PHILIP BOURKE MARSTON, cont'd
Marston's second volume was dedicated to his father "with
profoundest love and admiration." The greater portion of it was occupied by poems in
sonnet-form, a fact which possibly conduced towards the book's limited popularity. That
the author's attitude was not one of absolute despair is manifest from his prefatory words
: "In the present volume," he says, "I show how the love, so longed for and
despaired of, is at last vouchsafed with all attendant peace and blessedness, until the
beloved one is withdrawn, and the mourner is left but a memory, under the inspiration of
which he still aspires to some great and far-off good ; but is met at every turn by
tempters who would mislead, and enemies who would drive back "The author's intention
was that All in All should form a connecting link between Song-Tide and
the final division of the series of love-poems to be entitled A Pilgrimage. The
scheme in its entirety was never carried out, though, it may be added, many of the sonnets
in Wind Voices were originally intended for the last-named work.
Throughout this second volume it is easy to note how frequently the poet recurs to the
theme of irretrievable loss : passing years had blunted the extremity of his pain, but,
keen and vital,. the old agony was only more subdued, not vanquished. Again, there is to
be noted a loving hope that in the days to come, if he be remembered at all, it may be in
union with her whom he had so early lost and so deeply loved:
When I, at last, with life and love
When the soul's yearning and the body's lust
Are ended wholly as a tune out-played ;
If then, men name my name, and from these lays
The depth and glory of thy soul divine,
Shall not, beloved, my memory live in thine ?
Our memories moveless 'mid the moving days,
Intense and sad like changeless stars that shine
On ruined towers of a predestined race.
In this volume also there occurs one of the noblest and most
simply direct of Marston's sonnets ; one which to all who love and have loved must be of
strong and permanent appeal.
NOT THOU BUT I.
It must have been for one of us, my own,
To drink this cup and eat this bitter bread.
Had not my tears upon thy face been shed,
Thy tears had dropped on mine ; if I alone
Did not walk now, thy spirit would have known
My loneliness, and did my feet not tread
This weary path and steep, thy feet had bled
For mine, and thy mouth had for mine made moan
And so it comforts me, yea, not in vain,
To think of thy eternity of sleep,
To know thine eyes are tearless though mine weep;
And when this cup's last bitterness I drain,
One thought shall still its primal sweetness keep
Thou hadst the peace and I the undying pain.
The saddest life is not without compensations : at least, this
stereotyped saying may pass as a generalisation. Few men have ever had more friends than
the blind poet of whom I write; men and women of the most opposite tastes and sympathies
were at one in their regard and love for Philip Marston.at I was anxious to
meet him, Rossetti promised to bring us together ; one thing and another, however,
intervened to prevent our speedy meeting. At last, one day in January, I reminded Rossetti
of his promise, and the result was a line of introduction posted direct to Marston. I
remember that I was fascinated by him at once---his manner, his personality, his
conversation. On his part he gave a generous reception to one who had no claim to his
regard save acquaintanceship with the poet for whom we had in common the most genuine love
and reverence.. Our friendship grew steadily---but I need not say more of it here than
that with his death I have lost a very dear and valued friend.
There is a kind of compensation," he remarked to me once, "in the way
that new friendships arise to brighten my life as soon as I am bowled over by some great
loss. But one's capacities for friendship get worn out, and it is impossible that I can
ever be to new friends that which I was to those who are gone and am still to the one or
two who are left."
About this time Philip came to know Dante Gabriel Rossetti with something like intimacy.
No man ever obtained from him more fervent, it may without exaggeration be said, more
worshipful regard. As a poet he considered Rossetti foremost among those of the Victorian
age, and his love for him as a man was deep and abiding. Nothing prejudiced a stranger
quicker in his view than disparagement of Rossetti: admiration of the author of The
House of Life, on the other hand, was a bond of immediate union. An appreciative
letter from this source would give him more joy and stimulus than would anything else. For
Swinburne, also, he always entertained emphatic admiration and strong personal regard, and
among his few most treasured friendships was that with Mr. Theodore Watts-Dunton. None of
these, however, he saw with any frequency; hence, after the death of Oliver Madox Brown,
he found himself in growing solitude.
