Introduction to Selected Poems of T.E.Brown, 1908 by H.F.B.
[some corrections still to be done]
THOMAS EDWARD BROWN was born on 5th May 1830, at Douglas, in the Isle of Man, where his father, the Rev. Robert Brown, was incumbent of St. Matthew's Church. Thomas was the sixth of ten children. His mother was a Stowell [corrected in this and later editions to Thomson], of Scottish extraction though born in the Island, and this mingling of Manx and Scottish blood played a considerable part in the formation of the poet. " I also have a root in Scottish ground,''] he used to say, ". . . my grandfather came from Jedburgh . . . upon occasions I gravitate largely to the Caledonian basis . . . and I have an inextinguishable longing antiquam exquirere matrem," Late in life Brown drew a charming and characteristic sketch of his father, which lets us into the secret of much that was remarkable in himself "Yes, the man was right. I do love the poor wastrels, and you are right, I have it from my father.
The passages frown Brown's correspondence quoted in this Introduction are taken chiefly from the two volumes of Letters of Thomas Edward Brown, edited by Sidney T. Irwin, Westminster, Constable and Co., 1900, now out of print, and also from unpublished letters to Ma H. G. Alkyds and myself.
He had a way of taking for granted not only the innate virtue of these outcasts, but their unquestioned respectability. He, at least, never questioned it. The effect was twofold. Some of the 'weak brethren' felt uncomfortable at being met on those terms of equality. My father might have been practising on them the most dreadful irony; and they were 'that shy' and confused. But it was not irony, not a bit of it; just a sense of respect, fine consideration for the poor 'cowls'; well-respect, that's it, respect for all human beings; his respect made Sheen. Wasn't it grand ? To others my father was a perfect Port-y-shee (port of peace). To be in the same room with hint was enough. To be conscious that he was there, that he didn't fight strange of them, that he never dreamt of 'scowlin' them.... To think of a Pazon respecting men's vices even; not as vices, God forbid ! but as parts of them, very likely all but inseparable from them; at any rate ~heirs. Pitying with an eternal pity, but not exposing, not rebuking. My father would have considered he was 'taking a liberty' if he had confronted the sinner with hiss in." There we have " Pazon Gale " of the fo'c'sle Yarns, and a large part of Brown himself; perhaps with the irony and the humour omitted, and these he may have got from his mother.
Brown's outer life was singularly devoid of incidents. When he was two years old his father was made Vicar of Kirk Braddan, near Douglas, and it is round Kirk Braddan that the memories of his youth and the affections of his later life are concentrated and condensed in Braddan Vicarage and Old John. At Braddan Vicarage the boy was taught partly by the parish schoolmaster, but chiefly by his father, who gave him the elements of Latin, and that love for style which marked his literary career. When fifteen years of age he was sent to school at King William's College. In October of 1849 he went to Oxford and was admitted to a servitorship at Christchurch. In 1853 he took a Double First, but, to his bitter mortification, his servitorship was considered a bar to his election as a Student, and he records that the first night after his Double First was " one of the most intensely miserable I was ever called to endure." In April of the following year, however, he reached" the summit of an Oxford man's ambition," and was elected Fellow of Oriel. He was ordained deacon,but " never took kindly to the life of an Oxford Fellow," and after a few terms of private tuition he returned to the Isle of Man as Vice-Principal of King William's College.
The chief acquisitions of his Oxford career seem to have been a sound and wide acquaintance with the classics"Ah, sir, that Greek stuff 1Senefrales." "As the years roll on, I doubt not many a hammer will ring at the fastness of the classics. Possibly an entire disruption may take place. But if ever there was a case of my favourite Virgilian-antiquateex~auiriae~e-it will be that of England when it awakes from this dream which is only not lewd because it is fatuous. The awakening is sure to come. The study of Greek . . . will revive with tremendous force, and a new generation will demand of us what we have done with so precious an inheritance "remarks in which we catch that note of deep conservatism which characterises him. And Pari Passu with the classics, he learned at Oxford to love" quaint books " like Wood's Thence Oxonienses, he cultivated music, which he had studied as a boy, and to which he was passionately devoted throughout
his life, though his straitened means may have hampered his freedom, as a phrase in the following passage suggests:" I do not know of anything that gave me more pleasure during the whole term than that pleasant ramble over the keys, after my two months' fast "and, above all, he had already begun" to pick up racy anecdotes," wherein we see him started on one of his major lifelong quests.
In 1857 Brown married his cousin, Miss Stowell, in the little church of Kirk Maughold, a place forever after most sacred of all his island haunts; Maughold comes before Bradda in the Epistola ad Dakyns. In 1861 he left King William's College to assume the headmastership of the Crypt School at Gloucester, where he was not happy, though it must, doubtless, have been a satisfaction to him to meet and deeply influence the youthful W. E. Henley. What he called " the Gloucester episode " woke that inveterate longing for his island which never left him,and to his mother he declares himself as " one of the most patriotic exiles it can boast." In 1864 the present Bishop of Hereford, Dr. Percival, invited him to join the staff at Clifton College, the headmastership of which Dr. Percival had just assumed. Brown accepted, and the larger part of his life was spent at Clifton as a schoolmaster. The place, with its soft western climate, the downs, the Leigh woods the Avon, the Severn, and the distant hills of Wales" the prime of English Arcady "made a deep impression upon him, producing that dream-mood "of which he often speaks. It was there that the Brown " of the long solitary walks on the downs pi was developed, and it was there that most of his Fo'c's'/e Yarns, and much of his other poetry, were written. No doubt his passion for his native land and its scenery was heightened by absence, and by contrast with the softer airs and richer landscape of Clifton, and in that characteristic poem called Clifton he tells us how his heart yearns back to the gorse, the heather, the lichens, the sea-thunder, and the silences of his island home.
