[From Hall Caine:Man and Novelist, 1901]
THOMAS HENRY HALL CAINE was born in Runcorn, Lancashire, on May 14, 1853. Runcorn is by no means a romantic town, and, fortunately for the future novelist, he only spent ten days of his life within its precincts. His father was a Manxman, and his mother a native of Cumberland. They were both of the people-hard-working, poor and thrifty ; but they must have possessed some remarkable qualities of mind and heart if we are to give any credence to the theory of heredity, for not only has Hall Caine made his mark upon his generation, but his sister, Miss Lily Hall Caine, has won a by no means unimportant place in the theatrical world, and his brother, Mr Ralph Hall Caine, is, within limits, a charming writer of talent and ability. Caine is a Celtic name; Hall, his mother's maiden name, is Norse, and is very commonly met with still in Iceland. The novelist himself has inherited the physical characteristics of his maternal ancestors, for, like the Norsemen, his beard and hair are red, and although he is the reverse of a strong man, his clearly - defined and well - developed features indicate to some extent the physical robustness of the Norsemen. His forefathers were farmers and fishermen, an old hardy family of great strength and physical endurance.
Though born in Runcorn, and resident whilst a very young child in Liverpool, Hall Caine's earliest recollections are of the Isle of Man, of his grandmother's cottage "Ballavolley," Ballaugh, in the north of Manxland. It speaks much for his early development that even as a little child he loved the island which, in future years, was to be dearer to him than any spot on earth. " There is no place in America, Italy, Russia, Iceland, Morocco, or any other country I have visited, that is quite so beautiful as -my own little island in its own little way," he said to me only a month or two ago. And what he thinks to-day he has always thought.
There is a subtle, elusive charm about the Isle of Man which is obvious to the least observant of men, but there are few who are able to define its particular character, or who are able to define from what source it is derived.'Once become a lover of that narrow stretch of land, and you are eternally lost ; its beauty, its freshness and its fragrance will haunt you for ever, and each year when June comes round you will be impelled, by an irresistible desire, to tread once more the heights of Snaefell and Barrule, and wander again through the glens of Sulby and the Dhoon. It were worse than useless for me to attempt to paint any of the beautiful scenes which Manxland possesses, but the explanation of its distinctive charm lies in this, that it is an island. For not only is it an island, but a nation-a nation with manners and customs peculiar to itself - a nation that is, for the most part, occupied with itself and its own affairs. Its very aloofness attracts. It is in the world, but not of it; it lies apart surrounded by the ever-changing seas, and covered by a firmament which seems to be a part of its very self. The dim outline of the hills of other lands - England, Scotland, Ireland and Wales-only emphasises this sense of remoteness. It is only the vessels out at sea creeping steadily along the horizon, that act as a reminder of the existence of other lands, and not the far-off lands themselves. These vessels are the only disturbing influence of the island's peace: they breathe forth the breath of the city, and remind one of that which one has been tempted almost to forget-that the world is not all beautiful, and that sooner or later the city will again claim us as its own.
But this island-charm was not the only influence that was at work upon the young child's imagination. His grandmother, superstitious like all good Manx people, would tell him tales in the dusk of evening, that banished all sleep from his eyes, and set his fancy weaving stories of elves, fairies, gnomes and witches. The old woman had the folk-lore of her native country at her finger-ends, and so attentive a listener curled up at the fire of peat made a good story-teller of her. The first book he remembers reading was a huge volume on the German Reformation, about Luther and Melancthon, and other men who soon became his well-loved heroes. These days Mr Caine remembers well and the memory is sweet and pleasant. But the time came when it was necessary for him to go to school, and he returned to his parents who had settled in Liverpool. At the age of ten he entered as a "new boy" the public school in Hope Street, Liverpool. Among his fellow - pupils was a William Pierce who was afterwards to become one of the most prominent figures in the Congregational Ministry. I am indebted to this gentleman for the following schoolboy reminiscences of his companion.