It was subsequently to the publication of All in All that Marston began to
write for the American magazines; his first acceptance came from the editor of Scribner's
Magazine. From this time forth he more and more devoted himself to production for the
American public, with the result that he is now far more widely known as a poet and writer
of fiction in the United States than in Great Britain. He would fain have had it
otherwise, but his poems and stories met with almost invariable rejection in this country,
and he became wearied of what appeared to be a hopeless attempt. Moreover, he had to live,
for his means had become straitened. Therefore, it came to pass that nine-tenths of his
prose-writings and the great proportion of his short poems appeared in American journals
and magazines ; and that this clever story-teller and and writer of exquisite verse
experienced nothing but disappointment on this side of the Atlantic.
In 1876, as has already been recorded, Marston made the acquaintance of Mrs. Louise
Chandler Moulton. The friendship arose from and was sustained by a keen literary and
intellectual sympathy. Mrs. Moulton was interested from the outset in the young poet and
his work, and Marston was soon attracted to one who evinced such kindly interest and
consideration. The affectionate devotion of this most loyal and helpful of his friends did
more than anything else to cheer his remaining years. In Mrs. Moulton, he not only found
the most perfect intellectual sympathy; her broad and cultured taste, her wide experience
of the world of men and women and of the world of books, and the charm of her society, all
helped---as he said himself---to make life endurable. Every spring Mrs. Moulton came to
London for the season : during her visits the blind poet forgot much of his weary sadness,
and even the long months of absence were relieved by continuous correspondence.
This friendship was formed opportunely, for it was not long afterward that Philip Marston
endured another great loss---one of the most deeply felt afflictions of his life. Mrs.
Moulton, as will be seen, has best right to speak of this event, so I shall let the
narration be in her words. " I had known him and his sister but a few days more than
two years when, on July 28, 1878, Ciceley called upon me at my rooms. Dr. Marston and
Philip were away in France, and she spoke of them very tenderly that morning. She
complained, when she came in, of an intense headache, and after a little I made her lie
down to see what rest would do for her. She grew worse, and when the doctor came he
pronounced her illness apoplexy. My name was the last words on her faithful lips ; and in
the mid-afternoon of that long July day she died. Quite unaware of her death---since we
did not know where to find them with a telegrain---and while she was still awaiting
burial, her father and brother returned. On this crushing sorrow I cannot linger. I think
it was the cruellest bereavement that had ever come to our poet. When his mother, his
betrothed, and his friend died, he still---as he used often to say---had Ciceley; but when
she left him there remained for him no such constant and consoling presence. His other
sister was married, and therefore was not in his daily life at all; and at that time she,
moreover, was a chronic invalid. His father was his one closest tie ; but many sorrows had
saddened Dr. Marston and broken his health; and there was no one to be to Philip what
Ciceley had been, as reader, amanuensis, and constant untiring companion."
Although those sea-coast and inland voyages wherein he was wont to take such keen pleasure
were still indulged in, they were no longer the same. In his own pathetic words, when he
spoke to me on the subject some years ago, he had undergone the horrible experience of
twice becoming blind. His own sight waned in childhood and was drowned in tears in his
early manhood; his second sight, his sister Circeley, was snatched from him with more
It was at the beginning of 188o that I came to know Philip Marston. In the autumn
of the preceding year I was spending an evening with Rossetti, and I chanced to make some
reference to Marston's poetry. Finding that I did not know the blind poet and th
A year had not passed since the decease of Ciceley, when fresh sorrows came in the guise
of the deaths of his sister Nellie (Mrs. O'Shaughnessy) and her two children. Philip now
saw more of Arthur O'Shaughnessy. One day in 1881 I was sitting with the former, when
O'Shaughnessy ran into the room, reminded me of a promise to go to his house and hear him
read the proof-sheets of his new book, and asked his brother-in-law to come also. In less
than a week, poor O'Shaughnessy was dead: sudden inflammation of the lungs had put an end
to all his hopes and dreams.