For twenty-eight years Brown passed a kind of dual existence at Clifton, teaching the boys and msp~rlug some of them, making close and warm friendships with the masters, and also with others in the town, leaving a deep imprint on the school; but the inner man was withdrawn into the sacred recesses of his family affections, his long and solitary musings on the downs, and the steady accumulation of his poems, about which I believe he seldom spoke though the calm and the assurance with which oineasf Patten Howe Rasf.he forged ahead, clearly indicate that in literature day his true life's work. In 1892 his health gave way. "Then you don't know that I have been nearly 'kilt.' Proxies -nimbi, I can assure you.... I believe it is all up with me. I may go for a few years more yet, but the mainspring has been nudely shaken, and I shall be a simulacrum,an approximation to the manes and lemures of fable." In the autumn of 1892 Brown gave up his mastership and retired to the Isle of Man, where he rapidly recovered physical health. " O." he writes, " the delight of this leisure! I read, I write, I play. Good gracious! I shouldn't wonder if my music came to something yet. I have actually gone back to singing, a vice of my youth.... I always think the sea the great challenger and promoter of song. Even the mountain is not the same thing. There may always be some d-d fool or another behind a rock. But the sea is open, and you can tell when you are alone; and the dear old chap is so confidential: I will trust him with my secret." " But,O Irwin! the leisure of it! the leisure of it! This is at last life." " All life hitherto has detained me from my true life." Phrases suggesting the strain to which the dual life at Clifton had subjected him.
Brown's last years were spent chiefly in the Isle of Man, revelling in its scenery, living with its people, renewing the memories and the ties of his youth,"seeking his ancient mother," obeying a passionate conservatism which abhorred any lesion with the past." Altogether it will be very hard to get me away from this perfectly bewitching place. I have a sort of hold over the people which I feel is not precarious.... You have no idea how the old echoes repercuss and make music of my life. One goes to see a dear old creature of eighty-one. She knows you and everything about you, everything behind you, and, if possible, before you.... These (the elders) are such as I would fondly hope are gathering a gentle, soothing sort of gossip about me to tell the happy r/uzjores when they meet them in Elysium."" I walked over the mountains yesterday, and finished in a labyrinth of lovely glens, imperfectly known hymn. The sweetest of solitudes, each one. It is so delicious to pore over a country like this, and draw out the very soul of it." It was this frame of mind which induced him to refuse the Archdeaconry of the Isle of Man when offered to him in 1894. " I seek no preferment anywhere, certainly not in the Isle of Man. At some cost I have purchased my freedom, and will not lightly part with it.... A few years will finish the business, and I must be freefree to do what I like, say what I like, write what I like within the limitations prescribed by my own sense of what is seemly and fitting. Literature is my calling, and that in the most liberal interpretation, ranging from Die hake Kritik to such lucubrations as The Gel of Ballasallaw. With this view I need absolute freedom, freedom to go to church or not to go to church, freedom to commune with local preachers and occasionally to attend Methodist chapels, freedom to smoke a pipe in a Manx public-house, freedom to absent myself from church conferences and ruridecanal potterings in short, absolute freedom. If from this freedom there should proceed anything whereby my native island may profit, either by way of self-realisation or harmless mirth, a~pona~r lucre." This was the final dedication of himself to his island for the few years that remained. Yet with his deep attachment to the past, he is drawn towards Clifton and that rich western land. " The dream condition which you describe I enter into with all my soul. The old life once lived and for ever passed from us!A brooding presence that haunts the air, and charges it with memories that are almost more vital than the obvious surroundings.... Yes, Clevedon sums up our life more even than Clifton. To creep into it quietly some morning, to drop down from Cadbury,and just breathe it againhow delightful it would-be! " And the draw towards Clifton gathered strength. " All my affections flow steadily and increasingly Clif~on-wards. You have cured me of a cold that was beginning to irk my spirit, the sense of estrangement, and a deadness. Well, thank God for that! I believe the cure is permanent, and that my next visit to Clifton promises to be a very happy one." If he could come back I think he would say" It was." On the evening of Friday, October ~9, 1897, he died quite suddenly while addressing the boys in one of the Houses on the theme of "The Ideal Clifton." Such are the simple outlines of a life as remarkable for its apparent outward unimportance as for its probable spiritual value in the sum total of English literature.
Physically, though not tall, Brown gave one the impression of a very big man. He had a slow sort of urgent walk, like leviathan pressing through the floods. His voice was rich and deep, the face extremely mobile, the mouth slightly ironical, the eyes of a most winning kindliness, "love-deep" eyes, to use one of his own happy phrases. He was fond of boating, bathing, but above all of interminable long rambles. His spirits were high when he was in them; his fun, his humour, his mimicry, rose to the pitch of rollicking at times, " one felt that bed was almost an impossibility; one had been so wakened all over by Brown's wild spirits, his loud peals of laughter, his merry wit, his boisterous, almost schoolboy fun," to quote a friend's report of an evening passed in his company. But beneath this bubbling fountain of mirth, which was only intermittent, lay a deep well of tenderness nigh to tears. Indeed, tears and laughter were very close to each other in Brown's temperament. He styled himself "a born lobber,"and admits that he has to battle with the hysferica5assio. Such a diathesis was inevitable in one so profoundly and humanely tender, so sensitive to the inrush of nature, so conscious, like all fine poets,of the lacrizJzue Serum. It was there and could not be helped, but the lasszo was corrected and curbed by a rich ironical humour that preserved it from all taint of sentimentality. In Risus rlei is he thinking of himself ?
