Louise Imogen Guiney


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LOUISE IMOGEN GUINEY was born in Boston on January 17, 1861, and died at Chipping Campden, England, on November 2, 1920. Of Chipping Campden she had, in 1913, done, in a few strokes, a beguiling little picture comforting now to hang in the mind beside that stark record of her death:

It is, she says, “a stone-built paradise of a village not far from Oxford. There is an April wind blowing, and forty-three roses adorn one cottage doorway just out of sight from here. The old collie and I had a walk yesterday, and I dipped my stick in Shakespeare’s Avon at Fledbury.”

This was the woman, yet not much changed in high intent and gayest vagabondage from the girl New England—and, indeed,[2] this western world—uniquely loved. Still, to us, is she a figure of bright beginnings and the swiftest road to her is that backward pathway to her youth.

Her father, General Patrick Robert Guiney, a soldier of the Civil War, was her exemplar and her adoration, and his death an overwhelming grief. “My preux chevalier of a father,” she was proud to call him, in a quick flaming up of passionate remembrance. Though he died in her girlhood—and died of his wound, as it fed her ardent soul to remember—she never ceased to feel a living allegiance to him. Her plastic inner life had been molded by him, the picture her mind made of him touched into enduring colors by the manner of his death. There was between them that “marriage of true minds” which is more lastingly productive than the tie of blood, and she was proud if you could trace in her the reflex of those qualities she held highest in him: his active patriotism, his slack hold on life, if it could be nobly given, and a tenacity of devotion to the brave fight. Of her remoter background[3] she says, with a pleasing touch of swagger, a slightest waving of the plume:

“My grandfather and great gran’, too, were ‘out’ in the ’98; and the old man had been ‘out’ in the ’45. I hope to make his acquaintance in the sojer-boy’s Paradise, which is my bourne, if I be good.”

In one of her earliest essays, “A Child in Camp,” she makes her bow thus, with a pretty grace:

“Like the royal personages in the drama, I was ushered on the stage of life, literally, ‘with flourish of trumpets.’ The Civil War was at its bursting point, the President calling for recruits: it was impertinent of me, but in that solemn hour I came a-crowing into the world. And since I was born under allegiance, a lady whom I learned to love with incredible quickness,

‘O bella Libertà! O bella!’

rocked my fortunate cradle.”

This was Irish stock with a strain of English, Scots and French, a quicksilver blend of buoyancy and happy wit, duly tempered by a special potency of Gallic grace with its apprehension[4] of the mot juste and its infallible divination in forms of art. The road between the two boundary dates of her life ran without much incident we vitally need to know. Her portrait, painted here chiefly for the friends who marveled at her and equally at their own luck in the fortunate incident of ever so slight a knowledge of her, may best be done with the broad strokes of a brush dipped in remembrance, against a blurred background of time and place. She herself, in her life of Hurrell Froude, quotes the expert dictum of George Tyrrell, who guessed what sort of biography is likely to live longest:

“We have cause to care less for a full inventory of the events which make up a man’s life or for the striking nature of those events in themselves, than for such a judicious selection and setting of them as shall best bring out and explain that individuality which is our main interest. We care less for what a man does and more for what he is; and it is mainly as a key to what he is that we study the circumstances which act upon[5] him and the conduct by which he acts upon them.”

Louise Imogen Guiney, poet, essayist and scholar, was an extraordinarily limpid and valiant soul, whose death seems, in no sense referable to our own responsive emotion, but one of bare fact and calm inevitableness, a rebirth into a sort of present immortality in letters, a new affirmation of response to her unique accomplishment even among those to whom she had become only a name out of the many-syllabled past. For the last third of her life she had been living in England, with breaks of a few months each in America, and though the remembered vision of her was not dimmed among us, still that impalpable medium made up of the day’s demands, the helter-skelter of this world of disordered strivings and later the wreckage of the war, had risen between her and her western affiliations. The rude stumbling servitors of life had crowded between her and the America she loved with a passion lineally her own. Time and circumstance had been as remorseless to her as to us. She[6] was, in these later years, “every day i’ the hour” when her somewhat unstable balance of health would allow it, immersed in work, the scholar’s drudgery, the pain that ends in perfectness: and yet it made her studious delight, this rescue of half-forgotten names, unwearied research upon long trails where only the spirit of the born antiquary never tires nor falters. The warm, persistently light-hearted letters came to us less frequently; but they came, unfailingly at Christmas, like gay holly sprays flung from December to young January, as if in token of the lastingness of things. She was so rare a creature, our common memories had been so mingled of life and laughter, that she had become one of the certainties in a fleeting and tumultuous world. We were stupidly used to her, as you are used to sunrise or a star. Then without warning the news came, and the word went from lip to hushed lip: “Lou Guiney is dead.” That was the name, Lou Guiney, as it had been in the day of her youth. And at once we became poignantly alive to her with a more sensitive[7] appreciation, a new awareness. We turned renewedly to her work and found in it a more quickly breathing presence. We had been recalled, in a shock of haste, to crown it before our own hands should be too lax to lift the heaviness of laurel. So it was that she seemed to have stepped at once into that porch of continued being which is the house of an immortality of love and praise, the only thing the world has really to offer the spirits of its dead.

To recall the form and color of her youth is the eager task likely to give her oldest friends their first imperfect solace. For it is the pathetic human instinct to catch at the mantle of time past, as if to assure itself of something in the web of life that holds. Those who knew her at twenty and thirty need not err widely in their guess at her at fifteen. For being one of that gay fellowship for whom “a star danced” and who buoyantly refuse infection from the “hungry generations” that “tread” us “down,” she stayed, in every sense, except that of the disciplined mind and an acquired patience of[8] the heart, unaffectedly young. Age, the age of mere years, brutal to attack and vanquish, could never, even in his ultimate assaults, if they had been permitted him, have withered her bright fecundities of speech and glance. For there is something in a certain quality of youth that will not be downed. It is the livingness of a mind refreshed at wells of immortalities. Of outward vain pretense—the affectation of a persisting juvenility—it is divinely innocent. You could hardly imagine her, at any age, without her girl’s grace, her mystic smile. A long-legged romp in petticoats far beyond the milestones when childhood is apt to slink away abashed before oncoming desires and dignities, she was early in love with the sweet seclusion of books and equally with gay adventure out of doors. The fields, on a day of spring, the river under skies dull or bright, were her abiding joys. Her “winding Charles” was the young navigator’s track to seas of pleasure. She

“could not have enough of this sweet world.”

[9]Those who knew her soon enough to play with her the duplex game of bodily delight and mental inebriety, remember hours so near the wild sanity of natural life that only old Arcadian names are spacious enough to bound them. There was the summer day of riotous vagary when she and her young chum set forth to navigate the Charles, a block of ice in the boat for adventurous but uncatalogued uses, and the delays and mishaps of the voyage, and all the long, insect-thridded night spent in the boat, the two inventive young heads on the ice which was their diminishing pillow. There was the tramp across fields from Auburndale (the Auburndale transmuted by James Jeffrey Roche, in a gallant paraphrase, to “loveliest village of the prepossessing”) into an iris-blue swamp, this after earnest debate whether it is a more delirious fun to dash in “accoutred as you are,” to the ruination of shoes and stockings or make the assault barefooted with skirts kilted away from the blessed unction of black mud. To the everlasting[10] richness of memory, it was barefooted the two hoydens made their plunge, and sank, with every sucking step, from sun-warmed mud above to icy cool below. Wild with the bliss of it they waded furiously, and the day was of so ineffable a light and texture as to lull them into forgetfulness of the iris itself for which they had adventured, and it was left behind, piles of withering beauty, entrancing, like fabrics and translucent gems. Only that night were they remembered, and she who was Lou Guiney wrote in magnificent surety:

“You shall have them in Paradise.”

There was the adventure of the field, in company with her dog, he “so big and so unsophisticated,” and the imminence of a heifer with an inherited prejudice against dogs of all degrees.

“She’ll chase him,” said Lou Guiney, from her liberality to varying events. “We shall have to run for it.”

There was no conceivable need of crossing the field, and equally there was nothing, to her simple fearlessness, in the least eccentric[11] in wilfully creating a situation you might have to use your wits to abandon; and so infectious was her unthinking bravery that, as occasion and she determined, you fought or ran. As it was prophesied, so it was. The incursion was made, the heifer attacked in good form, the trio fled in close formation, and the safe side of the fence was vaultingly attained with no loss of heart but, gloriously, the guerdon of a memory. All manner of robust childish adventures were natural in her company. Fields were made to be invaded, swamps to be forded, and rivers followed until you found they beat your endurance and were going to make their harbor of the sea and you’d have to leave them to that blest consummation and go home to supper. She was Atalanta at a race in the days when a heart, as yet untired, backed her to the limit. In her reminiscent essay On a Pleasing Encounter with a Pickpocket, when my gentleman had adroitly abstracted her purse and she almost ran him down, she celebrates, with some just pride, “my legs (retired race-horses, but still great at a spurt).” And her fearlessness,[12] the robust handmaid of reckless action, may have been an unthinking bravado of youth; equally it may have been the result of a rapid fire of prayer and answer between her and her defending saints. She anticipated danger as little as a child. To entertain suspicion was to admit evil company to her inviolate mind. But, from whatever delicately abstruse causes, she wore a brave decorum of courage, a feather in the cap, a sword of high behavior. On lonely roads she would walk unconcerned, her mind coursing over the centuries, her whimsical smile responsive to warnings from the more circumspect and foreboding. She was the child of nature, the child of God; should she quake in a world which was, though uncoveted, her inheritance? Then, as in later life, she sometimes seemed to be walking through “worlds not realized,” “whether in the body or out of the body, I know not; God knoweth.” And this is no matter for wonder. Thin silvern echoes from the past were always chiming on her inward ear, majestic syllables drew on her imaginings, and while she dwelt on “old,[13] unhappy, far-off things” the new wine of her youth and the immediate loveliness of this present life mingled an intoxicating cup. And suddenly the spell of the past would fall from her, and she would be as irresponsibly alive to the bright beauties of the challenging day as a dryad on holiday out of her tree.

As a girl, she was uniquely dear to the older men and women pleasurably stirred by the literary event of her early blossoming into essays and verse, and charmed anew, when they had found her out in her shy fastnesses, by the unstudied simplicities of her modest behavior. Mrs. James T. Fields and Sarah Orne Jewett were hers admiringly, Mrs. Louise Chandler Moulton, known by the affectionate brevet of Godmam, adopted her into a special sanctity of literary and personal regard, and T. W. Parsons hailed her as a compeer with whom he was eager to count over the pure coin out of their scholarly acquisition. It was he who, in some form of words not to be precisely recalled, confirmed her right to legitimacy in a bright succession in the arts, by telling her she was, in the[14] genius of her, “Hazlitt’s child.” Edmund Clarence Stedman, Thomas Bailey Aldrich, Richard Watson Gilder, Henry Mills Alden, gave her work that generous welcome the noblesse of any art have in waiting for the acolyte bringing the cup new filled. And les jeunes, poets or pretenders, were hers to command. There were banners waving; only this was not in the fashion of present day acclaim when a new actor challenges his due. These were the dark chaplets and fragrant posies the Muses love: no canopies and red carpets and the blare of jazz. There were individual voices, low-pitched, grave, and their verdict holds. Time may have snowed it under and his jealous lichen sought to eat it up, but still it holds.

In those early years she published a bit of work, anonymous but signalized by her unique charm, and a magnate of the critical world saluted it.

“Your praise,” she wrote him, “is a charming Cinderella slipper, and here’s my shy foot to fit it.”