"Many things served to make the entry of Hall Caine among us noteworthy. In the first place, he was easily distinguished among a crowd of schoolboys by his then bright hair-gold, turning to red-his clear, almost girlish complexion, and his large, luminous brown eyes. I think the almost instantaneous conviction in the minds of the rest of the class that morning was that our new friend would be all the better for a. little wholesome persecution when their duties were over, if only to take some of the painful freshness out of him and tone him down to our own colour. This feeling on our part was heightened when he was called upon to read a passage aloud, which he did, as I clearly recall, in a very musical voice, and with much greater modulation than we had dared to employ-lest we should be thought to be giving ourselves airs! When our master was injudicious enough to praise Hall Caine warmly at the expense of the rest of us, the duty of taking him in hand became one of high moral obligation.And though I have no recollection of what happened, I have no doubt that, being so different from other boys in many respects, he did suffer some little persecution, without being, I hope, any the worse for the discipline.
"I. think that probably, to the end of his school experience, Caine was somewhat scoffed at by the rougher boys; partly, also, because he was not addicted to settling his differences with other boys by giving or accepting challenges to fight. But he was not in the least a milksop. Among the trivial remembrances of those days, the only outstanding recollection I have of Caine is quite characteristic of him. At one of the terminal examinations we were set to write a short English composition. The report of the examiner stated that one paper was unusual, coming from a class of boys of our years. This youthful production was graced by apt poetical quotations, illustrations of the theme set us-a unique feature in the examiner's experience of boys of our standard.
I remember one of our class-mates remarking that it required some cheek to quote poetry in old 's composition; but my own estimate of Caine increased by this and similar circumstances, and when I left for one of the larger grammar schools in the city, we were already great friends."
It will be seen from the above that early in life Hall Caine was schooled to bear the unfriendly criticism and persecution of those who were unable to understand him. The schoolmaster mentioned by the Reverend William Pierce was Mr George Gill, the head of the well-known firm of publishers of schoolbooks. From the very first Mr Gill recognised that his young, sensitive pupil had remarkable powers, and that if all went well he would one day make a name for himself. In proof of this I should like to relate a story in connection with the first night of The Christian in London. Mr George Gill, now an old man, was in the stalls, his heart full of pride at the distinguished position his quondam pupil had gained.
The theatre was packed with a fashionable and intellectual audience. A play was about to be produced which had taken America by storm, and it was confidently expected that in England also the drama would achieve a tremendous success. Carried away by generous pride and enthusiasm, Mr Gill turned to those seated near him, exclaiming : " I always knew it! I always knew it! I said from the very first that the lad had genius, and to-night I am witnessing the proof of it." The conduct of the old gentleman reflected the greatest credit on his heart and head alike, and it is a noteworthy instance of Hall Caine's power of making and keeping friends.
But let me return to Mr Pierce's reminiscences. " During the few years that followed," he says, "my friendship with Caine met with little advance. I saw him occasionally only, and heard of his doings but at rare intervals. His people were attached to the large and important Baptist Church in Myrtle Street, presided over by Hugh Stowell Brown, himself a Manxman.
It was natural that young Caine should find here an opening for his budding faculties, though he never became one of the inner circle of the workers of the church. I used to hear of his occasional participation in the proceedings of a literary and debating society established at Myrtle Street. Without aiming at it, he easily drew attention to himself-in voice, in manner and in mental cast he was an exceptional youth. Meanwhile he was `something in the city."'
Mr George Rose, another of his most intimate friends at this time, writes me that at the age of fifteen young Caine was apprenticed to an architect. " I t was in a quiet spot," continues Mr Rose, "somewhat remote from the part of the town where the activities of commerce were carried on. The daily routine of duties was not burdensome, and many of his hours were devoted to the self-imposed tasks of a literary nature, in which he delighted. Probably he dreamed, through many a quiet hour, of success to be gained in after years; if it were possible to recall some of those dreams and, by putting them together, to form the chart of a projected journey through life, it would be found to differ widely in many ways from the course he was ordained to follow. Perhaps the only points of coincidence which could be noticed would be the constant turning towards the Isle of Man that was never absent from any scheme of life upon which his fancy dwelt in youthful days.