Methinks in slim there dwells alway
A sea of laughter very deep.
And if He laughs at fools, why should He not ?
but God cloth dwell Behind the feigned gladness
Inhabiting a sacred core of sadness.
In these passages he himself gives us the expression of the two moods. He would say, " I am certain God made fools for us to enjoy, but there must be an economy of joy in the presence of a fool." On another occasion he feared that he had got into trouble with his beloved Manxmen for making fun of them; he complains that " our Manx folk cannot understand how one can laugh at a man, and at the same time love and respect him. Want of humour,I suppose. But it is a great nuisance and a great impediment." The truth is that when the humour came upon him Brown could not help making fun. He lectured once at Douglas on Old Kirk Braddan,and imagined that it had been a failure. " The people were most hearty and indulgent; so it must have been my own fault.... The fact is they were too indulgent, stimulated me to unstinted mimicry buffoonery what you will. And they laughed and laughed, till with horror I awoke to the consciousness that I was treating old Braddan life like a school of comedy, of which my father constituted the central figure and protagonist. Some tender things I believe I said, but the subjective condition of my hearers, aggravated by my own impudence, carried everything away into a papadpov of farce. Idle mini! " Of human nature at large Brown was, in fact, an ironical but not unkindly spectator, and may be it was no accident which led him to close his last volume, Old John, with the sonnett the Play.
Even so we gaze not on the things that are,
Nor aught behold but what is adumbrate;
The show is specious, and we laugh and weep
At what is only meant spectacular;
And when the curtain falls we may not wait;
Death takes the lights and we go home to sleep.
But deeper than this ironical mood, which after all was only for the surface of things, the outer spectacle of life, lay the tenderest outgoings to humanity at large, to his friends, to his family. To use Fynes Moryson's phrase, "he would catch their loves as it were with a fish-hook." The stories that affect him abundantly prove the " store of love " that was in his heart For example: " The Chickens' Lighthouse lies off the island called the Calf of Man, due S.W. From the shore of the Calf a long slope runs up to the crest of the island; this slope exactly faces the Chickens. Near the top of the slope, nestling under the crags of the crest, are the cottages inhabited by the families of the light-keepers, their doors opening right toward the Chickens far down below them. Now the light-keepers are absolutely separated from their families for three months at a time. Butand here is the pointthese good fellows have, of course, a powerful telescope, and they solace themselves with looking through it at their children laying in front of the cottage doors. Isn't that beautiful ?Ah ! human hearts ! Fancy on Sundays (Sabbathsthey are Scotchmen), how proud the mothers must be to hue the bairns [raw for the gzzidnzan to seet hem through the Spying-glass ! ' Gie little Kate her cotton gown and Jock his Sunday coat' isn't thatit ? . . . There now, have I moved you at all ?Such things one picks up here, and, with a little more trustfulness and godly sincerity, and man-to-manness, a little ready and wholesome OpE6tS, a little more love, in short, how much more one might pickup ! And is not 'Sick zip a most damnable phrase ?Ought not the appetite for these things and the perception of them to be normal; and is not normal a damnable phrase, for which it were well to substitute 'our daily bread' ? " There we have the stuff of one of Brown's poems in the making, a proof of the hear the had for humanity, and a sample of what was his natural emotional pabulum, what he called " the food for souls ": " I believe," he says, " that Jowett, like so many Englishmen, carried the principle of not pinning his heart Zion his sleeve for Razzes to peck at, so far as to forget that, besides the pecking daws, there are the craving hearts of others . . . craving for the food, which, God help us! is not too abundantly spread upon the tables of this world." It was the responsive attachment of his fellows that he longed for; " Her love for her son was only equalled by her love for F., and a lovable creature he is It was more than love, it was worship.... Tremendous!to have won that love, to have won it by simple kindness and humanity." And, of course, in the still nearer relations of friendship and the family this wealth of affection found a fuller field. Brown's letters prove his devotion to his friends; Clevedon Verses,Lynton Verses, and al her Stations show the family bond too sacred almost to be touched even by the delicate hands of poesy.
And yet with all this " store of love " in his heart,Brown was a born solitary. There can be no doubt about it. He was right who said, "You must not think you know all about Brown because you see so much of him. However intimate he may be with his friends there is quite another Brown who takes long solitary walks on the Downs." Brown himself will describe himself as " shouting for lonely joy." And we shall presently see the profound significance of this solitary side in his temperament. There was a certain pride and reserve about him, a shyness as of some sylvan creature that would not let itself be caught. This was probably of the essence of his nature; but to me it suggested the possibility of some deep wound in early youth. In an unpublished poem entitled Credo he more than confesses, though half in playfulness, this natural reserve:
I have a faith as strong as steel
Whether it is old or new
Shall I to you its form reveal ?
Certainly not to you, my friend, Certainly not to you.
I have a hope that streaks my night
With bars of heavenly blue;
Shall I to you its source indite ?
Certainly not to you, my friend,Certainly not to you.
* * * *
I have a rock from which my foes
Serenely I can view
Shall I to you the place disclose ?
Certainly not to you, my friend,Certainly not to you.
I have a love that fills my heart
A love that's known to few;
Shall I to you the name impart ?
Certainly not to you, my friend,Certainly not to you.
For you're so " well informed,"dear sir,
That if my thoughts are due
To any man, I do aver
It's certainly not to you, my friend, Certainly not to you.