To rehearse the names that were her sponsors[15] at this entrance into recognition would give you a brilliant list, with hardly a gap, of the intellectuals of some thirty to thirty-five years gone. In her simplicity of response to this rare quality of praise, her genius of fancy and acquisition flowing, like a magic ichor, through the veins of her artless Americanism, there was something as new as it was piquing. She belonged to the “dewy beginnings” of a fresh decade of literature, a phase authoritative and unique. If her head was not turned by the response she got to the fine timidities of her first achievement, it was because that symmetrical treasury of perfectly classified fact and fancy was permanently set, eyes to the past, where dwell the ever-living forerunners of literary glories, the authentic names that are “eternal blazon,” the exemplar and despair of lesser men. She was timid, not before the contemporary critic, but the great witnesses of all time—simply, and in her reverent mind tremulously, a child of promise, heir to those old authentic glories, but not presuming on that lineage. Tremendously believed in, she trod her[16] earth lightly, yet becomingly, and carried her full cup with steady hands. No taint of ambition was in her, no trace of the base alloy of prize-getting and wearing. She had seen the “cloud capp’d towers” of the halls of light where the blessed everlastingly dwell, she had guessed at the shades and green valleys, the refuge of those “ordained to fail,” and she knew thus early, through reverent intuition, that “it has become almost an honor not to be crowned.” Even then at the beginning, when chaplets were being woven for her, she might have written that later recital of her secular creed:

“To fear not possible failure
Nor covet the game at all.”

At that time the game was in her hands: the game of youth and gayety and a blameless resolve to make the most of it all in the only way the great unseen censors, the Fates that spin and weave, allow.

She was a goodly picture of girlhood, Diana not so likely to be enamoured of Endymion as sandalled for the chase. Not tall, yet long-legged enough to give her advantage[17] on the road or the English downs, she had a free grace of movement, untrammeled by the awkwardness of fear. Even so early, she was slightly deaf, and one of her prettiest individual poses—yet how unstudied!—was, standing, bent slightly forward like Atalanta ready for the race, the rounded cup of her palm behind her ear, beseeching almost whimsically in the low voice that was half whisper without its sibilance: “Please!” Her misfortune was not a blemish; she made it a grace. Over that and the drawback of eyes ineffectual without the help of glasses she never wasted a breath of impatience: she adopted instead a humorous acceptance of these latter extraneous servitors as personified faculties of her own. The act of vision she ascribed to her spectacles alone, and took a never diminished joy in reminding you how Thackeray did it before her.

“If one dastard of a misplaced comma has escaped me,” she writes, of printers’ proofs corrected to the last degree of accuracy, “these spectacles fail to find it.”

Upon one victorious error, chased down[18] and down and still cropping up in the last proof, she declares:

“Tragedy! how could it have come about? I’d give my spectacles to know.”

Probably nobody so unspoiled and humble in willingness to share the common lot, or with less respect for the subterfuge called temperament, ever had less practical acquaintance with the domestic functions exalted into dull shibboleths, or was more irreconcilably estranged from the art of the modiste and the rites whereby the incomprehensible gods of “style” are commonly propitiated. If you could boil an egg acceptably and enliven it with an agreeable quota of salt and pepper, she would have made you cordon bleu on the spot. That the sleeve of a garment could be removed by the simple adjunct of a pair of scissors and replaced again with a symmetry more conformable to the arm, was a mystery before which she frankly quailed, and any force of self-confidence she might have brought to bear went down like nine-pins. Running rivers of verse, pinnacles of[19] dates, names, cosmogonies of thrones, principalities and powers, found room in that exquisitely ordered world which was her brain: yet you could throw her into a cold sweat of apprehension by confronting her with some homely task or implement as familiar to the Marthas of civil life as the use of fork and spoon. And this was no affectation of sensitiveness to crumpled rose leaves, no arrogance of privilege. She had an appetite as responsive to good things as if their chemistry had not been as dark to her as that of lost elixirs, and for some inconspicuous ribbon of her dress she would cherish an affection almost poignant in its childlike intensity. She was herself alternately petrified and convulsed by accumulating instances of her unfitness for the monstrous requisitions of a concrete world. Returning again and again to the assault, she is uniformly worsted. She sees, with an eye momentarily sharpened to recognition, in a modest kitchen, the commonest adjuncts to dishwashing, and leaves early that she may buy the duplicates of the[20] magic implements and set them up before the gods of home. And forthwith she writes, in a rollicking delight:

“And behold! their like had been in this house from of old, and I was subject to much scorn.”

Helpful kindness itself, she dashes into town to buy a flannel wrapper for an exacting old lady for whom she has a kindness and who is sick and destitute, and next day explains, between helpless gusts, “those spectacles” dashed with tears:

“And lo! it should have been a female garment and I bought a male.”

And these things are to be remembered of her, not because the ox may take brute pleasure in deploring the delicacy of his brother, the race-horse, not only that they made her an irresistibly fascinating blend of power and helplessness, but because her natural inability to deal with the drudgery that smooths the way of life bore hard upon her in those later years when she was like a butterfly bound upon the wheel of this difficult world. She was simply a creature of highly[21] specialized aptitudes, and the eyes of her mind, they that needed no fortifying lenses, were set so steadily upon the brightness of an inward achieving that they could never be focused for the clear perception of a certain type of immediate needs. To the inequalities of the road of usage over which her feet obediently traveled, she was blind, unless indeed the road began to wave green branches, and there were vistas of beauty, and the birds sang. Then the human awoke in her and also sang in untrammeled lusti-hood and she was at once that earth spirit who gathered iris and squandered and forgot it, yet knew all such forgettings should be hers in Paradise. But even then she was the vagabond of the road as she conceived it: a matter of smoothly running caravans and magic camp fires,—not corners of ingenious torment where one shaped garments and boiled eggs.

And this antagonism was inevitable: for the earth, as it is made, is forever hostile to that other earth, immortal, invisible, where alone the highly imaginative can live without[22] nostalgia. If they have to fight the rude conditions of the visible world, they do it pining “for what is not.” The imps of time and place have an implacable enmity for the angels of thought and pure imagination and hinder them at every step. They devote their mischievous activities to the clipping of wings, especially of pinions tipped with rose or gold. And the facts of the case are forever on their side. Man must be fed. And unless he has been born the darling of sheer luck, he must set his hand to wresting from the earth the bare right to live. The product of Louise Guiney’s genius was not, in any large sense, marketable. The most fantastically hopeful of partisans could not have predicted for her work any valid recognition whatever, save from the few who have themselves caught the gleam of Hesperidean fruit and know by natal wisdom that this is no gold to be minted into coin. Inevitably she was among the

“delicate spirits pushed away
In the hot press of the noonday.”

And she had the open palm. Money ran[23] away from her like a rillet down a slope. She would give beyond prudence and reason, and gladly acquiesce in her own resultant leanness. She demanded as little of that complexity of cunningly ornamented indulgence which is luxury as her own saints, and although she could not, without a distress deadening to her legitimate activities, fight with any efficacy the battle of keeping the world a house of ordered rooms, she made brave thrusts at it. Appointed to the post-office at Auburndale, and later to a position in the Boston Public Library, she briskly clapped harness on her horses of the sun and was anxiously intent on doing well. But the only road for her was still the path of escape to the open, to the free fields of thought and the fellowship of the written word.

Hers was a youth of picturesque loyalties, one of them to the lost cause of the Stuarts, a confessed congenital bias. The Irish Jacobities, of whom there were many, had “claimed the Stuarts as of the Milesian line, fondly deducing them from Fergus.” Born into that direct succession of race loyalty, she[24] was in addition, (and this seems to be the true argument) incalculably beguiled by the sheer fascination of that luckless house. Her Inquirendo into the Wit and Other Good Parts of His Late Majesty King Charles the Second ties you a pretty nosegay of the oak twig and the white rose. How should she not have loved Charles II., if only that he was, in her own words, “a choice wag?” “Charles might have confessed with Elia, ‘How I like to be liked, and what don’t I do to be liked!’” Certainly His ill-starred Majesty could have desired no liking more whole-hearted, albeit discriminating, more merrily tolerant than hers. He had cast his magnetic spell upon her pen and it turned to some good-natured vindicating of his varied parts. Perhaps she never took her adherence very seriously, off the printed page. She was beguiled by picturesqueness, not so much concerned with lineal rights; perhaps, also, it tickled an impish fancy to repudiate the “dull Georgian farce.” But Charles never had a more humorous apologist, one[25] who gave him full value as an apostle of good taste and of a “wheedling charm.”

The sum of her appraisement is of a captivating genius who had found himself “in the king business” and got addled and spoiled. And who knows how she must have loved him for his adaptability to portraiture of a pen like hers, and for the rush and glow of the Restoration, the very circumstances that inspired her Hazlitt to his glorious inventory of rustling silks and waving plumes, of gems and people! The time and the gay immortalities of it go to her head.

“There was an astonishing dearth of dull people; the bad and bright were in full blossom, and the good and stupid were pruned away.”

She adores “the sworded poets of the Civil Wars, with their scarcely exerted aptitude for the fine arts, whose names leave a sort of star-dust along the pages of the anthologies.” And it was, this star-dust of the period, immediate to one of her own dreams, a labor she delighted in: the making of a[26] perfect anthology of the seventeenth century.

Her first book was Songs at the Start (1884) and the first collected essays Goose-Quill Papers (1885). The essays, despite a wilful archaism, an armored stiffness of light attack learned out of library shelves, are astonishingly mature for a pen so young—if by youth or age we mean the mere cumulative sum of time passed. Indeed, the author thought well enough of the scintillant little papers to include two of them, An Open Letter to the Moon, and On Teaching One’s Grandmother to Suck Eggs, in her later Patrins. You have but to love Louise Guiney to find Goose-Quill Papers a jovial self-betraying little book to recur to when you long for her whimsical face again or the cascading gamut of her laugh. It is spiced with playfulness, a learned playfulness, it must be owned, and yet, if you know her, you know also how much learning was waiting in her teeming mind, eager to get into the book and cram it, cover to cover, and you are grateful for the sense of just values that let[27] you off so gently. For she had one of those fructifying minds which absorb like a sponge; everything they draw in breeds something else, and the two, fact and mother wit, breed again until you are swept along on a stream of rushing lineage. And over her happy selection of topics quaint and gay, her own illuminating humor plays like a thread of gold in tapestry moved lightly by a wind. We may not, of course, actually assume, so objective is she even then, that her whimsies of the first person are literally self-betraying; but they do sometimes open a window upon her as we know her, the gay relish of life that was hers, the ardor for the great game of chasing a happy fancy to its born destiny of an ultimate end, and stroking it into the gentle complaisance of the willing captive; the healthy, untrammeled revolt against bugaboos “nature itself cannot endure”—notably mathematics when she “roars you” like any lion (albeit smiling behind his whiskers as begging to remind you he has no idea of resorting to the argument of claws).

When she has mounted her gaily caparisoned[28] jennet of unforced humor, she takes the world by inversion; you shall follow her circumspectly, or her steed will throw up his heels in your face and gallop off in the dust of his own making. “My novitiate page,” she ruefully confesses, invoking the influence of Hazlitt, “smelled hard of that dear name, likewise of Browne, Taylor, and Cowley, and Lamb, and of one R. L. S., a Romany chal then utterly unknown, whom I had found in secret and in secret worshiped.” It was a brave beginning, this slender book of little essays, and it was dedicated to Oliver Wendell Holmes. How charmingly, with what engaging gallantry he must have taken it!

