MEMORABLE era is it in the life of a young Englishman of high intellect and
culture when he first enters the gates
Wandering through modem church and ancient temple, witnessing the ceremonies of the one, recalling the rites of the other, and comparing the fundamental doctrines of both, Maynard found himself exulting in the reflection that the grand old systems of India, Egypt, Greece, and Rome are not dead, but through their alliance with the old Hebraism still survive, like parents in their offspring, transmitting the same lineaments and characteristics from the earliest historical periods to the present.
‘All alike, all alike,’ he muttered to himself, when watching one day a grand religious ceremonial in St. Peter’s, with pope,
and priests officiating, and the multitude adoring around. ‘Mankind is
everywhere divided into two classes, the priesthood and the people. Persuasion
may be better than force, but here the rulers have both. It was a great idea to
govern men by means of their ignorance. Ignorance, Veneration, Fear, a whole
trinity of fetters ready made to the rulers’ hands, and warranted to outlast the
ages. Luther but half did his work. He knew more than he dared to say. Had his
successors but gone back upon their basis of operations, instead of attempting
to advance beyond it, mankind would have been spared the waste of centuries.
The bent of James Maynard’s mind and the character of his philosophy being indicated by these reflections, it is little wonder that he soon withdrew alike from church and temple, and devoted himself to the galleries, where the contemplation of Greek art in its ineffable calmness soon won him to be its exclusive votary. Deeply imbued with the Greek philosophy, he possessed much of the Greek unconsciousness. Yet his analysis of things external to himself was at once sympathetically searching, and pitilessly keen as that of an arch-inquisitor.
The tenderer mood soon became that in which he viewed all things in
Margaret Waring, whom he found one day sitting in the
‘A human god, a human god,’ murmured Margaret, more to herself than to her companion.
‘And, pray, what else would you have’ asked Maynard rather sharply, turning to the speaker without having before observed her.
‘Mr. Maynard!’ exclaimed Margaret in a voice of delight. ‘I am so glad, and you can explain so much to me. I half fancied you would have come last winter.’
‘And have you been in
‘Ah, I think our positions will be the same as of old. I can tell you where everything is, but I want the key to open them when I get to them.’
‘And are you and the dame taking care of each other in
‘Oh yes, it is so delightfully free. One has only to be an artist, or pretend to be one, to have all the privilege of age or manhood.’
‘Then the vacancy made by poor Lady Prim’s death did not require filling?’
‘No; nurse goes everywhere with me. But now you are come she will be only too
well pleased to stay at home, if you are serious in wishing me to be your guide
They were both standing before the Apollo while thus conversing, Margaret self-possessed and quite unaware that under the fostering sun of Italy she had made considerable progress in growing into a tall and lovely young woman during the interval since they had last met, and glad with a sister’s gladness at seeing her friend and patron once more; and James at first delighted at the improvement which had taken place in her, and at the heartiness of her greeting, and then half disappointed at the absence of all shyness or embarrassment in her manner.
‘It is to be service for service then?’ he answered; ‘you
will guide me to the exteriors of things, and I am to do my best to lead you to their interior significance. Your feminine instinct is very apt to render such help superfluous, but I shall not decline the office. Tell me, what did you mean by your exclamation of regret just now?’
‘I did not mean to be overheard,’ replied Margaret, turning crimson at the idea of having revealed her secret thought; but I was wondering whether the ancients ever longed for the knowledge of some Being who was superior to man’s weakness and yet could sympathise with man in his weakness.’
‘And what answer did Apollo vouchsafe?’
‘The scornful triumph of his face tells me that he is but a man, self-centred, and subject to comparisons.’
‘Yet surely a divine man in his immeasurable superiority,’ returned Maynard. Were the human element absent, how could the divine be represented at all? Unhuman, it would be merely animal, or an unintelligible monstrosity and representative of nothing to our imagination. Were the capacity for love and for hate absent from the expression of that face, how could he sympathise with man in the strongest feelings? Is not the scorn of evil there written, mingled with the triumph of its overthrow?’
‘Not for me,’ said Margaret firmly. ‘His love is self-love. He can triumph in the easy victory of the destruction he has dealt, but not in winning his enemies to be his friends. His is the love that a slight would turn into hate, for, if he loves, it is for his own sake. His devotion is to his own glory. A beautiful self-seeker is Apollo.’
Thus thought Margaret aloud, forgetting, in the intensity of her abstraction, the existence of all hearers. Maynard recalled her to herself by exclaiming,
‘Your heart has divined the truth. Devotion, self-sacrifice for the good of others – in vain you seek these in the Olympian god. To you is vouchsafed the later revelation, for you have discerned its significance. You have made Apollo testify to the superior divinity of Humanity. Henceforth you shall guide me.’
