Excellent commonplace, and kindly good sense. But is it more than a rhymed copybook tag? As for its flawlessness, neither Mr. Gilbert nor Mr. Adrian Ross, these past masters in modern metrical flights, has ever tried to join in wedlock terminals as innocent of rhyme as "dull and "full." There was (perhaps is) a bard of minor degree of whom Rossetti would never hear a word in favour, because in actual speech as well as in his written verse, he invariably (being Yorkshirebred, I expect) pronounced "full" and "pull " and "push as though rhyming to " hull" and "gull" and "hush." As inconsequential, erhaps, as Heine, when he delighted in a graceless acquaintance, whom he ever recalled with a glow of pleasure, just because of the singular way in which he (or she) "turned over"! the letter r.
THE THAMES FROM OXFORD TO THE NORE
THE literary geography of' the Thames! Is not this a more hazardous undertaking than would be an itinerary of the Lake Country, or of that which follows on the long waters of Geneva? For who could number the many who have written about, or sung of, or dwelt beside, or had some abiding association with, our great river-- even if only unwilling baptism such as befell Mr. Verdant Green, or such undignified immersion as was the damp fate of Sir John Falstaff when, his huge bulk secured in the buck-basket, he was so ignominiously chucked into the deep flood by Datchet Mead? Since Chaucer crossed "Thamesis" in the Tower ferry, or Shakespeare recrossed from Southwark to the reedy shore of silt and mud known as the Strand, till Samuel Pepys "took barge" (with pretty Mrs. Manuel singing all the way) to visit friends by the sequestered and rural hamlet of Putney, what a far cry ! What a far cry, again, till, in Gravesend Reach, David Copperfield says good-bye to Peggotty and Mrs. Gummidge . . . or, on another occasion, Mr. Micawber and the twins pass from our ken . . . or till Mr. William Black entertains us with his house-boat on the upper reaches; or till we see William Morris, walking Hammersmith riverside swift twilight travellings, as though to overtake some caravan beyond price, pondering ideal Thames scenes (alas, remoter now even than then, for the desecration of the jerry-builder is now on every wayside) to be limned in A Dream of John Ball, or in News from Nowhere; or till, in a roomy old boat on the upper waters below Kelmscott Manor, near Lechlade, we have a glimpse of Rossetti writing part at least of his lovely Stream's Secret, . . or till, "by still Isis," Matthew Arnold wanders, conning the stanzas of The Scholar Gypsy, . . in a word, from Chaucer to Milton, from Milton to Shelley, from Shelley to the latest true poet of the Thames, Mr. Robert Bridges, what a catalogue of sounding names !
That way, however, lies the scribe's dilemma. He must either strive to be inclusive (an impossibility in a volume, even, for some industrious idler would always pounce upon something or somebody forgotten) and therefore relapse into a graceless chronicle--as though one were to describe the National Gallery by a transcription from the catalogue of the names and birth-and-date particulars of all the artists represented; or else he must deal so fragmentarily with a multifarious theme as to disappoint the reader who wants Thames statistics, or exasperate those who desire all the respectable old "tags" to be trotted out in good guide-book order. And there are some whom in any case it would be impossible to satisfy . . as that inquirer who wondered if Pope's Villa at Twickenham had ever been temporarily occupied by a Holy Father in exile.
As nothing is to be gained by repetition of the hackneyed chronicle of Thames-side associations already so plentifully extant, will it not be better to relinquish any attempt to take reach by reach, parish by parish, village or town by town or village, 'twixt Gravesend and Oxford? Books of all kinds, dealing with the subject--literary, artistic, dramatic, political, commercial, aquatic, natural-historic, botanic, and scandalous--can be more or less easily consulted. There is the voluminous tome of Our Royal River, with its letterpress by several able "Thamesters" and many illustrations, or Mrs. S. C. Hall's likewise bulky and venerable stand-by; there are the annual cheap volumes of Dickens' Dictionary of the Thames, and half a dozen booklets more or less interesting and more or less trustworthy issued by Penny Steamboat Companies or other enterprising publishing firms of the like unconventional kind. Between the gaudy pamphlet of inconvenient shape and the still more inconvenient but delightful edition-de-luxe of Our Royal River are numberless volumes, represented in fiction by, let us say, Mr. William Black's Adventures of a Houseboat, and in pictorial art (and nothing much else of moment) by pleasant book-making such as Mr. Leslie's Painter's Chronicle or Mr. and Mrs. Pennell's Stream of Pleasure.
