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The Autobiography of Christopher Kirkland, Vol. 3. Linton, E. Lynn (Elizabeth Lynn), 1822–1898.
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page: 73

CHAPTER III.

ABOUT this time I became acquainted with certain scientists of note, and began to frequent scientific meetings as I had not done before. Hitherto I had devoted myself chiefly to politics, history, literature, and various ‘views,’ which it would be presumption to call philosophy; now a new wing was added to the irregularly built mansion, and science had her home with the rest.

I learned much from what I heard, and sometimes more than the speaker always intended. For the men of that time, so short a while ago, were different from page: 74 the men of the actual day; and things which are now accepted as incontestable truths were then only in the nebulous or the tentative stage, and you might or might not receive them, at your pleasure. During the last twenty or twenty-five years, science has bloomed and fructified with marvellous vigour and rapidity; but those who did not reap all they sowed, yet sowed well for others to garner. They made the running, if they did not reach the goal.

John Crawfurd was neither a synthesist nor a scientific revolutionizer. He disbelieved in the ‘Aryan heresy;’ would have no part in the Evolution theory; derided the idea of the Solar myth as in any way incorporated into Christianity; but his labours in ethnology, physical geography and other kindred subjects have helped on the synthesists; and the revolutionizers owe him thanks for at least the use of his shoulders. They sit so much the higher, and know so much the more, for what he has done.

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Nor was Sir Roderick Murchison a name wherewith to conjure; yet the palæontologists are indebted to him as much as if the calibre of his mind had been equal to the quality of his discovery, and as if he had been as intellectually great as he was scientifically fortunate. But with him, more than any other scientist of his time, the worth of the work he did was incommensurably beyond himself. It was like the finding of a buried jewel by a child scratching in the garden. The jewel was priceless, but the child had not searched with the intelligence of a mining engineer, and when he had unearthed the treasure his brain was no nearer in weight nor value to that of the engineer than it had been before.

Again, Robert Chambers, though a brave pioneer in the making of the new road, and one of the first to speak the new language, was in a certain sense pre-scientific. He was the dawn but not the full day. He still accepted for granted things which were page: 76 not proved nor capable of proof—e.g. spiritualism; and the poetry of his nature, while it added beauty to his intellect, took from the rigid value of his evidence. Still, he saw the true shapes of things, if he did not fill in all the details with perfect accuracy; and his ‘Vestiges of Creation’—which we may now take for granted was his—will take rank for ever as one of the advanced guard in the forces of knowledge as they stand arrayed against those of ignorance.

In cataloguing my memories of twenty or twenty-five years ago, I see the enormous span which science and free-thought have thrown across the abyss of ignorance and superstition. Twenty-five years ago, Mill's definition of liberty was not the household word it is now. The doctrine that exact laws could be applied to that inconstant quantity, man; laws of averages as precise as mathematics; laws of economic results as certain as chemical combinations; laws page: 77 governing human conduct and forming the science of sociology as unalterable as those which govern the course of the planets and form the science of astronomy;—this was a new page in the great Book of Life, which many found too hard to read;—and Herbert Spencer's laurel-crown was still growing on the bushes.

Twenty-five years ago too, our greatest man of all, the true epoch-maker and torch-bearer of this century, he to whom our age owes its characteristic value—Charles Darwin—was in the first of the two stages which every original thinker and revolutionizing discoverer has to pass through. He had a few choice adherents who believed in him; but the learned public disputed his conclusions, the unlearned derided his facts, and the theological remnant denounced him as a lying teacher of iniquity.

Now he is in the second phase—accepted as an expositor of common-places:—‘What every ploughboy knew generations ago,’ as page: 78 said to me, contemptuously, a certain Roman Catholic Professor, on the action of worms as set forth in one of the last books.

Between Darwin and Sir Charles Lyell—the ‘Antiquity’ and the ‘Descent’ of man—however, the cosmogony dear to this Professor and others of his creed becomes a handful of dry dust. When the tip of one of Prince Rupert's drops is broken off, what becomes of the body? So in regard to the old cosmogony; on which other things, held to be more vital, hang like grapes on a severed vine-branch.

In those days Haeckel and Huxley were not the powers they are now, and Owen was in his zenith. In that famous dispute between these last two, about the hippocampus minor, how well I remember my eager advocacy of our poor relation, and how I rejoiced in the firm, bold arguments of the younger man! My state of mind was conviction, not knowledge; but the want of knowledge did not lessen my ardour of conviction.