" For those who hope to `make their way,' London necessarily fills a large space in the map of life, and thither Hall Caine's thoughts often turned. Then there were quiet joys in Lakeland to tempt the wanderer; but the little Man Island was the home to which return was to be made at last, and which was to have its scenes brightened by any glory that could be won in the outer world.
" Hall Caine was endowed by Nature with some graceful qualities which would have made him popular in whatever walk of life he chose to follow. Before it was known outside the circle of his friends that he possessed such remarkable qualities of mind he had already shown his power to hold the attention of audiences, and was well known and greatly esteemed in the wide district occupied by the southern portion of Liverpool. It was customary at that time to arrange 'Readings' for the amusement of the people. These entertainments were given by societies connected with places of worship, and were intended to have an educating and refining effect on the people who attended them. Hall Caine when very young was in great request at gatherings of that kind, and his presence on any platform was enthusiastically welcomed. He was of pleasing appearance, confident in his manner, and his countenance gave the impression that his disposition was genial. People were always happy to make his acquaintance, and when he began to speak, whether expressing his own thoughts or reciting some piece of poetry, the clear tone of his voice, the perfect enunciation of his words, his intense earnestness and effective dramatic style enabled him to hold the attention of an audience from his first word so long as he chose to address them. His taste lay in the selection of serious pieces; sometimes they were even a little beyond the comprehension of his hearers. He had given much attention to the study of the works of the Lake school of poets, and to those of the best writers of the eighteenth century. With these as models, he had formed for himself an ideal of perfection in language that, even in the excitement of speaking in public, he never lost sight of; and this, combined with his natural fluency of speech, raised his efforts to the level of oratory. The extent and variety of his reading tended to give a peculiar quaintness to some of his forms of expression. He sometimes introduced words and phrases borrowed from old authors, forgetting that they were no longer in common use. At other times the sense in which he used a word was different from that in which his hearers understood it. In connection with his work in the society of Myrtle Street Chapel he undertook to read a poem upon which he was then engaged; it was a romantic composition in blank verse. The subject was the return of a hero to his desolated native land, in defence of which he had been long absent on a distant journey. Although the poem was of considerable length it contained few characters and incidents, but its lines embodied Hall Caine's ideal of a golden age. When he first turned his thoughts to literature as a profession his inclination would have led him to express his ideas in the form of poetry; in this particular his mind gradually changed. Next to poetry his desire was to become a journalist. During his holiday visits to the Isle of Man he found opportunities of contributing to the island newspapers, and soon his articles were so highly valued that his editor accepted everything that came from his pen. One little peculiarity in those articles was the source of much amusement to his friends in Liverpool. It was the frequent repetition of a pet phrase, `these three small islands,' by which he meant Great Britain, Ireland and the Isle of Man. If he had then been called upon to name them in the order of their importance he would undoubtedly have given the first place to Manxland."
In connection. with these articles mentioned by Mr. Rose, I -may say that they were written .when their author was sixteen years of age. It has been my privilege to read many of them. They are noticeable for close reasoning and exceptionally wide reading for one so young. They were written in favour of the maintenance of Manx political institutions which, at that time, were threatened with annihilation. They are vehement but reasonable, and in no place does their author overstep the bounds of common-sense.
Again I quote Mr Rose. "One of Hall Caine's favourite plans was an intention to write a drama. He had read that in some part of Germany there was a law by virtue of which an inquiry was made immediately after a man's death into the extent of his possessions; and when it was found that he had evaded payment of anyportion of the taxes to which a man of his means was liable, the whole of his property was forfeited to the State. The plot of Hall Caine's intended drama was to be founded upon a tragic result of this custom. The principal idea of the story was that a wealthy merchant having entrusted to his confidential agent the duty of making the statements required by the law, the agent systematically falsified them, in order that on the death of the principal the agent might become an informer and bring about the forfeiture of the estate. The motive was that the daughter of the merchant, being rendered penniless, might be driven to accept the informer's proposal of marriage.
