there is everything new in the fact that we are at last willing to live as if we believed in both. This is the religion of the New Death.

If, even for a few generations, we act on our conjecture of immortality, the larger vision, the profounder basis of purpose will so advance human existence as to make this war worth its price. Our accepting the finality of dissolution as a law of nature has been a blindness obstructive to progress. The history of civilization is made up of two movements, understanding of natural laws and submission to them. We do not chain the lightning; we first ascertain its laws, and then make all our inventions comply with them. Civilization has been long retarded beIcause we have not ruled our lives in obedience to the laws of death. We have either fought them, or neglected them; we have never built either our private plans or our state edifice frankly in accordance with them. Civilization is first a spiritual advance, and only secondarily a material one. The liberation of the soul, so that it may be free to conceive and to accomplish, is the first condition of progress, but it is a condition that has been inextricably hampered by the dread of death. Our highest endeavor has been half surreptitious, based on the chance escape from the constant menace of interruption. We flattered ourselves for a century that science was furthering human development. We know to-day how far it has put it back. Yet for our future we have learned from science the invaluable fact that all new achievement is founded on a daring manipulation of

the unknown, on adventuring the application of laws but half divined.

Nature inexhaustibly renews her energies out of decay, in accordance with some sure discernment of what is indestructible. We shall advance our civilization when we learn to imitate the largeness of her gestures and their confidence in some imperishable plan. The more the loss of loved ones makes the world of to-day turn wistfully toward human survival, the more shall its mere possibility inspire our endeavor to bring all earth achievement into better connection with eternity.

The New Death, with its growing conviction of survival, makes men loath to leave the experiences of the present until fully tested, not because the present, as materialism taught, is all, but because it is only a part, and for that very reason a passage to be explored more thoughtfully because the dignity of continuance adds a new dignity to every step of our eternal pilgrimage. If we are immortal, then more beauty, not less, attaches to our mortal sojourn. The more we believe in an eternal sequence for the soul, the more respect we shall have for its physical experience, and the less lightly we shall fling away the mysterious privileges of the flesh. The life beyond the grave may at moments entrance our imagination, but it is not on this account over-seductive, but rather it exalts our earth life as being the complement of our after-death life; it may even be far more difficult, therefore more alluring to the daring. If we are deathless beings, then each hour on earth has a new sublimity, each moment may contain some development of our high destiny that it may be portentous to miss. The old view of our dying, which made us seem to ourselves puny and ephemeral beings tossed by chance into a brief consciousness, obstructed all our free growth

here and hereafter. It was essentially a maladjustment of living to dying which retarded all genuine progress. The New Death liberates us from our paralyzing puniness by its vista of each man's power to adapt his mortal course to its immortal promise.

As the new intimacy with death frees us from the fear of our own dissolution, transmuting dread into the stimulus of hope, so the New Death provides that adaptation of love to loss which transmutes bereavement into energy. Four years ago the activity of the world was conditioned on our power to forget death. Our dead lay coffined in our hearts. We hesitated to speak of them, as we should have hesitated to ask our friends to go with us to a grave

a visit that for ourselves

was either a duty or a solace, but might have hurt the sensibilities of others. Such conduct was to shun death, not to accept it. It was not death that killed our loved ones, it was our manner of concealing grief, as if it were a thing unclean and painful, abnormal as disease. To-day brave grief is a sign of the soul's health.

We used to hide away our loved ones from our conversation, denying them that earthly influence which is one branch of their bourgeoning. To-day, when millions of mothers grieve, it would be travesty to pretend that their lost sons are not their foremost thought. We cannot hide away so many dead. Their presence must enter our daily talk, must mingle with our daily tasks. At last we no longer condemn our dead to graves in a past that we keep private, but allow them their rightful place in our present. They have become so great an army that their earthly influence cannot be buried. We know not what dulling of our present vision the future may contain, but for a while this earth is going frankly to hold its homes open to its dead.

The New Death is that attitude of the soul which looks both forward and back back to the lives of the boys we have lost, forward to that immortal life they have entered. Between that past of ours, sacred to sorrow, and that eternal future sacred to expectation, lies for each of us an earth-space for endeavor illuminated equally by grief and by hope. The words and the deeds of our dead shed sure radiance upon our way. Our debt to the great Design is to weave into the pattern both their dream and our new reverence for our own destiny. To make each moment granted us pregnant with energy because of the light shed on the physical sojourn by their death past, and by our death to come, that is to bring into the new world a force to make death as creative as it used to be corruptive.