To leap the fecund years to the Patrins of her later youth is to follow the same whimsical and reflective vein. This book, deriving its fortunate title from patrin, “a Gypsy trail: handfuls of leaves or grass cast by the Gypsies on the road, to denote, to those behind, the way which they have taken,” is primarily for him whom reading “maketh a full man.” The style, with a scholarship[29] better tempered and easier to carry, being, as it were, woven into chain mail, not the armor of her earliest adventuring, is the despair of the less agile and instructed mind. It is tinctured with her personal quality, and is incredibly rich, the richer when you return to it after absence and intercourse with more immediate things, to find fruits of her commerce with far off civilisations and loving sentience to the “hills of home.” Like the buyer in Goblin Market, she drips with juices from the very fruits of life, antidote for our dull ambitions: the years “wasted in prison on casuist industries.” It is full of a not too quaint and bookish but an altogether delicious persiflage. She praises the scholar’s right to “fall back with delight upon a choice assortment of ignorances.” Yet, with whatever innocent suavity she puts it, you suspect her of having few scholarly ignorances of her own to fall back upon. So absolutely four-square was her tower of recondite knowledge that you imagine her as having some ado to prevent its shadow from falling on the reader less equipped and terrifying him into[30] escaping her spell altogether. It is a book of praise. Most of all does she advertise the great narcotic of out-of-doors: the enchanting diversion of walking until the rhythm of the first arduous stretch dulls into the monotony of muscles settling into their slowly apprehended task. She betrays an unimpeachable bodily sanity. Though urban by birth, she is also, through adoptive kinship of Pan and all the nymphs, a sylvan, to her “a dear Elizabethan word.” You may find her beside the sea until conscious response to it ebbs into that trance of wonder which is the withdrawal of the soul into ultimate chambers, the inviolable retreat whence it comes forth washed clean of the injuries time has dealt it. She sings a remorseful dirge over the “defeated days” of captive animals. She quickens her pace, at moments, to the measures of a hilarious mind. Throughout that mischievous “encourager of hesitancy,” the Harmless Scholar, she all but dances.

“The main business of the scholar,” she informs you, with a wicked twinkle behind her spectacles, “is to live gracefully, without[31] mental passion, and to get off alone into a corner for an affectionate view of creation.”

This she concedes you as an egg warranted to hatch into something you don’t expect, or a bomb likely to burst harmlessly, if disconcertingly, under your chair. For she knows, by diabolic instinct, just what your idea of the scholar is: the conserver of chronologies and sapient conclusions fit chiefly to be waved in pedagogical celebrations or trumpeted at authors’ readings. No such sterile destiny as this for her, as she shall presently “fructify unto you.”

“Few can be trusted with an education.” This she tells you with a prodigious lightness of self-assurance. “The true scholar’s sign-manual is not the midnight lamp on a folio. He knows; he is baked through; all superfluous effort and energy are over for him. To converse consumedly upon the weather, and compare notes as to ‘whether it is likely to hold up tomorrow,’—this, says Hazlitt, ‘is the end and privilege of a life of study.’”

Mark you how humbly she proceeds, this multi-millionaire of the mind. Her intellectual[32] barns are bursting with fatness, her cattle are on a thousand hills; yet she spares you not only the inventory of her acquisitions but any hint of her respect for them. One is smilingly glad to note that sometimes the challenge of the world’s intellectual penury is really too much for her, and she cannot help rushing to the rescue with armies of notable names and historic data. Still she did converse consumedly upon the weather also, and it is one of the happy incredibilities of her delightful disposition that she never repudiated the intercourse of honest minds, even if they were dull. She adroitly refrained from tossing them the ball she knew they could never return, though with a curve imperfectly transcribed. She talked with them about dogs and mushrooms—for there also she was sapient in a lore that could be worn lightly and the more easily concealed—and the merciful recipe for killing a lobster painlessly before you plunge him in the ensanguining pot, of kittens and young furry donkeys and the universal boon of weather. And she had a store of absurdities, never anecdotes in the dire[33] sense of cut-and-dried obstructors of the traffic between mortal minds, but odd quips and spontaneous incongruities she was ready to shower you withal. No less pretentious scholar ever walked a world more suavely aware of her gracious charm, more happily oblivious of the breaches she could make in worn conventions if she brought up her artillery.

The personal revelations in Patrins are unmistakable to those who knew her. She writes On the Delights of an Incognito. Who can fail to see L. I. G. herself in the person of the hypothetical R., walking home after “the day at a library desk” where he “had grown hazy with no food and much reading?” And passing the house where he was always delightedly welcome and where he loved to be, he looked in at the shining dinner table where sat the family, unconscious of him and yet—he knew it—only to be the merrier if he dropped in, and “hurried on, never quite so paradoxically happy in his life as when he quitted that familiar pane without rapping, and went back to the dark and the[34] frost, unapprehended, impersonal, aberrant, a spirit among men.” For Louise Guiney, prettily as she conformed herself to accepted rules, was by nature a vagrom under conventional roofs, a wandering breeze, an addict of fern seed, a cloud, a rainbow fancy, whatever could make itself, as speedily as might be, impalpable to the eye and only a memory to the too-inquisitive mind. As to the inner philosophy of her, the cup of strength she kept ever by her in intimate stillnesses, there it stands in another essay, The Precept of Peace. This bears much dwelling on, not only by the mystic but the honest mind distraught in the terrifying assaults of modern life. How to serve the world while renouncing it, how to possess your own soul, in the peace that lets it grow and ripen seed! She is in love, not with indifference, but the brave behavior it endows you with.

“A very little non-adhesion to common affairs,” she tells you, “a little reserve of unconcern, and the gay spirit of sacrifice, provide the moral immunity which is the only real estate.”


A benevolent receptiveness surrounds her. She lets you interrupt her because you cannot actually reach her inner strongholds; she is at heart and head so engrossed in intimate concerns so far from you that you cannot possibly borrow or steal the key to burst in and stumble about in them. Out of her general kindliness she will deal gently with you, hospitably even, that, being dulled and satisfied, you may go away the sooner and leave her to the only aims worth, to her special aptitudes, pursuing eagerly. This, it must be remembered, was the gay bravado of youth, with so much in its treasury it could afford to squander time and a rain of friendliness on even the invading bore. The day came later when the world jostled her and she had to double and turn to avoid it; but always she cherished a philosophy of courteous endurance. Personages nobly nurtured learn early not to whimper. So, when Demos finds a use for their heads, they die with a grace seemingly reserved for kings and martyrs. And the use Demos finds for the heads of the nobly born in the arts is to weary them[36] with much crowning and to sap them with the foolish requisition that they shall appear in public arenas. But the great brotherhood our L. I. G. subscribes to “hold the world but as the world” and make no outcry over these hindrances to a consecrated life. They do not shy at uncouth contraptions on the road. They have adopted the blinders of a mind inwardly withdrawn, and—to o’erleap the metaphor!—they smile in their daily dying. This book, Patrins, smiles all through. It informs you, chiefly by an innocently indirect implication, that the phenomenon of being, while it may be taken by schoolmen and moralists for a balance between good and ill, is a whimsical business, and the more you see of it the more firmly you will determine to view it aslant, with an eye to pleasing paradox.

As the tree of her mental life grew and broadened into wider air, it cast a shade not even her votaries were always zealous to penetrate. She tended more and more to the obscure, the far-off and dimly seen. In her biographical work she was the champion of[37] lost causes, the restorer of names dropped out of rubricated calendars through sheer inattention of an unlearned world, or rusted by time in chantries no longer visited. She would sail, not for those known islands on every map where harbors are charted and the smallest craft can coal and water, but for some lost Atlantis, even if she might only moor in its guessed neighborhood and hear, at least, the plash of ripples over it. She was always listening, the generous hand to the responsive ear, to echoes from “forgotten or infrequent lyres.”

“Apollo,” she says, “has a class of might-have-beens whom he loves: poets bred in melancholy places, under disabilities, with thwarted growth and thinned voices; poets compounded of everything magical and fair, like an elixir which is the outcome of knowledge and patience, and which wants, in the end, even as common water would, the essence of immortality.”

It is not quite easy to tell why she delighted so absolutely in digging for ore in spots of incredible difficulty. It was not that she was[38] ill-grounded in the greater, more entirely accepted cults. Shakespeare was hers and Milton, and in Dante she did authoritative work. And it is idle to wonder whether, so many of the big critical jobs being done, she had a keen eye to the market value of such unconsidered trifles as were left. The practical worth of a task would never have been an incentive; it might have been a deterrent. Like Mangan, there was that in her which bade her not to cross the street to advance her own interests; it persuaded her to what seemed even wilful adoption of the losing cause. (That she did, in many senses, harness herself to drudgery, as life drove her the more pitilessly to the wall, is the more to her lasting renown; by nature she was single in devotion to the tasks she loved and ready to forswear the body’s ease.) Nor was her attachment to the imperfectly known by any means the pleasure of the chase, the exhilaration of the hunt when dates and genealogical and critical sequences had “gone away” from her hounds of scent and swiftness. It was simply true that she had an inextinguishable[39] love for the souls “ordained to fail.” As it made no difference to her whether a lasting line of verse were hers or another’s, so she had the patience of the born annalist in picking up and conserving every least coin of the realm of letters or of manly and romantic deeds.

One of the floating bits of wreckage she gave a hand to confirming in the illustrious place given him by a few discerning minds, was Mangan, the uniquely brilliant author of an authoritative version of My Dark Rosaleen, a perverse and suffering soul, prey to a blackness of mind and the Nemesis of his own wandering will. There were “two Mangans,” she quotes from a previous biographer, “one well known to the Muses, the other to the police; one soared through the empyrean and sought the stars, the other lay too often in the gutters of Peter Street and Bride Street.”

He was a worshipper of that which is above us, and prey to what is below, the body’s slave, the poor brain’s mistaken ministrant, striving alternately to fire it to[40] new apprehensions and drug it with a despair of its own possibilities. In this Study, James Clarence Mangan, (1897) Louise Guiney says:

“One can think of no other, in the long disastrous annals of English literature, cursed with so monotonous a misery, so much hopelessness and stagnant grief. He had no public; he was poor, infirm, homeless, loveless; travel and adventure were cut off from him, and he had no minor risks to run; the cruel necessities of labor sapped his dreams from a boy; morbid fancies mastered him as the rider masters his horse; the demon of opium, then the demon of alcohol, pulled him under, body and soul, despite a persistent and heart-breaking struggle, and he perished ignobly in his prime.”

Could a combination of evils have been imagined more poignantly appealing to this young champion of shipwrecked souls? My Dark Rosaleen alone was enough to enlist her generous pen. As Mangan himself rescued it from the indifferent fame of an archaic fragment, a norm of beauty, and clothed it[41] with the flying draperies of a glorifying fancy, so she unfolded its history and holds it up to new appreciation in a world not given to dwell upon the historically obscure. Mangan, she tells us, “was a pattern of sweet gratitude and deference, and left his art to prosper or perish as heaven should please.” How this moved her as an appeal she understood! for she also was of those who sow their seed in the wild garden of the world’s indifference and pass on, meekly unaware of any right of mankind, born to heavenly destinies, to stay and gather. He was dear to her. She treated him tenderly, yet his strange humors moved her to a smile. He was “so ludicrous and so endeared a figure that one wishes him but a thought in Fielding’s brain, lovingly handled in three volumes octavo and abstracted from the hard vicissitudes of mortality.”

This Study of hers reflects, with an especial clarity, the form and color of her own critical genius. In the comparison of masterpieces and the measurement of values by accepted standards, she was at ease in a large activity.[42] If we would understand her method, we may look on it here. The shallow conception of the critic’s task, as an expression of personal preference, was not even germane to the richness of preparation she brought to even the most inconsiderable reviewing. Here are no snap judgments, ingenuous betrayal of temperamental likings. The genesis of criticism is the tool in her hands. Lead her to the slenderest rill of poetry and, out of her witch-hazel magic, she locates the spring that fed it. She bows before “the few whose senses are quick at literary divination.” In this Study learning ran, not wild, but at a splendid even pace over the road of past achievement, saluting guideposts by the way. Literary resemblances, the least intentional, are rarest joys to her. She is enchanted to find some of Mangan’s lighter verse rattling on like a Gilbertian libretto.