" Such was the crude outline of the plot; but it was altered almost every day. He often talked about this project, but never spoke about the words of the play. It was the machinery of the play that he was concerned about, the number of the scenes and their order of succession, with other points of stage management. He wrote so easily that he felt no anxiety about his ability to accomplish the literary part of the design; but he believed that in a dramatic composition, however original and lofty the thoughts it contained, however perfect the expression of them, all would be wasted unless they were woven around a framework of method exactly adapted to meet the conditions of stage representation.
"Although the idea of writing such a play was never carried into effect, it served to show what direction Hall Caine's thoughts were taking. Many of his contributions to Liverpool newspapers took the form of dramatic criticism. His mind was greatly influenced by the successes achieved by Henry Irving. It will be remembered that for some considerable time before Mr Irving appeared in the character of Hamlet, his intention to do so was known, and the degree in which his representation of the part would differ from that of other actors was the subject of lively discussion. Hall Caine interested himself deeply in the matter, and contributed many brilliant articles on the subject to various papers. He gave a great deal of attention to the study of Shakespeare's writings, and his
conversation on the subject was very interesting because of the light he was able to throw on the meaning of passages the importance of which would be overlooked by an ordinary reader. I heard him speak at a meeting of a literary society over which he presided for some time and which had enrolled many able men amongst its members. The subject was a reading of scenes from Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Some remarks had been made about the conversation of the conspirators which takes place as they stand in the garden of Brutus's house. In talking together they allude to the dawn which they saw or pretended to see. Hall Caine insisted that the words were full of hidden meaning if properly emphasised by appropriate gesture. He quoted the speech of Casca in Act II., Scene I. 'Here as I point my sword, the sun arises; . . . some two months hence, up higher towards the north, he first presents his fire,' and said it was necessary for the actor to bring out the true significance of the lines by pointing with his sword, first to the house of Cćsar, and then to that of Brutus, indicating the transfer of power to the latter which the conspirator desired to effect."
This study of Shakespeare-a study close, intimate and unremitting- cannot be insisted on too strongly. Shakespeare and the Bible have from his earliest years been his chief mental food: his thoughts are coloured by the imagery of the Prophets, and his language has gained in terseness, vigour and force from the greatest poet who has ever lived.
I now resume Mr Pierce's reminiscences. " He was becoming" (in about the year 1870, when Hall Caine was seventeen years of age) " more and more absorbed in literary studies, and quite early began to make acquaintance with the dramatists-not content, as most of us were, with reading the plays of Shakespeare only among. the Elizabethans, but reading extensively and thoughtfully the writings of all the most notable playwrights of that great age. I was early struck by his references to the Jew of Malta. He would quote Ben Jonson's Volpone, or from a play by Massinger, or Beaumont and Fletcher, or Webster, in a way which showed considerable familiarity with the literature of the time. These facts have more significance for me now than then, as I see in them the growth of his mind, and the evidence of an original impulse towards literary studies. It is difficult to explain how this solitary youth, amidst surroundings by no means suggestive of such studies, should have chosen this way of spending his hours of leisure; and by what instinct, in those early days when university extension lectures were yet unknown, before English literature as an educational subject was popularised, and before the publication of our modern guides and manuals for the help of the blundering tyro, Caine seized at once the salient points of the great subject, divining the place and importance of names not known to the merely well-informed multitude, least of all to youths who had not long left school.
"It was during this period that I began to renew my intimacy with Caine. It was probably due to some kindness on his part. He has a genius for friendship, and is capable of taking immeasurable pains in the service of those to whom he is attached ; and he is, or perhaps I should say he was, one of the best and most faithful letter-writers I have ever known. I had left business and was studying Art and Literature in an easy, unmethodical, Bohemian fashion, drawing from the antique during the day, and exploring the poets and essayists in the evening, with desultory violin studies and excursions into Geology and Genesis by way of diversion and variety. Caine was interested in all these things; but he never aspired to sing or play, and made fun of his own drawings, though I believe he was really a skilful architectural draughtsman. He did one thing, one thing only, ŕnd he did it better than anyone else.
