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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 2. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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page: 145

CHAPTER V.

MY anchor did not drag long. I was too energetic to be demoralized by my first failure; and my fall in nowise maimed the hope and resolve which are the best pioneers of certainty. Casting about for a continuance of press-work, which was the substance, while my independent writings were the decorations, of my income, I happened on a Parisian correspondentship just then vacant, and went over to the Brain of the World as one of ‘Our Own.’

Here I entered on a new set of experiences and broke fresh ground everywhere. page: 146 I had several introductions, both private and official; and some to the confraternity. But I did not find these last very useful. I do not know how these things are managed now, when telegraphy has equalized endeavour, but then the whole system was one of rivalry. In the interests of his paper, each man wished to be first in the field and to have the practical monopoly of private information. Hence, brotherly kindness, and doing to others as you would be done by, did not obtain among men whose professional loyalty lay in misleading, tripping up the heels of and outstripping their competitors.

One man, however, was free from this kind of class-jealousy; thinking that the world was broad enough for everyone to move freely in his own place, and that it was better for the public at large to receive true information than for even his own paper only to have the truth and all the others to be stuffed with ‘ducks’ and lies. The man I mean page: 147 was Frazer Corkran, that generous and genial correspondent of the Morning Herald, whose hand was ever open to his friends, who knew neither grudging nor jealousy, and whose house was such a pleasant rendezvous for both the floating and the resident literati. In him I found a willing guide and ready helper in my salad days of inexperience; and many a time he put me straight when else I should have gone astray, and filled my notebooks which else would have been half empty.

I found as true a friend in his bright-witted and sympathetic wife—a woman always glad to enlighten me with advice, to introduce me to those whom it was good for me to know, and to give me information where I needed it. Theirs was one of the pleasantest houses open to me—mixture of the home and the salon as it was; and I soon became like an outlying member of the family, round whom the children clustered page: 148 as of right, and who was admitted farther into the penetralia than were most.

I also had the entrée to the salon of that sharp and amusing little woman who not long since passed over to the majority at a far riper age than most of us attain. When I knew her, Madame Mohl was already old—or at least she seemed old to me in the insolence of my luxuriant youth; but she was in the perfection of her mental powers. I cannot say in the perfection of her beauty, for she never possessed the very faintest suspicion of good looks. Nor did she care to make the best of herself as she was, but despised even such grace as comes from trimness and conformity. Shall I ever forget the extraordinary figure she made when once, as I called by appointment, I found her in dressing-gown and slippers, sitting in the middle of the salon, reading, while the little girl whom she had adopted was pulling at her scanty frizzled hair till page: 149 it stood on end about her head—like a travestied aureole, from glory brought down to burlesque?

This was a pleasure to her, she said. She liked nothing so well as to have her hair gently pulled while she was reading; but she might have remembered the comical effect to those who saw her. I remember standing in the doorway for an instant, terrified, thinking that she had gone mad. But she called me to her in her smart, short, dislocated way; and I sat there, while she gave me lessons on worldly wisdom and the little girl continued to pull out her staring locks.

Her good ponderous husband was also kind to me. He was a very dungeon of learning—I use the word intentionally—for, like a dungeon, for the most part he kept his treasures under lock and key, away from the daily light, and only at stated times made a grand gaol-delivery in his books. Still, he page: 150 was gentle and human and knew when to unbend; and though he did not take the initiative, he gave me valuable advice when I asked for it, and such information as I wanted, and in all things treated me like a rational being—though I must have been to him terribly embryonic and inchoate. At that time I was still lost in the pathless morass of comparative mythology, where, for want of the knowledge of Sanscrit and the true scientific method, I did no good to myself nor to others. And to M. Mohl, whose intellect was eminently practical and void of mysticism, my then fondness for ‘views’ and ‘theories’ must have been wearisome enough. In looking back over the past, the one thing which strikes me above all the rest is the wonder of the kindness I received from men and women of matured minds and well-plenished intellects—I, so crude, so fluid, so unformed as I must have been!

