Our Garden of Peace is a Garden of Freedom—freedom of thought, freedom of converse. In it one may cultivate all the flora of illiteracy without rebuke, as well as the more delicate, but possibly less fragrant growths of literature, including those hybrids which I suppose must give great satisfaction to the cultivators. We assert our claim to talk about whatever we please: we will not submit to be told that anything is out of our reach as a subject: if we cannot reach the things that are so defined we can at least make an attempt to knock them down with a bamboo. Eventually we may even discourse of flowers; but if we do we certainly will not adopt the horticultural standard of worth, which is “of no/some commercial value.” A good many things well worthy of a strict avoidance in conversation possess great commercial value, and others that we hold very close to our hearts are of no more intrinsic value than a Victoria Cross. We have done and shall do our best, however, not to make use of the word culture, unless it be in connection with a disease. The lecturers on tropical diseases talk of their “cholera cultures” and their “yellow fever cultures” and their “malaria cultures but we know that there is a more malignant growth than any of these: it is spelt by its cultivators with the phonetic “K” and it has banished the word that begins with a “c” from the English language, unless, as I say, in referring to the development of a malady. That is where victory may be claimed by the vanquished: the beautiful word is banished for ever from the English literature in which it once occupied an exalted place.

It is because of the Freedom which we enjoy in this Garden of Peace of ours that I did not hesitate for a moment to quote Tennyson to Dorothy a few' days ago, when we were chatting about Poets' Gardens, from the “garden inclosed” of the Song of Solomon—the most beautiful ever depicted—to that of Maud. It requires some courage to quote Tennyson beyond the limits of our own fireside in these days. The days when he was constantly quoted now seem as the days of Noë, before the Flood—the flood of the formless which we are assured is poetry nowadays. It is called “The New School.” Some twenty-five or thirty years ago something straddled across our way through the world labelled “New Art.” Its lines were founded upon those of the crushed cockroach, and it may have contributed to the advance of the temperance movement; for its tendency was certainly to cause any inebriate who found a specimen watching him wickedly from the mouth of a vase of imitation pewter on the mantel-shelf in a drawingroom, or in the form of a pendant in sealing-wax enamel on the neck of a young woman, to pull himself together and sign anything in reason in the direction of abstaining.

The new poetry is the illiterary equivalent of the old “New Art.” It is flung in our faces with the effect of a promiscuous handful from the bargain counter of a draper's cheap sale—it is a whiz of odd lengths and queer colours, and has no form but plenty of flutter. Poetry may not be as a great critic said it was—form and form and nothing but form; but it certainly is not that amorphous stuff which is jerked into many pages just now. I have read pages of it in which the writers seem to have taken as a model of design one of the long dedications of the eighteenth century, or perhaps the “lettering” on the tombstone of the squire in a country church, or, most likely of all, the half column of “scare headings” in a Sunday newspaper in one of the Western States of America.

It may begin with a monosyllable, and be followed by an Alexandrine; then come a stuttering halfdozen unequal ribbon lengths, rather shop-soiled, and none of them riming; but suddenly we find the tenth line in rime with the initial monosyllable which you have forgotten. Then there may come three or four rimes and as many half-rimes—f-sharp instead of f—and then comes a bundle of prosaic lines with the mark of the scissors on their ragged endings: the ravellings are assumed to adorn the close as the fringes of long ago were supposed to give a high-class “finish” to the green rep upholstering of the drawing-room centre ottoman.

And yet alongside this sort of thing we pick up many thin volumes of verse crowded with beauty of thought, of imagination, of passion.

And then what do we find given to us every week in Punch and several of the illustrated papers? Poem after poem of the most perfect form in rhythm and rimes—faultless double rimes and triple and quadruple syllables all ringing far more true than any in Hudibras or the Ingoldsby Legends. Sir Owen Seaman's verses surpass anything in the English language for originality both in phrase and thought, and Adrian Ross has shown himself the equal of Gilbert in construction. The editor of Punch has been especially happy in his curry-combing of the German ex-Kaiser; we do not forget that it was his poem on the same personage, which appeared in The World after the celebrated telegram to Kruger, that gave him his sure footing among the élite of satirical humour.

“The Pots—

Dam silly,”

was surely the most finished sting that ever came from the tail of what I venture to call “vespa-verse.”