"Perhaps my knowledge of his mind during these early years is due to the fact that I left Liverpool about the close of 1871 for Carnarvon to take up a press appointment. Caine had no difficulty in communicating his thoughts in writing. I must have written him some account of my whereabouts, or have sent him copies of the newspaper on which I was engaged, or probably have done both things. And so a correspondence, to me most notable, began. Caine was principally responsible for its maintenance; he was the more regular and conscientious writer. His letters were often extraordinary with regard to their length, and more often extraordinary with regard to their contents. But in the most rapid and familiar of them there is a sense of style. He is full of qualifying clauses, inversions, interpolated interrogations, and exclamations, but the grammatical and logical close of each sentence is successfully reached. Still, though often somewhat formidable in length, and graced by literary ingenuities at times, they are letters, nevertheless, and not essays. There is no consciousness that a word in any one of them is ever to be seen by a third person. That they are less casual and simple in style than most letters addressed to familiar friends must' be set down to the character of the writer. I remember a somewhat matter-of-fact schoolfellow, himself innocent enough of any refinement of speech or culture of mind, expressing his detestation of Caine because when you met him on the most ordinary occasions and conversed on the most trifling subjects, ` he always spoke like a book.' However, it was natural to Caine to dress his casual thoughts in refined and graceful language. His thoughts are grave and gay in his letters, and sometimes, indeed, he writes for the sake of writing; he likes playing with words and sentences. He is naturally communicative-tells his thoughts, and gossips about himself pleasantly. He has been gracing a friend's essay on `War' with a couple of stanzas. Not that he is a peace-at-any-price man; the stanzas, though not at all sanguinary, are highly patriotic. He has even delivered a Temperance lecture, and not without much appreciation on the part of the ancients who heard him; but he positively declines to pursue Fame on the Temperance platform. Then after a little pleasantry he' hopes I am laughing, as he himself does at his own jokes; in the first place, for reasons of prudence-since none other might laugh save himself, and in the second place, because it is unchristianlike to ask another to do what you refuse to do yourself. One item startles us. He has just finished a play in blank verse, and inquires if I should like to peruse it.
" In another letter he hopes the correspondence will continue, since he knows it would tend `towards the establishment in our minds of fixed principles, upon matters the most important to man's welfare here, as well as in that existence of his which (we believe) is to come.' It would also strengthen our friendship, though upon the subject generally he has some sad things to say-as that at the time he is writing there lived not the man with whom he had `true unity of feeling.' As the letter proceeds we see that he is entering the melancholy period of life when sad and depressed spirits are a very frequent distemper with young men who are thoughtful and live much alone. In such a mood Caine had the day before written verses some of which he quotes, and a few lines of which I further quote.
' What wonder, if in height of grief
The fading flower, the falling leaf
Make truer solace to the mind,
Than Nature's richest, gladdest bloom
In harvest waving to the wind.
'What wonder if it grant relief
To hearts o'erta'en, o'erdone by grief,
To see the sun and sky unblest
Put on a dark and murky vest
To see the moon in shadows pale
Fade out before the coming gale!'
" It is a not uncommon mood with young men, and its not unnatural cure is for the young man to fall deeply in love. But there seemed no likelihood of any such happiness befalling young Caine, so far as any of his friends knew. He seemed to avoid the possibility of such a contingency. His friendships, so far as I knew, were exclusively with young men, though there was nothing of the misogynist in him. In the letter from which the above, quotations are taken, he again refers to grave spiritual questions-what is life? he asks, and naturally gives vague answers and speculations. He quotes, in connection with the hypothesis that evil is a quality of our more material part, the lines :-
" I am the wave of life
Stained with my margin's dust.'
He excuses himself for not sending the play in blank verse as he has only one draft copy, and its condition is such that he is convinced I could not read it. In some letters now lost he had referred to a Christmas poem he is to write, but although now it is the first day of December, it is not begun. ` It is to be framed from an old plot of one of the Greek Tragedians,' and is to be `written in the same vein as Christabel.' At the close of this letter he mentions that if I cared to see newspaper articles of general interest written by him, I could have them in volumes.
" A later letter is written in rhymed couplets. After some four hundred lines in verse, it finishes with a few lines in prose. The poem referred to in previous letters is to be called Geraldine, but cannot be sent as ` a bookseller fellow needs to see it.' He had hoped to raise the character of this rhymed effusion by adding some verses on the Days of Minstrelsy, but after keeping it six days he must dispatch it without. He is to deliver a lecture on Hamlet the following month, and the subject is absorbing all his thoughts.
