6

ITALY AGAIN

The Second Self

Mrs. Sharp says in her Memoir that her husband's hopes of devoting himself finally and exclusively to independent creative work led to his taking the bold step, in the fall of 1890, of "burning his ships" as he put it---giving up his London associations and editorial obligations completely and leaving England for a second trip to Italy.

The step was taken and the trip made, but the rupture with the past was bolder in appearance than in reality. The Sharps's financial means were not yet sufficient to permit the sacrifice of all his usual projects. He continued working on a biographical study of Keats and Joseph Severn, drawn from the Severn papers and ultimately published in 1892. Work on this book required visits to William Severn, W. W. Story, and John Ruskin, all in their various provincial habitats, and thus prevented Sharp's departure from being quite so sudden or complete as Mrs. Sharp suggests. In addition he was planning another undertaking that was not independent, even if it was imaginative. This was an epistolary novel to be written in collaboration with the American author Blanche Willis Howard: A Fellowe and His Wife, also published in 1892. Miss Howard, now Frau Hof-Artz von Teuffel, was living in Stuttgart. To meet with her the Sharps traveled through Germany, and Sharp alone paid her another flying visit on his return to England the following year.

Nor did Sharp turn over all his editorships. He retained his post with the Canterbury series, or at least gave it up only temporarily: in the mid-nineties and later he was still editing and introducing for that series such volumes as the poems of Matthew Arnold and Eugene Lee-Hamilton. He did jettison the literary editorship of the Young Folks' Paper and relinquish his positions as art critic on the Glasgow Herald and the Art Journal, but the extent of his recklessness is shown by his passing the art criticism on to his wife.

Yet there remains some justice to the impression of turning point that Mrs. Sharp conveys. However cautious and shrewd the pruning, Sharp succeeded in cutting away much, if not all, of the tangled variety of his London activities. From one point of view, of course, there had been no variety to them. His editorial burdens had all had something of hackwork about them. The real element of variety in his life he did not give up. His reading had been developing breadth and diversity---Meredith, Browning, Swinburne, and Patmore, among the English; Balzac and Sainte-Beuve among the French; and among the Italians, Fogazzaro and D'Annunzio. Ibsen and Poe were thrown in for good measure, and he was soon to know Maeterlinck and other Belgians so well that he could allege himself "the only specialist [on them] among English men of letters."1 This heady mixed potion was working its effect on him. He was burgeoning with new ideas---so many, in fact, that only a fraction of them would come to fruition within the remaining fifteen years of his life. The break with London, even if qualified and temporary, was an expression of a growing sense of his own potential and of a hope for sufficient freedom to realize it. This hope was not to be entirely disappointed.

After their short visit to Stuttgart the Sharps went quickly to Rome. Curiously enough, even the romantic journey down the Rhine failed to strike any strong chord of response in the usually responsive Sharp. He longed to get on to "the beautiful, living, pulsing South."2 The Sharps remained in Rome from December 1890 until the spring of 1891 and probably used it as their home base during the rest of that year, though Mrs. Sharp does not make the matter quite clear. She does say that he visited the Janviers in Provence and she went to Florence in March 1891, and she recalls that in September Sharp returned to Stuttgart to compare notes with his female collaborator.3 In any case, before the year was out he was already back in London consolidating his literary gains, and by 1892 he was caught in a feverish new round of activities.

Anyone might then have observed something different about Sharp. His creative voice was stronger, all his work more passionate and vital. And those who knew him intimately knew also that it was in the years immediately following his return from Italy that Sharp began, quietly but steadfastly, to produce the work later to be attributed to the pen of Fiona Macleod.

The stay in Italy, brief though it was, must loom great in any examination of Sharp's development. He himself spoke of its influence in large though vague terms, terms which suggest that it was complex, a result partly of the new sense of liberation, partly of new personal acquaintances, and partly of reading in new areas. Mrs. Sharp lists that reading without attempting to define its effects, yet it is possible to see links (as will be shown) between the work of men like Elie Reclus, Pierre Loti, and Restif de la Bretonne and Sharp's work thereafter. Added to these was, of course, that influence best described as the reciprocal operation of all these factors, which makes the effect of the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

By far the essential circumstance surrounding the second Italian trip was the climate of relative liberty in which it was realized. Sharp owed this excursion to no means but his own. It was not necessary this time, as it had been in 1883, to see himself as an art critic being seasoned for his chores with sightseeing and travel. He was not required to visit galleries or cathedrals or to follow slavishly a fixed itinerary. He recalled with fervor the interlude during that first trip spent admiring the "enormous variety" of natural life on the Roman Campagna, and it was to the Campagna he returned. Memory had not betrayed him:

Oh Italy, Italy! . . . not Rome, but "greater Rome," the Agro Romano . . . the ever new, mysterious, fascinating Campagna. I love North Italy too, all Umbria and Tuscany: and to know Venice is to have a secret of perpetual joy: and yet, the Agro Romano!4