THE work of T. E. Brown is marked by strong individuality and power. If we are to reach the secret of this individuality and power, if we are " to ponder "and understand "what he meant," we cannot avoid considering him under the threefold aspect, moral,intellectual and spiritualthat is to say, we must endeavour to discover what manner of man he was in what he used to call " the inner soul." Brown himself has expressed the threefold attitude in the close of his poem on Pain:
For there is threefold oneness with the One;
And he is one, who keeps
The homely laws of life; who, if he sleeps
Or wakes, in his true flesh God's will is done.
And he is one, who takes the deathless forms,
Who schools himself to think
With the All-thinking, holding fast the link,
God riveted, that bridges casual storms.
But tenfold one is he, who feels all pains
Not partial, knowing them
As ripples parted from the gold-beaked stem,
Wherewith God's galley onward ever strains.
To him the sorrows are the tension thrills
Of that serene endeavour
Which yields to God for ever and for ever
The joy that is more ancient than the hills.
And yet no one would have objected to such atrichotomy more than Brown, for no one was more of a piece than he; but that was because the essential life of him resided wholly in one of the three divisions,the spiritual region; it is his spiritual life that permeates and governs his moral and intellectual being and gives to himself and his work a singular unity of tone.
In Brown we shall find no formal, self-conscious code of ethics; holding, as I think he did, that if the deep roots of the spiritual life were strong and healthy it could not go wrong with the moral or the intellectual being. Not that he is not a moralist of the highest demands. As was inevitable in a poet and a man of strong emotions, it is almost exclusively in the region of love that ethical problems present themselves to him. He happened, as was his wont, to be reading contemporary English fiction, and found a text for his teaching in the characters of two heroines " Tess "and " Kate"; his passionate belief in the sacredness of womanhood was hurt in the one case and not in the other. He is indignant at any tampering with chastity, and cannot abide the apologetics for Tess." 'The heroine was condemned under an arbitrary law, not founded in nature,"' he replies to an apologist, " that is, the law of chastity is not founded in nature. Methinks a precious doctrine." But it is not a formal or conventional chastity that he is defending. As in the intellectual and in the spiritual sphere, so in the moral, he wishes to force the emotional vision, the emotional grasp on the situation,up to its highest power, and carries his standard of chastity into a region where the dross of carnality is purged in the flame of the purest passion; " My whole being rushes out to apprehend the passion of love. Once dissipate that horror (of which I have perhaps said enough), and the field of expectation is even greedily devoured by me (corrz~io cam,lium). The removal of that physical check makes me abound in the opposite sense. And, indeed, I see the whole situation as chaste, or rather soaring into an atmosphere which doesn't differentiate things in that way "; and so he condones the " loves " of Philip and Kate in the Manxman, nay, " goes with them to the very apogee . . . of their rapture." That there was a still more excellent way, a touch higher than the very apogee of physical passion, I think he believed. Tom Baynes expresses it on more than one occasion:
"But George," I said, " isn' there no love
That's greater than that, that's risin' above
The lek o' thatwhy can't there be
No love without wooin' and all that spree ?
Couldn'ye love and never make to her
No love nor nothing, nor never spake to her ?
Couldn'ye look to her like a star
Up in the heavens quite reggilar ? "
That was his ideal, the sacred writing, the hieroglyphic; " Man gives the swift demotic," and I doubt whether he expected his " old salt, old rip, old friend,Tom Baynes " to live ever to "the height of such great argument." For Brown was eminently a man,conscious of and full of the stuff men are made of." You focussed the lovers at Bristol. By Jove, how the modern sailor improves in the matter of reserve and dignity! At a parting scene it used to be much if he was sober, but as for slobbering it was de rigueur. Lost and gaineddon't you think, a certain abandon. . . would be pleasing I should say, to sympathetic onlookers. Sacred, did you say ? Oh, Jack, don't "'" The old alternate stroke is there, the see-saw of what men really are and must be, up to the heaven of purity and peace, down to the sentira of honest nastiness. Aren't we made so ? He that denies either Schwung is a monster and no man.''
It is more the ugliness, the defacement of some lovely objectsome exquisite sea-shellthe havoc wrought by impurity, rather, perhaps, than its sinfulness, that Brown resents. Again taking his text from a novel: " Madame Bovary," he says, " is an exceptional woman. She is not like Messalina, but fate-borne like Clytemnestra. Pity her! she is pathetic! believe me she is, and intended to be so. The men are not adequate; there is the central poignancy of it all . . . but Madame Bovary staggers into their arms, drunk with the most infernal philtre.. . . Get rid of the satire notion, and approach this awful ruin as a ruinlet it be to you a Baalbec, not a Lupanar. Woe! woe ! woe' I can't think of her without tears." More poignantly, still, from the experience of his own life, the same idea is expressed in Lime Street and Hotwells.
But it is certain that Brown looked for the resolution of sin, evil, ugliness in another life where these things should not merely be banished, but should actually be transmuted into forms of loveliness and light. In one of his most powerful pieces, The Schooner, this conception forms the very core of the poem; the filth, the slime, the dirt, lead up to the splendid resolution of the final stanzas:
Sleeps; and methinks she changes as she sleeps,
And dies, and is a spirit pure.
Lo ! on her deck an angel pilot keeps
His lonely watch secure;
And at the entrance of Heaven's dockyard waits,
Till from Night's leash the fine-breath'd morning leaps,
And that strong hand within unbars the gates.
So, too, in Catherine Kinrade, the wrong of he rlife and the wrong done her find their Versing in heaven. Brown is an optimist, certain of the final adjustment and reconciliation in "the tenderness of Eternity."