“Behold the exhumed precursor of The Mikado!”

Nothing rewards her more indubitably than the discovery of even a quasi-lineage, a shadow of likeness not to be developed into[43] the actual relationship supported by time and place. She does not often floor you with unimpeachability of dates, but she knows the very complexion of her time, “his form and color.” She remembers what wings beat the air of fortunate decades, dropping pinions more than one imitator snatched in falling and wore brazenly in his cap. She can rehearse the unbroken descent of metres. Her parallel between Mangan and Poe, their dependence on the haunting adjunct of the refrain, does revolve about chronology; but chiefly she relies upon the convictions of her divining mind. She compares the “neck and neck achievements of Mangan and Poe.” She traces both back to the colossus Coleridge, with his wells of color. His was the spring of youth, and they bore away full flagons. It is hardly possible to overrate her value to the student of literature in these learned but uncharted flights all over the visible sky of the periods where her subjects moved. Literature, she knows, is a species of royal descent. The Titans may not live to see the faces of their own children, yet out[44] of those rich fecundities of authentic utterance children are born and show trace of august lineage. And it is hers, the “abstract and brief chronicler” of values, to find it.

To Louise Guiney, there were two transcending realities: poetry and what men call, with varying accent, religion. She believed in poetry as, in the old sense, an ecstasy. She loved archaic phrases and grieved because fit words should perish, mourning them as men would mourn if, believing there were children of immortal lineage among them, they discovered these could die. To her there were archetypes of beauty, the living heavenly substance we have, with an unshaken prescience, learned to call undying. Wandering evanescences, we persuade them down to us or snatch at them and cage them in our heavier atmosphere with the hope, sometimes bewilderingly justified, of their singing on and on. One condition of our even hearing the beat of those wings bending their swallow flight to the responsive mind, is the high vibration in ourselves, the intense activity of what we call imagination. And this vibration[45] is so often the effervescence of youth, the overplus of a richness of physical life—the speed of the blood, a quick sensibility of the brain—that after the pulse slows and the brain responds less eagerly the poet sings no more; or he clouds his verse with moralities and loads it with the stiff embroidery of intellectual conceits. Louise Guiney’s singing life was not long, because, after the impulse, in its first capricious spontaneity, had left her, she did not urge it back again. It would have been impossible for her, at any period, to select desirable subjects for poetry as the landscape painter marks a lovely spot in his mind’s eye, to return with tubes and brush. Once she did own to the tempting exercise of composing a poem in cold blood. It turned out to be compact of beauties appealing to the public mind, and she viewed it thenceforth from a hurt and wistful wonder. You might say she cherished a distaste for it, as being a child of indirect lineage, a mood disloyal to the greater gods. She was ever the acolyte in that temple, never beseeching at the altar, but serving it. For she was of those pilgrims[46] of destiny who are perpetually referring this world to the pattern of worlds existing before time began. To her, poetry is an unspoken allegiance to the very essence of mysticism, magic, glamourie. It is the echo from far hills of space. It is never without the witchery of the unknown, the guessed-at, the adored but never seen. Not all its dances are woven under the sky we scan chiefly for the weather, but in the elusive gleaming where not we but our dreams are denizens. It is perpetually looking from “magic casements.” It brings the twilight feeling. It may not be melancholy, yet it inspires melancholy. It may not be joyous, yet the pleasure it awakens is more exquisite than it has words to celebrate. These are matters far from the market where we buy and sell and measure our worth by cleverness in exploiting it. These are courts where our poet’s “shy foot” dared penetrate with the confidence of a daughter of the house.

From Songs at the Start to Happy Ending (1909) this last bearing her stamp as comprising “the less faulty half of all the author’s[47] published verse,” her work hardly varies in a certain cool, limpid, sometimes austere content. Songs at the Start is distinctly unlike the familiar books of perfervid and unbridled youth. Almost childlike, in some instances, the songs are always restrained within due measure. The gusts of a too tempestuous heart, the revolt of youth against a world ready made for it, are not hers. She might be the child of a pagan ardency of simple joy, singing to the echo in some waking spring. These are the dewy recognitions of a world “not realized.” The faults she showed in this first printing are the ones that plagued her throughout, though she recognized them with a rueful self-dispraise and mock extravagance of remorse. They are the infrequent lapses of a not invariably musical ear. To the end, she would, from stanza to stanza, unconsciously change her cadence. It might be a fault for her to redress; but who among her lovers would complain of it now? It was an individual flaw, the little human imperfection like a mole on beauty’s cheek; the too studied reverse of it might have been something[48] not only “icily regular” but “splendidly null.”

The White Sail, part legend and part lyric, with an academic ballast of sonnets, sang out in fuller tone, though with no less individual a measure. The legends ring curiously scholastic in these days when the industrious versifier celebrates the small beer of his own “home town” in untrained eccentricities all too faithful to his villageous mood. Her legends were the tall pines of the fairy grove she wandered in. There were pillared aisles and porticos, not New England dooryards, tapestries shaken by winds of the past, not leaves, red and gold, blown her from the swamps and hills she knew. Yet her bookish fetters were straining from within, and in Daybreak she sings out with a more individual note, a faint far music, as if some young chorister dared part the antiphonal ranks of ordered service and try the song he heard that morning when he and the lark together saluted the hills of dawn.

[49]“The young sun rides the mists anew; his cohorts follow from the sea.
Let Aztec children shout and sue, the Persian lend a thankful knee:
Those glad Auroral eyes shall beam not anywhere henceforth on me.
“Up with the banners on the height, set every matin bell astir!
The tree-top choirs carouse in light; the dew’s on phlox and lavender:
Ah, mockery! for, worlds away, the heart of morning beats with her.”

This she did not reclaim for the authorized last printing, and none can say whether she would let us snatch it out of its young obscurity. But it is so unmistakably one of the first trial flights of the pure lyric in her, it sings so melodiously, that the mere chronology of her work demands it. In the same book beats the haunting refrain:

“Youth is slipping, dripping, pearl on pearl, away.”

And as you are about to close the door on this virginal chamber of April airs and cloistral moonlight, of ordered books breathing not leather only but the scent of “daffodilean days,” your heart rises up, for here is The Wild Ride, a poem which first beat out its galloping measure in a dream, and continued, with the consent of her own critical mind, to[50] the last book of all. The beginning and the end are like nothing so much as the call of youth and the answer of undaunted age. It was, one may guess, her earliest lyric runaway, the first time she lost herself in the galloping rush of a stanza’s trampling feet.

“I hear in my heart, I hear in its ominous pulses
All day, on the road, the hoofs of invisible horses,
All night, from their stalls, the importunate pawing and neighing.
“Let cowards and laggards fall back! but alert to the saddle
Weather-worn and abreast, go men of our galloping legion,
With a stirrup-cup each to the lily of women that loves him.
“The trail is through dolour and dread, over crags and morasses;
There are shapes by the way, there are things that appal or entice us:
What odds? We are Knights of the Grail, we are vowed to the riding.
“Thought’s self is a vanishing wing, and joy is a cobweb,
And friendship a flower in the dust, and glory a sunbeam:
Not here is our prize, nor, alas! after these our pursuing.
“A dipping of plumes, a tear, a shake of the bridle,
[51]A passing salute to this world and her pitiful beauty:
We hurry with never a word in the track of our fathers.
“(I hear in my heart, I hear in its ominous pulses
All day, on the road, the hoofs of invisible horses,
All night, from their stalls, the importunate pawing and neighing.)
“We spur to a land of no name, out-racing the storm-wind;
We leap to the infinite dark, like sparks from the anvil.
Thou leadest, O God! All’s well with Thy troopers that follow.”

In The Roadside Harp (1893) (and this she calls, as late as 1911, “my best book”) she is in full swing of that individual color and form of verse that were hers thenceforth, hall-marked, inimitable, of a delicate yet imperishable fragility of loveliness, unique as the hand they were written in. Here sounds her own true note. Here were more plainly distinguishable the defined colors of the braided strands of destiny that made her so rare a nature and were perhaps—it is well to put it softly, this question—to hinder her in robustness and variety of performance. Irish by birth, she had not to the full, what she finds in Mangan, that “racial luxuriance and[52] fluency.” And, like him, her “genius is happier on Saxon than on Celtic ground.” She was too subject to varied impulses to be the exponent of one. Her love in letters ran passionately to the Anglo-Saxon; the seventeenth century was her home. She was devoutly Catholic, yet living fibres in her knew the earth as it was in its unsymbolized freshness before the Great Deliverer came.

“You are a natural Christian,” she wrote once to a friend poor in the consolations of belief, “with a birthright of gladness and peace, whether you seize it or not; whereas I am the other fellow, a bed-rock pagan, never able to live up to the inestimable spiritual conditions to which I was born.”

This was humility only, no wavering from her transcending faith. Yet the wholesome natural man in her was acutely sensitive to that earth which saw the immortal gods. You find her listening, responsive, to the far heard echoes of Greek harmony. She was ready with her cock to Æsculapius, the tribute of her gentle allegiance to those kingly pagans who loved the light of the sun and shrank[53] from the “dishonor of the grave,” who knew the face of Nemesis and were, above all, disciples of the law of Aidôs, the negation of excess. In the rich exposition of Gilbert Murray:

“Aidôs implies that, from some subtle emotion inside you, some ruth or shame or reflection, some feeling perhaps of the comparative smallness of your own rights and wrongs in the presence of the great things of the world, the gods and men’s souls and the portals of life and death, from this emotion and from no other cause, amid your ordinary animal career of desire or anger or ambition, you do, every now and then, at certain places, stop.”

Now this, of course, concerns emotion, conduct. But the same sense of just limit concerns also art. Your emotion must be “recollected in tranquillity” lest it drag the hysteric Muse into frenzied measures. We must—stop. Louise Guiney knew this through a flawless intuition, but she went pace by pace with the Greeks while they counselled her anew. It is not merely her choice of[54] Attic subjects, like Simoisius, or the Alexandriana that are, we are told, so faithful in spirit, though she had no Greek. It is that in this book we are renewedly conscious of the oneness of mortal longing and earth loveliness, so tightly are they entwined. Here is a sentience to the throes of that earth which is not solely the earth set to man’s uses, but mysteriously made and mysteriously continued, with its uncomprehended language of light and dark and its ebb and flux eternally in sway. Christian in belief, she was pagan in her listening nerves. And her harp, hung in the window opening on what we call eternity, thrilled to many breezes. Being Christian, she was, as in her life, all devotion, all pure obedience, rapt celebrant of the story of the Birth and the Cross, a vowed Eremite to the belief that counts all things loss, save One. Hands of diverse angels reached out of the sky and touched her harp to song or Litany. There was the spirit of an assured immortality. There was, too, the voice of Erda, the Earth, crooning from the root caverns in abysses of time past. The pagan[55] heart of her, the heart that was still immovably centred in the gentle certainties of Christ, is embedded in The Still of the Year. She knows the earth, because she has entered into the very spirit of created things and her mortal part suffers the pang of awakening which, to the earth, is spring. But what is it to the soul?

“Up from the willow-root
Subduing agonies leap;
The field-mouse and the purple moth
Turn over amid their sleep;
The icicled rocks aloft
Burn saffron and blue alway,
And trickling and tinkling
The snows of the drift decay.
Oh, mine is the head must hang
And share the immortal pang!
Winter or spring is fair;
Thaw’s hard to bear.
Heigho! my heart’s sick.”