With these, and Baedeker and the local guide-books, one cannot vie.
I propose, therefore, to take simply a rapid glance along the great watercourse, from where the herons rise from the reeds of often-looping Isis to where the seagulls scream about the Nore or beat up against the east wind from the bleak estuary shores where the gaunt Reculvers stand like wardens of the Sea-Gate. Thereafter, to add in a more personal fashion some notes concerning two or three great names not yet exploited by the route-book or local manual; trusting, in doing so, to be forgiven the egotism of reminiscence for the sake of the men and things remembered, and for the supplement of lesser-known literary associations to the Literary Geography of the Thames.
But just a word first about the river. No, not a dithyramb. Many have sung or magniloquently prosed its charms and beauty, and at all seasons. It has had laudation at every turn, from the Pool or Wapping Stairs it slimy ebb to the Bells of Ouseley in odoriferous drought, when a lamb could step across "Thames' onward sweeping silent flood" in safety. If it can allure poetic minds then, it may well do so at happier times and at all points. To the true Thames-lover there is hardly a mile of it that has not its abiding spell. As for the Thames-lover who is also a familiar, has he not all the lovely and commonly ignored wintertide to delight in: the time when the forest-white boughs on eyot and hanger are lovely in their still beauty, and when in the backwaters the coots shake the snow like dust from sprays of alder and willow?
Nor, Reader, shall you have to suffer from timeworn anecdotes of Pope and Horace Walpole such as our grandfathers endured as hoary acquaintances; nay, what is more serious, not even of "Mr. Walton"--as "Old Izaak" was recently named; by on allusive reviewer. What microbe of "Nomenclatururia" is it, by the way, that makes some people invariably, in allusion to Shakespeare or Ben Jenson or Izaak Walton or Fitzgerald or Whitman, always speak of "The Swan of Avon," "Rare Ben," "Old Izaak," "Old Fitz," "Good Old Walt"? However, that's another story, as Mr. Kipling would say.
As for one aspect of the Thames, the poets, from Spenser onwards, have been as superbly flattering as they are wont to be to their mistresses. Never trust a poet about his lady-love's beauty nor about the sea; he is most conscious of the charms of each when he is remote from either. The folklorist of the future may take this as a wise saw among the common people of the Edwardian epoch.
That aspect is the illusion conveyed in the familiar epithet silvery. There has been enough epithetical silver lavished on the mud-saturated flood of Thames to have exhausted any other mint than that adjacent to the Fount of Eternal Ink. We love Spenser's "silver-streaming Thames," and Herrick's "silver-footed Thamesis" is a delightful image; but it is a pity that when every successive Mr. Brown brings out a new volume of sonnets, or every successive Miss Jones a new effusion of "miscellaneous pieces," there should not be some variation in this metallic cliché. Besides, it isn't true. The rain of sunshine and the ripple of wind would make the sluice of a maltster "silvery." Thames-water ceases from such refinement as soon as Isis, Churn, Coln, and Leach have travelled from the Cotswolds, and speed together east of Oxford en route to grasp the tired hand of the upreaching sea-tide that slips under Richmond Hill and wavers and falls away at Teddington.
Some day, perhaps, a new Michael Drayton or Water-Poet successor to Taylor will attempt the epic of Thames, as the great Provençal poet Mistral has achieved the epic of the Rhone. He will have to sing also the beauty and charm of the tributary waters that swell its flood, from pastoral Churn to the moist discharge that oozes from Medway flats. There are some of us who love the Mole and the Loddon, the Kennet and the Windrush almost as we love their "eternal bourne." Let me, as parenthesis, remind such lovers that the Thames is not really entitled to the royal name till it reaches Dorchester, near which city the Thame joins the Isis-cum-Churn-cum-Colncum-Leach (or Lech). As for the name "Isis," the old idea that it is a survival of Thamesis is no longer admitted. Learned dwellers by the stream which laves Oxford's meadows tell us that "Isis" is a quasiclassical form of "Ouse." It is at least more reasonable than Mr. Verdant Green's idea that it had something to do with the great goddess of the Egyptians.