And now it's all so plain, dear Chalse !So plain
The wildered brain,The joy, the pain
The phantom shapes that haunted,
The half-born thoughts that dauntedAll, all is plain
Dear Chalse !
All is plain.
I do not think that Brown approached the problems of life and of the universe through the intellectthat was not the region in which they presented themselves to him. I doubt whether he regarded the intellectual process as really of the roots. His phrases about the intellect and its material, knowledge, are cold; " genius is intellectual not moral. For instance, it seems probable that the greatest genius in the universe is the Devil." He almost resents absolute concrete knowledge, and can talk of a man being " fact poisoned," and " O. the weary knowledge " is instantly answered by " O. the hearts that fill "; he thought in moods of emotion, if one may use such a phrase what he sought for were " the golden life-chords unalloyed with thought ", for him there was an intuition profounder than formal knowledge, and a logic superior to the " languaged logic " of the brain. He is impatient at the presentation of Symonds as an " agonising searcher after the aliso~te " in the region of the intellect; but, as we shall presently see, Brown himself was every whit as much a searcher after the absolute, though in another region, in the region of the spirit. Throughout the letters he seldom discusses a question from the side of the pure reason. Not that the problems are not there, but that the rational solution of them was not satisfactory to his temperament; he preferred the spiritual. " You say you don't believe in a future state but you have' gleams of hope'! We are all much in the same plight.... Independently of revelation, the matter is a question of metaphysics, and a very subtle one. It has beset humanity from the very beginning, and (this is important) you can't lay the ghost. Rest for a moment from the pressing concerns of this life,and there you are, you and your question. It is the inevitable attitude of the soul, what one might call its obvious native polarity. 'The gleams ' are blessed things, just caught at our noblest throbs and in our most ecstatic moods. That they are ecstatic, as apprehended by us, does not disprove their essential permanence. Rather it suggests the contrary. Metaphysically, the balance is in favour of a future state. To a sceptical nature like mine, the balance is everything. That is what I get from my own reflections, or rather, what I got ages ago, helped by Plato and confirmed by Butler. It was done once for all; you can't reopen these metaphysical problems. Let sleeping dogs lie.... Must I always be breaking stones on the road to heaven ?" and with that the declines any further " to finger idly the old gordian knot." Two moments of suffering and loss brought him through the negative into the positive mood;" concerning those loved oneswhether any communication with them now is possible, whether we shall hereafter know them or have anything to do with them, all this is to me the merest mist.... I have to tell you now that I know nothing about 'a disembodied state'; that to me is altogether removed from the sphere of practical considerations.... Is imply know nothing; I submit, I acquiesce even,but that is all." But eight years later the positive mood is reached. " One thing emergesmy absolute belief in immortality. I am not naturally a materialist,that is a plant not native to my mind; but scales of materialism have sometimes grown upon my eyes They vanish now utterly, and I am dazzled and confounded by the inevitable presence, the close connatural rebound of the belief. I have always been an idealist, subject to these dim spots of material feculence that from time to time have obscured my vision. Now I feel my body to be nothing but an integument, and the inveteracy of the material association to be a tie little more than momentary, and quite casual. Death is the key to another room, and it is the very next room " And in that conviction he laid to rest all intellectual questionings on faith. " Men who go in for 'new religions' must not apply to me. I do not mean to say that 'the old is better,' but I am content to drink the blessed old vintage as long as I am At ,0?1~. When I 'drink it new in my Father's kingdom,' these bothers will be of the past."
Brown's faith was great in man precisely because his faith was boundless in Nature. He sees man sill specie na/?lrae, not Nature S?Z~ specie ~z?zmanztat?s,and thereby avoids, or at least shifts, the pathetic fallacy from the narrower to the wider region, that is to say, man is assimilated to Nature, not Nature to man. In this respect he is far less anthropocentric than Wordsworth, with whom it is natural to compare him. He does not escape the general intellectual tendency of the time. In a way he carries the deposition of man, which is the result of the scientific movement, a step farther than his brother Nature poets. It is impossible to understand such poems as Wastwater to Scafell, The Dhoon, The Yell, The Pitcher, without bearing this in mind. For Wastwater is Brown himself, and all those who feel with him;the passionate surrender of the human soul to God is expressed in the passion of the lake for the mountain. He sees man sub sit ecie natural, and Nature sub Specie aeternitatis, but it is an aeternitas quite as much in the past as in the future; nay, more so, for the past has been ours, and we may be called on to account for the use of the gift. It is his vision of Eternity as much in the past as in the future that explains his favourite " a~tti~uam exquirere ~nafre~n,"and the frequent note of regret that he cannot store the present for all time, his " woe that all this personal dream be fled."
And this brings us to the spiritual side of the man, to the real Brown, the "inner soul" of him. He himself recognises this duality. " Pay every attention to the outer soul; cultivate it and relate it harmoniously, if superficially, with others, or it will fret and work in troublesome counteraction. The great kick is within though, where gestation abides,and the quieter you keep that the better." The" inner soul " of Brown was a mood of "passionate contemplation " What was he contemplating, what was he feeling in this " brooding of the sanctuary " ?I suppose the answer is Nature. The soul of Brown in relation to Nature seems to belike the soul of many great poetsto a large extent a thelyc or feminine soul. To him the operations of Nature are impregnations; he surrenders himself and lets Nature pour in upon him; the " sensuous cells " receive the imprint and the divine vivisector 1 has to report " this brain seems packed with sunsets." When the rapture is upon him he hears the anions mung`; and returns from these silent and solitary communings with his whole beingbody, soul, and spirit attuned to that high pitch of passion which is characteristic of his verse, and furnished with that criticism of life which gave him sure, but slightly aloof, judgment on men and things. This large receptivity of spirit is accompanied by other notes which characterise the feminine rather than the masculine temperament. I doubt if Brown set much store by activities; he cared more to be possessed than to possess, processes interested him less than products.