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Darwin first, and then the spectroscope, opened a new world to me, and one which redressed the balance and recompensed me for all the sufferings and shortcomings of the old. The Unity of Nature was the core of the creed to which I owe my subsequent mental progress—the Doctrine of Evolution that by which I have come to peace. The fact that we have advanced so far already makes all the future possible and reduces pessimism to an absurdity; and the consciousness of fixed laws robs history of all its elements of doubt, incompleteness and partiality. It makes infinite amelioration dependent on man's clear and understanding will; and shows how, by the scientific evolution of morals, systems of government, laws of health, physical well-being and education, we can accomplish things which hitherto have been only the dreams of poets and the fantasies of artists.

Sir Charles Lyell's book had also an immense influence on me; so had Hugh page: 80 Miller's ‘Testimony of the Rocks’; for all that this last touched the old faith with as tender and reverent as he grasped the new truths with a strong and manly hand. Sir Charles was in a different category. He was not one of those who ‘builded better than he knew,’ for he looked his own conclusions fairly in the face, and accepted in its integrity every word of the writing on the living scroll which unrolled itself before his eyes. Max Müller's work again was among the charms of my existence in those days. I remember what Grote's ‘History of Greece’ was to me; also the joy that I took in Kinglake's ‘Eothen,’ and, when it appeared, many years later, in his ‘History of the Crimea.’ George Henry Lewes's books added to the general sum of mental content; and George Eliot, just stepping to the front, was a goddess behind a cloud. But a new novel by Georges Sand out-ran hers; and a poem by Mrs. Browning was looked on as an event greater than either.

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Still, I had not so much interest in pure literature as I had in science. In the former almost everything had been already said. From Æschylus to Shakespeare and onwards, not many thoughts had been left untouched; but in science were FACTS, and these were of the kind to make a new mental era—a new departure of thought for the whole world, as well as for myself individually.

It was all in the air. The emancipation of the human intellect from superstition in the substitution of the scientific method for the theological, was the great event of the time and made itself felt everywhere. Brute absolutism and unreasoning authority were set aside in matters intellectual as they had already been in things social, legal, governmental. That which bestrode the reason was flung off into the dust; and even the Church followed with the rest. ‘Essays and Reviews’ had brought on its authors the honour of ecclesiastical condem- condemnation page: 82 nation; and Colenso's book, which is now a mere letter in the alphabet of destructive criticism, had been stamped in gold by Convocation as ‘full of errors of the gravest and most dangerous kind.’ And yet how far short it falls of both De Wette and Norton!

Colenso himself was as clear and precise as his arithmetic; and his thoughtful, handsome, refined face was always a beautiful point in the bald-headed crowd at the Ethnological and Royal Societies, where Sir Edward Belcher and Sherrard Osborne sat side by side like two mastiffs unmuzzled. I used to wonder if what I had been told was true, that Captain Belcher had once been forcibly prevented from hanging Sherrard Osborne up to the yard-arm; and, to indemnify himself for his disappointment, had brought him home in irons.

Strauss's ‘Leben Jesu’ had long been known to the English reading public, thanks to the fine translation by Marian Evans, page: 83 whose first knot in the quipos of her fame was made by this work. The ripple raised by the ‘Creed of Christendom’ yet ran to the shore; and Newman's ‘Soul,’ as well as his ‘Sins of the House of Hapsburg,’ were moving forces in the world which his brother's ‘Apologia’ and reliance on authority have not arrested in later years.

‘Ecce Homo’ and Renan—still later—have given pregnant cause for thought and divergence; but these have not roused the anger which has been caused by coarser and more personal attacks, such as Winwood Reade's ‘Martyrdom of Man’ and Colonel Ingersoll's leaflets; and Lockyer's popularization of astronomy, with the results of the spectroscope, have lifted freethought into a purer because wholly impersonal atmosphere, and brought the witness of unification against the doctrine of direct and separate creation. Those Friday Evening Lectures at the Royal Institution, when Tyndall experimented or Huxley demon- demonstrated page: 84 strated—or haply William Spottiswoode or Lockyer tried to bring things ethereal and celestial visibly before our eyes—what evenings in the Court of Paradise those were! How I pitied the poor wretches who did not come to them! Contrast a Queen's Ball and a Friday Evening Lecture—the nothingness of the one and the glorious communion of the other! I do not think there was one in the whole audience who drank in the wine of scientific thought with more avidity than I. Did my own ignorance make that wine but froth? Perhaps. All the same, it strengthened, warmed, exhilarated and almost intoxicated me.