No doubt the lizards and bees still caught his attention, for Sharp never lost his naturalist's eye. But even in this brief outburst there is evidence of a new focus in his vision. It is now the "mysterious, fascinating Campagna," and this Campagna, the Campagna of vagrant winds and fragments of ruin, was to leave its permanent impression on Sharp's work. The solitude and suggestiveness of the landscape liberated him both physically and imaginatively. The several manuscripts he had taken with him to work on in Rome were laid aside until he had finished an almost completely new volume of poems, Sospiri di Roma---" sighs," or as Sharp himself translated it, "breaths of Rome." Sharp's private affection for these poems, written in free verse and deriving their principal inspiration from this capacious landscape, is demonstrated by his having them immediately printed in Anzio in 1891, at his own expense. They were the first and most important publication directly resulting from his second Italian experience.

Sharp had made some straggling efforts at free verse earlier in his career, dictated by his own need for undisciplined form as well as by his familiarity with Whitman. Henley's In Hospital had served to give him fresh incentive. But powerful feelings newly aroused to overflowing by the Italian landscape were more than anything else the source of the Sospiri, and their vigor and spirit found an immediate British audience. With their publication, Sharp came to be considered one of the leading exponents of free verse in his own day: Richard Burton coupled his name with Whitman's and Henley's in an article in the Atlantic Monthly in 1894.5

As Burton suggested in that article, not altogether without censure, the Sospiri were notable for employing the "free" form in combination with "free" themes. For Sharp such verse provided a perfect vehicle for expressing all liberties---sexual, social, and poetic. He marred the poems occasionally by an unnatural and self-conscious diction---as though Henley had gone through the poems making, as Yeats once said, a "hath" out of every "has." But their unequivocal outbursts of sexuality were often breathtakingly successful, and their near-symbolic use of natural phenomena to express such sexuality sometimes remarkably suggestive of D. H. Lawrence's Birds, Beasts, and Flowers. Here is "The Wild Mare":

Like a breath that comes and goes
O'er the waveless waste
Of sleeping Ocean,
So sweeps across the plain
The herd of wild horses.
Like banners in the wind
Their flying tails,
Their streaming manes:
Arid like spume of the sea
Fang'd by breakers,
The white froth tossed from their bloodred nostrils.
Out from the midst of them
Dasheth a white mare,
White as a swan in the pride of her beauty:
And, like the whirlwind,
Following after,
A snorting stallion,
Swart as an Indian
Diver of coral!
Wild the gyrations,
The rush and the whirl;
Loud the hot panting
Of the snow-white mare,
As swift upon her
The stallion gaineth:
Fierce the proud snorting
Of him, victorious:
And loud, swelling loud on the wind from the mountains,
The hoarse savage tumult of neighing and stamping
Where, wheeling, the herd of wild horses awaiteth---
Ears thrown back, tails thrashing their flanks or swept under---
The challenging scream of the conqueror stallions.6

Meredith, commenting on this poem after publication, called it an "unrivalled" example of "impressionistic work" and noted that such work "surpasses all but highest verse" if written "where the heart is hot."7 Sharp also wrote sexuality into the cooler and quieter rhythms of the fountain in "Sorgendo La Luna," though with less success:

No sound,
Save the bush'd breath,
The slowly flowing,
The long and low withdrawing breath of Rome.
Not a leaf quivers, where the dark,
With eyes of rayless shadow and moonlit hair,
Dreams in the black
And hollow cavernous depth of the ilex-trees.
No sound,
Save the hush'd breath of Rome,
And sweet and fresh and clear
The bubbling, swaying, ever quavering jet
Of water fill'd with pale nocturnal gleams,
That, in the broad low fount,
Falleth,
Falleth and riseth,
Riseth and falleth, swayeth and surgeth . . .
Up from the marble fount The water leaps,
Sways in the moonshine, springeth, springeth,
Falleth and riseth,
Like sweet faint lapping music,
Soft gurgling notes of woodland brooks that wander
Low laughing where the hollowed stones are green
With slippery moss that hath a trickling sound:
Leapeth and springeth . . .8

Not surprisingly, many of the poems severely shocked Mrs. Grundy with their unabashed sex and their exposure of bare flesh, among them "The Naked Rider," "The Bather," and "Fior di Memoria."9 From "The Bather" are the following lines:

Silent she stands,
And looks far seaward

. . .

Beautiful, beautiful
The sunlit gleam
Of her naked body,
Ivory-white 'mid the cyclamen blossoms.

. . .