At Eastertide in the ensuing year Rossetti's death came upon Marston with a great shock. I
had been staying at Birchington shortly before the end came, and not foreseeing the
imminent disaster, had brought back not unhopeful news ; and, at Rossetti's request, I
also planned to go down to Kent again with Philip. We did indeed journey thither shortly,
but it was to attend the funeral of him whom we both so loved and revered. Now, more than
ever, he began to believe that a malign fate had foredoomed all his most cherished
friendships to disastrous endings. Looking through the letters which, during periods of
absence, he addressed to me, I find that note of apprehension ever recurring. He had a
belief, which was not altogether fanciful, that he had lived the human life on earth
before. This idea is embodied in the following sonnet which he addressed to me in the
first year of our friendship, the publication of which in this place may on this
illustrative account be excused.
Not surely now for the first time we meet;
So seems it to me, rather I believe
That in some vanished state one had to grieve
For loss of other, and with weary feet
Went on his way finding no sweet thing sweet,
Listless and sad, unwilling to reprieve
His thought from Pain by joys that but deceive,
Nor trusting to a friendship less complete :
At length through death into new life he passed
And there he joined his friend, then hand clasp'd
Then soul cried out to soul, re-met at last
So seemeth it to us, who understand
Each other Perfectly, and know right well
How much there is on either side to tell.
It was in 1882, also, that another friend, to whom Marston
had become much attached---attracted in the first instance by the common bond of
unhappiness---died under peculiarly distressing circumstances. The public who are
interested in that strange and sombre poem, The City of Dreadful Night, know
vaguely that James Thomson died in poverty and in some obscure fashion. Philip Marston and
myself were, if I am not mistaken, the last of his acquaintances who saw him alive.
Thomson had suffered such misery and endured such hopelessness, that he had yielded to
intemperate habits, including a frequent excess in the use of opium. He had come back from
a prolonged visit to the country, where all had been well with him, but through
over-confidence he fell a victim again immediately on his return. For a few weeks his
record is almost a blank. When the direst straits were reached, he so far reconquered his
control that he felt himself able to visit one whose sympathy and regard had withstood all
tests. The latter soon realised that his friend was mentally distraught, and endured a
harrowing experience, into the narration of which I do not care to enter. I arrived in the
late afternoon, and found Marston in a state of nervous perturbation. Thomson was lying
down on the bed in the adjoining room : stooping, I caught his whispered words to the
effect that he was dying; upon which I lit a match, and in the sudden glare beheld his
white face on the blood-stained pillow. He had burst a blood-vessel, and the hemorrhage
was dreadful. Some time had to elapse before anything could be done, but ultimately, with
the help of a friend who came in opportunely, poor Thomson was carried downstairs and,
having been placed in a cab, was driven to the adjoining University Hospital. He did not
die that night, nor when Philip Marston and I went to see him in the ward the next day was
he perceptibly worse, but a few hours after our visit---when his farewell consisted of a
startling prophecy, which came true---he passed away. Thus came to an end the saddest life
with which I have ever come in contact, sadder even than that of Philip Marston, though
his existence was of tentimes bitter enough to endure.
Thomson's death, and the manner of it, affected Marston very deeply. To a man of his
sensitive nature, the very room where his friend had lain when his death-stroke came upon
him was haunted by something inexplicable, but tragic and oppressive. This sense of
haunted rooms---in a somewhat vaguer, yet not less genuine significance than the adjective
generally bears---was a very real thing to him. It was for this reason that one of his
supreme favourites among Rossetti's sonnets was that entitled Memorial Thresholds. Readers
of All in All and Wind Voices will find numerous passages which give
expression to it : indeed, some of his most pathetic poems were evolved from this motive:
Must this not be, that one then dwelling here,
Where one man and his sorrows dwelt so long,
Shall feel the Pressure of a ghostly throng,
And shall upon some desolate midnight hear
A sound more sad than is the pine-trees' song,
And thrill with great, inexplicable fear?
Probably no one has ever felt more grateful to the inventor of
the "type-writer" than did Philip Marston. When he purchased and learned the
method of working one of those invaluable machines, he found himself to a great extent
independent of an amanuensis. By this means he wrote all his stories and poems, and also
his extensive correspondence, without assistance from any one. It was, naturally, a matter
of no little moment to him to be able to write, enfold, and address private letters
without having to place expressions meant for one person within view of another. For a
considerable period he spelt for the most part phonetically, but in course of time he came
to write fairly correctly. Dr. Westland Marston generally revised the type-written sheets
intended for publication.
