Chapter Eight.

Study and Idleness.

“Then what golden hours were for us,
    While we sate together there!
How the white vests of the chorus
    Seemed to wave up a live air.
How the cothurns trod majestic,
    Down the deep iambic lines,
And the rolling anapaestic
    Curled like vapour over shrines!”
E Barrett Browning.

The incentives which lead young men to work are as various as the influences which tend to make them idle. One toils on, however hopelessly, from a sense of duty, from a desire to please his parents, and satisfy the requirements of the place; another because he has been well trained into habits of work, and has a notion of educating the mind; a third because he has set his heart on a fellowship; a fourth, because he is intensely ambitious, and looks on a good degree as the stepping-stone to literary or political honours. The fewest perhaps pursue learning for her own sake, and study out of a simple eagerness to know what may be known, as the best means of cultivating their intellectual powers for the attainment of at least a personal solution of those great problems, the existence of which they have already begun to realise. But of this rare class was Julian Home. He studied with an ardour and a passion, before which difficulties vanished, and in consequence of which, he seemed to progress not the less surely, because it was with great strides. For the first time in his life, Julian found himself entirely alone in the great wide realm of literature—alone, to wander at his own will, almost without a guide. And joyously did that brave young spirit pursue its way—now resting in some fragrant glen, and by some fountain mirror, where the boughs which bent over him were bright with blossom, and rich with fruit—now plunging into some deep thicket, where at every step he had to push aside the heavy branches and tangled weeds—and now climbing with toilful progress some steep and rocky hill, on whose summit, hardly attained, he could rest at last, and gaze back over perils surmounted, and precipices passed, and mark the thunder rolling over the valleys, or gaze on kingdoms full of peace and beauty, slumbering in the broad sunshine beneath his feet.

Julian read for the sake of knowledge, and because he intensely enjoyed the great authors, whose thoughts he studied. He had read parts of Homer, parts of Thucydides, parts of Tacitus, parts of the tragedians, at school, but now he had it in his power to study a great author entire, and as a whole. Never before did he fully appreciate the “thunderous lilt” of Greek epic, the touching and voluptuous tenderness of Latin elegy, the regal pomp of history, the gorgeous and philosophic mystery of the old dramatic fables. Never before had he learnt to gaze on “the bright countenance of truth, in the mild and dewy air of delightful studies.” Those who decry classical education, do so from inexperience of its real character and value, and can hardly conceive the sense of strength and freedom which a young and ingenuous intellect acquires in all literature, and in all thought, by the laborious and successful endeavour to enter into that noble heritage which has been left us by the wisdom of bygone generations. Those hours were the happiest of Julian’s life; often would he be beguiled by his studies into the “wee small” hours of night; and in the grand old company of eloquent men, and profound philosophers, he would forget everything in the sense of intellectual advance. Then first he began to understand Milton’s noble exclamation—

“How charming is divine philosophy!
Not harsh and rugged as dull fools suppose,
But musical as is Apollo’s lute,
And a perpetual feast of nectared sweets,
Where no crude surfeit reigns.”

He studied accurately, yet with appreciation; sometimes the two ways of study are not combined, and while one man will be content with a cold and barren estimate of ge’s and pon’s derived from wading through the unutterable tedium of interminable German notes, of which the last always contradicted all the rest; another will content himself with eviscerating the general meaning of a passage, without any attempt to feel the finer pulses of emotion, or discriminate the nicer shades of thought. Eschewing commentators as much as he could, Julian would first carefully go over a long passage, solely with a view to the clear comprehension of the author’s language, and would then re-read the whole for the purpose of enjoying and appreciating the thoughts which the words enshrined; and finally, when he had finished a book or a poem, would run through it again as a whole, with all the glow and enthusiasm of a perfect comprehension.

Sometimes Kennedy, or Owen, or Lord De Vayne, would read with him. This was always in lighter and easier authors, read chiefly for practice, and for the sake of the poetry or the story, which lent them their attraction. It was necessary to pursue in solitude all the severer paths of study; but he found these evenings, spent at once in society and yet over books, full both of profit and enjoyment. Lillyston, although not a first-rate classic, often formed one of the party; Owen and Julian contributed the requisite scholarship and the accurate knowledge, while Lillyston and De Vayne would often throw out some literary illustration or historical parallel, and Kennedy gave life and brightness to them all, by the flow and sparkle of his gaiety and wit. But it must be admitted that Kennedy was the least studious element in the party, and was too often the cause of digressions, and conversations which led them to abandon altogether the immediate object of their evening’s work.