As a water-lily
Touched by the breath
Of sunrise glory,
Moveth and swayeth
With tremulous joy,
So o'er the sunlit
White gleaming body
Of the beautiful bather
Passeth a quiver
Rosy-white, as a cloud at the dawning . . . 10

One can't resist speculating that this September-Morn image is the original of the "exquisite maiden on the banks of Lake Nemi" to whom Ernest Rhys later half-jestingly attributed the inspiration for Sharp’s new poetic prowess. Rhys was probably, perhaps deliberately and for sensation's sake, identifying her with the mysterious "friend" Sharp repeatedly credited "with that inspiration." Of course, circumstantial evidence was on the side of Rhys's malicious wit.11 Sharp's new life in and around Rome was bohemian enough to have encouraged his joining the pagan water activities suggested by "The Bather." He and his wife counted many resident artists among their friends---Theodore Roussel, Charles Holroyd, and others---as well as several literary people on their holidays. Sharp's reading of Reclus' Primitive Folk and Loti's Le mariage, combined with the momentum already provided by many radical London friends, was, moreover, inclining him to an earnest reappraisal of what he called "the sexual morale."12 It is also true that his wife was rarely with him on his exploring expeditions over the Campagna, where the inviting solitudes might well have tempted his sensual side.

Yet to look for Sharp's inspiration in such putative sexual daring is to ignore the quality of tentative and romanticized lust that makes poems like "The Bather" resemble the wish-fulfillment dreams of adolescence. It is also to ignore how much they reveal of Sharp's imaginative life. Even as a mere figment "The Bather" supplies a shorthand symbol for what was happening to Sharp psychologically as a result of the new freedom he had given himself to divagate in the cloudless dazzlement of the hills and plains around Rome. In keeping with his characteristic technique for applying perceptions about the external world to his internal life, he had accomplished a "return to nature" that was more than just a physical and poetic return to natural surroundings. It was a "return" to some basis of actuality, to what he later called "the wastes of the imagination,"13 a symbolic stripping-down to the essential self in an effort to realize it.

As a means of expressing Sharp's need for physical and creative freedom, the metaphor of nakedness had great directness and simplicity. Possibly in his association with Yeats, begun in 1888, he had already become acquainted with the concept of the "mask," to which his own bears a resemblance. The figure had appeared in Sharp's work in the essay on Browning, where he spoke of the dramatic monologues as an ideal means of handling the "masks" or postures of human variety, especially, as he put it, the variety of modern times. But the influence of the second Italian experience is observable in the figure's increasing significance from the Sospiri onward. Stories like "The Oread," which appeared in Sharp's Pagan Review (1892), and impressionistic dramas like "The Passion of Pére Hilarion" and "The Black Goddess," later incorporated into Vistas (1894), all make use of the uncovering or stripping of the hero physically as he emerges into a new kind of life.

It is thus possible to draw a direct line from the Sospiri, through the Pagan Review, to the "psychic dramas" published together under the title Vistas. The Pagan Review undoubtedly originated as a device for baiting the prudish critics who had responded so archly to his Sospiri; it bore on its front cover the motto "Sic transit gloria Grundi." But the satirical tone of this inscription, the review's guiding principle, and some of its introductory preface was tempered by a strain of high seriousness. Under the guise of the editor "W. H. Brooks," Sharp advanced in that preface the movement called "the new paganism," describing it as "a new inwardness," a scrutiny of the hidden human life, of which sexual mores were a significant part. And using the familiar metaphor, he spoke of wanting "to withdraw from life the approved veils of Convention."14

Indeed the entire magazine expressed a growing "mask" or "veil" fixation. Its single edition, published in September 1892, did not merely disguise its editorship. Its full contents were composed by Sharp under seven different pseudonyms. Not once, in fact, did he use his own name;"15 and he chose mostly French pseudonyms, like Gascoigne, Verlayne, and others, revealing his alignment with esthetic movements on the continent. The Pagan Review was not the first example of the use of a pseudonym on Sharp's part; he had, in desultory fashion, employed an anagram of his own name, "H. P. Siwaärmill," to designate a certain profoundly wise Dutch philosopher to whom were attributed epigraphs to poems in Romantic Ballads, and oracular fragments quoted by Sanpriel in The Children of To-morrow. Nevertheless the Pagan Review represented the first broad and more than whimsical use of a pseudonym.16

This burst of pseudonymous writing coincided with Sharp's interest in the drama: the Pagan Review contained his first attempts at dramatic writing, "The Black Goddess" and a fragment called "Dionysos in India." Like his own "Oread" in the same Pagan Review, Sharp in Italy had paused "in contemplation of [his] second self."17 The congruence of drama and "mask" in Sharp's creative work thus defines the full effect of the self-examination which the trip to Italy had prompted and which that trip represents in the chronicle of his development. Both were means of expressing the fragmentation and variety Sharp had discovered within himself---the drama or dramatic monologue in universal termi, and the pseudonym in personal, internal terms---though the line between these was not always clear.