Some of the verse from this middle period is so fragile and austerely tremulous, like bare boughs moved by a not unkindly wind, that you are aware of what has, in another sense, been called “scantness.” Not only does she adventure delicately in her shallop, she is fain of archaic brevity and pauses that do unquestionably[56] halt the accompanying voyager, to his discomfiture. A Ballad of Kenelm was such as they chanted “on a May morning” in other days than ours. It has the consonance of prose trembling into verse. We are too luxurious for it. We want to be borne along on a lilting wave, we who have not found it possible to accommodate ourselves to the peg-leg-to-market of free verse (what our poet herself once called, in a mischievous snap-shot of judgment, “the rag-tag of vers libres”). Even the loving apostrophe to Izaak Walton is more chant than song, justified rather by the spirit than the form. One who knew her unceasing pains with verse and prose, how a stanza could never count itself finished beyond possibility of being smashed into unrecognizable fragments and remade, remembers this as an instance of her ruthlessness to her children even after they had grown up and gone their ways into the ultimate stronghold of the printed page. Here the opening lines run:

“What trout shall coax the rod of yore
In Itchen stream to dip?”

[57]Months after printing, the incorrigible dissonance of the two opening words struck her and, having no smallest modicum of professional vanity, she must needs admit a friend immediate to her to the excellent fooling of the discovery, and went about shouting, between gusts of mirth: “What trout! what trout!”

The harsher the discord she could lend the unfortunate twain, the more gustily she laughed, and in Happy Ending the choppy sea subsided into unimpeachable cadence:

“Can trout allure the rod of yore
In Itchen stream to dip?”

But in The Roadside Harp, though her metres were sometimes inhospitable to the ear unprepared, she did attain the topmost reaches of the hills of words’ delight. The Two Irish Peasant Songs ran with a light step, and a breath as sweet as the whispers over Ireland’s harp. Here also is an imperishable beauty of a lyric, fit for some ecstatic anthology, so rare in form and color that the listening ear scarce cares for the meaning, so its music may go on and on.


“When on the marge of evening the last blue light is broken,
And winds of dreamy odor are loosened from afar,
Or when my lattice opens, before the lark hath spoken,
On dim laburnum-blossoms, and morning’s dying star,
“I think of thee, (O mine the more if other eyes be sleeping!)
Whose great and noonday splendors the many share and see,
While sacred and forever, some perfect law is keeping
The late, the early twilight, alone and sweet for me.”

What is the piper piping when the thin sweet sound comes down the valley like water dripping from stair to rocky stair, or “petals from blown roses on the grass”? You do not need to guess. You know it is in absolute accord with the night breeze and the long shadows and the hylas fluting in the year. It is music only, and all your heart answers is:

“Piper, pipe that song again.”

Here, too, is that poignant lament, To a Dog’s Memory.


“The gusty morns are here,
When all the reeds ride low with level spear;
And on such nights as lured us far of yore,
Down rocky alleys yet, and through the pine,
The Hound-star and the pagan Hunter shine;
But I and thou, ah, field-fellow of mine,
Together roam no more.”

All Matthew Arnold’s musical place names in Thyrsis and The Scholar Gypsy: the “Ilsley Downs”, “the track by Childsworth Farm”, “the Cumner range”, “the stripling Thames at Bablock Hythe”—these are emulated in a not inferior accent in the sombre music of this threnody. Almost, remembering the flowers in Lycidas, you long to strew them on her darling’s grave.

“There is a music fills
The oaks of Belmont and the Wayland hills
Southward to Dewing’s little bubbly stream,——
The heavenly weather’s call! Oh, who alive
Hastes not to start, delays not to arrive,
Having free feet that never felt a gyve
Weigh, even in a dream?”

For those who knew her this poem carries a footnote of poignant history. She was in London when letters came from home, and were opened in a quaint restaurant, the Apple[60] Tree Inn, a vegetarian resort where three merry souls were met to be glad over lentils and strange innocences of diet cunningly spiced to resemble the ensanguined viands repudiated and abhorred. She opened her letter and read, and her young—always young and childlike—face trembled into an unbelieving grief. She could not speak. The day was dead for her and those for whom she would have made the constant spark in it and afterward the memory. On the heels of the ill tidings she went with one friend to whom she could not tell the news, but whom she asked not to leave her, to Hampstead Heath, and the two sat all the afternoon in silence on a secluded slope, their feet in English green and her eyes unseeingly on the sky. Her dog was dead.

There are those for whom the conduct of life, either a passion or a malaise, according to individual temperament, transcends even the magic of pure fancy. For them there are trumpet calls in this book, perhaps the most widely known and praised, The[61] Kings, its last stanza the battle-cry of the faint yet brave:

“To fear not possible failure,
Nor covet the game at all,
But fighting, fighting, fighting,
Die, driven against the wall.”

This is metal for sounding clarions. And so too is The Knight Errant: the second stanza an epitome of grand quotable abstractions:

“Let claws of lightning clutch me
From summer’s groaning cloud,
Or ever malice touch me,
And glory make me proud.
Oh, give my youth, my faith, my sword,
Choice of the heart’s desire:
A short life in the saddle, Lord!
Not long life by the fire.”

You find admonishing whispers from a mind grown expert in counsel:

“Take Temperance to thy breast,
While yet is the hour of choosing,
As arbitress exquisite
Of all that shall thee betide;
For better than fortune’s best
Is mastery in the using,
And sweeter than anything sweet
The art to lay it aside.”


Here is the reflective, the scholastic, penetrating the hall of song and hushing more abounding measures to its own consecrating uses. She was in love, not with death as it was the poetic fashion to be in a past era of creative minds, but with gentle withdrawals, fine appreciations of ultimate values, cloistral consecrations. Her steady hand on the reins of her horses of the sun, they took the heavenly track of world-old orbits, not galloping at will, now high, now low, from sunrise to the evening star. And this not because she feared, like Icarus, to fall, but that she was perpetually referring beauty to its archetype; she had, to paraphrase her own words, “eternity in mind.”

“Waiting on Him who knows us and our need,
Most need have we to dare not, nor desire,
But as He giveth, softly to suspire
Against his gift with no inglorious greed,
For this is joy, though still our joys recede.”

If she had been more rather than less in love with life, not as a trinket she could relinquish with no ado, but a mysterious ardor it was anguish to dream of losing, if she could have besought her Lord, in moments[63] of a child’s resistless longing, to give even the gifts that are not solely to His glory, her song might have a fuller sweep, a wilder melody. Out of earthly hungers the music of earth is made. As she grew in spiritual aspiration, her verse attuned itself more and more to the echoes of a harmony heavenly if austere. Some of these devout lyrics are so individual her very personality flashes out before you, and you hear her own lips chanting her own song. She is the figure in the stained glass window, saint or warrior, dimming the outer light to woo the eye to the ecclesiastical richness of the surrounding red and gold. Or she is a young knight riding at twilight to service in the chantry you have never sought, and you look up from your table spread with meat and wines and watch him in bewilderment of spirit; and the figures on the arras tremble, as it might be from the wind of his passing. And having once seen the erect slender body riding to his passion of prayer, you turn to the moving figures of the arras with new eyes, wondering if, begot of earthly looms, they are as beautiful[64] as you had thought. Here is no passion but the unfed passion of the soul, the life sustained not through plethora but lack, the everlasting verity of renunciation which is the pale reflex of the face of Christ. Her later work, the greater part of it, is again like the trembling of bare exquisite branches against a sunset sky, the sky of a gold and green limpidity a world away from roseate dawns. She was like a spirit withdrawn from a turmoil she would neither recognize nor enter, sitting in her tower above the world, spinning flowers out of frost.

The Martyr’s Idyl (1899) she wrote with a fervor of devotional conviction, and in the same volume, a fringe upon the hem of its brocaded stateliness, is An Outdoor Litany, a cry full of earth’s blood and tears, and more immediate to earth’s children who also suffer than the high counsels of the abstinent:

“The spur is red upon the briar,
The sea-kelp whips the wave ashore;
The wind shakes out the colored fire
From lamps a-row on the sycamore;
The bluebird, with his flitting note,
Shows to wild heaven his wedding-coat;
[65]The mink is busy; herds again
Go hillward in the honeyed rain;
The midges meet. I cry to Thee
Whose heart
Remembers each of these: Thou art
My God who hast forgotten me!”

Here are beauties dear to the mortal mind to which an anguish of discontent is comprehensible because “it is common.” Here is the sum and circle of nature, tagged with the everlasting paradox: the mindlessness and indifference of the beauty wherewith we are surrounded and our hunger to which it will not, because it cannot, minister. This is great writing: for here the soul walks unabashed, articulate, impassioned, the finite crying to the infinite, the perishing atom appealing to the sky of the universal over him. Perhaps there can be nothing greater in a dramatic sense, in our prison-house under the encircling sky, than the accusatory or challenging voice of the creature, through the unanswering framework of his mortal destiny, to the God Who created both him and it. Lear, in the storm that was unmindful of him, set his breath against its blast. When the cry breaks into hysteria, then the[66] man is mad. The merciful reaction that lies in nature’s anodynes sets in to counteract and dull. But our poet, though she can write:

“Help me endure the Pit, until
Thou wilt not have forgotten me,”

never challenges her God with mad interrogation. It is not His justice she assails; she but beseeches the quickening of His will to save. There is an immeasurable distance between entire overthrow and the sanity of the creature who, though sorely wounded, has lost no jot of faith in divine medicaments. Her plea is only that she may share the wholesome life of His birds and trees.

“As to a weed, to me but give
Thy sap!”

The poem may have been written in the period she calls “my calendar of imprisonments,” perhaps in the two years given over to “nerves.” This includes the eight years from 1894, when she entered the Auburndale post-office, through 1902. They were weighted with the routine work she desperately essayed at post-office and library. The summer of 1895, given to a walking[67] trip in England, she illuminates by a rapt “annus beatus,” and two years were eaten into by the illness and death of the aunt she dearly loved, “the only being,” she writes, “who was all mine from my birth.” It was a cruelly large gulp for the dragon of time to make at the precious substance of her later youth. There was some fugitive versifying, but little of the steady routine of pen and book to make her life as she loved it. Some of her most significant verse did come in here, bright splashes of sunset red on the flat marsh lands of her way. Especially in the annus beatus there was exquisite writing and some immediately after in that surge of remembered passion risen over and over again in those who love England and have said good-bye to her, only to return in homesick thought. Of this period Arboricide stands alone and stately, like the tree of her lament.

“A word of grief to me erewhile:
We have cut the oak down, in our isle.
“And I said: ‘Ye have bereaven
[68]The song-thrush and the bee,
And the fisher-boy at sea
Of his sea-mark in the even;
And gourds of cooling shade, to lie
Within the sickle’s sound;
And the old sheep-dog’s loyal eye
Of sleep on duty’s ground;
And poets of their tent
And quiet tenement.
Ah, impious! who so paid
Such fatherhood, and made
Of murmurous immortality a cargo and a trade.’
“For the hewn oak, a century fair,
A wound in earth, an ache in air.”

But the actual crown of the book is in the two stanzas called Borderlands. Within the small circle of recurrent rhythm this poem holds the ineffable. It is a softly drawn and haunting melody on the night wind of our thoughts, it hints at the nameless ecstasies that may be of the rhythm of the body or the soul—but we know not!—it is of the texture of the veil between sense and the unapprehended spirit.

“Through all the evening,
All the virginal long evening,
Down the blossomed aisle of April it is dread to walk alone;
[69]For there the intangible is nigh, the lost is ever-during;
And who would suffer again beneath a too divine alluring,
Keen as the ancient drift of sleep on dying faces blown?
“Yet in the valley,
At a turn of the orchard alley,
When a wild aroma touched me in the moist and moveless air,
Like breath indeed from out Thee, or as airy vesture round Thee,
Then was it I went faintly, for fear I had nearly found Thee,
O Hidden, O Perfect, O Desired! O first and final Fair!”

