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In a Walled Garden. Belloc, Bessie Rayner, 1829–1925.
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page: 242

ON LIVING WELL TO THE FRONT.

THERE was once a man who dwelt in a garden, and yet continued to live to the front if any mortal ever did; for the name of his garden was Strawberry Hill; and though the voices of most of his contemporaries sound dully in our ears, his is clear enough. So oppressed was he by reason of the gout, and so little did he realize his own proportions, that he actually says, in September, 1765, that “When one has a singular turn of mind, and not liant with a new world, one grows unintelligible but to the few contemporaries that rest about one.” He must have been poorly and tired when he wrote that sentence, for it is awkwardly expressed and lacks his usual ease. He goes on to say that his mind has taken in its quantum of feelings, and that he shall live upon the stock and be doubtless very insipid to himself and others. So page: 243 far, however, was this from being the case, that five‐and‐twenty years later we find him fascinating two quite young girls, by whom, as they lived into extreme old age, his memory was kept green, and prolonged deep into the reign of Queen Victoria. I once had a book, in two volumes, which I gave to a learned and much gifted friend—it was entitled “Walpoliana,” and came from the private library of Mary Berry.

Such are some of the benefits of living in a garden.

But it may be said that Horace Walpole lived, after all, in a suburban garden. True. But every ten miles of that far‐gone time was as a hundred now. It took him longer to get to Arlington Street than it would now to travel from Brighton; and the astonishing liveliness of his intellect was really preserved under difficulties which were little less than what one encounters here, fifty miles away, for he had no newspapers to speak of, and was so crippled with his gout or his rheumatism, that he doubts whether he dare sit in the damp by the River Thames, close to which he had made this “nest for his old age.” He doesn’t know whether it page: 244 is gout or rheumatism, and “hates haggling about obscurities,” a sentiment which makes the modern sufferer smile lugubriously. A rose by any other name will smell as sweet. Do not therefore trouble whether your bones are stiffened by gout or rheumatism, but sit in your garden in as sunny a spot as you can find, and endeavour to keep well to the front.

And the very words draw my eyes across the old ivy‐covered wall to the great trees within whose screen once lived a noble old lady. Her years numbered nearly a century: she had been painted by Opie; she had lost her husband in the year previous to the battle of Waterloo, and he and she had been intimate friends of Louis Philippe while yet he was Duc d’Orleans. When she grew so old that she could no longer drive out to see her neighbours, it is recorded in the village that while she was on the one hand the most pious, the most charitable of women, she yet did not like to fall behind the times; and ordering from London the newest and most fashionable bonnets suited to an aged lady, wore them seated in her splendid drawing‐room, where she received her guests.

page: 245

Perhaps the person who in our modern world lived most to the front through a long life and up to its very end was the lady who was so aptly described by Lord Houghton as a “Poet’s Wife, a Poet’s Mother, herself of many poets the counsellor and friend.” Mrs. Procter’s inexhaustible vitality was a wonder to behold. To a certain extent this was true of her mother, Mrs. Basil Montagu, Carlyle’s “Beautiful Lady.” But the latter was dressed like a picture of splendid stately old age, and recalled a generation alive in 1800; while it seemed as if Mrs. Procter could not grow old. There came a time at last when many of the old habitués were dead or invalided, and then her drawing‐room was bright with eager, fashionable Americans. If another decade had brought Chinese society to our very doors, the most travelled mandarins would have found their way to that charming room in the Albert Mansions. She would have found appropriate words wherewith to condole with the New Zealander upon the ruins of London Bridge. She was mentally quite devoid of prejudice, nothing in her ever fossilized. The broad principles upon which page: 246 her life was based are such as resist the impact of years. Her religion, very silent, never seemed to take on any fashion; and her heart retained its few passions uneffaced by time, or loss, or death. When Carlyle’s posthumous words attacked disrespectfully the household of her stepfather, Basil Montagu, in which she had been brought up, Mrs. Procter sprang to her filial revenge with the alertness of a young Sioux. She said to me with angry scorn, “It is dangerous to war with a dead hand.” And the London world, which had read the attack with silent pain, found itself confronted with Carlyle’s own letters of sixty years ago.