In this connection Sharp's essay on Browning, produced just before the Italian trip, merits further examination as a work of criticism in which the principles of drama and "mask" were first outlined in prototype and examined in terms Sharp would thereafter apply to himself and to his own method. The portents are readily visible. Browning was "a type of the subtle, restless, curious, searching modern age." He was, in other words, as Sharp believed himself to be, a form of summary representative of his times. "The Victorian era," says Sharp, "is characterized by vast, Titanic struggles of the human spirit to reach . . . Truth . . . by piling Ossas of searching speculation upon Pelions of hardly-won positive knowledge." Browning, he continues, "is the profoundest interpreter of [this era]. To achieve supremacy [he] had . . . to fashion a mentality so passionately alive that its manifold phases should have all the reality of concrete individualities."18 In a similar vein, Sharp credited Browning with recognizing "the value of quintessential moments,"19 a concept in itself dramatic. And emphasizing the "autopsychic" nature of Browning's individuations of attitudes and "moments," that is, their function as extensions or projections of his own flexible internal personality, Sharp drew attention to Browning's ability to identify, as Sharp himself did, with any external phenomenon:

Those who know and love "Pauline" will remember the passage where the poet, with that pantheistic ecstasy which was possibly inspired by the singer he most loved [Shelley], tells how he can live the life of plants . . . or . . . of the bird . . . or be a fish.20

On this basis, Sharp debunked the critical view that celebrated Browning as a subtle thinker. He believed Browning's eminence lay not in the content of his "philosophy" at all, but in his having successfully dramatized the conflicts of his time. This was his true "message." "Through a multitude of masks, he, the typical soul, speaks and delivers himself of [that] message which would not be presented emphatically enough as the utterance of a single individual."21 Browning's great contribution, Sharp therefore concluded, was as a dramatic poet who, besides adding "a wealth of poetic diction" and "new symbols" to the language of English poetry, set the conditions for a total reappraisal of the tools of criticism "involving our construction of a new definition" around the concept of the poet as .22

On the score of these observations alone Sharp should be credited with a high degree of critical and historical insight. Perceiving this one vital direction of modern literature, he was led to remark on encountering the work of Maeterlinck in October 1891, "I believe that much of the imaginative writing of the future will be in dramatic prose of a special kind."23 It was to this future that he proceeded to dedicate himself in his own works providing not so much an instance of the "poet as dramatist" as of the self as drama. Needless to say, in his application of this latter concept he produced results of an eccentric kind by attempting to create separate artistic tasks for his personae.

"Fragments from the Lost journals of Piero di Cosimo," an imaginative work Sharp published the same year as Browning, is also interesting as a link between the London and Italian Sharps. The technique Sharp employed in this story comes from the tradition established by W. S. Landor, Browning, and Pater in which the life and character of a historical figure are dramatized and given a fictive context. Though not intended as a literary ruse, "The Lost journals" had the effect, as such things sometimes will, of calling out the occasional fool among critics, who in this case complained that Sharp's "translation" was not sufficiently literal, "probably from lack of knowledge of medieval Italian," a defect he claimed to have discerned by comparing Sharp's version "with the original."24 Success like this might easily turn anyone to a life of deception.

"The Lost journals," which first appeared in the Scottish Art Review in 1889 and was later subsumed with a group of other stories under the title Ecce Puella (1896), exemplifies as a whole and in some of its particulars Sharp's increasing tendency to focus on the self as drama. The piece is, as its title suggests, a form of dramatic monologue in prose. Piero di Cosimo was a painter of some interest to Walter Pater; and the form of the narrative, as well as the nature of the personality and life with which Sharp chooses to invest his subject, show strong indications of the influence of Pater's Imaginary Portraits. Like so many of the Portraits, "The Lost Journals" follows Piero day by day through a series of events peculiar to the life of an artist, and therefore a man of special sensibility. Notwithstanding its derivativeness---and its melodramatic climax---the work is worthy of consideration as a tour de force in a genre significant for its popularity in this period. There is vigor and originality in its detail and psychological plausibility in its central character.

Beyond the drama inherent in the form, however, Sharp has given Piero some interesting characteristics of internal drama. Even his art is in conflict with itself, for Piero is a seeker of "the real in the occult."25 He is prone to paradoxical responses to nature, which he claims is his subject: she is both "Madonna Natura" and "a beast of prey."26 He is possessed by the idea that virtue and vice, love and hate, beauty and horror are contiguous and coexistent. He is called "the mad painter"27 because his personal temperament varies from hilarity to despondency. His devotion to his art is fitful: he is both industrious and inclined to periods of paralyzing idleness. Though scrupulous in his personal habits, he cultivates a jungle-like garden, overgrown with weeds and tropical plants. When asked to participate in a local Florentine festival, joyful in its theme, he contributes a float called "The Car of Death."