All who knew Parisian society then, and page: 151 for many years after, will remember the famous salon in the Rue du Bac, with its tea-table to the side; its pretty little Frenchwomen in smart white bonnets, well-fitting black silk gowns, and graceful cashmere shawls—which last they hung over the back of their chairs, thus avoiding the need of a cloak-room; its more formal English ladies in conventional evening dress; its wits and literary celebrities of all nations; its leaven of dull respectability to tone down the brilliant Bohemianism which sometimes filtered through the more orderly pores; its learned pundits and frivolous beauties; those three exquisite Americans—the mother even more beautiful than the daughter, and the sister and aunt the fairest of the triad, as the great Italian physician—he who afterwards became a senator in Rome—found to his cost; that high-couraged English girl, then one of the vanguard of the advanced women, page: 152 and now left behind in the rush of the movement; and the eccentricity of the hostess herself, equalled only by her goodness of heart and vivacity of brain. No one who was anyone at all was left out of that hospitable menagerie across the Seine; and perhaps no room has been the birth-place of more important private events than that of M. and Madame Mohl.

For myself, I met there many notable people and made some good friendships; among others that of William Rathbone Greg, one of our most brilliant men of the immediate past. His ‘Creed of Christendom’ had had an immense fascination for me, and his sparkling talk and pleasant personality completed the charm already begun. Certainly, he often rasped me by his tremendous assumption of superiority and the accusation of my own correlative folly. But he was so much older than I, so much more experienced in all matters page: 153 of thought and observation, and I was personally so sincerely attached to him, that I could bear his high-handed way of dealing with me with the equanimity befitting the inferior. Even when he said to me, with that smile we all know—half playful, half satirical:—‘You have no right to hold another opinion when I have given you mine—I, one of the wisest of men—you, the most foolish of boys’ even then I did not take fire, as it was in my nature to do, but accepted the antithesis as accurate in all its parts.

For which piece of good humour I earned his good will, and, as time went on, a more valuable measure of friendship. But to the last he counted it to me for blame that he could not influence me more than he did, and that I still cherished thoughts and hopes, specially about human progress and perfectibility, which he gave himself some trouble to destroy.

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Earnestness in searching for truth has always this penalty to pay:—Everyone who is convinced of the rightness of his own views thinks he has but to put these views before you—clearly, forcibly, with the authority of his conviction—and that you will at once adopt them and go over to his side. When you do not, he is disappointed, displeased, and possibly changes his opinion of you altogether and ceases to be your friend.

This has been my experience again and again. I do not suppose many minds have been more laboriously worked over than has mine by those who, convinced in their own persons of this or that unprovable truth, have tried to make me see that light which for them has put out all the rest. And I never could! I was never able to see more than the spectroscopic lines which revealed constituents.

It never came to the point of severance page: 155 with my dear friend, the political Cassandra who thought he had found a satisfactory answer to so many of the Enigmas of Life, and that those which he could not explain were essentially insoluble. To the last of our intercourse he was an indulgent kind of Mentor, though I made but a recalcitrant and unsatisfactory Telemachus; and, if he never changed his opinion on my illimitable foolishness, he honoured me with his trust, his confidence, and in some sort his affection; and he knew, as he once said, that I was as true as steel to him and all other friends, and that my heart was sound if my head was not.

I also met the famous poet-couple, the husband and wife, of whom whereof in those days she was the more popular and famous. Now the ‘whirligig’ has reversed their respective positions, and his star is in the ascendant, gibbous and rough-edged as it is, while hers has comparatively declined. She was page: 156 always very genial in manner to me when I saw her, but she did not like me. She wrote to a common friend, poor Fanny Haworth—she who just touched excellence at so many points and never quite achieved it—and her adverse verdict was rather severe.

‘I have seen your favourite boy, Christopher Kirkland,’ she said; ‘and I do not like him. He is not true.’