‘Nay,’ said Margaret, smiling and rising from the bench on which they had been seated during the discussion. ‘I have been here many times, but never, until you came, did I see that the Apollo is a symbol of an older and inferior faith, a faith which recognised only the beauty of being.’
‘Which, of all the marbles, is your favourite here,’ asked Maynard, as they passed into the court of the Laocöon.
‘I scarcely know. They seem to vary with my mood. Sometimes I am so riveted by the agony of this poor father, that I can neither stay nor tear myself away.’
‘Why of the father only? the boys are terrified enough, surely.’
‘Yes but only on their own account. He suffers for them even more than for himself.’
‘You are right,’ said Maynard. ‘Accustomed to his protection, they do not yet despair, for he is with them. They have not yet learnt the powerlessness to aid them, the consciousness of which gives all its intensity to his agony. Your insight is correct again. His greatest suffering is for others. What anguish can be bitterer than that of the father who feels that they must look to him in vain; they, the children, to succour whom has ever been his supreme delight. Thus, the most human is the most divine. The Greeks knew it, and made their men better than their deities.’
But Margaret seemed to hear him not, so intent was she on the old man’s countenance. At last she suddenly turned away, saying, –
‘I cannot bear it, let us go.’
‘Entering the cabinet tenanted by Canova’s ‘Perseus’ and ‘Pugilists,’ Maynard inquired of Margaret why she did not follow.
‘I hate that court,’ she said, ‘for it is to me the abode of the spirit of evil. I always shudder as I pass it.’
‘Why, is not this Perseus fair and harmless enough?’
‘A harmless hero, truly,’ she returned, with a tinge of sarcasm in her tone, which indicated to James a side of her nature the existence of which he had not before suspected. ‘Canova has made evil strong, and goodness feeble and foolish.’
‘That crouching Pugilist is certainly one of the most horrid creatures ever done into marble,’ said James, ‘but the other is a noble young fellow enough, and worthy a better fate; and – yes, yes, you are quite right – that is not the Perseus who cut off the Medusa’s head. He is a youth posing for the part; a petit maître and no hero.’
‘Oh, thank you,’ cried Margaret, ‘that is exactly what I wanted.’
Thus they continued conversing and discussing the marvels of art around them, indulging in that sort of criticism which is
often doubly interesting in that it is as much an index to the character of the critic as to that of the thing criticised, until the dame came to remind Margaret that it was time to go home for her painting lesson. Maynard accompanied her to the foot of their staircase, and made an appointment for the next day. They talked as they went of Margaret’s pursuits, and agreed in placing Sculpture above Painting, inasmuch as form is more than colour and she expressed her regret that the time, labour, and numerous appliances requisite for sculpture made it impossible for her to practise it. Feeling the artist-soul within her striving for expression, Margaret, as doubtless many others have done, longed for such facilities as would be afforded by the establishment of a general studio whither she could repair to execute her own work, or where she could have her models of clay transferred to imperishable marble by hands more fitted for the toil.
‘Thus only,’ she said to Maynard, ‘can the fair visions of many an artist, rich to imagine, but feeble to execute, ever find an opportunity of expression. If artists would but co-operate in that way, how much richer in eternal forms of beauty the world would be.’
For want of such aid she devoted herself to painting and music and never was she so perfectly happy as when joining in the devotional harmonies of the nuns in the convent chapel which adjoined her lodging.
It was in this way that James and Margaret met, and talked, and beheld, and he unconsciously fell in with her mood, and attuned his own stores of scholastic knowledge and original reflection to her deeply devotional and pure artistic spirit. In presence of the calm and holy life she followed in the pursuit and worship of the highest beauty, he forgot for a time his waywardness and fitfulness. With her by his side he paused to examine reverently objects which he had before deemed but worthy of a hasty glance, and, not taking in all their significance, had given up as exaggerated in their renown. Thus, entering St. Peter’s one day, he remarked that he was disappointed in its size.
‘Come and sit under the dome, and do not think about it,’ said Margaret to him, that is the only way to realise its vastness. The sense will steal gradually upon you. One seems to imbibe it as the flowers do the light, without effort on one’s own part.’
‘The flowers, by their subtle chemistry, turn the light into colour,’ he said, laughing, ‘much as you do who excel so in colour in your painting, and yet wear only black and white yourself. You see, I have been talking to your master, and learnt your good and bad points. He never had so promising a pupil, he tells me, for colour; but he would almost despair of your drawing correctly were you of a less painstaking disposition. And yet you agree with me in ranking Form above Colour.’
‘Perhaps it is because I feel my own deficiency,’ she answered; ‘yet I always find that I prefer an engraving or photograph of a good painting to the painting itself.’