The drama of paradox, of total oppositions, is of course the drama of the self in its simplest and most obvious form, but also, in a sense, its most fascinating. This may explain why Sharp did not progress much beyond it. He had quite early developed a predisposition to seeing character in oppositions. This limited mode of confronting external and internal complexity merely underwent a gradual clarification and translation into the fictionalist's vocabulary. It had its beginning as early as Sharp's first biography, his Rossetti study of 1882. Sharp's Rossetti, just like his Piero, had been grindingly industrious---at times and at other times submerged in ennui and lassitude. Sharp expressed fascination with Rossetti's "Hand and Soul," a tale painstakingly rendering the split between artistic perception and realizations In his work as art critic, he had found a similar paradox in Sodona, or "Bazzi," a Sienese painter also of some interest to Pater. Sharp described Sodona as both hedonist and industrious craftsman. He attempted to rationalize the combination in terms that suggested his personal acquaintance with the fault: "Like many men similarly endowed, the hedonistic tendencies of his nature came too frequently and too forcibly into contest with his powers of prolonged application and continuous study." And very much like the Piero of "The Lost journals," Sodona was "more heedful of the softly-toned autumnal hues, and drooping of over-burdened vines . . . than of the stretched canvas or half-o'erfrescoed wall." On this fact  could be blamed his failure to attain "those heights which were surely to him possible of achievement."29

This particular duality, it may well be argued, is a common, often imaginary preoccupation of every artist, who knows full well the difference between the excitement and pleasure of conceiving a work of art, and the rigor and discipline of executing it. But in discerning dualities, Sharp had gone well beyond the division between soul and hand, even in his earliest work. Rossetti had inspired his often-expressed fascination with the doppelgänger legend.30 And an extension of this concept, the werewolf, wraith, or "weird," the specter of oneself whose visitation is a portent of death, Sharp had effectively used in Romantic Ballads, especially in "The Weird of Michael Scott." Furthermore, his memoirs of Philip Marston had dwelt on the blind poet's youthful "dual existence," a penchant for romanticizing himself in the role of swashbuckler and taking "imaginary voyages."31 Sharp claimed also to have been the recipient of a sonnet in which Marston asserted his belief in a previous existence.32 Nor was Shelley spared Sharp's habit of vision. It was, Sharp says, as though the poet, a moral visionary, and the man, defeated in all his high intentions, "were a distinct identity, united by no other bond than a literary partnership."33 Sharp added George Meredith to this eminent tribe of divided minds by describing the conflict between his scientific and his poetic visions.34 Heine's variegated personality as seen through Sharp's eyes---not a simple duality, but a combination of many oppositions---has already been discussed.

The instinct for division so prefigured in this early work intensified from 1890 on. Evidence of Sharp's and Fiona Macleod's similar fascination with doubles and double personalities should indeed have been clue enough for any enterprising literary detective of the day to establish Sharp's identity with Fiona Macleod, whose employment of the folkloristic "wraith" or other self is frequent. But more than the "weird" of Sharp's Romantic Ballads, which is used strictly qua folklore, the " other self" as employed by Fiona Macleod has an intensely felt reality. The author's voice seems to quaver even behind the mask of omniscience. This increased intensity of feeling is anticipated in the period of the early nineties by one work written under the name of Sharp. This work was "The Gipsy Christ," written and published as a short story, though, interesting to note, conceived originally as a drama.35 The full autobiographical impact of this story may only be felt if it is placed beside some private remarks Sharp made at the time of its composition. The first of these gives some corroboration to the theory advanced in Chapter I regarding Sharp's self-image as "changeling" or member of another race; it also provides evidence of the intense self-scrutiny Sharp was at this time undergoing. Writing in his diary for September 1891, he mused, "I suppose I was a gipsy once; a 'wild man' before: a wilder beast of prey before that."36 Speaking more publicly of the story in question, but not much more, Sharp confessed to Robert Murray Gilchrist that "the story goes back to my own early experiences," though he is quick to add "---not as to the facts of the story of course."37 The Memoir leaves us to guess what he meant, but that is not too difficult. The "early experiences" to which he alludes were those youthful, truant wanderings among the gypsies, when in feeling, if not in "fact," he saw himself as their "sun brother." "The Gipsy Christ" is no more than a full articulation of Sharp's fantasy. The central character, half gypsy and half English, is haunted by the more compelling gypsy self, and is finally forced to lead a separate existence as messiah and sacrificial victim---"Gipsy Christ" of the race to which he is half-brother.