The very names of these tributaries and upper reaches and backwaters, how they thrill one, at a distance, in remembrance! And their associations--especially by the banks of the Cherwell, and the Isis meadows beyond Oxford. But Oxford! . . . that would require an article to itself, merely to enumerate names. It is a task not to be attempted. Even a chronicle of modern days is impracticable. But all lovers of much of what is loveliest in our Victorian literature will think of how so many poets walked and roamed by these waters, what vivid impulses arose or were discussed within sight of the towers of Oxford. Here was Matthew Arnold's " waterway to Eden." Here the two young undergraduates, William Morris and Edward Burne Jones, went their first walk with a young poet and painter of whom they had heard much, Dante Gabriel Rossetti--who had come to Oxford to paint those strange, crude, but potently new and significant frescoes for the "Union," which became the torch that set on fire the modern decorative movement, with all deeper and beyond what the phrase carries. Here the youthful Swinburne--"the man who knows the Greek dramatists like an old Athenian, and has hair like flame blown upon by the wind," as a contemporary described him began, in his swift, impatient, solitary walks, the first working out in poetic drama of the tragical history of Mary Queen of Scots. Here the most famous of the Masters of Balliol was fond of walking with a friend, with his lips sweet with honey of old wisdom, and his eyes alert and smiling at the aspect of young and unwise life on the river-reaches. Here Walter Pater thought out many of his essays, composed many of those sentences of amber and pale gold which link the flawless chain of Marius the Epicurean. But one might go on with name after name--and besides, we are coming near the cohort of the living!
"Spenser and Sir John Denham and Pope are good enough as literary associations," some may think. Well, for those who love the old just because it is the old, and never find the outworn other than the pleasanter for being threadbare and infirm with age, let joy be had where it can be obtained. For all the great.authority of Dryden, who considered Sir John's Cooper Hill then, and for ever, "for the majesty of its style, the standard of exact writing," one degenerate at least must admit that, except as a sedative on a day of dull rain, when no riverine exercise is to be enjoyed, the famous masterpiece of the Caroline poet is a most deadly weariness. Every guide-book, every chronicler of "A Day on the River," "Up the Thames," "Down the Thames," "On the Thames," and so on in prepositional accumulation, alludes at more or less length, and with more or less ample quotation, to this "great English poem"--which probably not three in a score of the scribes alluded to have ever read. Admittedly the finest lines in Cooper's Hill are those of a quatrain added after years of recovery from the giant effort of the original production. They appear to have won the worshipful regard of the eighteenth century, and to have maintained their spell till the present year of grace.
O could I flow like thee, and make thy stream
My great example, as it is my theme!
Though deep yet clear, though gentle yet not dull,
Strong without rage, without o'erflowing full.
Well, 'tis a far cry now, back to Cooper's Hill written, it is strange to think, within a quarter of a century of Shakespeare's death. Nevertheless, the dweller in Egham and its neighbourhood, both on the Surrey bank and opposite, will find faithful portraiture in the "harmonious numbers" of this famous poem:
But we have slipped past I know not how many miles, "without overflowing full" of literary associations--and have not even delayed at Great Marlow, with its memories of Shelley, where the young poet, afterwards to become so great, wrote The Revolt of Islam, and pondered how best to assist the Almighty to reconstitute a mismanaged universe. Here Shelley spent so many happy days, sailing far up or down the winding river, or cloud-shadow hunting, or drifting under the lower trees of Cliveden woods, which "Alastor" loved so well, and William Morris thought of indifferently as "rather artificial." I remember hearing, but cannot recollect where or from whom--possibly Dr. Furnivall, whose father lived at Great Marlow, and was both friend and physician to the young poet--an anecdote of Shelley akin to a delightful story given to the world on the authority of Mr. Andrew Carnegie. Two fishermen in a punt were drifting down stream, when they caught sight of a boat ahead of them, with a slim figure crouching at the bows and staring into the water as though spell-bound, and apparently by horror rather than by piscatorial frenzy. One angler thought the young gentleman intended suicide, while his companion fancied that the man's transfixed despair indicated the loss of his flask. But, when they came close, Shelley--for it was he answered their inquiry blandly to the effect that he was simply watching his own corpse, as "the thing in the water" unquestionably seemed to resemble him closely. The two anglers did not wait to drag "the thing": before they got far, they saw Shelley hoist his little lateen sail and go off happily and imperturbably before the wind.