The line:

“Keen as the ancient drift of sleep on dying faces blown,”

is one of those pervasive beauties which, though in a perfect simplicity, invoke the universal that is beauty’s self. You see in it—or you fancy, for it falls on the sensitive plate of emotion that far outranks your intellect—all the faces of all the dead from the shepherd slain outside Eden past the Pharaohs and queens that “died young and fair” to him “that died o’ Wednesday.”

Happy Ending is her renewed hail and her farewell. Here are some of the old[70] beauties and, gathered up with them, the later buds of a more sparsely blossoming fancy, snowed under time and yesterday. It is a sad book, for all its nobility; it breathes the accent of farewells. To a friend who challenged the appositeness of the title she said, smiling, it was, on the contrary, exact, for her life of verse was done. In 1917, she wrote:

“The Muse, base baggage that she is, fled long ago. (I knew what I was up to when I called it Happy Ending.)”

The additions of this later period are slightly more involved, much more austere. The world does not call to her now in the manifold voices of that vernal time when she and her dog went field-faring. It is a spot, though still dearly loved, to leave. In Beati Mortui she celebrates the “dead in spirit” who, having renounced the trappings of a delusive day, are henceforth like angel visitants in a world where they hold no foot of vain desire. The sonnet “Astræa,” her actual farewell, has the poignant sestette:


“Are ye unwise who would not let me love you?
Or must too bold desires be quieted?
Only to ease you, never to reprove you,
I will go back to heaven with heart unfed:
Yet sisterly I turn, I bend above you,
To kiss (ah, with what sorrow!) all my dead.”

Next to the Golden City of belief she had, as she began, continued to love poetry, the making of it, the “love of lovely words.” And though an initiate world had hailed her, when, like a young shepherd wandered into town, a bewildering “strayed reveller,” she came “singing along the way,” man had been finding out many inventions and kept no ear for strains out of Arcady or long notes prophetically echoed from the New Jerusalem. He was laying the foundations of a taste which was to flower in jazz and the movies and the whirling of wheels on great white ways. She had her own small public always. To these, her books were cool colonnades with the sea at the end. But she had learned, now with no shadow of doubt, that there would never be any wider response from the world of the printed word. She[72] was not, in the modern sense, “magazinable.” Editors were not laying up treasure in the safety deposits of the immortalities; they were nursing their subscription lists. If she had kept on singing, it would have been into that silence whence the poet’s voice echoes back to him with a loneliness terrifying to hear. Need that dull his fancy and mute his tongue? Not in youth, perhaps. When the blood flows boundingly, you write your verses on green leaves, so they are written, and if nobody wants the woven chaplet of them, you laugh and cast it on the stream. Through the middle years it is different. You must be quickened by an unquenchable self-belief or warmed at the fire of men’s responsive sympathy to write at all. There is something in the hurt an unheeding world can deal you that, besides draining the wounded heart, stiffens the brain and hand. And Atalanta’s pace may be slackened by the misadventures of the way. Her sandal may come loose, or she slips on a pebble and strains the tendon of that flying foot.

For poetry is a matter of the mounting[73] blood as well as the tempered mind. It has, in spite of those who have suffered the horrible disaster of physical overthrow and yet have kept on singing, something intimately dependent on the actual coursing of the blood, the beat of the physical heart. The only verse Louise Guiney prized, was the verse with wings, spontaneous as the gestures of childhood or the oriole’s song. She could knock her lines into a wild ruin and rebuild, but that was after the first swift assembling of stone on stone. Any idea of verse soberly and slowly evolved, as an intellectual feat, was afar from her. “Our best things,” she said, “are the easiest. They’re no trouble.” They did cost, in the last sweet pangs of intent consideration, of rearranging, polishing, and hunting down the best and only word. When the poetic impulse seized her, she bent to it in obedient delight. She never coaxed or beckoned. Only into the living spring did she dip her cup: no thrifty piping it to the house in forethought of the day when the frost creeps and “no birds sing.” The greatest beauties in her verse were as spontaneous[74] as they dropped from the skies and she set them in their chaste enduring gold. Though she was so unwearied in polishing and changing, in their general scope and temper the poems came as from the hand of God, and when her own hand fell too laxly to receive them, they did not come. Her resultant loneliness of mind she accepted with a decorum due the gods who give and take away again; you might almost have called it unconcern. For she was not greedy of life: only grateful for its temperate dole. She might own, under anxious accusation, to having “no luck, no leisure, no liberty,” but that was only for the intimates who inevitably “knew.”

“As to the Muse,” (this in 1916) “she has given me the go by. No matter: this dog has most hugely enjoyed his day, which was Stevenson’s day, and Lionel Johnson’s, and Herbert Clarke’s, and Philip Savage’s.”

Though the last years of her middle age were the less robust, as to the intellectual life she had no waning. Her mind was no less keen nor, except in the sudden exhaustion of[75] a tragic illness, were her activities dulled. She died young. And though the heart that is the bravado of sheer courage was never allowed to fail her, the bodily heart did fail. Those who had walked with her knew its weakness, and that, a race-horse on the road, she was speedily exhausted in a climb. One day, lost on Exmoor, her walking mate, looking back for her, would find the world empty of her altogether. Knowing the sort of spirit she was, it was easy to guess the Little People had kidnapped her or an archangel hidden her in the brightness of his wings while they discoursed together on topics of the upper sky. But the heather had simply closed over her; she had lain down to rest her tired heart. And as the physical world, out of the strange jealousy of its predestined enmities, is forever fighting the spirit, so the feebler action of a weakening heart might dull those swift spontaneities that are man’s answer to the beauty of things—his protest to the earth that cajoles and challenges the while it fulfils its mysterious hostility and overthrows him in the end. In her prose work of editing and[76] reviewing, the blade was sharper as time wore upon it and she grew more recondite in knowledge and more desperately exact, omitting no extreme of patient scrutiny. But poetry was her youth, and youth was gone. And youth is not a matter of years. It is what the years have done to us.

If we may borrow a tag of appreciation for her verse, we could hardly do better than quote her resumé of Hurrell Froude’s, the “clearness, simplicity, orderly thought and noble severity” she found in him.

His poems “have a strong singleness and sad transparency, the tone of them a little chilly, yet almost Virgilian, and arrestingly beautiful; . . . abstinent, concentrated, true.”

Now primarily Froude’s verse is not in the least like Louise Guiney’s. It is scarcely more than the first note leading up the scale. In the amazed apprehension of beauty, he is leagues behind her. Yet the “almost Virgilian” of her comment fits her to perfection. And if she is not always “clear” she is, marvelously again, “a little chilly,” with the chill[77] of spring twilights when earth scents are in the air, the lily-of-the-valley just bloomed out of the cold, or the damp richness of the April woods.

Two little volumes, Monsieur Henri, the story of the Count of La Rochejaquelein (1892) and A Little English Gallery (1894) are of the essence of that exhaustive research and fine rehabilitation which were the fruit of her later years. The war of the Vendée, with its religious appeal, its romance of feudal catchwords, took irresistible hold on her, and the young Count of La Rochejaquelein, blazoned in youthful ardor, shone as the sun. In thus regilding a futile struggle she strives, by discarding political minutiæ, to “romanticize such dry facts as we mean shall live.” “A background,” she concludes, “may be blurred for the sake of a single figure. I tried, therefore, to paint a portrait, willing to abide by the hard saying of Northcote: ‘If a portrait have force, it will do for history.’” Nor could she have resisted him of whom history says, as he mounted and rode away to his feat of arms:


“Then first came the eagle look into his eyes which never left them after.”

To Louise Guiney, born to the love of good fighters, the eagle look of courage and consecration was as thrilling as, to the soldier himself, the call to arms, and the little “footnote to French history” is written on such a sustained level of affectionate enthusiasm that it strikes you, despite its theme of blood and loss, as almost a gay little book. Monsieur Henri is one of her own chosen exemplars, a gallant figure in the martyrology of the world, of those who, to paraphrase her almost envious tribute, are willing to spill their lives as a libation to the gods.

The Little English Gallery, six biographical essays in her individual manner of a condensed bewilderment of research, holds the seed of what might be accounted her life work. For not only does her portrait pen paint you a fine enduring picture of Lady Danvers, Farquhar, Beauclerk, Langton and Hazlitt, but here also is the preface, as it might be called, of her Henry Vaughan, to[79] whose gentle service she bent the intermittent work of later years. During that English summer of 1895, she went on pilgrimage to the grave of Vaughan, at Llansaintffread. This was a part of Wales hardly touched by tourists, for the ubiquitous motor car had not begun its devil’s business of shedding profanation over silent ways. To walk here was to withdraw as deeply as you would into the fragrance of past simplicities. Louise Guiney was reft away into a trance of inward peace. She trod the paths her poet loved, and she was, also with him, where her mind would ever be, in the seventeenth century. This was one of her ardent quests, her passionate rescues: for Vaughan was forgotten on his own familiar ground. Literally the places that had known him knew him no more. Even his grave had been desecrated by the slow attrition of neglect. A coal shed had encroached on it, coal had fallen on his stone, cans and broken glass littered the sacred spot. The two Americans, in a haste of ruth, cleared the stone with hands and walking sticks, and[80] Louise Guiney drew to her two bent and blear-eyed Hodges working near and preached to them Vaughan, the good physician, and his right to the seemliness of an ordered resting-place. And she stayed not in her doing, but called later upon England and America for a fund to put the grave in order and suitably to commemorate the poet. The Vaughan essay, in her own copy of the Little English Gallery, grew thick with notes, confirmatory or expanded, in this browsing over Welsh ground, and the Vaughan editing ran on and on through following years into what must be the authoritative edition of his work. Why did she so love and serve him? Not only because his thoughts take hold on heaven and, like the breath of man, fly upward, that spirit of devotion—the negation of earthly desires so intoxicating to her—but because he might otherwise, as in his own elegies, “stop short of immortality.” His silent footstep seemed to have left no mark beside his darling Usk. His soul, like her own, in never questioning acceptance, perpetually sought eternity. He loved learning,[81] and he had an “eye and ear for the green earth.” He had also a “sweet self-privacy,” and his inexhaustible delight in the created world was not impaired or qualified by his childlike love of heaven. He is temperate, he is remote. Louise Guiney would have loved to walk and laugh with him, for he was one of the few with whom she chose to dwell. To know him a little is to know her better, not so much from their likeness, but to learn what minds were dear to her.

Hazlitt, too, was dear. He, it must be remembered, like Charles Lamb, Izaak Walton and the more authentic of the older worthies, was her godfather in letters. He, too, had remoteness, though of another sort than Vaughan’s. Not for him withdrawal into the heaven of heavens, but to Winterslow Hut, to write his Lectures in a passionate privacy. Him, too, in 1895, she sought in his familiar haunts, and relished her cold chicken at Llangollen in a happy maze, in that Hazlitt had sat down there to the same fare and the New Eloïse. At Wem, in Shropshire, where he had his immortal[82] meeting with Coleridge, she came, through much pains, upon an oldest inhabitant who could give her faint shrilling echoes of “Billy ’Azlitt” in his youth, yet nothing more pertinent than that the yeasty Billy used to “lie under the ’edges and frighten the maids a-going to market.” To Winterslow Hut she went, on Salisbury Plain, an enchantment of larks and heather, and fain would have carried away the old discarded sign of the Pheasant Inn it had become save that it was “so mortal heavy.”