The inspiration for this tale, however, came from no mere casual recrudescence of Sharp's past. His varied and esoteric reading was bringing him to exciting self-discoveries and rediscoveries; his new selfconfidence was providing the occasion for realizing these discoveries in his art. There is no way of knowing precisely what led him to read Elie Reclus's Primitive Folk at this time---perhaps it was sheer curiosity. But it is tempting to imagine his enthusiasm at finding so much in the book to reawaken private visions and fantasies so long laid asleep by hard facts and hard times. Reclus's anthropological technique was as primitive as his folk, but through the colorful pages of his narrative, with their vivid and affecting detail, the youthful Sharp who had felt himself "allied" with the prophets and seers of "other lands and other days"38 was reborn. How curiously like Mrs. Sharp's characterization of her husband in those days of childhood and adolescence, wandering off to the hillsides because he must be alone with his visions, is this description of the angakok among the Konyagas, the tribal figure gifted with mystical and healing wisdom:

At an early age the novice courts solitude. He wanders throughout the long nights across silent plains filled with the chilly whiteness of the moon; he listens to the wind moaning over the desolate floes; and then the aurora borealis, that ardently sought occasion for "drinking in the light," the angakok must absorb in all its brilliancies and splendours . . . And now the future sorcerer is no longer a child. Many a time he has felt himself in the presence of Sidné, the Esquimaux Demeter; he has divined it by the shiver which ran through his veins, by the tingling of his flesh and the bristling of his hair . . . He sees stars unknown to the profane; he asks the secrets of destiny from Sirius, Algol, and Altair; he passes through a series of initiations, knowing well that his spirit will not be loosed from the burden of dense matter and crass ignorance, until the moon has looked him in the face, and darted a certain ray into his eyes.

And, the angakok must surely have corroborated Sharp’s own experience of his second, elusive self:

At last his own Genius, evoked from the bottomless depths of existence, appears to him, having scaled the immensity of the heavens, and climbed across the abysses of the ocean. White, wan, and solemn, the phantom will say to him: "Behold me, what dost thou desire?"

Uniting himself with the Double from beyond the grave, the soul of the angakok flies upon the wings of the wind, and quitting the body at will, sails swift and light through the universe. It is permitted to probe all hidden things, to seek the knowledge of all mysteries, in order that they may be revealed to those who have remained mortal with spirit unrefined.39

"The Gipsy Christ" is here, though without the added dimension of Sharp's own experience. His story is the tragedy of an angakok misplaced in a civilized world---indeed residing in the flesh of a normal, civilized Englishman, an ordinary "mortal with spirit unrefined." Only among primitive folk may the angakok unite himself "with the Double from beyond the grave," and fly "upon the wings of the wind . . . Swift and light through the universe." The fate of the seer who has walked long in the ways of civilization---undoubtedly Sharp's bleakest prevision of his own fate---remains instead suffering and self-destruction.

Also beyond Reclus was the racial division of the "Gipsy Christ." Sharp's early sensitivity to differences of race and culture had become more intense with time and with the experiences of Italy and the United States. In nearly everything he wrote he consciously reflected through parallel dualities the dual racial strain in his own blood (Celt and Scandinavian) and in his education and literary training (Scottish and English). A racial tension similar to that of "The Gipsy Christ," though somewhat less dramatically treated, had formed an important part of the characterization of Sanpriel, heroine of The Children of Tomorrow. Half-Christian and half-Jew, she came close to being "cursed" as her father had been with affinities for both Jew and Gentile; but she had, both idealistically and quixotically, dedicated herself to that part of her origins which, like the Gipsy's, might be considered the "outlaw" race.

At the same time that racial duality was becoming a more insistent motif of Sharp's fiction, it was developing into a near obsession in his criticism and biographies. Racial oppositions were worked into almost every portrait. There is the Belgian Maeterlinck: "his literary inheritance is markedly English ... A strain of English blood, I understand, runs in [his] veins."40 Walter Pater: "In that serene, quiet, austere, yet passionate nature of his, so eminently Teutonic, so distinctly Northern, there was, strange to say, a strain of Latin savagery."41 Edward Burne Jones: "He expressed his own conviction that in nature and temperament he was Celtic and not English."42

Other nonracial dualities persisted in Sharp's writing through the nineties. In the case of his brief study of William Morris,43 it was not surprising, of course, that he should emphasize his subject's obvious double life as creative artist and active socialist. But Sharp's reappraisal of Rossetti at the end of the decade was so overwhelmed with dual terms that it revealed little more than the writer's relentless habit of vision:

Winsome, lovable, perverse, irresistible, weak, brilliant, moody, robust, morbid, visionary, shrewd, fitted to excel among his fellows and a recluse almost monastic in his isolation, sane in his vision of life and insane in his application of the principles of life, an ideal lover and at the sway of lesser emotions, an indifferent loyalist in love and yet dominated by one passion, a follower of ideal beauty and heedless of that comeliness which is her outward approach, a moralist who had few morals, a wit who was tired of wit, a humourist who was tired of humour, and yet whose wit and humour made so many hours bright for himself and others, a man strong to endure and yet the impotent slave of a drug, the most powerful temperament of his time and yet shattered by his own weakness, morose to a degree on occasion and yet habitually so lovable that not one of his intimates took thought of resentment, sweeping in denunciation and yet generous to everyone and to a foe most of all, impassioned with the romanticism of the most subtle and sensuous imagination of his time and yet with his chief delight in the novels of Dumas, an epicurean by temperament and in practice at all times heedless of the first principles of the epicure, agnostic in most matters of common faith and yet superstitious to a degree, gifted with superb energy and the most subject of all men to the prostrations of idleness, the most arrogant of all men and the most humble, cynical in much and in more naively simple, reckless in speech and loyal in spirit, a broken man and a triumphant genius, he remains the most perplexing, the most fascinating, the most wonderful personality of the Victorian era.44