He also became proficient in the Braille system, but was unable to gain much satisfaction
therefrom, owing to the fact that few of his friends at a distance could bring themselves
to learn it sufficiently for correspondence.
As each year elapsed Marston found his reputation in America more and more assured. His
stories and poems not only gained acceptance at the hands of editors, but procured for him
many friends. After Mrs. Moulton, the friend of oversea whom he most valued was the
"Poet of the South," Paul Hamilton Hayne; for E. C. Stedman, R. W. Gilder,
Whittier, and others, he had a sincere regard.
During the spring months of 1884 I was residing at Dover, and in April (if I remember
aright) Philip came down from London to spend a week or so with me. The weather was
perfect, and our walks by shore and cliff were full of delight to us both : once or twice
we crossed to Calais for the sake of the sail, spent a few hours in the old French port,
and returned by the afternoon boat. In the evenings, after dinner, we invariably adjourned
to the beach, either under the eastern bluffs or along the base of Shakespeare's Cliff.
The music of the sea, in calm or tidal turbulence or tempest, had an unfailing fascination
for him. To rest upon the edge of the cliff, and hear the fretful murmur of the surge far
below to lie at full length and listen to "the long withdrawing roar down the
shelving shingly strand; to sit in some sheltered place among the rocks, and hearken to
the tumult of stormy waters as they surged before the gale and dashed themselves into
clouds of foam and flying spray almost at our feet ; such experiences as these afforded
him, for the time being, an exhilaration or, again, a solace which to him meant much.
He took keen pleasure in learning how to distinguish the songs of the different birds, and
all spring's sounds and scents were exquisite pleasures to him. How well I remember the
rapt expression of puzzled delight which animated his face, as one day we crossed some
downs to the westward of Folkestone.
"Oh, what is that ? " he cried, eagerly and, to my surprise, I found that what
had so excited him was the crying of the young lambs as they stumbled or frisked about
their mothers. He had so seldom been out of London in the early spring that so common an
incident as this had all the charm of newness to him. A frisky youngster was easily
enticed alongside, and Philip's almost childlike happiness in playing with the woolly
little creature was something delightful to witness. A little later I espied one which had
only been a few hours in the world, and speedily placed it in his arms. He would fain have
carried it away with him; in his tender solicitude for it he was like a young mother over
As we turned to walk homeward we met a boy holding a young starling in his hand. Its
feeble, strident cries, its funny little beak closing upon his finger under the impression
it was a gigantic worm, delighted him almost as much as the lambkin.
"A day of days!" was his expressive commentary, as
tired and hungry we reached home and sat down to dinner, with the deep boom of the
sea clearly audible through the open window.
Marston had a subtle sympathy with nature which amounted almost to a new sense. A cloud
would rise upon the horizon, and he would be the first to portend some change in the
weather; it was as if his sightless eyes yet conveyed some message to his mind, or as if
his ears heard an ominous murmur of far-off wind and rain inaudible to senses less acute.
Sunset a solemn moon-rise, the company of cloud-drifts passing westward and glowing with
delicate and gorgeous tones and hues, to these he was never insensitive, even if no friend
referred to them; in some occult fashion he seemed to be aware that these things were
making earth and heaven beautiful.
And because to him the sea and the wind were always among the most wonderful things in
nature, endlessly suggestive, endlessly beautiful to eye and ear and spirit, his love for
them never grew less. But in the growing sadness of his last years one of his most abiding
sorrows was the loss, in great part, of the old passionate love and yearning for nature.
But for his blindness this would not have been so, for to men and women who have anything
in them of spiritual life, nature is the source of their most sacred comfort. On a
mountain-slope, on a wide plain, by the margin of the sea, the keenest grief becomes
rarefied till it attains to a higher and nobler plane of sorrow.
Far more deeply than some of his friends guessed did he feel this passing away of the old
worship. It was a genuine sorrow to him, a deep and cruel disappointment. "It is as
though one were parting with one's last hope---one's sole remaining consolation," he
once remarked to me bitterly. In the sonnet called Youth and Nature he has given
expression to this sense of estrangement:
Is this the sky, and this the very earth
I had such pleasure in when I was young ?