What a glorious time it was! Everywhere the ground was being broken up in preparation for the great superstructure which has been raised as by an enchanter's wand. Everywhere was a shaking of the dry bones, and the clothing of flesh and sinew on what had been dead and useless fragments buried in the earth. In art and page: 85 science, in literature and theology alike was a confused noise of Life and of the forces which ran together. It was the birth-hour of a new Truth; and more than a few shepherds heard the heralding Voices which announced it. At no time in our history have the mental activities of England been so vigorous as they were now. And to me also, as I have said, came the Promise—which at first I did not rightly understand—and from the desert where I stood I looked over to the fertile land which as yet lay only faintly outlined in the dawning light.

My meeting with John Crawfurd brought me into contact with the long, long ago, and made one of those loops in life which are so full of beauty and interest. When we were young, and while we lived at our father's place in Kent, we were much mixed up with three beautiful girls who lived not more than a mile or so from us. All lovely, yet very different, each was strongly individualized. The eldest page: 86 might have been her namesake of Troy. The second was bright, vivacious, playful, a kind of English-speaking Euphrosyne; and the youngest was the sweetest, gentlest, dearest of them all. We called her Dudù, for indeed she was a very sleepy Venus, and thinner she might have been and yet not lose. She and my beloved brother Godfrey made a summer day's excursion into that enchanted wood of fruitless love, whence is no issue save by tears and the heart-rending of separation. I was a child at the time; but the early friendship of the families, and the romance of this love-affair which we all knew, made it very delightful to me to foregather again with those who were left of these dear people. My new old friend, John Crawfurd, had married the eldest sister of all—one of the most regal and empress-like women I have ever seen—whom I can distinctly remember as one would remember a queen.

There were other members of the family page: 87 with whom I was also brought in contact. Let me recall the image of that gracious Lady, just returned from the Drawing-room, as she stood there by the sofa, in her court dress of blue and white and pearls, receiving her guests with the grace and ease, the dignity and the courtesy, of a young queen on her own account. Of all women known to me, Lady — has the most perfect manner. And it is not only manner. Her heart is as kind as her ways are gracious, and she has proved the worth of her moral courage in more ways than one.

The Dudù of past times has mellowed into a bit of perfection of her kind. The indolent grace of girlhood has become the soft serenity of age, and the sweet temper of the sunny morning has raised itself into the pious pity, the womanly compassion, which makes the evening of life so beautiful, so blessed! Never an old friend lost, and new ones gathering round page: 88 her, attest her sweetness and give warranty for love.

When John Crawfurd ended his long and honoured life, more than I lost a friend whom to know was to love, to respect, to look up to—a man who, if not one of the world's leaders, yet was one of the world's helpers—a man who had done his day's work gallantly and well, and whose character was as sterling as his intellect. No truer soul ever lived than he; no kinder, juster, nor more faithful friend and father. His tall and powerfully built figure, just touched by the hand of time, and slightly, very slightly, bent—his handsome face with the eyes still bright, vivacious, penetrating, where the lightning-lines of latent passion flashed across the sweeter and more placid tracts—his noble, white-haired head, and that look of a man who has won all along the line, and who enjoys and does not regret—all made him one of the most striking features of the learned societies page: 89 where no one was commonplace. And when he went, a power passed out of those where he had been most often seen, and had had most influence, which left them flavourless—at least to those who had loved him.

So in these late years, when William Spottiswoode died so long before his time, the world lost more than it will easily regain. Mr. Spottiswoode was perhaps the most ideal of all the scientists. Fortune and place, beauty of person and refinement of mind, an intelligence that somehow reminded one of polished steel, and a character as free from base alloy as gold that has been tried in the fire—we do not often find such a combination as this devoted to the furtherance of pure science and to the good of his fellow-men. And now all these forces are dissolved, lost for ever to man and gone into limitless space. And yet they are not lost. The work he did lives after him and is his truest immortality.

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I was in no way up to his subjects—none but the higher mathematicians were; but I could understand something of what he said. I remember specially a lecture of his on crystals, and how he seemed to indicate that crystals were on the border-land of consciousness—just below the plastic assimilation and active conversion of protoplasm, but beyond the unchangeable rigidity of metals. That lecture was also one of the starting-points of new thought to me—a nucleus whence my mind branched out like one of the crystals spoken of.

How many of our good men have been taken! James Spedding was one who touched the crown of the ideal student, whose justness of judgment was on a par with his sweetness of nature, whose intellectual force was matched by his serenity, his patience, his self-mastery, his purity. In the midst of the violent clashings caused by the arbitrary and contradictory dogmatisms which afflict and bewilder us, his quiet breadth, page: 91 his god-like serenity and all-embracing liberalism, were as refreshing as silence after uproar, as shade in the noonday heat. The way in which he died was the crowning act of a life that had never known bitterness, revenge, nor any strain whatever of the darker passions; and were the world of thought to have its saints, James Spedding would be one of the first canonized.