The volume from which this extraordinary passage comes is Sharp's treatise on English painting published in 1902, The Progress of Art in the Nineteenth Century. It is significant in relation to his "double" vision not only because it contained numerous applications of that vision to individual artists also but because it raised the concept of artistic duality to a principle of good criticism. In evaluating Turner, Sharp observed that while his art demonstrated a passion for beauty his "external life" was "mean and even sordid." He concluded from this and similar observations about other artists that man and artist were totally separate entities. The true critic, he insisted, knows "how little a part 'conduct of life' plays in art."45 This truth had, by 1900, been submitted to substantial proof by trial, for the figure of Fiona Macleod had been planned and executed as just such a division of Sharp's artistic self from his workaday, "bread-and-butter making" one.46

The Sharp-Macleod division, proffered to the literary world in 1894 but in the making since 1891, is therefore not difficult to explain as a dramatization of opposing tendencies which Sharp recognized in his own character. Its only difference from other such dramatizations is the degree of permanent hold it obtained upon him. Both in its racial duality and in its separation of the creating artist from the acting man, it is, as we have seen, a division prefigured or paralleled numerous times.

One other dynamic investing the Sharp-Macleod division, the sexual one, merits special treatment because the process of its evolution was much more subtle and inexplicit than that of the other components of the drama of the self. The sexual tension as such is not visible in Sharp's published work in the same way as are those other tensions already analyzed. No artist or writer figuring in his criticism or biography, no character in his fiction or his poetry lives a peculiarly hermaphroditic form of dual existence. We have only frequent private testimony that Sharp thought he contained such sexual tension within himself, that he felt a deep sense of identity with woman and her problems. "Rarely a day passed," writes his wife, "in which he did not try to imagine himself living the life of a woman, to see through her eyes, and feel and view life from her standpoint, and so vividly that 'sometimes I forget I am not the woman I am trying to imagine.'"47 Similar and even less restrained testimony came from Lilian Rea, his personal secretary during the Fiona Macleod period: "In him seemed to live again the child of Hermes and Aphrodite, the twain that became one flesh---man and woman in one."48 Considering that Sharp was not slow to find imaginative representatives for all of his other internal contrasts, we may only reason that the absence of correlatives in his writings for the sexual one---beyond, that is, the secret maintenance of the dual role as Sharp and Macleod---was the effect of cultural inhibition. This may also provide a partial explanation for the secrecy in which the role itself was held for so long. From Lilian Rea's viewpoint, at least, it did: "Personally, I should explain Mr. Sharp's unbroken reticence on this point by a certain delicacy which he felt in acknowledging his belief to the world at large that a woman's soul really lived within himself in dual unity with his distinct man's nature."49

Yet the inhibitions hedging the literary "staging" of the sexual drama did not altogether keep Sharp from dealing with it. Staying within the limits of the normal sex relationship, he nevertheless conveyed that drama in terms that strongly suggested the fragmentation of the individual. His technique was, in other words, the reverse of that used to delineate other oppositions. It amounted to lifting a female character to a level of partnership with the male, to the point of her actually transcending her physical role. Thus the psychological and spiritual affinities between the love-partners are emphasized in almost every instance in which Sharp dramatized the relationship between the sexes.

Quite early there had been the union of John and Lillian described n the third cycle of Sharp's early epic The Human Inheritance, where the hero finds the counterpart of his own sensibility in his partner and where their marriage is a union in its true and root sense, a making of one spirit where two existed before. A similar transcendence was one of the conditions for the relationships between Hew and Mona in The Sport of Chance, Felix and Sanpriel in The Children of To-morrow, Madge and Jim in "Madge o' the Pool," and numerous other minor pairs scattered throughout his poetry. The sexual drama gained in intensity of feeling, as had every other duality, from the circumstances surrounding Sharp's stay in Italy in 1890-91, deriving special benefit from the added piquancy of Sharp's encounter there with his woman-inspirer. Evidence suggests too that Reclus' linking of transvestism with the occult or prophetic personality may have played an extremely important part in assisting Sharp's sexually mixed self-image.50 For these reasons the strategy of transcendent union was not only acted out in Sharp's pseudonym, but was borne with increasing depth and conviction into the work of Fiona Macleod, where it became that work's single most prevalent theme. There, the affinity of two people for each other is attenuated to an almost utter psychic identity, the love-partner, in other words, becoming merely an aspect of the realization of the self.