When she talked to me she used to look at me through the dropping curtains of her long ringlets as if she would have read my secret soul. I used to feel as if I were on a moral dissecting-table, while she probed my thoughts and touched speculative tracts which probably seemed to her hopelessly wrong and corrupt. She did not show that she disliked nor distrusted me, but something about me must have jarred her highly strung sensitive nature.

I was very sorry when I knew what she page: 157 had said of me. I cannot remember anything of the kind which pained me more, and nothing has stung so deeply. If she had shown me her mind I would not have felt it so much; but she did not; and in those days I was young enough, and sincere enough, to take things as they seemed to be and to believe in appearances as realities. And, naturally affectionate as I was, with my heart on my sleeve, I credited those who acted towards me with kindness with the same sympathetic instincts as I myself possessed.

I had another adverse verdict flung at me at this time. There came to Paris a certain Dr. Hughes, who had taken for me one of those unfounded dislikes which sometimes blind even good men to the sense of fairness and justice. I had never seen him nor had he seen me; but I suppose he had heard something against me; and what he did not know he imagined—which does just page: 158 as well for that kind of antipathy which is based on conjecture, not intercourse. Finding that I was a friend in the house of some of his friends, he spoke of me strongly and bitterly, and made the husband at least believe that I was an atheist, a socialist of the worst type, the propagandist of all sorts of immoral and subversive opinions, and in no wise a safe nor fit comrade for young people.

Alarmed by this evil report, the husband wanted to forbid me the house; but the wife stood by me with all a good woman's courage of charity, and I was thus saved the pain of ostracism without knowing my offence. I was ignorant of the skirmish at the time, and only heard of it when the danger was past. Meanwhile, by my dear friend's clever management, I met Dr. Hughes in her salon and was straightway introduced to him—he, thus taken unawares, being unable in common politeness to escape.

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One of the strangest revulsions of feeling I have ever witnessed took place that night, and through my whole life I have never known so great a personal triumph. Frankly, it is to ‘peacock myself’ on this that I tell the story at all.

Knowing nothing of his hostility, and speaking to Dr. Hughes without suspicion or embarrassment, and as respectfully as I would to any one else of whom I had heard only good things and worthy, I won him over from enmity to liking, not conscious of what I was doing. To this hour I can see his eyes, deep-set, glittering, penetrating, full of fire and thought as they were, turned on me, doubting, questioning, and then with kindly glances, as we stood together for a long two hours on the balcony beneath the stars, and discussed many things of life and faith. And I can yet feel the touch of his broad hand on my shoulder when, as I turned to go back page: 160 into the room, he half held me so that I should look at him squarely, and said, smiling—and for all the sternness of his face and character his smile was sweet almost to pathos:

‘I am glad I have seen you and talked with you face to face. I know you better now than I thought I did.’

Dr. Hughes was as unorthodox as I was myself. But he made up in increased moral austerity for his abandonment of old theological restraints. He was a political economist of the hardest, as he was a philosopher of the most ascetic, type. A broad strain of Scotch Puritanism ran through his nature, and he allowed no margin for ‘slopping over,’ no excursions into the forbidden regions of unlawful passion. He had forsworn Hades and he did not believe in the devil; but in his code materialism was virtually Satan, and looseness was the true region of dam- damnation page: 161 nation. What he had heard or imagined of me made him believe that I slopped over at all four corners; that I was a rank Materialist and a frank Epicurean; and he felt bound to testify to the cloven foot he made sure was hidden within my boot.

In those days I was a fervent Deist and by no means an ethical latitudinarian; though I confess I was so far a hedonist in that I thought happiness a human good, and pain and misery evils which it was our duty to avert from others when we could, and our wisdom to avoid for ourselves.

Besides those whom I have mentioned, I knew slightly Ary Scheffer; I was once presented to Béranger, who was too closely surrounded by his intimates to give much thought to an outside stranger; and I knew Daniele Manin. With this last indeed, my relations were friendly almost to intimacy; and I used often to go and see him at his meagre rooms in the unfashionable page: 162 quarter where he lived. He was always wrapped in cloaks and blankets, and complained much of the cold; but he was ever dignified and noble. His daughter was then in bad health. It was the sad beginning of the sadder end; for when she died all that was essentially Manin died too, and the broken heart of the father put the finishing touch to the ruined career of the patriot.