The New Death is the perception of our mortal end as the mere portal of an eternal progression, and the immediate result is the consecration of all living. As we step into the future we test our ground now for its spiritual foundations. If our faith is to lead us where our dead boys have gone, it must be a faith built, like theirs, of spirit-values. On the mere guess that death is a portal is founded the resilience of the hellrocked world to-day. It is a new illumination, a New Death, when dying can be the greatest inspiration of our everyday energy, the strongest impulse toward daily joy. If only the beauty of the vision the tragedy has revealed can be retained a little while! For this little while has death come into its own as the great enhancer and enricher of life.

This is the lesson that the slain splendor of youth has taught to a moribund world. To construct a new world on the faith that their words and their sacrifice attest is the sole expression permitted to our mourning; it is the sole monument beautiful enough to be their memorial.

'WHAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN'

AN EPISODE IN THE LIFE OF CHARLES LAMB

BY A. EDWARD NEWTON

---

I

ON a cold, raw day in December, 1882, there was laid to rest in Brompton Cemetery, in London, an old lady, an actress, whose name, Frances Maria Kelly, meant little to the generation of theatre-goers, then busy with the rising reputation of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. She was a very old lady when she died-ninety-two, to be exact; she had outlived her fame and her friends, and few followed her to her grave.

I have said that the day was cold and raw. I do not know certainly that it was so; I was not there; but for my sins I have passed many Decembers in London, and take the right, in Charles Lamb's phrase, to damn the weather at a venture.

Fanny Kelly, as she was called by the generations that knew her, came of a theatrical family, and most of her long life had been passed on the stage. She was only seven when she made her first appearance at Drury Lane, at which theatre she acted for some thirty-six years, when she retired; subsequently she established a school of dramatic art and gave from time to time what she termed 'Entertainments,' in which she sometimes took as many as fourteen different parts in a single evening. With her death the last link connecting us with the age of Johnson was broken. She had acted with John

[blocks in formation]

Nothing is more evanescent than the reputation of an actor. Every age lingers lovingly over the greatness of the actors of its own youth; thus it was that the theatre-goer of the eighteeneighties only yawned when told of the grace of Miss Kelly's Ophelia, of the charm of her Lydia Languish, or of her bewitchingness in 'breeches parts.' To some she was the old actress for whom the government was being solicited to do something; a few thought of her as the old maiden lady who was obsessed with the idea that Charles Lamb had once made her an offer of marriage.

It was well known that, half a century before, Lamb had been one of her greatest admirers. Every reader of his dramatic criticisms and his letters knew that; they knew, too, that in one of his daintiest essays, perhaps the most exquisite essay in the language, 'Dream Children, A Reverie,' Lamb, speaking apparently more autobiographically than usual even for him,

[blocks in formation]

years, in hope sometimes, sometimes in despair, yet persisting ever, I courted the fair Alice W-n; and, as much as children could understand, I explained to them what coyness, and difficulty, and denial meant to maidens when suddenly, turning to Alice, the soul of the first Alice looked out at her eyes with such a reality of re-presentment, that I became in doubt which of them stood there before me, or whose that bright hair was; and while I stood gazing, both the children gradually grew fainter to my view, receding and still receding, till nothing at last but two mournful features were seen in the uttermost distance, which, without speech, strangely impressed upon me the effects of speech: "We are not of Alice, nor of thee, nor are we children at all. The children of Alice call Bartrum father. We are nothing; less than nothing, and dreams. We are only what might have been."

I am quoting, not from the printed text, but from the original manuscript, which is my most cherished literary possession; and this lovely peroration, if such it may be called, is the only part of the essay which has been much interlineated or recast. It appears to have occasioned Lamb considerable difficulty; there was obviously some searching for the right word; a part of it, indeed, was entirely rewritten.

The coyness, the difficulty, and the denial of Alice: was it not immortally written into the record by Lamb himself? Miss Kelly's rejection of an offer of marriage from him must be a figment of the imagination of an old lady, who, as her years approached a century, had her dream-children, toochildren who called Lamb father.

There the matter rested. Fanny Kelly was by way of being forgotten: all the facts of Lamb's life were known, apparently, and he had lain in a curiously neglected grave in Edmonton

Churchyard for seventy years. Innumerable sketches and lives and memorials of him, 'final' and otherwise, had been written and read. His lettersnot complete, perhaps, but volumes of them had been published and read by the constantly increasing number of his admirers, and no one suspected that Lamb had had a serious love-affairthe world accepting without reserve the statement of one of his biographers that 'Lamb at the bidding of duty remained single, wedding himself to the sad fortunes of his sister.'