I remember how, when I came upon Barham's rime,—

“Because Mephistopheles

Had thrown in her face a whole cup of hot coffee-lees,”

I thought that the limits of the “triple-bob,” as I should like to call it, had been reached. Years afterwards I found myself in a fit of chuckling over Byron's

“Tell us ye husbands of wives intellectual,

Now tell us truly, have they not hen-pecked you all?”

After another lapse I found among the carillon of Calverley,—

“No, mine own, though early forced to leave you,

Still my heart was there where first we met;

In those 'Lodgings with an ample sea-view,'

Which were, forty years ago, 'To Let.'”

The Bab Ballads are full of whimsical rimes; but put all these that I have named together and you will find that they are easily outjingled by Sir Owen Seaman. The first “copy of verses” in Punch any week is a masterpiece in its way, and assuredly some of his brethren of Bouverie Street are not very far behind him in the merry dance in which he sets the pas.

A good many years ago—I think it was shortly after the capitulation of Paris—there was a correspondence in The Graphic about the English words for which no rime could be found. One was “silver,” the other “month.” It was, I think, Burnand who, contrived,—

“Argentum, we know, is the Latin for silver,

And the Latin for spring ever was and is still, ver.”

But then purists shook their heads and said that Latin was not English, and the challenge was for English rimes.

As for “month,” Mr. Swinburne did not hesitate to write a whole volume of exquisite poems to a child to bring in his rime for month: it was millionth but the metre was so handled by the master that it would have been impossible for even the most casual reader to make the word a dissyllable. In the same volume he found a rime for babe in “astrolabe.”

(With regard to my spelling of the word “rime,” I may here remark that I have done so for years. I was gratified to find my lead followed in the Cambridge History of English Literature.)

And all this weedy harvest of criticism and reminiscence has come through my quoting Tennyson without an apology! All that I really had to say was that there is no maker of verses in England to-day who has the same mastery of metre as Tennyson had. It is indeed because of the delicacy of his ear for words that so many readers are disposed to think his verse artificial. But there are people who think that all art is artificial. (This is a very imminent subject for consideration in a garden, and it has been considered by great authorities in at least two books, to which I may refer if I go so far as to write something about a garden in these pages.) All that I will say about the art, the artifice, the artfulness, or the artificiality of the pictures that Tennyson brings before my eyes through his mastery of his medium, is that I have always placed a higher value upon the meticulous than upon the slap-dash in every form of art. It was said that the late Duke of Cambridge could detect a speck of rust on a sabre quicker than any Commander-in-Chief that ever lived; but I do not therefore hold that he was a greater soldier than Marlborough. But if Marlborough could make the brightness of his sabres do the things that he meant them to do, his victories were all the more brilliant.

I dare say there are quite a number of people who think that Edmund Yates's doggerel about a brand of Champagne—it commences something like this, if my memory serves me:—

“Dining with Bulteen

Captain of Militia,

Ne'er was dinner seen

Soapier or fishyer———”

quite equal to the best that Calverley or Seaman ever wrote, because it has that slap-dash element about it that disregards correct rimes; but I am not among those critics. Tennyson does not usually paint an impressionist picture, though he can do so when he pleases; he is rather a pre-Raphaelite; but, however he works, he produces his picture and it is a picture. Talk of Art and Nature—there never was a poet who reproduced Nature with an art so consummate; there never was a poet who used his art so graphically. Of course I am now talking of Tennyson at his best, not of Tennyson of The May Queen, which is certainly deficient enough in art to please—-as it has pleased—the despisers of the meticulous, but of Tennyson in his lyrical mood—of the garden-song in Maud, of the echo-song in The Princess—-both diamonds, not in the rough, but cut into countless facets—Tennyson in The Passing of Arthur, and countless pages of the Idylls, Tennyson of the pictorial simplicity of Enoch Arden and the full brush of Ulysses, Tithonus, Lucretius, the battle glow of The Ballad of the Revenge, the muted trumpet-notes of The Defence of Lucknow.

And yet through all are those lowering lines which somehow he would insist on introducing in the wrong places with infinite pains! It was as if he took the trouble to help us up a high marble staircase to the cupola of a tower, and to throw open before our eyes a splendid landscape, only to trip us up when we are lost in wonder of it all, and send us headlong to the dead earth below.