More than anyone I have known Manin made me feel the disadvantage of domestic affections when a man is the leader of a cause, and how far wiser it is for those who are self-consecrated to the service of humanity to keep free from family ties. This loneliness within allows of so much the more activity without. It made part of the secret of Mazzini's enduring power; and Manin, without the heart-break of his desolated home, might have been for years longer an active agent in that Italian page: 163 Unity which came too late for him to share in its glory and its triumph.

At this time I was poor rather than well off, and I had to live modestly if I would live honourably. Hence I had my eyrie on the fifth floor, where I shared the apartment of a young fellow a few years older than myself. His French mother and Irish father were dead—the latter quite lately—and his sole inheritance was the lease of this apartment for the five years it had to run. We lived a rough kind of life; but at our age roughnesses did not count. An old woman used to come in the morning to ‘faire le ménage’ for the day; after which we were left to ourselves. We had to take our meals out of doors, save the ‘premier déjeûner’ of bread and coffee; and we had only two rooms—one each. But our friends used to toil up those five flights to visit us. Men of note, women of condition, young fellows like ourselves—they all came to page: 164 make merry or to talk seriously, as the humour took them. Among the rest I remember Mr. Thackeray coming here to see me; and the good-humoured way in which he sat on the flat-topped black box, not to disturb the mass of papers heaped on my second chair, was especially delightful. Mr. Greg also used to come; but he generally fell foul of my hundred and ninety steps; and it was here that I first saw Henry Wills, who, with his wife, afterwards became one of my dearest friends.

My young landlord, Léon O'Byrne, had a small employment somewhere—I never knew what it was nor where. His only sister was governess in an old Legitimist family of high rank and fortune—the Marquis and Marquise de Boiscourt. Through Leon I became acquainted with these charming people, whom I was fortunate enough to please. Madame la Marquise was specially good to me; and we soon page: 165 became fast friends. She always wore a broad gold bracelet, which one day she took off and showed me. It contained a lock of hair, underneath which was engraved: ‘Mon roi. Henri Cinq.’ There was also a date, which I forget. Perhaps it was that of his birth, or of his visionary accession; in any case it was a sacred memory. The outside of the bracelet bore the crown of France surmounting the letter H,—both wrought in diamonds.

I often went to the Boiscourt Hotel in the Faubourg St. Germain; and I met there the then famous Jasmin, the Provençal barber, whose ‘papillotes’ were the fashion among the fine ladies, somewhat as the works of Barnes, our Dorsetshire poet, were the fashion here in London a few years ago. Jasmin had been invited to give a reading of his poems to a select circle, wherein I had been generously included. All the ladies wept; and Jasmin himself wept more page: 166 copiously than did they. He was begged to repeat one of the poems—the one which had most moved his audience and himself; and I was rather amused to note how his voice broke on exactly the same words, how he wept at exactly the same passages, and how the whole of the second reading was the precise echo of the first. Not an intonation, not a gesture, not a look nor emphasis was in any way changed; and this second reading, in destroying all appearance of spontaneity, destroyed all vestige of illusion.

Madame la Marquise was naturally a profound believer in the saints. She told me that if ever I lost anything I was to pray to St. Anthony of Padua, and he would find it for me. She instanced the truth of this heavenly interposition by telling me how, a week ago, she had lost her diamond necklace. She had been out to a soiree, and when hen she left her carriage and went upstairs, page: 167 her necklace was gone. They searched everywhere for it, but in vain. Then she prayed to St. Anthony of Padua, and promised him a candle if he would help her. The next morning her diamonds were found in the courtyard, just there where she had stepped from her carriage. If that was not confirmation strong, what was or could be?