" Soon after this-about the close of 1873 or the beginning of the following year-I was interested to find Caine was proposing to publish a small monthly magazine, and he was good enough to ask me for a contribution. There were, evidently, difficulties in the way of the venture, small as it was. But he put all his usual energy into the enterprise and communicated his enthusiasm to his friends, and in due course the first number of Stray Leaves appeared, with a lithographic portrait of Henry Irving as a frontispiece. It had some modest literary pretensions, though of no very distinctive character, and therefore after prolonged expectation it was not quite surprising to read: I Stray Leaves has made no second appearance. It never will.' But, meanwhile, he has another and larger magazine in hand, and this time, with a view of avoiding some of the difficulties which had beset him on his earlier venture, in announcing The Rambler Magazine he prints on the official paper ` T. H. H. Caine, Proprietor.' I was obliged to take an interest in the new magazine-Caine was so buoyantly sanguine of its success. I therefore sent him a poem, and next, and more to the purpose, arranged with a local bookseller to exhibit the poster and sell copies. I also got a favourable review of the first number inserted in the newspaper with which I was connected; and this ought to sell 'at least three dozen copies,' he writes. The parcel for our town got unaccountably delayed, but every copy was eventually distributed. Caine had been staying at or near Keswick, and writes his astonishment that the poet Close (a well-known character in those parts) had sold two hundred copies, and was asking for a further hundred. But the letter containing this information has a much more exciting piece of news. He had to-day replied to an inquiry from ' a man of means (heaps of money) ' concerning `the establishment of a critical newspaper in Liverpool.' He is willing to conduct such a journal for three months if a sufficient guarantee fund is provided, and already seeing the possible success of this fresh candidate for Fame, says, if the project advances, I must return to Liverpool to take a place on his staff.
" There was being published in Liverpool at this time a small weekly journal called The Town Crier, satirising and criticising with more or less good humour the affairs of the town. It is not necessary to enter upon any details as to the establishment of this paper, but I was interested in its existence because Caine had some sort of connection with it. The editor and general factotum was our old schoolfellow William Tirebuck, while Caine wrote for it, especially dramatic notices and reviews, and acted as adviser generally, if I remember rightly. We were all surely young enough to be engaged in such work, but Tirebuck was our junior by a couple of years. I remember visiting Liverpool about this time and calling at the small editorial sanctum out of South Castle Street. I had already written a little for The Town Crier, and was much interested in its career. It was a great time. Everybody was busy preparing for the next day's issue. The printer's boy had brought a bundle of galley proofs and was told he must not return without the rest of the copy. There were confidential conferences over correspondence, some of it purporting to divulge certain pieces of municipal jobbery; final consideration of the article which sailed very near the wind in denouncing a town scandal, in which a man of much wealth and no principle was concerned. Everyone was in the highest spirits. Caine had come down in his dinner hour, or had special leave, and when we had settled the affairs of The Town Crier and of the town generally, we went off to a meal, not at all of an elaborate character, I admit, but graced by overflowing good-fellowship and light-hearted wit.
" Meanwhile, the fortunes of The Rambler, notwithstanding that all the copies of the first number were distributed and in some cases further copies called for, were not in a flourishing way. The printer's bill was a very matter-of-fact document. N o amount of generous self-denying enthusiasm could alter its figures. Even reviews favourable and unfavourable, and there was a liberal number of both kinds, did not solve the problem. Caine rightly claimed that the widespread notice taken of The Rambler was some proof of its worth. One journal gave prominent place to the opinion that `the contents of The Rambler are bosh-pure, unmitigated bosh,' the style of the criticism at least indicating the character of the journal. But the 'bosh ' was not so unmitigated that it could be disregarded. Nevertheless, the financial results were not encouraging. He tried, in answer to a sympathetic inquiry on my part, to let me know how matters stood. He says, `The last issue paid (cannot pay more than) (or, rather, didn't pay at all, or paid on the wrong side) fifty per cent.' Then feeling that this was not exactly an enlightening statement, he proceeds-'I am really such a fool at business affairs and so very little acquainted with the technicalities of trade as surely to have made a mess of the last explanation.' The substance of the explanation was that they had reckoned on a loss, and had received half of what they had calculated their proceeds might be, making the real loss proportionately greater. He does not contemplate giving up; is `only disposed to delay the issue of No. 2 in the hope of balancing affairs.' However, he never troubled any of his friends about the financial difficulties; whatever the losses may have been, he squared them without the aid of his fellow- contributors. The second number did appear, somewhat belated, but that was the end of Caine's amateur efforts at floating a magazine.