Though short, yet long, of gentle ennui full,
Without a rival picturesquely dull!
However, for imperturbability, the story that Mr. Carnegie is fond of relating to his friends is unsurpassable in kind. An American cyclist was skirting the shore of a solitary Highland loch, and noticed a boat in which was a man languidly examining the depths with a water-telescope. Now and again he would pause and chat with a friend who sat on the bank reading a newspaper; or he would lay down the telescope and light his pipe. The American, who had dismounted, could not restrain his curiosity, and at last asked the idler on the bank, "What is your friend looking for? Oysters? "No," was the matter-of -fact reply--"my brother-in-law."
Well, we must leave Great Marlow and Shelley, though both invite to tie-up awhile in beautiful Maidenhead Reach, or under Cliveden's gigantic green shadow. It was here, if I remember aright, that the poet of revolution and social-reformation, and other -tions and -isms, projected that ideal marital union whereto the consenting parties should be not two but three. Alas, we have fallen back again into our old ways, and the Revolt of the Married Poet is still in esse an unconstitutional performance! As has been sagely remarked, moreover, the highest tides of feeling do not visit the coasts of triangular alliances! Apropos, if any reader has visited or should visit pleasant Bisham, a short way above Great Marlow, he may remember or newly note with gentle pleasure the touching tombstone-lines of a Mrs. Hoby, staunch upholder of the good old doctrine that Marriage is not a Failure:
Hopeless, alas, to attempt even the most superficial exploitation of the Windsor neighbourhood. One place, in particular, however, is hallowed ground. At Horton, near Wraysbury, on the Colne, is where Milton lived for the first five or six years of his fruitful early manhood after he left Cambridge. Here he wrote that supreme threnody Lycidas, here also he wrote Comus and the Arcades, and possibly L'Allegro and Il Penseroso. As we drift down Windsor way, coming from Maidenhead, or whence westward we come, many must recall his
Give me, O God! a husband like unto Thomas,
Or else restore to me my husband Thomas.
Then Chertsey, Hampton, Laleham, Datchet, with associations of Cowley, Garrick, Dr. Arnold of Rugby, Sir Henry Wotton and Izaak Walton--places recalled at random, with names recollected at hazard: but what a wealth of association all down the waterway of this region of our love and pride! Above all, when Eton meadows and the elms of Windsor Park come into view . . . Who does not thrill then if perchance remembering that here some three hundred years ago (i e. in 1593)--because of the Plague in London--The Merry Wives of Windsor was first acted before Queen Elizabeth! What would one give to see that woodland cavalcade and laughing processional array, with Shakespeare, it may be, walking by the Queen's palfrey to the spot where the play was to be acted. It is said--it is a legend only, but we can credit it--that Elizabeth wanted to see the great Falstaff worsted in a new way and thus (by command, as we should say now) Shakespeare wrote for the delectation of the royal lady and her court his delightful Merry Wives.
Towers and battlements . . .
Bosom'd high in tufted trees.
After Windsor is left, the lower reaches simply swarm with "associations." But among the many famous names that need not be specified, as doubtless familiar, and certainly chronicled in full by river-manual or local guide-book, let the wayfarer recall for a moment at Mortlake (which Turner so loved) that unfortunate Partridge (the astrologer, not "September's fowl") whom Swift and Steele tormented so sorely. The poor man lies here at peace at last, after those exasperating later years when Steele would write his obituary, and on his indignant protest that he was alive and prophesying still, was informed that he must be dead, as his own almanac had foretold the event. The unfortunate man made a desperate final attempt not to be shelved to the shades while still in the portly flesh, but the attempt failed, and he had to endure a fresh obituary article about himself with added picturesque details of the funeral.