She was kind enough to ask me to spend some time at her country house, where I went with Léon, and where I enjoyed myself immensely. But perhaps this was more on account of the novelty of all I saw than because of the intrinsic pleasantness of the arrangements. Things to which I have become accustomed now, and which are as natural to me as old home habits, were then strange and unusual; and my faculty of observation, always alert, had enough to occupy it.

The family, Legitimist and devout to their finger-tips, lived in that quasi-patriarchal page: 168 style which only exists in families of high rank where relative positions are too sharply defined for any kind of blurring to be possible, and which is clearly a survival of serfdom and seigneurial prepotency. The upper servants had lived all their lives in the family; and the younger ones, who were the children of peasants on the estate, training under the direction of their elders, would not have dared to have given up their places, to which they were also destined for the whole of their natural lives.

These old upper servants were familiar and affectionate, but never disrespectful nor presumptuous: they were simply the inferior members of the household, but always integral to the family. The old butler used to mingle in the conversation at table while handing round the dishes. He would confirm what M. le Marquis said, and put Madame la Marquise right when she blundered; or he would contradict M. Wil- Wilfrid page: 169 frid when he spoke at random, as boys will; or he would tell me what I ought to eat with a kind of humane condescension to an outside barbarian and heretic that was infinitely amusing. Every day, after the second breakfast, at twelve o'clock precisely, he, the lady's-maid, and the housekeeper, used to go out for a formal walk down the avenue. This was as much part of the day's doings as that second breakfast itself. The lady's-maid sat with Madame la Marquise in her bedroom; and the two talked together as they sewed in concert more like sisters than mistress and maid. Madame la Marquise, always superbly dressed, did not disdain a host of unseen economies never practised by Englishwomen of a certain status. But one of her many complaints against Englishwomen was their extravagance in the unseen parts of dress, such as linings and the like. Another was the wicked way in which they crumpled their page: 170 skirts and spoilt them generally by unhandy usage.

That bedroom of Madame la Marquise was a great rendezvous for us all. She had been in England, and she had instituted four o'clock tea—not then so general as it is now—where we had buttered toast ‘à l'Anglaise,’ which they all preferred to cake. M. le Marquis and the young men used to come to these symposia in shirt-sleeves, and without waistcoats. And it made no difference that Mademoiselle Sara, Léon's sister and the governess to Mademoiselle Berthe, the only girl, was there; or that Madame la Marquise herself was in a déshabille startling in its buttonless intimacy or what Italians call ‘confidenza.’

M. Wilfrid, the youngest son, did not often join us. He was still under tuition, and in the care of M. l'Abbé, who literally never let him out of his sight, never allowed him to be away from him one moment, day page: 171 nor night, except when he was with his mother. The boy was then seventeen; and I think our average schoolboys would have set him down laconically as an ‘awful duffer.’ I used to pity him for what was substantially a life of slavery, for a strictness of surveillance beyond that which we think necessary for our girls. It seemed to me an enervating, emasculating thing all through, and ill-calculated to make a man of the best type.

Indeed, I did not think much of the essential manliness of any of the young men. They were all ‘petits maîtres,’ dissipated rather than energetic, and with the strangest mixture possible of indifference, unbelief and superstition in religious matters. I remember my unbridled contempt for the little round kind of summer-house in the garden, wherein the sportsman shuts himself, with loop-holes for sight and aim, whence, after having scattered seed all about for the birds, page: 172 he can pot them comfortably as they feed on the ground. After our honest sport on marsh and moor and stubble-field, this miserable pretence was cousin-german to a crime.