If her own Goose-Quill Papers show the parentage she owns, it is preëminently of Hazlitt. She was enamored of him, his amiable and delightful style that is not too homespun for the scholar nor in any wise too recondite for men of lowlier apprehension. And if the intellect of man has loves of its own, quite apart from inclinations of the heart, Hazlitt may be said to be the friend and comrade of affectionate minds. Indeed, his authoritative note in criticism was the less beguiling to her who could be outspoken herself, on high occasion, than some[83] personal quality of sensitive receptiveness to life. This was, to her, most endearing. He had, moreover, the courage of withstanding great upheavals and lamenting lost causes; she loved his love of walking, and one line she is never tired of quoting or prompting her friends to quote for the enhancement of some page: “a winding road and a three-hours’ march to dinner.” His aloofness, albeit with the foil of the kindest of hearts, his sensitiveness that could, by a word or a look askance, be cut to the raw,—do not these perhaps admit him to the list of the humanly ill-equipped who enlist her chivalry? Or was it his humor that was the living bond, that and his clarity of English? To his Unitarian cast of temperament she is handsomely generous, and though not always averse to giving those who wear their rue of faith with a difference a sly dig on occasion (“the timid, domestic and amateurish thing which Anglicanism must be, even at its best!” that, one must believe, with a twinkle behind “those spectacles”) she tolerates his ignorance of sacerdotal certainties and not too[84] curtly deprecates his “imperfect development.”

“As Mr. Arnold said so patiently of Byron, ‘he did not know enough.’”

Yet she could have better spared a more ecclesiastic man, and in her affectionate summing up she decorates him with her heartfelt thankfulness that he is what he is:

“He stalks apart in state, the splendid Pasha of English letters.”

She is forced to judge him as the pure intellectual must judge the man of tumultuous and undirected genius. His confidential egoism might well have been her own despair, so disinclined is she really to open her heart to you save under pretty disguises, and you would hardly have thought his style, soaring “to the rhetorical sublime” or dropping to “hard Saxon slang” to be the style she loved. Yet this was she who did not choose her friends for the intellectual rightness in them but something pure human, as wayward, when you would define it, as the tang of the weather. Toward the close of this essay she rushes into some fine direct English of her[85] own. Hazlitt’s diction, she affirms, is “joyously clear,” “sumptuously splendid” and concludes that “no right style was ever founded save out of a sincere heart.” This, later on when life had taught her things hard to learn, she said, in a fuller form, as touching not style but letters in their entirety:

“After all, life, not art, is the thing.”

To that same growing conviction it was that Hazlitt appealed, a “born humanist,” with a “memory like a loadstar, and a name which is a toast to be drunk standing.”

Her bright light—perhaps not the guiding light, for her genius was ever an individual one and moved, for the most part, unperturbed in its own orbit—was Robert Louis Stevenson. The youth of his day will remember how he took hold on even the popular imagination, fighting his predestined fight with disease and weather, doubling on death, and, while he fled—the hovering fate bound, in the end, to clutch him—setting his mind to the weaving of bright adventure and his hand to the writing of it. That gayety of temperamental bravado, that piquing drama[86] of a man tied to his bed for helpless intervals and sending out his mind to roam the seas and centuries, were intoxicating to venturesome spirits. In 1895, Louise Guiney writes of hearing from a “most brilliant boy” in San Francisco:

“He says something that has set me up for life: that Mrs. Stevenson told him R. L. S. had a great fancy for my little doings, and used to ‘search for them in such magazines as came to Samoa.’ I will keep on writing, I will; I shall never despair after that.”

To Robert Louis Stevenson: A Study, privately printed in 1895, she contributed a notable sonnet, the sestette beginning:

“Louis, our priest of letters and our knight,”

and a longer Valediction of a metre disturbing to the unpractised ear, but full of isolated lines of an individual beauty and also of a real grief: the lament of the pupil over his master, signalized in the significant line:

“The battle dread is on us now, riding afield alone.”

There is a light-heartedness, too, about the[87] poem, like burnished fringes on a mourning robe. For youth is in it as well as sorrow. Her lamentation can break into the iridescent foam of a stanza like this, where she pre-figures the living spirit of Tusitala absorbed into the island life he loved and blossoming from it forever:

“There on summer’s holy hills
In illumined calms,
Smile of Tusitala thrills
Through a thousand palms;
There in a rapture breaks
Dawn on the seas,
When Tusitala from his shoon unbinds the Pleiades.”

Who could spare that outburst of young extravagance at the end?

It was she who, in the first shock of the news, when the wondering word went from lip to lip, “Stevenson is dead!”—as if long apprehension could never have prepared us for a calamity so amazing—said to those at one with her in Stevenson worship:

“Let us wear a band of crêpe.”

And they did, this group of mourning followers.


The complete bibliography of her work would include introductions, studies, notes, all characterized by her unhastened scrutiny of “passionate yesterdays”: Matthew Arnold, Robert Emmet, Katherine Philips, Thomas Stanley, Lionel Johnson, Edmund Campion,—these were a few of those whose memory she illumined and clarified. No estimate could overrate her continuing and exhaustless patience; she was content with nothing less than living within arm’s length of all the centuries. Poet first, poet in feeling always, even after the rude circumstance of life had closed her singing lips, she was an undaunted craftsman at prose. It is true she did expect too much of us. She did, especially in those later days, more than half believe we could delight in pouncing, with her own triumphant agility, on discoveries of remote relationships and evasive dates. Her multiplicity of detail had become so minute and comprehensive, especially as touching the Restoration, that even literary journals could seldom print her with any chance of backing[89] from the average reader. It was inevitable to her to run on into the merely accurate data prized by the historian and genealogist alone. Who can expect the modern spirit, prey to one sociological germ after another, to find antidote in the obscurities of seventeenth century English? Yet she never veered from the natal bent of her trained mind. Still was she the indomitable knight errant of letters. She had to go on rescuing though the damsels she delivered died on her hands. Where did her anxiety of pains find its limit? not with the printing: there she had always striven untiringly for perfection of form, unblemished accuracy. One remembers exhaustive talks with her on the subtleties of punctuation. The Wye Valley, the Devon lanes, were vocal, in that summer of 1895, with precepts of typography. The colon especially engaged the attention of these perfervid artisans. Was it not, this capricious and yet most responsive of all marks of punctuation, widely neglected in its supremest subtlety? Something of this argumentation was afterward[90] echoed in her paper on Lionel Johnson:

“Nothing was trivial to this ‘enamoured architect’ of perfection. He cultivated a half mischievous attachment to certain antique forms of spelling, and to the colon, which our slovenly press will have none of; and because the colon stands for fine differentiations and sly sequences, he delighted especially to employ it.”

There were serious conclaves, in those years, when excerpts for the Pilgrim Scrip, a magazine of travel, were concerned, whether a man’s punctuation, being the reflex of his own individuality, should not be preserved in exactness. An English essayist of the nomad type, who was a very fiend of eccentricity, proved an undevoured bone of contention. His stops were enough to make the typographically judicious grieve. But had not he his own idea of the flow of his prose, and should not his punctuation be inviolate? Her own corrected proofs were a discipline to the uninitiate in scholarly ways, a despair, no doubt, to the indurated printer, and her ruthlessness[91] toward her own work such as Roman and Spartan parents would have gasped at and found themselves too lax to emulate. Yet through these excesses of literary precision she went merrily. She was no Roundhead of the pen, taking her task in sadness. The ordinary proof reader, of set intentions and literal meanings, was her delight. In Songs at the Start is the line:

“O the oar that was once so merry!”

One of the battles she fought untiringly was over the vocative O, contending that it should never be followed by the intrusive comma. Yet the comma would sneak in,

(“Abra was ready ere I called her name;
And though I called another, Abra came!”)

and in this case author and printer had fought it out, forward and back, unwearied play of rapier and bludgeon, until she wrote, properly enisled in the margin, after the careted O: “no comma.” And behold! the line appeared, in the final proof:

“O no comma the oar that was once so merry!”


And when, after another tussle with her mulish adversary, she thought she had him, the book itself fell open in her hand at his victorious finale:

“O no, the oar that was once so merry!”

The tale of her defeat was perennially delightful to her. She was never tired of telling it.

Once, quoting the line:

“Hoyden May threw her wild mantle on the hawthorn tree,”

she was enraptured to see the innocent hawthorn walking back to her personified into “hoyden Mary.” The vision of hoyden Mary, concrete as Audrey and her turnip, was thenceforth one of the character studies on her comedy stage. Her own copies of her books were flecked with spear dints from the battles she had waged in their doing and undoing. The “passion for perfection” left her in no security in an end seemingly attained. Her pen knew no finalities. When she had reached the goal and you ran to crown her, she simply turned about to go over[93] the course again at a more uniform pace or with a prettier action. Her biographical and critical work was never finished, even when it reached the final fastnesses of print. A new shade of insight would be cast by some small leaf of data just sprung up, to be noted in the margin. And how moved she was over the restoration of an old word to active use or shy experiment with one of valid lineage yet unaccustomed form! One remembers serious, even anxious, conversation with her on the word “stabile.” It was more poetic than other derivatives of the same root and had a subtly dignified access of meaning. Should it be used? Could one venture? And she did use it in the first printing of what became the last Oxford Sonnet, only, in her anxious precision, to revert to the authorized “stable” in the last printing of all.

Of her one book of stories, Lovers’ Saint Ruth (1894) written in a rather wistful response to optimistic persuasion, she says:

“I had no hold whatever on narrative.”

And how should she have taken hold on beguiling and effective drama, she whose[94] inner mind, when it was not musing in mediæval cloisters, was hedged about with tolerances, who was not shaken by the tempestuous prejudice and fierce resisting passions of which drama is made? Was she lax in a certain remote acceptance of mankind so long as it would, like Alexander, get out of the sun whereby she was regarding the Middle Ages or the soul? Not always: there was in her a sudden unexpected fierceness that amazed you, after you thought yourself used to her self-preservative withdrawals. On a delicate piece of literary work where a wife, hideously used, had suffered all things and forgiven all things, she commented tersely:

“Not right. It hinders justice.”

But as to the book of stories, she entered upon it with premonitory omen and probably did it under a stress of will. For tasks not native to her mind, as well as those remotely capable of being construed into pot boilers, she began “with a little aversion,”—indeed, with so much more than a little that the mere[95] suggestion of them was usually declined as soon as offered.

Like Henry James, she was an expatriate, though not even under the argument of our aloofness from Europe between 1914 and 1917 did she, like him, bear testimony to her love for England by becoming naturalized. Still an ardent American, her answering love flowed back to us as in 1898, when she dedicated one of the most breathlessly beautiful of her poems to The Outbound Republic. There had come the challenge to enter world counsels and world clashes. We heard, and she heard it with us:

“As the clear mid-channel wave,
That under a Lammas dawn
Her orient lanthorn held
Steady and beautiful
Through the trance of the sunken tide,
Sudden leaps up and spreads
Her signal round the sea:
Time, time!
Time to awake; to arm;
To scale the difficult shore!

This was first published anonymously and one reader, at least, instantly detected her[96] hand. It took no special acumen. Lines were never written more intensely charged with personal quality.

And if we think her heart, in its love for England, ever grew alien to us, we may go back to the last of the twelve stately London Sonnets: In the Docks. What a banner she waved there of an implied creed, a passionate belief!

“Where the bales thunder till the day is done,
And the wild sounds with wilder odors cope;
Where over crouching sail and coiling rope,
Lascar and Moor along the gangway run;
Where stifled Thames spreads in the pallid sun,
A hive of anarchy from slope to slope;
Flag of my birth, my liberty, my hope,
I see thee at the masthead, joyous one!
O thou good guest! so oft as, young and warm,
To the home-wind thy hoisted colors bound,
Away, away from this too thoughtful ground
Sated with human trespass and despair,
Thee only, from the desert, from the storm,
A sick mind follows into Eden air.”

Our inherited traditions were like wine to her, our lapses drained her soul; and as it was in 1890, when that sonnet was written, so it continued to be through the years when[97] our star sank, in 1914, to be so long in rising. In 1915, she wrote:

“I have been disappointed over our country’s official attitude: there should be no ‘neutrality’ of opinion where rights and wrongs are as plain as the nose on one’s face!”