"When I returned to Liverpool in the beginning of 1875, to prepare myself for college, I had an opportunity of renewing my personal intercourse with Caine. It was a very pleasant time to me. We had one or two congenial friends and with them or ourselves alone had a long succession of talks upon the subjects that interested us. I think he generally determined the course of our conversation. Earlier in life he had been greatly under the sway of Coleridge. By this time his tastes had widened and were more varied. He had much to say about Wordsworth. I recall an evening when he was full of the Ode to Immortality, which he quoted at great length-as he could most things he admired-and discussed with great insight and power. But the range of subjects we ventured upon was wide and varied enough to suit all tastes and dispositions. I can by no means recall them all, but I remember such subjects as the writings of Jean Paul, the Aristotelian unities and the modern drama, the nature of Hamlet's madness, and Shakespearian subjects generally. Curiously enough, we had little to say concerning Tennyson-In Memoriam was the only poem I remember discussing-and even less in regard to Browning, though I had myself a vague conviction that Browning was the greater poet of the two. But we frequently conversed about Rossetti, Swinburne and William Morris. On many evenings when we felt little inclined for literary talks we enjoyed lighter chat and gossip; while, occasionally, we turned to graver subjects and speculated on eternal things with the calmness and confidence which are part of youth's prerogative. And though we were a kind of peripatetic academy, we were happy enough, and seasoned our more serious mental fare with a liberal share of laughter and fun.
"Apart from the little circle of friends with whom he thus associated-and I recall him most easily during the midsummer months when I spent most of my long vacation at home-I think he spent a solitary life. He was little understood. The majority of the people he met being very dull persons, they could note only his outward peculiarities, and I have no doubt most of them set him down as an eccentric young man. They were struck with his musical voice, his copious diction, his literary style of speech, which I think they generally set down as an affectation. Yet he could, when he chose, make himself interesting to very commonplace people. He knew so many things. He found them interesting in ways they themselves little suspected. Then beside being a remarkable talker he was never disposed to turn the conversation into a monologue. He was a most sympathetic listener.
" For the sake of his health he often spent his week-ends at New Brighton, at the mouth of the Mersey, and for some time had permanent lodgings there. We were all compelled to visit him, for he was ever the most hospitable of friends, and thought no trouble too great to bestow on the comfort of those who were his guests. I was his guest overnight, and specially recall his appearance at that time. He had grown as tall as he is now, and was of spare habit. He wore his hair, which had lost its early golden tinge, slightly longer than is usual. He had a striking face-pale and cleanshaven, a refined expression, ample forehead, and large, bright, intelligent eyes. For a student he walked very erect, wore a close-fitting and fairly long frock-coat, many buttoned and double-breasted, and was very square-shouldered. He was a man easily distinguished in a crowd.