Kennedy had a tendency to idleness, which was developed by the freedom with which he plunged into society of all kinds. His company was so agreeable, and his bright young face was so happy an addition to all parties, that he was in a round of constant engagements—breakfast parties, wines, supper parties, and dinners—that encroached far too much on the hours of work. At school the perpetual examinations kept alive an emulous spirit, which counteracted his fondness for mental vagrancy; but at college the examinations—at least those of any importance—are few and far between; and he always flattered himself that he meant soon to make up for lost time, for three years looks an immense period to a young man at the entrance of his university career. It was nearly as necessary, (even in a pecuniary point of view), for him as for Julian to make the best use of his time; for although he was an only son, he was not destined to inherit a fortune sufficient for his support.

“Just look at these cards,” he said to Julian one day; “there is not one of them which hasn’t an invitation scribbled on it. These engagements really leave one no time for work. What a bore it is! How do you manage to escape them?”

“Well—first, I haven’t such a large acquaintance as you; that makes a great deal of difference. But, besides, I make a point of leaving breakfast parties at ten, and wines at chapel-time—so that I really don’t find them any serious hindrance. No hindrance, I mean, in comparison with the delight and profit of the society itself.”

“I wish I could make the same resolution,” said Kennedy; “but the fact is, I find company so thoroughly amusing, that I’m always tempted to stay.”

“But why not decline sometimes?”

“I don’t know—it looks uncivil. Here, which of these shall I cut?” he said, tossing three or four notes and cards to Julian.

“This for one,” said Julian, as he read the first:—

“Dear Kennedy—Come to supper and cards at ten. Bruce wants to be introduced to you. Yours,

“‘C Brogten.’”

“Yes, I think I shall. I don’t like that fellow Brogten, who is always thrusting himself in my way,” said Kennedy. “Heigh ho!” and Kennedy leant his head on his arm, and fell into a reverie, thinking that after all his three years at college might be over almost before he was aware of how much time he lost.

“I hope you don’t play cards much,” said Julian.

“Why? I hear Hazlet has been denouncing them in hall with unctuous fervour, and I do think it was that which led me to join in a game which was instantly proposed by some of the men who sat near.”

“I don’t say that there’s anything diabolical,” said Julian, smiling, “in paint and pasteboard, or that I should have the least objection to play them myself if I wanted amusement, but I think them—except very occasionally, and in moderation—a waste of time; and if you play for money I don’t think it does you any good.”

“Well, I’ve never played for money yet. By the bye, do you know Bruce? He has the character and manner of a very gentlemanly fellow.”

“Yes, I know him,” said Julian, who made a point of holding his tongue about a man when he had nothing favourable to say.

“Oh, ay, I forgot; of course; he’s a Hartonian. But didn’t you think him gentlemanly?”

“He has an easy manner, and is accustomed to good society, which is usually all that is intended by the word,” said Julian.

“I think I must go just this one evening. I like to see a variety of men; one learns something from it.”

Kennedy went. The supper took place in Brogten’s rooms, and the party then adjourned to Bruce’s, where they immediately began a game at whist for half-a-crown points, and then “unlimited loo.” Kennedy was induced to play “just to see what it was like.” As the game proceeded he became more and more excited; the others were accustomed to the thing, and concealed their eagerness; but Kennedy, who was younger and more inexperienced than any of them, threw himself into the game, and drank heedlessly of the wine that freely circulated. Surely if guardian spirits attend the footsteps of youth, one angel must have wept that evening “tears such as angels weep” to see him with his flushed face and sparkling eyes, eagerly seizing the sums he won, or, with clenched hand and contracted brow, anxiously awaiting the result of some adverse turn in the chances of the game. I remember once to have accidentally entered a scene like this in going to borrow something from a neighbour’s room; and I shall never forget the almost tiger-like eagerness and haggard anxiety depicted on the countenances of the men who were playing for sums far too extravagant for an undergraduate’s purse.