It was when we were looking down a gorge of tropical splendour in the island of Dominica in the West Indies opening a wide mouth to the Caribbean, that the incomparable lines from Enoch Arden came upon me in the flash of the crimson-and-blue wings of a bird—one of the many lories, I think it was—that fled about the wild masses of the brake of hibiscus, and I said them to Dorothy. Under our eyes was a tropical garden on each side of the valley—a riot of colour—a tropical sunset laid at our feet in the tints of a thousand flowers down to where the countless palms of the gorge began to mingle with the yuccas that swayed over the sea-cliffs in the blue distance.

“The league-long roller thundering on the reef,

The moving whisper of huge trees that branch'd

And blossom'd in the zenith, or the sweep

Of some precipitous rivulet to the wave,

As down the shore he ranged, or all day long

Sat often in the seaward-gazing gorge,

A shipwreck'd sailor, waiting for a sail.

No sail from dav to day, but every day

The sunrise broken into scarlet shafts

Among the palms and ferns and precipices;

The blaze upon the waters to the east;

The blaze upon, his island overhead;

The blaze upon the waters to the west;

Then the great stars that globed themselves in Heaven,

The hollower-bellowing ocean, and again

The scarlet shafts of sunrise—but no sail.”

There was the most perfect picture of the tropical island.

Some months after we had returned to England I found the Enoch Arden volume lying on the door at Dorothy's feet. She was roseate with indignation as I entered the room. I paused for an explanation.

It came. She touched the book with her foot—it was a symbolic spurn—as much as any one with a conscience could give to a royal-blue tooled morocco binding.

“How could he do it?” she cried.

“Do what?”

“Those two lines at the end. Listen to this”—she picked up the book with a sort of indignant snatch:—

“'There came so loud a calling of the sea

That all the houses in the haven rang.

He woke, he rose, he spread his arms abroad

Crying with a loud voice, “A sail! a sail!

I am saved,” and so fell back and spoke no more.

So past the strong, heroic soul away.

And when they buried him the little port

Had seldom, seen a costlier funeral.'

“Now tell me if I don't do well to be angary,” cried Dorothy. “Those two lines—'a costlier funeral'! he should have given the items in the bill and said what was the name of the undertaker. Oh, why didn't you warn me off that awful conclusion? What should you say the bill came to? Oh, Alfred, Lord Tennyson!”

I shook my head sadly, of course.

“He does that sort of thing now and then,” I said sadly. “You remember the young lady whose 'light blue eyes' were 'tender over drowning dies'? and the 'oaths, insult, filth, and monstrous blasphemies.'”

“I do now, but they are not so bad as that about the costly funeral. Why does he do it—tell me that—put me wise?”

“I suppose we must all have our bit of fun now and again. Kean, when in the middle of his most rousing piece of declamation, used to turn from his spellbound audience and put out his tongue at one of the scene-shifters. If you want to be kept constantly at the highest level you must stick to Milton.”

There was a pause before Dorothy said,—

“I suppose so; and yet was there ever anything funnier than his description of the battle in heaven?”

“Funny? Majestic, you mean?” said I, deeply shocked.

“Well, majestically funny, if you wish. The idea of those 'ethereal virtues' throwing big stones at one another, and knowing all the time that it didn't matter whether they were hit or not—the gashes closed like the gashes we loved making with our spades in the stranded jelly-fish at low tide. But I suppose you will tell me that Milton must have his joke with the rest of them. Oh, I wonder if all poetry is not a fraud.”

That is how Tennyson did for himself by not knowing where to stop. I expect that what really happened was that when he had written:—

“So past the strong, heroic soul away,”

he found that there was still room for a couple of lines on the page and he could not bear to see the space wasted.

And it was not wasted either; for I remember talking to the late Dr. John Todhunter, himself a most accomplished poet and a scholarly critic, about the “costlier funeral” lines, and he defended them warmly.

And the satisfying of Dr. Todhunter must be regarded as counting for a good deal more in the balance against my poor Dorothy's disapproval.