Sharp's early biography and criticism had not been without their similar tendency to idealize the sex partnership. Rossetti and Elizabeth Siddal he considered "likes," both, as he described them, possessing a heightened romantic and artistic sensibility.51 He took an analogous view of the Browning union and went so far as to compare the two marriages in the Rossetti biography. His feelings had not changed by the time of his essay on Browning, where, ever true to the Victorian legend, he reasserted the spiritual union of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett. Shelley, of course, came in for a large share of Sharp's expatiations on the ideal sexual relationship; indeed he was probably the source of many of the terms and much of the vocabulary in which Sharp’s own convictions were expressed. In his Shelley biography, Sharp underscored the pathos of Shelley's continual failure to evolve out of the materials of his own life the ideal relationship so frequently glorified in his poetry, especially in such works as "Alastor" and "Epipsychidion," in which the relationship was quite explicitly expressed as a finding of---or a search for---one's "other self." The validity of such a quest, although in life ever destined to end tragically, Sharp never called into question.

Sharp's conviction regarding the possibility of transcendent union was remarkably obstinate. Certainly both Rossetti's and Shelley's experience belied it, but so also did the tragic experience of many of Sharp's own fictional characters. In a poem like "Desolation," Sharp even countered it with an opposite conviction that the human condition was one of inexorable isolation and loneliness.52 The presence of the contradiction is not in inself unusual. The coexistence of the two views might well be deemed a constant in Victorian literature, so often did the Victorians yearn for realization of the perfect union, so often deplore the tragic incompatibility of one human being with another. Matthew Arnold, of course, provided excellent evidence that one man could straddle such inconsistency and still survive:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! For the world . . .
Hath really neither joy, nor love . . .
53

Perhaps Arnold's strength lay in his conscious perception and acceptance of this paradox, to the point that it was no longer really a paradox but a distinction between cosmic love and private loyalty.

Sharp, apparently, not only failed to postulate any such resolving distinction but did not even achieve consciousness of the paradox. The cosmos that is inimical to his ideal unions is the same cosmos of which the unions, in their very ideality, seem to be a part. These unions come to their ends not through the agency of the partners themselves, in whose antagonistic egos would lie the true tragic drama of love, but through the power of unearthly forces. The conventional fidelity of Mona and Hew Armitage is blasted by a supernatural villainy, the unconventional liaison of Felix and Sanpriel is blasted by lightning, as was the poignant adolescent passion of the British merchant marine and his nut-brown maid in "Youth’s Inheritance." These are not partners divided by their own will or merely by circumstances, but by the nature of matter, the nature of reality, the very nature of the universe which Sharp has devised, whose simultaneous function it is to unite and to divide. The fatal end of the Children of To-morrow is a prefiguration of almost every beautiful union later to be created by Fiona Macleod---Lora and Alistair in Pharais, Sorcha and Alan in The Mountain Lovers, Ula and Urla, Dierdre and Naois, Eilidh and Cormac, Ethlenn and Ian, and others too numerous to mention. Death for so many of these star-crossed lovers comes, as it had for Felix and Sanpriel, precisely at the utmost height of their attempt to realize their spiritual harmony---even more, their identity---in the physical embrace. We are meant to recognize and to rejoice that such supernatural affinity can only be resolved beyond nature itself. The moment of fusion is the moment of transfiguration, of ascension into a harmony that is not of this world; without such transfiguration, it is implied, such fusion is not possible.

Such an awesome state of affairs in Sharp's imagination securely defines the peculiar outcome of all his efforts at reexamination of the "second self." When similar self-examination is conducted in psychotherapy, it is ordinarily intended to realize the "other self" as part of a whole---in Jung's terms, to integrate the personality. For Sharp, however, the investigation of hidden, repressed, or outlaw motivating forces seems to have proceeded on terms of secrecy from the ordinary self, the public "mask." The result was thus not integration at all, but increased polarization of all the forces constituting the personality. The only possible conclusion may be that Sharp was actually conducting a search for tension rather than for a means of relieving it. He was, of course, a man who had learned to live with the most basic and fundamental paradox: daily be confronted in his own mirror a tall figure in a state of utter physical grace and outward health, nevertheless being wasted by a diseased heart and disordered nerves. Sharp knew he could not hold out long against their erosion. Perhaps that is why "not to save the body and soothe the mind" but instead "to live a briefer while at a higher reach of the spirit and the uplifted if overwrought physical part of one"54 was for him the only way to conduct his life. Perhaps with a body always tending to total collapse, such tense, concentrated living was the only means of creating the energy by which life in the present was to be sustained and by which art at any time was to be produced.

 
contents   next