How Kennedy got home he never knew, but next morning he awoke headachy and feverish, and the first thing he saw on his table was a slip of paper on which was written, “Kennedy admonished by the senior Dean for being out after twelve o’clock.” The notice annoyed and ashamed him. He lay in bed till late, was absent from lecture, and got up to an unrelished breakfast, at which he was disturbed by the entrance of Bruce, to congratulate him on his winnings of the evening before.

While Bruce was talking to him, Lillyston also strolled in on his way from lecture to ask what had kept Kennedy away. He was surprised to see the pale and weary look on his face, and catching sight of Bruce seated in the armchair by the fire, he merely made some commonplace remarks and left the room. But he met Julian in the court, and told him that Kennedy didn’t seem to be well.

“I’m not surprised,” said Julian; “he supped with Brogten, and then went to play cards with Bruce, and I hear that Bruce’s card parties are not very steady proceedings.”

“Can’t we manage to keep him out of that set, Julian? It will be the ruin of his reading.”

“Ay, and worse, Hugh. But what can one say? It will hardly do to read homilies to one’s fellow undergraduates.”

“You might at least give him a hint.”

“I will. I suppose he’ll come and do some Euripides to-night.”

He did come, and when they had read some three hundred lines, and the rest were separating, he proposed to Julian a turn in the great court.

The stars were crowding in their bright myriads, and the clear silvery moonlight bathed the court, except where the hall and chapel flung fantastic and mysterious shadows across the green smooth-mown lawns of the quadrangle. The soft light, the cool exhilarating night air were provocative of thought, and they walked up and down for a time in silence.

Many thoughts were evidently working in Kennedy’s mind, and they did not all seem to be bright or beautiful as the thoughts of youth should be. Julian’s brain was busy, too; and as they paced up and down, arm in arm, the many-coloured images of hope and fancy were flitting thick and fast across his vision. He was thinking of his own future and of Kennedy’s, whom he was beginning to love as a brother, and for whose moral weakness he sometimes feared.

“Julian,” said Kennedy, suddenly breaking the silence; “were you ever seized by an uncontrollable, unaccountable, irresistible presentiment of coming evil,—a feeling as if a sudden gulf of blackness and horror yawned before you—a dreadful something haunting you, you knew not what, but only knew that it was there?”

“I have had presentiments, certainly; though hardly of the kind you describe.”

“Well, Julian, I have such a presentiment now, overshadowing me with the sense of guilt, of which I was never guilty; as though it were the shadow of some crime committed in a previous state of existence, forgotten yet unforgotten, incurred yet unavenged.”

“Probably the mere result of a headache this morning, and the night air now,” said Julian, smiling at the energetic description, yet pained by the intensity of Kennedy’s tone of voice.

“Hush, Julian! I hate all that stupid materialism. Depend upon it, some evil thing is over me. I wonder whether crimes of the future can throw their crimson shadow back over the past. My life, thank God, has been an innocent one, yet now I feel like the guiltiest thing alive.”

“One oughtn’t to yield to such feelings, or to be the victim of a heated imagination, Kennedy. In my own case at least, half the feelings I have fancied to be presentiments have turned out false in the end—presentiments, I mean, which have been suggested, as perhaps this has, by passing circumstances.”

“God grant this may be false,” said Kennedy, “but something makes me feel uneasy.”

“It will be a lying prophet, if you so determine, Kennedy. The only enemy who has real power to hurt us is ourselves. Why should you be agitated by an idle forecast of uncertain calamity? Be brave, and honest, and pure, and God will be with you.”

“Don’t be surprised,” continued Julian, “if you’ve heard me say the same words before; they were my father’s dying bequest to his eldest son.”

“Be brave, and honest, and pure—” repeated Kennedy; “yes, you must be right, Julian. Look what a glorious sky, and what numberless ‘patines of bright gold.’”

Julian looked up, and at that moment a meteor shot across the heaven, plunging as though from the galaxy into the darkness, and after the white and dazzling lustre of the trail had disappeared, seeming to leave behind the glory of it a deeper gloom. It gave too true a type of many a young man’s destiny.

Kennedy said nothing, but although it is not the Camford custom to shake hands, he shook Julian’s hand that night with one of those warm and loving grasps, which are not soon forgotten. And each walked slowly back to his own room.

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