And can this be the identical sea-song,
Heard once within the storm-cloud's awful girth,
When a great storm from silence burst to birth,
And winds to whom it seemed I did belong
Made the keen blood in me run swift and strong
With irresistible, tempestuous mirth ?
Are these the forests loved of old so well,
Where on Maynight, enchanted music was?
Are these the fields of soft, delicious grass,
These the old hills with secret things to tell
O my dead Youth, was this inevitable,
That with thy passing, Nature, too, should pass ?
The last-quoted sonnet is from the third of Philip Marston's
published volumes of poetry. In 1883-84 this book was issued by Mr. Elliot Stock, with the
poetic title Wind Voices. Its success was immediate and emphatic. Messrs. Roberts
Bros., of Boston, speedily disposed of every copy of the American edition, and the London
publisher sold the last few score at a considerable premium. The book is consequently
almost as difficult to obtain as Song Tide, for it was not stereotyped.
In addition to a further instalment of his exquisite flower-lyrics, grouped under the
title Garden Secrets, there are touching poems in memory of Oliver Madox Brown,
Arthur O'Shaughnessy, James Thomson, and Rossetti, and several sonnets addressed to C. N.
M. (his sister Ciceley.) Among the more ambitious poems are Caedmon, where the
Saxon poet relates before the Abbess Hilda that famous dream which resulted in the
Song of Creation; Caught in the Nets, a merman story founded on a passage in Sir
Richard Baker's Chronicle, wherein is described the capture of a strange, half-human
creature of the deep, on the Suffolk coast in the twelfth century, and its ultimate escape
to the "dear waves" and "some sea-girl's damp and salt caresses The
Ballad of the Monk Julius, based on the familiar legend of the demon-tempted monk ; The
Ballad of Brave Women, a record of two heroic Swansea fishermen's wives, which,
however, is too markedly Rossettian ; and Nightshade, founded on the conclusion
of Oliver Madox Brown's Dwale Bluth, as designed though not completed by its
His health henceforth steadily declined. His power of concentration lessened, and all
labour became a weariness to him. "It is impossible I can live long," he was
wont to exclaim, impatiently---" how unutterably thankful I would be for the end, if
only---if only---I knew what lay beyond!"
Until the summer of 1886, however, he still wrote industriously, though rarely in
verse. In August he and his father were at Brighton for rest and change of air. Every
autumn for some years past, the two solitary men, father and son, went away somewhere
together; neither was wont to tire of the other's companionship, for the friendship
between them was almost as brotherly and amicable as paternal and filial. One hot day,
while bareheaded in the glare of the sun, Philip was prostrated by a heat-stroke, which
was followed by serious illness of an epileptic nature. Mind and .body suffered from the
strain, and the derangement foretold death.
Throughout the winter his letters were full of foreboding and weariness. "You will
miss me, perhaps, when I am gone, but you must not mourn for me. I think few lives have
been so deeply sad as mine, though I do not forget those who have blessed it." This
was the keynote of each infinitely sad letter.
Serious illness and months of tardy convalescence prevented my seeing anything of Philip
Marston from the spring of 1886 until December. On Christmas forenoon I went to see
and spend an hour or so with him.
He was in bed, and I found the alteration in him only too evident.
On the last day of January paralysis set in. Until his death fourteen days later he lay
speechless, as well as sightless. His efforts to make himself understood were at times
most harrowing. Certain desires he managed to convey, but latterly his will-power was
insufficient even for the tremulous raising of his poor wasted hand in sign of
acquiescence or negation. To another friend and myself I know that he consciously said
farewell: blind though he was he saw the shadow of death coming very near.
Looking at his serene face on the day ere the coffin-lid enclosed it, where something
lovelier than mortal sleep subtly dwelt, there was one at least of his friends who forgot
all sorrow in a great gladness for the blind poet---now no longer blind, if he be not
overwhelmed in a sleep beyond our ken. At such a moment the infinite satisfaction of Death
seems bountiful largess for the unrestful turmoil of a few "dark, disastrous