"In my early days at college I had one special letter from Caine, and with some reference to it my own particular reminiscences of my eminent friend may come to a close. His younger brother John, a very fine young fellow, was at the time dangerously ill. Very soon after he died of consumptive disease. Hall Caine was subject to fits of depression, and this event did not tend to relieve his thoughts. Yet I think the sad event left him with more hope and fortitude. Trial and difficulty always aroused the best in him. His letter, however, is very pathetic and interesting. I gather that I must have written, in reply to an earlier letter, that the stronger the natural affection, the greater the tendency to magnify the danger. He replies that it would not be easy to exaggerate the gravity of his brother's case, though they are not without hope that rest and nourishing food may do something to alleviate the lung disease. The letter is full of frank disclosures of his thought and feeling. He is preparing himself 'for the utmost length and disaster.' But his sad philosophy can only say: 'The best that can leave us is Life; the worst that can come is Death; of which we may remember that if it be now, it is not to come; if it be not to come, then it is now -the readiness is all.' My interpretation of his gloomy outlook as being not reality but the creation of his own thought, he examines and analyses, yet without comfort to himself. He feels how small is our power to choose our own thoughts, 'how entirely men are born to convictions.' He moralises over a photograph of myself which I had sent him, and sees all my future in my face. And so with himself. It is not because he has chosen to think it so, that to him-
"' The world is wild, and rough, and steep, and ribbed, And circle-bound with shades of misery.'
At the same time he declines Jean Paul's advice to treat it all like a dream. When we awake the dream-sorrow vanishes. , I tremble when I reflect upon the horrible sceptic I should become, say rather the demon I should be, if believing in a Godhead I should believe also the world to be but a dream.' The sight of the young life leaving behind all the happy activities of existence here, and entering upon a succession of weary days `doomed to peer through the darkness for the light of the fairer morning' touches him acutely; but it leads him to say that for his own part he means to face life bravely. Once, indeed, in a time of spiritual prostration 'Actual Death' seemed 'less terrible than its shadow,' but 'I have grown out of the weakness of that period, and now intend, not proudly, but resolutely, to meet life and go through with it.' And he has doubtless kept to the resolution, and through it achieved his present position."
It will be seen from the foregoing that whilst in Liverpool Hall Caine's life was an exceedingly busy one. With characteristic energy he threw himself heart and soul into any work he undertook, and already a burning ambition was urging him on to strain every nerve to gain his goal. His mind developed quickly: long nights of study and deep thought, some struggles of a material kind, and at least one tragic event made a man of him long before his time. Not that he was ever anything of a recluse: he was merely absorbed in his work, and the thoughts of the great minds which he studied matured his judgment, and he crammed a lifetime of experience into a few years. His connection with Rossetti was to ripen many qualities of his mind, and strengthen his character.
The following letters of Ruskin were addressed to Caine a year or two before the future novelist left Liverpool, and when he was in the midst of the office, journalistic and lecturing-work described by Mr Pierce and Mr Rose. The first is dated November 8, 1878, and was written in reply to an invitation of Mr Caine to deliver an address in Liverpool.
" My DEAR SIR,-I have, of course, the deepest interest in your work-and for that reason must keep wholly out of it. I should drive myself mad again in a week if I thought of such things.-I am doing botany and geology -and you, who are able for it, must fight with rogues and fools. I will be no more plagued by them.-Ever truly yours, J. RUSKIN.
" I wrote first page on reading your printed report before reading your letter.
"My DEAR SIR,-1 am entirely hopeless of any good whatever against these devilish modern powers and passions-my words choke me if I try to speak. I know nothing of Liverpool-and what can I say there-but that it has first to look after its poor-and the churches will take care of themselves. Ever truly yours."
The second letter, dated 27th December 1879, reads :-
" My DEAR SIR,-A bad fit of weariness,-not to say worse-kept me from fulfilling my promise. The paper you were good enough to send me is safe, but I fear left at Herne Hill-it can be got at if you require it. I am sincerely glad and grateful for all you tell me of your proposed work.-Most truly yours, J. RUSKIN."
Ruskin, however, was not the only famous writer who had his eye on the young man working away in Liverpool. Already Matthew Arnold and Lord Houghton had made friendly and encouraging advances-the former writing him a long letter of praise concerning an essay of Caine's which had come into his hands, and the latter asking Henry Bright (the H. A. B. of Hawthorne) to arrange an interview between himself and the rising young littérateur. These marks of distinct encouragement from eminent and well-loved men were a source of keen pleasure to Hall Caine; they not only gave him confidence in his own powers, amid many discouraging circumstances, but made him feel that his strenuous labour was not being done in vain.
Any comments, errors or omissions gratefully received
HTML Transcription © F.Coakley , 2006