And in February, 1917:

“‘Come, let your broadsides roar with ours!’ as Tennyson says. Only I never shall get over the unexpected and staggering vision of my own idealistic land having behaved for nearly three solid years in this selfish, provincial way, with the masterly vision of a village schoolmaster who sees as far as his village pump, and not one inch beyond it.”

When she went to England for the second time, lights were burning, just lighted then: Lionel Johnson, soon to die, William Watson, Arthur Symons, Aubrey Beardsley, Nora Hopper, Katherine Tynan, Dora Sigerson, in her young beauty, (afterward married to Clement Shorter, another devoted friend of L. I. G.) and W. B. Yeats—their glittering names are many. And there was Herbert Clarke, tragic figure of non-fulfilment,[98] without mention of whom no footnote to her life would be complete, because they were mirrors of kindred tastes and proud aloofness from the market-place. He died before he knew the heart-break of the War, and Louise Guiney wrote:

“And now his bright thwarted star is out, at least in this world where he never had his dues. . . . Thinking of him gone away is to think of what Dickens calls in Bleak House ‘the world which sets this world right.’”

Edmund Gosse, Richard Garnett, Mrs. Meynell,—the list of her friendships rivals in fulness that of her beginnings in America. And those of the first years were but the beginning. Today they are numbered “in battalions.”

Though so ardent an American, England was her spirit’s home. The odor of musty archives was as delicious in her nostrils as “hawthorn buds in May.” Half effaced inscriptions were dearer to her than whole broadsides of modern pæans to success. A crusader knight on his back in some immemorial[99] dimness was as immediate to her soul as Apollo walking down the aisles of song. London, when she was away from it, haunted her “like a passion.” To come upon her great little picture of pre-war London makes a blessed interlude in the shrieking present. For we have gained the motor car, and the price the smiling gods exacted is that we have lost the broodingness of cities—their murmurous tranquillity. That essay, Quiet London, dated 1890, has heart-break in it, as well as beauty, for those who knew the London of old and who will see it no more. Here are the very lineaments of that great fog-soaked, rain-darkened beneficence and terror which once was London. You walk in it with her and are at home in an inherited peace.

“There is no congestion of the populace; yet the creeks and coves of that ancient sea remain brimmed with mortality, hour after hour, century after century, as if in subjection to a fixed moon. It is the very poise of energy, the aggregation of so much force that all force is at a standstill; the miraculous[100] moment, indefinitely prolonged, when achieved fruition becalms itself at the full, and satiety hesitates to set in.”

Here is the rain-swept atmosphere:

“The hushing rain, from a windless sky, falls in sheets of silver on gray, gray on violet, violet on smouldering purple, and anon makes whole what it had hardly riven: the veil spun of nameless analogic tints, which brings up the perspective of every road, the tapestry of sun-shot mist which Théophile Gautier admired once with all his eyes. . . . At the angles of the grimiest places, choked with trade, we stumble on little old bearded graveyards, pools of ancestral sleep; or low-lying leafy gardens where monks and guildsmen have had their dream: closes inexpressibly pregnant with peace, the cæsural pauses of our loud to-day.”

In her ecstatic browsings, her rapt withdrawal into old centuries, she was the best Londoner of them all. And here is her gay tribute to English weather:

“The mannerly, vertical showers . . . fall sudden and silent, like unbidden tears,[101] while you look forth from the wild purple coast of Ireland at the slant and tawny fishing sails, or lean against the wall of a ruined abbey in the fold of the Mendip Hills. Always at your side is this gentle, fickle, sun-shot rain, spinning itself out of an undarkened sky, and keeping the grass immortal and the roads pure of dust. You reach, before long, to a full sympathy and comprehension of what good Bishop Jeremy Taylor had before him when he drew his simile of ‘a soft slap of affectionate rain.’ It is the rain of the Plantagenets, Tudors, Stuarts, and Hanoverians, the immemorial law-giver, and the oldest inhabitant of the isles. Wheresoever it descends, there are perpetual freshness and peace.”

To walk with her was to add day to storied day in a calendar rubricated from end to end.

“Nor ever can those trees be bare.”

Still living in the English landscape is that alert figure, rapt yet ready for the absurdities of the moment, silent in understanding withdrawals and, in her own words of another,[102] “almost as good company as a dog.” This was a masterpiece of praise by inversion, and “those spectacles” gleamed over it prodigiously. One remembers her by the crested blue of Devon and Cornish seas, subdued into stillness and then breaking out in a wild hail of the

“cruel, crawling foam!”

One remembers her on a Midland road, sticking a pheasant’s feather in her hat and swaggering rakishly, or walking into Shrewsbury, so disheveled from the rain and dust of varied weathers, that landladies looked askance, and one, more admittedly curious than the rest, queried:

“Is there a play to-night?”

For the two wayfarers did look the ancient part of rogues and vagabonds, no less.

One remembers her climbing the slope, blue with wild hyacinths, at Haughmond Abbey, or taking the straight “seven long miles” across Egdon Heath, the sun darkened in a livid sky and floods of rain to follow[103] before the wayfarers found refuge in the little church where D’Urbervilles lie, significant in nothing now save an envious immortality on Thomas Hardy’s page. The clouds in that thunderous sky were piled into imperial semblances, Emperors of old Rome, and out of their brief pageant sprang Louise Guiney’s poem of Romans in Dorset, the first three stanzas as illuminative as the sun and dark that ruled the air:

“A stupor on the heath,
And wrath along the sky;
Space everywhere; beneath
A flat and treeless wold for us, and darkest noon on high.
“Sullen quiet below,
But storm in upper air!
A wind from long ago,
In mouldy chambers of the cloud had ripped an arras there,
“And singed the triple gloom,
And let through, in a flame,
Crowned faces of old Rome:
Regnant o’er Rome’s abandoned ground, processional they came.”

One remembers her, a last rite before leaving England, not knowing she should return,[104] feeding the doves in Paul’s Churchyard and, again at Shrewsbury, packing, among dear mementoes, a sod of English earth.

To speak of her letters, those floating immortalities she cast about with so prodigal a hand, is to wonder anew at an imaginative brilliancy even beyond what she put into her considered work. To open one was an event. Almost you were miserly over the envelope itself, and treasured it, the script on it was of so rare a beauty. For her handwriting had an individual distinction. Done in haste or at leisure, it was the same. Her tumultuous jottings on margins of print or bits of scribbling paper kept the line of grace. And the subject matter! it was as varied as flowers and jewels and shells. In some cases, her books may have suffered from too anxious a care. Her affluent learning, deeply as it enriched her poetic gift, may have done something toward choking it, burying it under the drift of yesterdays. For having at her memory’s call the immortal lines of our English tongue, a despair may well have overtaken[105] her with the impulse to enter that great company. She lacked the crude yet wholesome audacity of those to whom the world is young. But if her considered work may possibly have suffered from “much cherishing,” her letters made their bright advent unhindered. In them she lost her sense of studious responsibilities and—strange paradox of time!—it is they who may go farthest toward making her immortal. She was simply not self-conscious about them, and the haste with which they left her hand for the post was what saved them in their living delightfulness. And they were plentiful as leaves in Arden. Never did she let her correspondence “come tardy off.” Courteous, good-natured, ever the prey of bores and sympathetic listener to requests and comment, she wrote you promptly and with the most engaging personal touch. If you sent her your book, she read it with a painstaking intentness and returned you, not a formal note of thanks, but a full and rich review wherein you were praised to the top of your deserts, your failings touched lightly but[106] honestly and your errors spotted with the scholar’s acumen. And if she could commend you whole-heartedly, and with no even courteous reservations, then she was as happy in the writing as you in reading it. There was no smallest trace in her of carping for the satisfaction of showing how brave a critic she could be, no sense of blustering privilege. But the letters! written in a gush of mental exuberance, sometimes the faster the better, a tumultuous beauty of diction,—you shook the tree and you got such fruit; the wind of your favor blew her way and unloosed on you that petalled or ripened shower. Those were the spontaneities of her life; those, in their lasting evanescence, she has yet to bequeath us, a priceless legacy.

What did the war do to her? We cannot wholly say. We know how deeply she had breathed in the life of Oxford, and that she was among those who suffered pangs over

“the Oxford men
Who went abroad to die.”

There are tenderest and most admiring[107] allusions to this or that boy who stayed not upon the order of his going into khaki.

“War, war!” was one of the first cries from her. “It is unbelievable, yet it is. England is on the defensive: God save her, I say! Boys I know are being rushed off in the Territorials and Reserves to keep the coast; and there are already rumors that there will be no October Term for the University. . . . Terly-terlo! as the trumpets say in the old Carol. ‘If it be not now yet it will come: the readiness is all.’”

And again, in 1915:

“It enrages me to be an Alien ‘neutral.’ You’ll remember the passionate affection I have ever shown for everything German. Bah!” (No need of indicating to those who knew her the thread of irony in this last!) “Would I were at the front. . . . If England doesn’t pull through, no more will liberty and civilization.”

And she had her prophetic despondencies. In March, 1919, she wrote with a bitterness unfamiliar from her bounding pen:

“Oh, what a rabble of a world it is! and[108] why did the wretched soft-soapers interrupt Foch by granting that armistice when another three weeks of him would have cut the claws of all the Devils forever! A bas les civiles!

There spoke the unhesitating mind of one who knew the grim job ought to have been effectively ended, the tongue of one who came of soldier blood.

We may guess that the strain of those last years sapped and undermined her in ways the soldier spirit would not betray. We know she qualified in them for that Paradise she most desired, of those who

“die, driven against the wall.”

If we seek about for mitigation of our bewilderment over her loss to earth, the way seems to be not only the old road of unquestioning thankfulness when a soul arrives at sanctuary from pain, but the solace of a more intimate friendship with her work. Curiously personal to her sounds that exquisite translation from Callimachus on the death of his friend, the poet Heraclitus:


“They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead:
They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
I wept, as I remembered how often you and I
Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.
“And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
For Death, he taketh all away, but these he cannot take.”

Of this Edmund Gosse says, in a prose so authoritatively beautiful that it hangs level in the balance with the rich “poetry of elegiacal regret”:

“No translation ever smelt less of the lamp and more of the violet than this. It is an exquisite addition to a branch of English literature which is already very rich, the poetry of elegiacal regret. I do not know where there is to be found a sweeter or tenderer expression of a poet’s grief at the death of a poet-friend, grief mitigated only by the knowledge that the dead man’s songs, his ‘nightingales,’ are outliving him. It is[110] the requiem of friendship, the reward of one who, in Keats’s wonderful phrase, has left ‘great verse unto a little clan,’ the last service for the dead to whom it was enough to be ‘unheard, save of the quiet primrose, and the span of heaven, and few ears.’”

This picture, delicately austere, is fitted, line for line, to the obedient humility of Louise Guiney’s life. She wrought in seclusion, asking nothing save the silent approval of the unseen gods; and still, in the mysterious thicket of our mortal life, are her “nightingales” awake.

In what niche shall we set her statue of renown? She has done the most authentic and exquisite verse America has yet produced. Is it not rather to its honor and our defeated fame that no widespread recognition of it could have been predicted? Is Hazlitt largely read? Does Charles Lamb sell by the million or the seventeenth century lyrists by the hundred thousand? Louise Guiney was, like so much that is austerely beautiful in the modern world, a victim of majorities. The democracy of taste and intellect[111] is perhaps the master, perhaps the puppet, of this ironic time. But the time itself has its martyrs in these children of illustrious line who cannot, sadly willing as they may be, quite speak the common tongue. It is the suffrages of the purchasing majority that determine what publishers shall print. And for us,—Diana’s chariot in the heavens means less to us than a limousine on earth. But the gods who endowed Louise Guiney with something ineffable out of their treasury alone know about these things. Under their eyes stands her slender last collection among its peers. And the book itself says:

“Unto the One aware from everlasting
Dear are the winners: thou art more than they.”