Of singular vitality was also the intellect of the younger of our two great Cardinals, though more than eighty years had passed over his head. If anyone in the world could be reasonably expected to entrench himself in the ascertained doctrines and secular custom of the Church, it would be a man of strictly clerical training, once a high dignitary of the Church of England, and then for five‐and‐twenty years a still greater dignitary of the Church of Rome. Added to which, a man of proverbial moderation and page: 247 reserve, to whom the word enthusiasm would ever have seemed inapplicable. Yet he it was who caught every breath of social change, whether it were for evil or for good. He was awake to every fever of the popular pulse. I once heard him in the Pro‐Cathedral give a sermon about the reading of bad books, which was enough to make the readers and hearers shake in their shoes. Be sure that he knew every current of the modern book trade. And so of the sufferings of humanity. Few there are who really understand the sting of poverty, the anguish of the downward plunge, the misery which causes suicide in Paris and in London. But Cardinal Manning did understand these things, and looked at the state of our working classes as Ruskin also looked, though with a far deeper sense of the spiritual loss.

Yet the son of a rich London merchant, college bred, and surrounded from infancy with all the luxuries and refinements of his father’s rank in life, was the last person to have ever realized by experience what it is to want a meal or, as happened lately to a poor woman in Paris, to borrow the charcoal with which to put an page: 248 end to mortal existence. Cardinal Manning’s heart and imagination penetrated across the gulf.

To a similar power of keeping abreast of the times the royal family of England owe their solid place in the affections of the nation, when so many other royal houses have gone down. And the popular sympathy has not been won by concession. No one of the Queen’s children has tucked under his arm the umbrella of the Citizen King. No princess has been sent to Girton, nor any prince to a school equivalent in social degree to a French Lycée. The all‐aliveness is deeper than that, and they owe it not merely to the keen, refined intellect of their father, but much more to the essential sympathy of their mother’s heart; which whoever reads intelligently will find rippling through her letters, her journals, and even through the quaint telegrams which she sends flying through her private wire. When a certain popular sold‐by‐the‐million‐for‐a‐penny periodical calls her Majesty “our own Good Gracious One,” the extreme vulgarity of the expression may be pardoned for its wonderful aptness. The slight page: 249 damage done to “trade” in the first years of the Queen’s sombre widowhood may well be pardoned for the sake of her perpetual expression, couched in vigorous and extremely individual language, of that touch of nature which makes the whole world kin. There are passages in the “Highland Journals,” and notes to the “Life of the Prince Consort,” which will remain firmly embedded in the rich literature of the Victorian Era, and which, if picked up in a bottle on the sea shore in any part of the dominion, would cause a finder of critical faculty to exclaim “Bless me! This must have been written by the Queen!” I remember, in particular, the account of the telegram telling of the death of the Prince Imperial; and the picture of the carriage accident in Scotland; and sundry notes in which her Majesty explains that in her very early girlhood she had preferred to keep her young lover dangling. Elizabeth “swore roundly”: her dear and honourable successor does not swear, but her voice hits straight out and says exactly what she means to say. More than ever in the modern world if you speak at all you must speak plainly, and to page: 250 a certain extent it must be what people are willing to hear. When Macaulay obtained a Peerage and a fantastic sum for his “History of England,” it was because for one hundred and seventy years the English nation had been educated to Whiggery. Even the Toryism of the day had turned Whig in the persons of Sir Robert Peel and Gladstone.

But with Beaconsfield the tide turned to Tory Democracy, or rather it should be said that he himself caught the turn of the tide—caught it instinctively, not because he was a courtier, but because he was a poet. Can anyone doubt that the man who wrote “Lothair” would have now been for Federation, and have so written and spoken as to make it a self‐evident return to the enchanting and revered Heptarchy? He never would have fossilized had he lived to be a hundred years old.

It does not suffice that persons should be intellectual, popular, entertaining, to ensure their being to the front. Browning, for instance, was less in touch with his time than Mrs. Procter, and probably less than Lord Tennyson, who seemed to catch instinctively the echo of popular page: 251 feelings and reflect them in his song. George Eliot certainly lived an intellectually present life; and had she not unfortunately been alienated from the religious thought of her day, she would probably have reflected more than any other writer the collective thought of England. But she had persuaded herself that the problem of historic Christianity was practically extinct. I think that her mind altered slowly on this point, and that had her life been prolonged she would have come to endorse at least the remarkable summing up of John Stuart Mill.

In France a singular change is taking place, rising up in the very last quarter whence it could be expected, in the ranks of the novelists, who are entering into a passionate controversy for and against the place of Christ in history, nor can any man be said to live to the front in modern England who ignores as “ancien Testament” the eternal question asked at every street corner, “Who will show us any good thing?”

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