At Twickenham, as already promised, we shall not linger, though it was the Ferney of the eighteenth-century literary world, as Pope was the English Voltaire. As for Horace Walpole, was not he the artificial sinner who outraged every tradition of genuine English poetry or prose, from Chaucer to William Morris, by writing of "enamelled meadows with filigree hedges"?
And so we slip on down stream, past Richmond . . . it, the Park, and the Star and Garter so replete," with Georgian anecdote and early Victorian reminiscence! . . . to Barn Elms. "Mighty pleasant," wrote Pepys, "the supping here under the trees by the waterside." Here that ever genial old youth came, on a memorable occasion, on a barge from the Tower, "a mighty long way," with Mistress Pepys and maid and page, and dames Corbet, Pierce, and Manuel, "singing all the way, and Mistress Manuel very finely." Here he and his strolled and scandalised and laughed under the elms by moonshine . . . "and then to barge again and more singing." 'Tis a Watteau picture. Would we could look on its like again! Now the route is by the crowded excursion-steamer, and 'Arry and 'Arriet do the rest. Pepys and Evelyn and all of that blithe company would sniff "mightily" now, I fear, at all riverside resorts, from the Bells of Ouseley, fragrant of tea and buttered buns, down to remote Gravesend, where still, as of yore, at Mrs. Brambles' of Hogarth's day, tea and shrimps inevitably concur.
As we pass Putney and Hammersmith and Chelsea, what memories of great names past and present! Beyond the old bridge at Putney the great Gibbon was born and had his schoolings and a short way up the Rise is the house where Swinburne so long resided, and with him, at The Pines, Theodore Watts-Dunton. and close by is Putney Heath, where daily Swinburne took his solitary walk. At Hammersmith, as every one knows William Morris had the London home of his later years. To a mean little house in a poor neighbourhood, here, the great American romancist, Nathaniel Hawthorne, made a pilgrimage, in order to pay homage to Leigh Hunt, when in his silver-haired, beautiful old age that sunny-hearted poet and prince of delicate things lived there in poverty and isolation.* As for Chelsea, is not "the sage of Chelsea" already a byword and a phrase? But fewer know that a short way from Cheyne Row, where the great philosopher-historian lived so long, is the house (16 Cheyne Walk) occupied during the latter part of his life by the poet-painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti. To this house came, gladly and proudly, all who could win the privilege of entry; here, as has been said, many of the most famous pictures and many of the most famous books of our time were discussed in advance, and in some instances projected. Rossetti's house, in a word, was from 1871 till 1881 the Mecca of the "romantic" devotee in both pictorial and literary art. We are not dealing with the artistic associations of the Thames--to use the word in its common significance - or Whistler and others would delay us. The literary and artistic history of Chelsea, indeed, would be of more interest and importance than that of any other part of London, in connection with the study of the literary and artistic history of the later Victorian epoch.
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~* Hawthorne contributed a long and interesting account of this visit to the Atlantic Monthly about thirty years ago (1874, I think). ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Well, down stream we go, past Blackfriars, where once Rossetti and Mr. George Meredith in early days had rooms, and where both Dickens and Thackeray found a never-ceasing fascination; below the vast new bridge and past the Tower, with a glimpse of Traitor's Gate,
and so through The Pool, the maelstrom heart of London. How painters, from Turner to Whistler, have loved this grimy but ever inspiring and wonderful water heart, whence all the countries of the world may bring tribute to London, and wherein London sees as in a crystal (alas! that it is but a metaphor!) all lands and nations from California to Cathay. One modem painter has, in "Wapping Old Stairs," seized the poetry of The Pool, and fortunately W. L. Wyllie's picture is now a national possession. It goes without saying that Dickens, Marryatt, Clark Russell, loved The Pool only this side of idolatry. Readers of this series of Literary Geography will recollect how the heroine of Charlotte Bronte's Villette set off alone and friendless one wet and stormy night from here, and the strong, vivid etching of the scene. What lovers of Our Mutual Friend and Great Expectations do not know intimately all this haunted region, from where The Pool becomes The Port, till the great tower of Westminster recedes from view, and the river--with hoys swinging sideways, and barges veering wildly, and every kind of craft as seemingly at the mercy of malicious river-sprites--sweeps on to the Isle of Dogs (once the Isle of Ducks . . . in days when the bittern was common in Plumstead Marshes, and when the curlew and the lapwing wailed over waste places where now the electric tram screeches or the coster howls)?