Did he identify God and Nature ? I think so, or at least he considered Nature as the direct manifestation of God and the medium through which we r each Him. It is Nature he listens to and for, and yet he says, " In my life I have been so much alone,it cannot be helped. Where is the comrade ? I never had one. The absolute self is far within, and no one can reach it. I will not cant, but God reaches it and He only." It is this passionate contemplation of Nature that builds up the real, the inner man; his intimacies are reserved for Nature; to her alone doe she unbosom himself; his soul lies naked before her
With shadows of those lofty things and lonely,
the passion of surrender is complete. The mood is a mood of ecstasy, not unlike the mood of a mystic contemplating the beatific vision, and, indeed, Brown so describes it-
~ See Dartmoor.
by all the vows I vowed I charge you, and I charge you by the tears
And by the passion that I took
From you, and flung them to the vale,
And had the ultimate vision, do not fail.
The joy of it was intense
The joy that is more ancient than the hills.
But it contained the sorrow of an inevitable overplus.
So He filled methen I lost Him,
Lost Him in His own excess
For He could not but transcend me In my very nothingness.
Did Brown speak to God through Nature ? Were these profound and intimate communings a dialogue or a monologue ? In some moods, when the vision was imperfect,when his "highest power" was not upon him, there is certainly a dialogue. In the poem called Dartmoor, Malvolio Homo, " sick of self-love "and " tasting with a distempered appetite" is gently rebuked by the wider-loving Demiurge. But this interposition of the Demiurge leaves [a ,question deDie?' unsolved, as indeed it must be, and the Demiurge himself closes his statement of his own position face to face with man by the ironical remark,"Why, you are Lord, if any one is Lord." But in the happier moments of these moods I think Brown was silent, a listener, or at the most the communion ended on his side, in an " O altitu~Io! " or perhaps in a"quantum frofundum./" for he loved pools. Beyond this it would be well not to press. "The mysteries are too sacred, the pudicitia of the absolute must not be violated."
The mood of course is not unknown. It has been expressed by Sir Thomas Browne and Wordsworth, each in his own way; Sir Thomas's famous phrase,"gustation of God ''1 comes near to it, and yet it does not exactly hit itit is too anthropocentric, and also has the note of the Catholic Church which is wholly absent in Brown. In truth, though Brown in his spiritual moods is constantly reminding us of George Herbert, Sir Thomas, Wordsworth, Blake, yet it is just one of the signatures of his genuineness as a poet that the note is never identical, it is always the note of Brown himself, in harmonyyes, but not in unison.
Few, if any, among modern poets have made so many announcements from Heaven " or near it." The spiritual, inner soul of Brown is there when the Prayers come up to be sorted, he is there when Wesley is welcomed, he is there when Bishop Wilson is forgiven for all his wrong to Catherine Knrade. But what spiritual lungs are required to breathe this high and rarefied atmosphere! And, indeed, it was not always possible for Brown to keep to the heights of his serene and silent assurance in communing with " Nature and the God of Nature." There come moments of depression, and then he speaks, he interrogates; witness Homo Lo,ovilvr and Res,'5o~'d~tA - `ovpyos, and "The Voices of Nature" in Clevedon Verses
Strange ! that to me this gurgling of the dulse Allays no
Consoles no nerve,
Rounds off no curveAlack !
Comes rather like a sigh,
A question that has no replyOpens a deep misgiving.
1 I/ydriofaphia, last paragraph but one,
What is this life I'm livingOur fathers were not soSilence thou moaning wrack!And yet . . . I do not know. And yet . . . I would go back.
We must remember, however, that Brown conceives of God Himself as " inhabiting a sacred core of sadness "; " or," as he puts it elsewhere-
Or is it joy diviner,
Joy echoing in a minor,
Joy vibrant to its pole,
That seems but sad ?
and moreover, the mood was not permanent, only intermittent. He recovers and declares
It is the core and gist
Of life that I should list
To Nature's voice alone.
He bursts into a paean to his Alma Morter, and proudly yet humbly
gives thanks that he does still retain
Some tinct of that imperial Wren grain
No carrack ever bore to Thames or Tiber.