‘I think I know the reason of that,’ said Maynard. ‘It is because the drawing is better than the colouring, even with the best masters. I, too, prefer a picture in light and shade to a coloured one, possibly because the imagination supplies the tints better than the artist can do it. Your master says that your sense of harmony in colour, is one of the finest he ever knew. This may account for your being easily dissatisfied.’
‘I fear it is the same with me in music; she said, for it makes me so painfully fastidious. Nurse says she always despaired of getting any clothes to suit me, I was so hard to please about the colours. It was a vast relief to her when I declared that in future I would wear nothing but black and white. She tells me I shall have a terrible time of it, if ever I go into the world, being so conscious of a jar. Now look round, and see if the building has not grown upon you while sitting quietly here, so as to impress you far more with a sense of its grandeur than if you had been running about from one part to another, and trying to see it all in a little time. It always seems to come to me as I sit still and muse.’
‘It is more my way,’ said Maynard, ‘to hunt down what I want, than to sit with folded hands and wait patiently for it to come to me. And that I take to be the main distinction between the masculine and feminine elements in nature.’
‘Can this glorious building ever perish like the rest’ exclaimed Margaret
suddenly. Yesterday, while at the Baths and Coliseum, your description of the
games and recreations of old, brought the busy, crowded scenes before me so
visibly, that ancient
It cannot perish like
the old faiths. Its triumphs are eternal as its truth. Yet you used the phrase
“later revelation” in the
‘You are too young yet, surely, to feel the weariness of the pursuit,’ returned Maynard. ‘The hopefulness that springs for ever in the youthful breast will keep you for a long time yet from fainting by the way.’
‘I am not so sure of that,’ returned Margaret. ‘I am not situated like other girls. I have hardly ever known any of my own age. Life is a complete mystery to me; and I think, sometimes, that I should like to retire altogether into some peaceful convent, if only for the sake of sociability. I often talk with the nuns here, and amid their good works and cheerful devotions they seem to live happily enough. They tell me that I could join them and still work at my painting and music.’
Her companion did not immediately speak after Margaret had thus given utterance to what were evidently her inmost feelings. His ready and subtle penetration enabled him to perceive that the confidence had been unwittingly drawn from her by the place and the circumstances, and that she would have shrunk from exposing her sense of the isolation of her existence had she been made aware by any remark of his that she had done so. Being so much by herself she had acquired a habit of communing with herself, and, so, frequently expressed aloud feelings which she would not have revealed to anybody. Maynard perceived this, and often forbore to take direct notice of her utterances. He preferred dealing with them without letting her suspect that she had herself prompted him.
The race faculty of sympathetic insight with which he was endowed, a faculty which is capable of being as great a curse as blessing to its possessor, always impelled him to effect the changes which he deemed desirable in any one’s opinions or feelings, by the exhibition of the opposite view in a favourable light, without any palpable or obtrusive antagonism. His plan in dealing with transgressors was ever to exhibit the right instead of denouncing the wrong; and with the sorrowing to dissipate sadness by the presentment of cheerfulness. The contrast of his own life and habits would, he believed, best counteract in the present case, the growth of feelings which he
considered to be unhealthy in themselves, and which in some way, as yet undefined in his mind, seemed to darken, by anticipation, his own future life.
Not that Maynard had any day dreams even about his own future. The position of a fellow of a college, to whom a moderate ease and competence are assured on the almost sole condition of abstinence from marriage, is not one to encourage other than purely intellectual ambitions. Should such an one become possessed by a desire to quit his celibate condition, his sole resource whereby he can retain his livelihood, is by taking orders or accepting a college living. James Maynard was one of the many who had strained a point so far as to take his degree in order to obtain his fellowship, but he would not take orders, or commit himself to a charge of souls. A passive assent to the dogmas of the church might be given once for all, but a lifelong call to inculcate them was quite another matter. Unless, indeed, Love should come in to dissolve the scruples which nourished celibacy. Such a solution Maynard, though he had witnessed it in others, had never deemed possible for himself. With a passion for freedom both in habit and in opinion, he could not brook the idea of being bound to any one locality or phase of life and thought. He had therefore gladly availed himself of that charming form of endowment called a travelling fellowship, which he could hold for a term of years untrammelled by any irksome conditions; and henceforth he considered himself vowed to celibacy. His peculiar circumstances and organisation prevented him from regarding such a destiny as one that involved any hardship. Of domestic life he was absolutely ignorant. His habit of body was austerely ascetic, and that of his mind lay far away from wedded possibilities. So that, while enacting the part of friend and elder brother to Margaret at this time, it was by no means with the idea of forming her to be the fate of his future life; and this, rather because the future gave him no concern whatever, than because such an idea would have been repugnant to him had it been possible for him to entertain it.