. . . through which before
Went Essex, Raleigh, Sidney, Cranmer, More,
But before the City is left, who will not remember that great sonnet of Wordsworth, composed at early morning upon Westminster Bridge, when
As for Southwark, are not its associations among the greatest we have ? Chaucer, Shakespeare, these two names alone make this (now, alack, far from attractive) region supreme among all the boroughs of London. Here was the Globe Theatre, where, so to speak, the banner of the Elizabethan drama flew so gallantly at the peak. Many will recall the fact of the sudden conflagration of the Globe, three years before Shakespeare's death, during a performance of Henry VIII. Not far from the old theatre, in the High Street, was the Tabard Inn, whence adult English literature set forth upon its first high adventure. In the old church of St. Saviour's (anciently St. Mary Overies) lie the remains of learned John Gower, Chaucer's contemporary, and those of Chaucer himself; of Edmund Shakespeare, the brother of our great poet; of Philip Massinger, not the least dramatist of that marvellous period; and of John Fletcher, poet and dramatist, whose name, with that of his colleague Francis Beaumont, stands so high in the admiration of all who love the best literature of the great Elizabethans.
This city now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning . . .
. . . the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still.
Thence, to the meeting of the sea-wind coming over Plumstead Marshes, or slumping the tide-wash against the ebb at Tilbury Fort, or causing the famous "Thames Dance" at the Nore, or bearing inland the heavy booming of the guns of Shoeburyness, or making the grey-green seas surge like a mill-race across the eighteen-mile reach from Whitstable to Foulness Point . . . this is a journey indeed! And of Rotherhithe (where still are inns bearing the old heroic Elizabethan designations of The Ship Argo and The Swallow Galley); of Rosherville, of Greenwich and its park (Scots readers will recall a great scene in Sir Walter Scott's one London romance, The Fortunes of Nigel), of Gravesend and "Farewell Haven" (lovers of Dickens, Marryatt, Clark Russell, of many from Smollett to W. W. Jacobs, will regret so cursor a mention) --of these and of every mile from The Port and the great wilderness of the Docks, to where the solitary Reculvers watch the last dispersed flood of Thames swallowed up by the sea . . . what a chronicle might be written!
Truly, Thames-flood carries one on unwitting of the rapid flow. I am come almost to an end of my space, and yet have not even touched those more personal recollections which I had in mind to commit. Well, some other time, perhaps. Meanwhile, they can be but alluded to. And then, too, the many persons and episodes one has forgotten to chronicle! Sheridan, for instance: how few think of him as "a literary association" of the Thames! Yet what reader of that delightful comedy, The Critic, can have forgotten the inimitable scene at Tilbury Fort, where the Governor's daughter genteelly goes mad in white satin, and is accompanied into lunacy by the 'umble friend and companion who, as becomes her meaner condition, respectfully and discreetly goes out of her senses in ordinary white linen! It is a far cry back from Tilbury to remote Lechlade, and yet I would like to be, there again, and starting with the sympathetic reader on new waterway pilgrimage. How well I recollect the Trout Inn there, one May day, with its great sycamore rustling in the lightsome west wind! In the sunny little garden an orchard behind, under the fragrant shadow of a great walnut-tree, a friend was seated, reading. Pale, somewhat heavily built, a student and thinker (as the least observant could not but have discerned), low-voiced, sensitive as a leaf, and yet with a restful composure all his own, Walter Pater read a recently written and one of the loveliest chapters of a book, from the first conceived in beauty, and to the end in beauty achieved . . . the book now so surely gathered into English literature and known to all who care for what is finest and rarest therein as Marius the Epicurean.