Very different were the Amberleys, who also were as grievous a loss to the world, though standing on such a different platform. They carried a more complete integrity of purpose and wholeness of action into their ideas than any of their class known to me; and the brief meteor-like brilliancy of their lives is a subject to me of enduring regret. It would have been well for men and women had they lived and matured; even though they had changed front and taken a new shape. They were too young and eager as things were to have much influence, and their very page: 92 wholeness, by the slight exaggeration and want of tact which it included, made fewer proselytes than opponents.

Edward Flower, the handsome Jupiter whose humanity went over to horses after the issue of slavery was closed by emancipation—he also was a man of public note of the time; and he too was thorough. In the early days of the American Civil War, before the introduction of emancipation by the North—the playing of the black knave as the trump card—I was on the side of the South. I took their part because of the Right of Insurrection which I had always upheld. As all of us who were Liberals had sympathized with the revolution in Italy, and the desire of the independent States to consolidate themselves into one kingdom, so we now sympathized with the States in America which desired to get rid of their Union, and to form themselves into a separate nation. I could not see any difference between the two. In both it was the will page: 93 of the people that I respected—uninfluenced by the differences of aim.

One day I said this to Edward Flower, as we stood on the hearthrug before dinner was announced; and he very nearly ordered me out of the house, instead of giving me the place at his table destined for me. I think he would have done so, had not Moncure Conway come to the rescue. He defended me, from my own point of view. He condemned that point of view in itself, and showed where it was part crooked and part short-sighted, but, granting my premises as honestly held, he could not see that I was to be condemned. Thus he calmed down the towering wrath of our Jupiter Mecænas, and things went on velvet from the soup to the grapes. But I had skirted by a very unpleasant bit of coast, where I nearly made shipwreck of an old and valued friendship.

Perhaps the two greatest losses to the world—making a wide leap onward; but page: 94 this chapter deals so much with the honoured dead!—have been the deaths of Clifford and Balfour. Each had showed only a sample of his quality. Neither had done his day's work nor come to the meridian of his power. When Darwin died, he had lived. He had fulfilled his appointed mission, and planted his Tree of Life fathoms deep in the soil of human thought and knowledge. But these two young men went down to the grave before they had more than begun their assigned tasks; and their slips of the great Yggdrasil, by which heaven and earth are bound together, withered in the darkness of their untimely death. It fills one with sorrow to think what great things each might have done, and the loss to the world through their incompleted lives!

All this is a very fragmentary notice of the intellects which then were in their vigour or their promise and now have sunk below the horizon. But I am not writing a history of my own times, nor page: 95 speaking of things and people with whom I had no relation. I am only writing of those with whom I came in contact personally or intellectually, and who were either friends through love or masters through influence.

As my mind recovered its lost tone by the admission of a new interest, and science worked out the scars left by disappointment, I found a new zest in the work I had never ceased to love. I went as a free-lance under the banner of my old chief, though I never saw him again; and I wrote what struck and made its mark on the things of the time. But my connection with this paper brought me more obloquy than praise. I had something to say, and I said it with what literary force and moral vigour I possessed, indifferent to personal consequences, as I have always been, and as I must ever be now to the end. And those at whom I struck were naturally indignant, and gave me back blow for blow, sometimes hitting below the belt, page: 96 with even a few odd scratchings thrown in.

At this time my portion was a strange mixture of literary kudos and personal enmity. I was publicly cut by irate partisans, and no one seemed to think it possible that I had a conscience and was not merely an ‘advocatus diaboli,’ opposing that which I knew to be good and bolstering up that which I knew to be evil. But I lived through it, and got good out of it. For I do not think anything enlarges the sympathies or humanizes the mind more than undue condemnation. By what we suffer experimentally we can measure the pain of others; and the injustice which we have to accept we are careful not to pass on.

Besides independent essays, all more or less dealing with one social subject only, I did a great deal of reviewing for the paper. And as I was notoriously beyond fear or favour, I was trusted with the books of my known friends as well as with those of page: 97 strangers and new writers. My work was always to me impersonal. I said what I honestly thought of the book as an achievement, and no personal sympathy with, nor hostility to, the writer turned me one hair's-breadth to either side. I put my honour in keeping up the high standard of excellence for which the paper in question was then famous. If a book reached that standard, I praised it; if it did not, I condemned it—and who wrote it did not count. This might have been the work of a stranger, that of a friend—to either circumstance I was indifferent; and the personal favour I have not looked for, nor had shown to myself, I never gave to others. I know no other way of dealing with things than on their own merits; and I should care neither to receive for myself, nor to help others to obtain, that ephemeral reputation which is due to private patronage and not to the worth of the work done.