We ‘made maigre’ three times a week—Wednesday, Friday and Saturday—and we were devout members of the Church in every way. Since a dangerous illness of Mademoiselle Berthe, when she was ‘vouée au bleu et au blanc’ for two years, with great gifts promised to the Virgin should she recover, Madame la Marquise had ‘entered into the way of religion,’ and she carried her family with her. This did not prevent some frightful scandal attaching to one of her sons whose name was never mentioned, and who had gone across the seas, heaven knows where; nor the dissipation of the eldest; nor the want of moral principle in every direction of the nephew whom she had brought up as her own son, and who page: 173 combined the most extraordinary amount of ‘fastness’ with the most wonderful apparent docility to ‘ma tante’; nor the Jove-like gallantries of M. le Marquis, whose amourettes were as notorious as they were numerous. The pretty post-mistress of the village, whose appointment was owing to him, for all that he stood aloof from the Emperor and all his works—the curly-headed children he danced on his knees and set to hunt for bonbons in his capacious pockets—this young girl and that young wife—M. le Marquis indemnified himself in lordly manner enough for the enforced asceticism to which Madame la Marquise condemned him!

And no one thought the worse of him. He and his wife were perfectly good friends; and what she knew was her own affair only. Her blameless life did not allow of recriminations, even if she made reproaches, which it was very likely she did not make; page: 174 and the two went on together in apparently perfect harmony and accord, and ‘ma femme’ was the first care, consideration, and centralized authority with M. le Marquis, who, while he amused himself, took care not to hurt her.

I was at first amused, but soon became bored, by the limp invertebrate pleasures which diverted the household. Ecarté, where the stakes were bonbons; billiards, without science or precision, and merely so much child's play—these were the two great resources of the evening. But when they were alone the young men indemnified themselves by their talk, which was all of Paris, the Boulevards, the theatres, Mabille and women, flavoured with a ripeness of experience as strong as the absinthe of which they had a secret store not sparingly used. This was the first time I heard it plainly stated that the virtue of women is not man's affair, and that he is a fool who page: 175 does not profit when and where he can. A girl ought to be looked after by her mother; a young wife by her husband; a woman of maturer age must take care of herself. In no case does it fall within the duty of a man to protect or respect her. When I had first heard of the extraordinary precautions taken by French mothers and gouvernantes for the efficient protection of young girls, I had been both indignant and amazed. It had seemed to me an insult to everyone concerned. But I have somewhat modified my views since then; and I think a few barriers in early life not quite needless, even among ourselves.

On the whole, I was not sorry when my prescribed fortnight came to an end. I had got all the good I could get out of the novelty of the thing, and I was tired of the flaccidity of life as laid down in that unpicturesque, dead-alive old place. But I was sorry to part from Madame la Marquise, page: 176 whose kindness to me had been almost maternal; for all that I knew she was afraid of my freer English habits and more independent modes of thought, and would as soon have thrust Mademoiselle Berthe into a lion's den as have trusted her to me for one minute alone. Still, she was so thoroughly well-bred and so good that she never made me feel uncomfortable because uncovenanted. I divined, rather than was shown experimentally, the state of her mind; and, though naturally it was not pleasant to me, it was only what was to be expected from her.

I remember, however, being considerably exercised one day by the contempt with which she spoke of the English for their ‘romantic marriages.’ Marrying for love without sufficient means, preferring the person to settlements and affection to ambition, was to her one of the seven deadly social sins for which was no forgive- forgiveness page: 177 ness. A runaway match with a detrimental was an infinitely worse crime in a girl than was the most flagrant infidelity in a wife; and the unpracticality of romance counted for more than the immorality of vice.

This too, was one of those new views which, when first heard, make an ineffaceable mark on the mind. They add a strand to the skein, certainly; but at the moment they shock, repel, and give a general sense of instability to everything. And when Madame la Marquise first launched forth against love in favour of convenience in marriage, I seemed to be listening to the wildest kind of moral treason, and wondered how any good woman could hold such awful principles. Now, in my old age, I have come to think that a great deal is to be said for the French method of marriage-making, tenderly and judiciously carried out; and that the blind impulses of inexperienced passion are not page: 178 quite the solid foundations for happiness it is the fashion in England to assume them to be; but that knowledge and reason and foresight come in here, as in every other fact of human life; and that niceness of daily habits, and ease from the carking cares of impecuniosity, go far to render existence endurable, even in the absence of the ideal.

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