With such a concept of Nature it is not surprising that for Brown the microcosm was as valuable as the macrocosm, and that the Isle of Man, " my only true home on this earth," and its people were for him his sufficient and inexhaustible field. Moreover, he was drawn to it by that inveterate conservatism which made him resent any break with the past, and convinced him that true knowledge was possible only about things that were, so to speak, bred in the bone." I like to live in a country till I know it inside out; that is better than visiting many places "; on Snaefell he says, " I hadn't gone far until the highest power which I ever gained swooped down upon me. I mean the power of sucking out from the country its very inmost soul, and making it stand before me and smile and speak." And this passionate addiction to roots is carried from the country to its people. He is avid for the actual word, phrase, intonation, accent caught from the lips of the people which lets him slip unawares into their inmost core of emotion. His ears are all alert for the native locution, "Jus' the shy," " Not willing to stay," "Going to meet him,''and what splendid exposition he makes of their true content; for him they are the very stuff of poems,and his fervid imagination and profound humanity instantly clothe them with the body and blood of mankind. " He chooses to depict people from humble life, because, being nearer to Nature than others,they are on the whole more impassioned, certainly more direct in their expression of passion than other men; it is for this direct expression of passion that he values their humble words." What Pater wrote of Wordsworth is true of Brown. "This class," says Brown, "of what I suppose you would call peasant women (I won't have the word) seems made for the purpose of rectifying everything and redressing the balance and inspiring us with that awe which the immediate presence of absolute womanhood creates in us. The plain, practical woman, with the outspoken throat and the eternal eyes.... Here is a woman that talks like a bugle, and in everything sees God." This was the " social brewage "which he gets nowhere else; and it is, for him, his bounder duty in life to seize and perpetuate the flavour of it: " Let us then make all we write very good and sound, Manx timber, Manx calking, Manx bolting, Manx everything. Manifestly we shall not appeal to strangers, nor, in fact, hope to make a penny. Neither will the Manx public defray thee expense of pen and ink and paper. We must make a long arm, and stretch back and grip the receding past. Don't care a scrap whether we thereby run the risk of being unintelligible to the rising generation. That is of no consequence. You and I are a Court of Record, let us execute our office faithfully and lovingly . . . in short, we must be both daring and modest." Brown fulfilled his self-imposed task in Fo'c's'le Yarns. He built " a cairn of memories " in his poems
So that the coming age
Lost in the Empire's mass,
Yet haply longing for their fathers, here
May see, as in a glass,
What they held dear
May say, "'Twas thus and thus They lived," and, as the time-flood onward rolls,Secure an anchor for their Celtic souls.
We have it from Brown himself that he is Tom Baynes of the Fo'cs'le Yarns. " You are quite right about these stories. Keltic, that is it; the Keltemerging if you will, but the Kelt a good deal hardened and corrupted by the Saxon. That is Tom Baynes; that is myself, in fact. I never stopped for a moment to think what Tom Baynes should be like; he simply is I, just a crabbed text, blurred with scholia 'in the margent' So when I am alone I think and speak to myself always as Tom Baynes."That is quite true, of course; all the same, when Brown is Tom Baynes he is Brown in his mimetic humour, Brown the inimitable mimic and actor. The Brown who created or acted Tom Baynes was himself made in the long, lonely, and silent communings with Nature, and that Brown is to be found in his lyrical poems.
Fo'cs'le Yarns are written in dialect, but it is not a dialect that presents any serious difficulty to English readers, it is, in fact, Anglo-Manx. The lyrics are chiefly in English. Brown's style in his Yarns is large, easy, swinging and free in movement,racy and humorous in diction, poignantly pathetic in emotion. His temperament, indeed, contained two of the ingredients, pride and pathos, which go to make the highest style. In his lyrics Brown is intentionally severe, perhaps even slightly repellent to some; like all authentic poets his note is his own, he exacts attention, the ear has to be trained to catch it. But once caught, the tension of the verse stretches and stimulates the nerves; there is a frozen passion about it that recalls, in a way, the manner of Mantegna and dominates the minds of those attuned to it. He disliked the "obvious sweet," and apologises in his letters for the use of a too facile alliteration. He records of his father that to him " style was like the instinct of personal cleanliness," and so it was with Brown himself But the reserve, the polish, the aridity even of his verse have their reward, and the phrases dropped into the mind abide there, never to be forgotten, but rather to take on colour, warmth, and glow from the life within. Not that Brown cannot be sweetly lyrical when he likes; only that he desired an economy of sweetness. Such lines as
The honey-tongued quintessence of July,or
Sweet breeze that sett'st the summer buds a swaying or
T wonder if the hills are long and lonely.
have the Visa~eollities of the true lyric. " The quality ! the quality ! " he exclaims, " do let us aim at that." I think that judged by his own high canon his work must be acknowledged. It is precisely "quality" that his lyrics possess; a very severe " quality," it is true, but proud and distinguished. And through all his work runs a certain vein of quaintness, not unlike George Herbert's, charming the reader with little flashes of the unexpected:
Cuckoo ! Cuckoo ! three cheers
And let the welkin ring!
He has not folded wimp
Since last he saw Algiers.
Poor souls! whose god is Mammon
Meanwhile, from ocean s gate,
Keen for the foaming spate,
The true God rushes in the salmon.
The workmanship, too, is very perfect, and the attentive reader will be rewarded by touches of a rare felicity;for example, in Dartmoor Homo's testy phrase about" spiders in their foul pavilions " is so gently rebuked and corrected by Demiurge's, " Spiders in their quaint pavilions "; or, again, in Apiary Quay, a whole criticism of the effect of " progress " on the race is conveyed in a single phrase; the seamen of a steamship
are very different now From fishermen like us; I don't know how, But quite another sortthey hardly seem Like sailorsmay be something in the steam.
It is only natural that the ecstatic, brooding mood of his
communings with Nature should be reflected in his lyrics, both in its
aspects of happy acquiescence and in its more troubled phase of doubt
and questioning; the reader will readily find his own examples; but
No. v. of Lynton licenses gives a full expression to the first
of these moods:
Sweet breeze that sett sat the summer buds a swaying,
Dear lambs amid the primrose meadows playing
Let me not think!
O floods, upon whose brink
The merry birds are maying,
Dream, softly dream!
O blessed mother lead me
Unsevered from thy girdlelead me ! feed me !
I have no will but shine;
I need not but the juice
Of elemental wine
Perish remoter use
Of strength reserved for conflict yet to come!
Let me be dumb,As long as I may feel thy hand
This, this is alldo ye not understand
How the great Mother mixes all our bloods ?