I remember one Sunday dining at the page: 98 house of a clever woman who disbelieved in the general honesty of the press. I had just reviewed a book which she had not read; but she knew the young authoress personally, and believed that she could not have written anything worthy of these encomiums—that no good could come out of this little corner of Nazareth. During dinner the conversation turned on the corruption and venality of the press, and she instanced this notice, which had appeared the day before in the —, as an example.

‘That review must either have been paid for, or it was done by a personal friend,’ she said. ‘In neither case was it an honest criticism.’

‘Neither one nor the other,’ I answered. ‘I know who wrote it, and I give you my word of honour that the reviewer had never heard the name of the authoress before he received her book, nor was the faintest indication given him of the tone to be taken. It was reviewed on its own merits only.’

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For my own part, I can only say that I know nothing of the venality of the press so often spoken of. One hears of ten pounds paid for this favourable notice and ten pounds paid for that; but I take it these sums are like poor Dr. Ashburner's banknotes brought by the strange man on a black horse, and never existed outside the region of imagination. So far as I know, those come worst off who attempt to influence to their own favour the authorities in chief or the workers in detail of any paper that respects itself.

I know an editor on whom one day called, unintroduced, a lively scribbler. She had just finished a flashy book, which she was not content to leave to be judged of according to its merits, but thought her social standing should be brought into play as a kind of extra lever whereby her work should be hoisted into notice. When she sent up her card—Lady Fourstars—to one who was only a plain Mister and page: 100 who lived by his pen, while she got just so much more social consideration by hers, and when, after a few moments' conversation, she asked him to dine with her next day, she expected to have made a supple courtier in the place of an incorruptible judge, and to have bought his favourable suffrages.

The refined scholar who then held the reins of that special journal was revolted by the cynicism of this effrontery; and the lively scribbler gained nothing by her audacity. Her book was dealt with in the ordinary way of business, and neither condemned for spite nor praised for complaisance.

Officially inflexible, personally courteous, this editor, and one other, were models of their calling—past-masters in their craft. Neither ever betrayed his trust to his proprietors, and neither ever offended even the most susceptible of his unsuccessful contributors. Of one—my dear friend, whose loss we still deplore—it used to be said that it page: 101 was pleasanter to be rejected by him than accepted by many others. For there are editors and editors; and not all are pleasant to deal with. Some bully you, even when you do your best and your article has the place of honour. They think it due to their own dignity, and a useful check on your vanity, to keep your soul low like a weaned child; to cut down your presumptuous imagining that you are necessary to the paper; to make you understand that they could find a dozen as good as you, and half-a-dozen better, to take your place an hour after you had vacated it. Others are dumb dogs who neither growl nor caress. They say nothing of praise nor blame, and let you know you suit only by silent acceptance. Others again, give you heartening words of encouragement when you fail, and the reward of commendation when you do well. They keep the whole thing alive and healthy by their own vitality, and their contributors add personal zeal to their intel- intellectual page: 102 lectual efforts. These are the best editors. They get by far the most out of their staff; and when they go their place is not readily filled—if indeed it ever is!

But editors are a long-suffering race too, and have their trials like meaner mortals. Not all their young lions roar fitly and in tune; and sometimes, when most wanted, they skulk and do not roar at all. Or they launch the paper into hot water by rash utterances, and the editor has to pay in his own person for the debt of libel incurred by them. That large crowd of ungrammatical folk who believe in private influence rather than in the worth of the work done—who write silly books, then tout for favourable notices—who think that any rubbish whatsoever can be floated by a liberal supply of champagne given to editors and reviewers—and who trust to every reed but good English and something to say for their staff of literary fame—they make one of the many nuisances besetting the editorial chair. page: 103 Another is that analogous crowd of incapables who ask for undesignated work without giving the flimsiest rag of performance to certify capacity. They think that a publisher's office is like a charitable kitchen, where are always to be found baskets full of broken meat, and where no other qualification than need is necessary for a share of what is going; or that publishers and editors are so many Michael Scotts, who have to supply their demons with work, to save themselves from being torn to pieces. If either idea were true, there might be some sense in the quest. But, seeing that for every loaf there are two claimants, and far more ropes twisted out of sea-sand than any wizard can stow away in his columns, these uncovenanted outsiders have but a poor claim. And were even the editorial business conducted in this centrifugal way, which it is not, their chances would not be worth betting on. As things are, where I pray you is their peg?

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