Lest this chapter should appear aggressively digressive in a book that may be fancied to have some-thing to do with gardens, I may say that while Alfred, Lord Tennyson had a great love for observing the peculiarities of flower and plant growths, he must have cared precious little for the garden as the solace of one's declining years. He did not pant for it as the hart pants for the water-brooks. He never came to think of the hours spent out of a garden as wasted. He did not live in his garden, nor did he live for it. That is what amazes us in these days, nearly as much as the stories of the feats of Mr. Gladstone with the axe of the woodcutter. Not many of us would have the heart to stand by while a magnificent oak or sycamore is being cut down. We would shrink from such an incident as we should from an execution. But forty years ago the masses were ready to worship the executioner. They used to be admitted in crowds to Hawarden to watch the heroic old gentleman in his shirt-sleeves and with his braces hanging down, butchering a venerable elm in his park, and when the trunk crashed to the ground they cheered vociferously, and when he wiped the perspiration from his brow, they rushed forward to dip their handkerchiefs in the drops just as men and women tried to damp their handkerchiefs in the drippings of the axe of the headsman, who, in a stroke, slew a monarch and made a martyr, outside the Banqueting House in Whitehall.

And when the excursionists were cheering the hero of Hawarden, Thomas Hardy was writing The Woodlanders. Between Hardy and Hawarden there was certainly a great gulf fixed. I do not think that any poet ever wrote an elegy so affecting as the chapter on the slaying of the oak outside the house of the old man who died of the shock. But the scent of the woodland clings to the whole hook; I have read it once a year for more than a quarter of a century.

Tennyson never showed that he loved his garden as Mr. Hardy showed he loved his woodland. In the many beautiful lines suggesting his affection for his lawns and borders Tennyson makes a reader feel that his joy was purely Platonic—sometimes patronisingly Platonic. It is very far from approaching the passion of a lover for his mistress. One feels that he actually held that the garden was made for the poet not the poet for the garden, which, I need hardly say, we all hold to be a heresy. The union between the true garden-lover and the garden may be a mésalliance, but that is better than marriage de convenance.

But to return to the subject of Poets' Gardens, we agreed that the gardens of neither of the poet's dwelling-places were worth noticing; but they were miracles of design compared with that at the red brick villa where the white buses stopped at Putney—the house where the body of Algernon Charles Swinburne lay carefully embalmed by his friend, Theodore Watts-Dunton. Highly favoured visitors were occasionally admitted to inspect the result of the process by which the poet had his palpitations reduced to the discreet beats of the Putney metronome, and visitors shook their heads and said it was a marvellous reformation. So it was—a triumph of the science of embalming, not “with spices and savour of song,” but with the savourless salt of True Friendship. The reformed poet was now presentable, but he was no longer a live poet: the work of reformation had changed the man into a mummy—a most presentable mummy; and it was understood that the placid existence of a mummy is esteemed much more than the passionate rapture of an early morning lark, or of the nightingale that has a bad habit of staying out all night.

It is a most unhappy thing that the first operation of the professional embalmer is to extract the brains of his subject, and this was done through the medium of a quill—a very suitable implement in the case of a writer: he has begun the process himself long before he is stretched on the table of the operator. Almost equally important it is that the subject should be thoroughly dried. Mr. Swinburne's true friend knew his business: he kept him perpetually dry and with his brain atrophied.

The last time I saw the poet he was on view under the desiccating influence of a biscuit factory. He looked very miserable, and I know that I felt very miserable observing the triumph of the Watts-Dunton treatment, and remembering the day when the glory and glow of Songs before Sunrise enwrapt me until I felt that the whole world would awaken when such a poet set the trumpet to his lips to blow!

Mr. Watts-Dunton played the part of Vivien to that merle Merlin, and all the forest echoed “Fool!”

But it was really a wonderful reformation that he brought about.

I looked into the garden at that Putney reformatory many times. It was one of the genteelest places I ever saw and so handy for the buses. It was called, by one of those flashes of inspiration not unknown in the suburbs, “The Pines.” It might easily have been “The Cedars” or “The Hollies,” or even “Laburnum Villa.”

The poet was carefully shielded by his true friend. Few visitors were allowed to see him. The more pushing were, however, met half-way. They were permitted as a treat to handle the knob of Mr. Swinburne's walking-stick.

Was it, I wonder, a Transatlantic visitor who picked up from the linoleum of the hall beside the veneered mahogany hat-stand, and the cast-iron umbrella-holder, a scrap of paper in the poet's handwriting with the stanza of a projected lyric?—

“I am of dust and of dryness;

I am weary of dryness and dust!

But for my constitutional shyness

I'd go on a bust.”

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