O breeze! O swaying buds!
O lambs, O primroses, O floods!
The dubitative, interrogative mood, the mood in which he is not " dumb," is concentrated in the long poem called Dartmoor. The mood of humility, of regret at the inadequacy of the creature to compass and enclose the entire boon of the Creator, is given in that profoundest spiritual hymn, The Picker. And indeed the proper title for Brown's Lyrics would be" spiritual songs." Few, if any, of our Nature-poets had as deep an intuition into Nature; few, if any of our spiritual poets possess his richness of humanity. These two qualities interpenetrate and stimulate each other, and his grasp on man and on Nature is widened, deepened, intensified. He reveals himself slowly, but like his Alma Mater, he repays in overflowing measure those who will go with him in the appreciation of Man, the worship of Nature, the quest of the Divine.
A WORD must be said as to the nature of this selection from the poems of T. E. Brown. It has been decided, for several reasons, to make it as comprehensive as possible within the limits imposed by space. There is a remarkable unity of thought and feeling in Brown's work, and, granted that one has discovered and likes the peculiar savour of the man, his individual and characteristic note, it will be found in fuller or lesser measure in all his poetry. He is very much of a piece, and one poem helps another towards the building up of the impression created by the whole. It is true that he himself spoke jestingly of the poems in Old John as "mixed pickles," and compared the volume to a " lucky-bag, people take what pleases them "; but in a letter to H. G. Dakyns he expresses his own feelings more gravely and more seriously." Written at such long intervals, I feel so uncertain about them. They seem, many of them, strangers to me, voices I don't recognise, in no way expressing a mood that is now to me even possible quite startling, either in being foreign to my mind as at present operating, or inadequate to its conception.I cling to the hope that, from the very circumstance of this being so, the poems, which fail to commend themselves to me, may find fautors among younger men, men whose moods are more parallel to those which were mine." It is quite natural, nay inevitable,that a poet should feel thus when collecting the work of many years. Yet if the flavour and the influence of Brown be once caught, they will be recognised as running through all his work. He need not have been afraid. To his " fautors," who are not him, the poems are all him. "Oh, for readers," he goes on, "who would take me by the hand and walk with me through the layettes anni"; and this suggests the second reason for comprehensiveness. Though Brown is not yet so widely known as he probably will be, it is nevertheless certain that he has a growing number of admirers both in England and the Colonies; a narrower selection ran the risk of depriving some readers of their favourite pieces.
These considerations have led to the inclusion of all Brown's published poems, with the exception of A Dialogue between Hom-Veg and Ballure Riverwhich is in dialect, and though printed in the Collected Poems, never had the poet's imprimaturand the Fo'c's'le Yarns, also, with two exceptions, in dialect,for which it would have been impossible to find space. The order of the Collected Poems has been followed,with the single exception that the Manx lyrics in Aspect and Characters have been placed in a section by themselves, entitled " 'Dramatic Lyrics'; Anglo-Manx," and the "Envoy" to Fo'c's'le Yarns, "Go Back," has been printed as the Envoy to this selection.
No selection from Brown's poetry would have been complete without the inclusion of some of his narrative verse. Two of his Fo'c's'le Yarns, " Mary Quayle" and " Bella Gorry " are written, not in Anglo-Manx,but in English, and are printed here. To my mind" Mary Quayle " is one of his finest narrative poems;at all events it gives us Brown's touch on two of the deepest emotions in his temperament, his feeling for man and for Nature. There is an interpenetration of the human passion and Nature Nature playing bourdon to the movement of the human soul as the tale unfolds; the brooding of the approaching storm preludes to the agony of the drama; the solace of confession made, renunciation achieved, has its counterpart in the dying away of the spent thunder;the whole is raised to a high pitch of lyrical passion,and moves along like a noble piece of music. In" Bella Gorry" we get another mood of the poet's mind, his passionate belief in the splendour and sacredness of womanhood. Rarely has the sensuous, aesthetic perception been raised to such a fervid point of sublimation as in the great scene between the mother and the daughter in the cottage at night. One is irresistibly reminded of the Venus of Milo, where the artist strives for and achieves the same lofty presentment.
Though Brown seldom spoke about his poems, he had that quiet assurance in their soundness and their value, which, very likely, belongs to all true poets. " It is odd," he says, " but, do you know,I have a perfectly serene confidence in their future .How it will come to pass I am not prepared to say' nor does it much matter." Time will give the verdict; but the reason, the high reason, why it did not matter is given by Brown himself in that characteristic and explanatory poem called Opifex:
As I was carving images from clouds,
And tinting them with soft ethereal dyes
Pressed from the pulp of dreams, one comes, and cries:"
Forbear ! " and all my heaven with gloom enshrouds.
" Forbear ! Thou hast no tools wherewith to essay
The delicate waves of that elusive grain:
Wouldst have due recompense of vulgar pain ?
The potter's wheel for thee, and some coarse clay!
" So work, if work thou must, O humbly skilled !
Thou has not known the Master; in thy soul
His spirit moves not with a sweet control
Thou art outside, and art not of the guild."
There at I rose, and from his presence passed
But, going, murmured:" To the God above
Who holds my heart, and knows its store of love
I turn from thee, thou proud iconoclast."
Then on the shore God stooped to me, and said:
`'He spake the truth: even so the springs are set
That move thy life, nor will they suffer let
Nor change their scope; else, living, thou wert dead.
" This is thy life: indulge its natural flow
And carve these forms. They yet may find a place
On shelves for them reserved. In any case,
I bid thee carve them, knowing what I know.
H. F. B.