Then, quite unexpectedly, in 1903, John Hollingshead, the former manager of the Gaiety Theatre, discovered and published two letters of Charles Lamb written on the same day, July 20, 1819. One, a long letter in Lamb's most serious vein, in which he formally offers his hand, and in a way his sister's, to Miss Kelly, and the other a whimsical, elfish letter, in which he tries to disguise the fact that in her refusal of him he has received a hard blow.

By reason of this important discovery, every line that Lamb had written in regard to Fanny Kelly was read with new interest, and an admirable biography of him by his latest and most sympathetic critic, Edward Verrall Lucas, appearing shortly afterwards, was carefully studied to see what, if any, further light could be thrown upon this interesting subject. But it appears that the whole story has been told in the letters, and students of Lamb were thrown back upon the already published references.

In the Works of Lamb, published in 1818, Lamb had addressed to Miss Kelly a sonnet:

You are not, Kelly, of the common strain,
That stoop their pride and female honor down
To please that many-headed beast, the town,
And vend their lavish smiles and tricks for gain;
By fortune thrown amid the actor's train,
You keep your native dignity of thought;
The plaudits that attend you come unsought,

As tributes due unto your natural vein.
Your tears have passion in them, and a grace
Of genuine freshness, which our hearts avow;
Your smiles are winds whose ways we cannot
trace,

That vanish and return we know not how-
And please the better from a pensive face,
And thoughtful eye, and a reflecting brow.
And early in the following year he had
printed in a provincial journal an ap-
preciation of her acting, comparing her,
not unfavorably, with Mrs. Jordan,
who, in her day, then over, is said to
have had no rival in comedy parts.

Lamb's earliest reference to Miss Kelly, however, appears to be in a letter to the Wordsworths, in which he says that he can keep the accounts of his office, comparing sum with sum, writing 'Paid' against one and 'Unpaid' against t'other (this was long before the days of scientific bookkeeping and much-vaunted efficiency), and still reserve a corner of his mind for the memory of some passage from a book, or 'the gleam of Fanny Kelly's divine plain face.' This is an always quoted reference and seems correctly to describe the lady, who is spoken of by others as an unaffected, sensible, clearheaded, warm-hearted woman, plain but engaging, with none of the vanities or arrogance of the actress about her. It will be recalled that Lamb had no love for blue-stocking women, and speaking of one, said, 'If she belonged to me I would lock her up and feed her on bread and water till she left off writing poetry. A female poet, or female author of any kind, ranks below an actress, I think.' This shortest way with minor poets has, perhaps, much to recommend it.

It was Lamb's whim in his essays to be frequently misleading, setting his signals at full speed ahead when they should have been set at danger, or, at least, at caution. Thus in his charming essay 'Barbara S' (how unconsciously one invariably uses this adjec

tive in speaking of anything Lamb wrote), after telling the story of a poor little stage waif, receiving by mistake a whole sovereign instead of the half a one justly due for a week's pay, and how she was tempted to keep it, but did not, he adds, "I had the anecdote from the mouth of the late Mrs. Crawford." Here seemed to be plain sailing, and grave editors pointed out who Mrs. Crawford was: they told her maiden name, and for good measure threw in the names of her several husbands. But Lamb, in a letter to Bernard Barton in 1825, speaking of these essays, said, "Tell me how you like "Barbara S" I never saw Mrs. Crawford in my life, nevertheless 't is all true of somebody.' And some years later, not long before he died, to another correspondent he wrote, 'As Miss Kelly is just now in notoriety,' she was then giving an entertainment called 'Dramatic Recollections' at the Strand Theatre, 'it may amuse you to know that "Barbara S-" is all of it true of her, being all communicated to me from her own mouth. Can we not contrive to make up a party to see her?'

There is another reference to Miss Kelly, which, in the light of our subsequent knowledge, is as dainty a suggestion of marriage with her as can be found in the annals of courtship. It appeared in The Examiner just a fortnight before Lamb's proposal, which was shortly to follow. In a criticism of her acting as Rachel in The Jovial Crew, now forgotten, Lamb was, he says, interrupted in the enjoyment of the play by a stranger who sat beside him remarking of Miss Kelly, 'What a lass that were to go a gypsying through the world with!' Knowing how frequently Lamb addressed Elia, his other self, and Elia, Lamb, may we not suppose that on this occasion the voice of the stranger was the voice of Elia? Was it unlikely that Miss Kelly, who would

« AnkstesnisTęsti »