Then as to Kelmscott Manor, a cuckoo's flight away: a whole article might well be given to this beautiful old riverside place and its many associations. The country home of William Morris for twenty-five years, it has also many associations with Rossetti, who for a year or two from 1871 was fellow tenant with and, as to occupancy, preponderant partner with Morris; as also with Swinburne, Theodore WattsDunton, Burne-Jones, and many others. "Kelmscott Manor," wrote Morris, and characteristically, in a letter in 1882, has come to be to me the type of the pleasant places of the earth, and of the homes of harmless, simple people not overburdened with the intricacies of life; and as others love the race of man through their lovers or their children, so I love the earth through that small space of it. "That, of course, was long after the Rossetti-Morris days at this beautiful old riverside home: indeed, it was written in the sad year of that great poet and painter's death. There is a little island formed by the backwater close to the house, and in spring this was alway an Eden of songbirds in a region which was and is the songbirds' paradise. Here, and at the Manor, Rossetti wrote many of his loveliest lyrics and sonnets, and the long and noble poem Rose Mary. Who has forgotten the music of Down Stream?:
At Kelmscott, also, he wrote (or rewrote from an earlier version) that lovely poem of some nine-score stanzas, The Bride's Prelude. I recall how once, at Kelmscott, Morris turned to me, after he had been speaking of Tennyson and Browning and Matthew Arnold, as also of the poetry of George Meredith and of Swinburne--and, speaking generally, for the work of any of these poets he did not really at heart care much and said abruptly, "Poetry has spoken only once in absolute beauty since Keats." Then, turning a volume in his hand and glancing once in a way at the page he opened, he recited, in that strange sing-song sea-sounding chant of his, the following lines, which open the poem of The Bride's Chamber (as he called it, and as Rossetti had originally entitled it):
Between Holmscote and Hurstcote
The river reaches wind,
The whispering trees accept the breeze,
The ripple's cool and kind.
"There," he said, "there you have the unadulterated article. That's poetry. As for the rest of us, for the most part we write verse poetically."
"Sister," said busy Amelotte
To listless Alo˙see;
Along the wedding-road the wheat
Bends as to hear your horse's feet,
And the noonday stands still for heat."
Amelotte laughed into the air
With eyes that sought the sun
But where the walls in long brocade
Were screened, as one who is afraid
Sat Alo˙see within the shade.
And even in shade was gleam enough
To shut out full repose
From the bride's 'tiring chamber, which
Was like the inner altar-niche
Whose dimness worship has made rich.
Within the window's heaped recess
The light was counterchanged
In blent reflexes manifold
From perfume caskets of wrought gold
And gems the bride's hair could not hold
All thrust together: and with these
A slim-curved lute, which now,
At Amelotte's sudden passing there,
Was swept in somewise unaware,
And shook to music the close air.
Morris's likings in poetry were singular. Wordsworth he actually disliked: Milton, save in rare lines and on rarer occasions, had little appeal for him. For a little of Chaucer he would have relinquished all of Tennyson's work save his earlier verse: and Browning he considered "to have stopped climbing the hill" when he forsook the method and manner of his early manhood-though there was none whom he more loved to quote and extol in those far-off Oxford years, when as one of his biographers has chronicled, the Morris of "the purple trousers of the Oxford days" had not matured to "the great simplicity and untidiness" of his middle age.
The last time I saw Morris at Kelmscott Manor was just such a day as that on which a year or two later he was buried in the little churchyard close by: a day of chill October, with a rainy wind soughing among the alders, and the damp chrysanthemum petals blown about the garden-ways beneath a low grey sky. I think this was in 1894: at any rate, I recollect it was on a day when he had just received a welcome letter from Swinburne relative to the publication by the Kelmscott Press of certain old thirteenth-century reprints of French prose. I remember the latest (or one of the later) volumes was lying on the table, near the window, against which a sleety rain pattered--the Violier des Histoires romaines--and in his letter about it Swinburne recalled their mutual delight in these old French prose-poems "in the days when we first foregathered in Oxford," . . . that is, forty years earlier, for it was in January 1856 that, there, the young undergraduate Algernon Charles Swinburne first met Morris and Rossetti.
It was not at his beloved Kelmscott Manor, however, that William Morris died, though buried in the village graveyard; but at Kelmscott House, his London home in Hammersmith.
With him passed away one of the most fervent of Thames-lovers and one of the greatest of those who have set their seal upon the Royal River.
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