Chapter XII

Commencement of my Friendship with Payne


January 1904 was marked by another access of poetry, but before many days had sped Payne was prostrated by illness. In a letter to Mr. Robinson, 26 February, 1904,294 he says: “I have been quite knocked up by long drawn out domestic miseries [troubles with servants] and have had to make a complete change, which I hope (without much confidence) will give me a little peace in future.” The new servants were a man and his wife​—​Mr. and Mrs. Parsley​—​a curious coincidence, for if Payne, who was, as we have seen, learned in cookery, had searched the world over, he could not, I suppose, have found persons with a more suitable name. He continues: “As it is I am, in consequence of the extreme suffering this wretched time has entailed on me, a mere neurotic wreck, unfit for any brain work. My (now expected) winter outpouring of verse has been completely checked by it, though it had begun with the very first stroke of the new year, leaving three new lyrics only completed and a mass (nearly thirty) of poems in various stages of unfinish, forming part of the new Songs in Singing Season.295

Various obstacles from time to time prevented the American Selection from appearing, and on 14 April, 1904,296 Payne wrote to Tracy Robinson: “I am much concerned for your disappointment in the matter of the Selection, as you naturally think before everything of your dear wife’s wishes and exertions in the matter. Otherwise it affects me little personally; I am so accustomed to disappointment that it has become a matter of course to me. I feel convinced that no turn in the tide will come while I am alive; after my death perhaps. … I hope you are well. I myself have been almost prostrate for the last two months and see no chance of improvement. What is the worst is that I can do no work of any kind.”

About the middle of the year he issued his Songs of Consolation, which consists of thirty-seven poems most of which had appeared either in Collected Poems or The Descent of the Dove. If the most joyous of its contents is “Hey for Arcady!” the most vivid is “Perfectibility,” with its rare colour and its unforgettable phrases. “Litany” contains his oft-repeated maxim

Life’s whole beauty is in duty done for duty’s sake.

A little later in the same year appeared Hamid the Luckless, which is merely a reprint of “Flowers from Syrian Gardens” (Collected Poems, i. pp. 322–359) with the difference that No. 2, “The Scavanger of Baghdad,” is omitted, “Hamid the Luckless,” which gives the title to the book, taking its place. All these poems are founded on tales taken from the Nights, with the exception of No. 4, concerning which Payne, writing to me 30 October, 1905, says: “‘The Golden Cup’ is founded on a well-known anecdote taken, as far as I can recollect, from an Arabic collection called Anecdotes of the Barmecides. You will remember that Leigh Hunt made one of his flabby but rather pretty little sentimental poems of it.”

In August of the same year commenced my acquaintance with Payne, an acquaintance which speedily ripened into a warm friendship. I was then engaged upon my Life of Sir Richard Burton, and, having some knowledge of the connection between Burton and Payne, I searched out Payne’s address and wrote to him, soliciting the favour of an interview. He replied on 7 August297 as follows: “In reply to your letter of yesterday, I regret that the state of my health will not permit of my complying with your request. The completion, in 1901, of my gigantic undertaking of the translation of Hafiz (an undertaking to which that of the One Thousand and One Nights was as child’s play) left me in a state of prostration from which I shall never recover, and which has (this year especially) become so pronounced as to compel me to live a life of absolute retirement and to decline interviews and correspondence of all kinds. At my age, and after such a life as mine​—​a life dedicated to the service of the public​—​and rewarded with nothing but ingratitude and insult, one’s only aspiration is to be allowed to end the days of one’s martyrdom in privacy and to die in peace. P.S.​—​As to what it pleases the public to think of the relative merits of my own and Burton’s translations, I have long ceased to care a straw.

“Experience has taught me to regard the so-called opinion of the profanum vulgus298 with the profoundest contempt, and I am heartily at one with Renan in believing that an artist can make no more fatal mistake than to endeavour to set himself right with the public by any other means than the dumb witness of his work. As to the rest,

Bid the long contention cease,

Geese are swans and swans are geese.

Let them have it as they will,

Thou art tired, best be still.”

On receiving this reply I at once wrote a warm-hearted and thoroughly sympathetic letter. I expressed my admiration for Payne’s genius, and after observing that, owing to the success of my Life of Edward FitzGerald299 and of my edition of the Correspondence of William Cowper,300 I was on the crest of a wave of literary prosperity, I said that it would give me a keen delight to champion his cause. “If,” I concluded, “now you know my feelings, you can grant me an interview, I should be extremely happy. On the other hand, if you are still unwilling to see me, a few sympathetic words will have done you no harm.”

On 15 August301 I received the following reply: “I was much touched by your truly kind letter and your generous desire to take up the cudgels for me. Sympathy such as yours is always grateful, even when, as with me, life has resolved itself into waiting for the end.” He said he was going away for a week or two, but hoped after his return to avail himself of my “kind wish” to make his acquaintance. Commenting on this letter, Mrs. Byam said to me, “His big child’s heart once touched could not resist you. A real genius never grows old.” On 9 September302 he wrote and suggested that I should fix a date, and eventually it was settled that I should call on him on 21 September.

I reached his house, 10 Oxford Road, Kilburn, at four o’clock, a house which was to have for me so many pleasant memories. In front of it are three lime-trees. A plump, neat-looking manservant opened the door (it was Parsley) and I was shown into the drawing-room, which consisted of two apartments thrown, by the disuse of folding doors, into one. It was filled with antique and oriental furniture, surrounded with a rich duskiness of colour​—​for Payne had a gorgeous sense of life​—​and shelves crowded with books. On all sides were old gold, ebony, lac. I might have been in Persia or Arabia. On each side of the front fireplace stood an Egyptian Arab vase of beaten copper, and on the middle of a table squatted an almond-eyed, porcelain Chinaman who nodded his head, put out his tongue and moved his hands in response to the least vibration. Amid all this oriental ornament and luxury were, odd to say, a certain number of common things that a mechanic would not tolerate in his parlour. A pair of lovely Moorish lamps observed, “We are priceless. Indeed, we are not to be had for money or anything else.” Hard by was a paper fan which screamed out, “I was bought at a Penny Bazaar, and I was dear at a penny.“ The room was indeed a picture of Payne’s mind​—​Greatness, here and there invaded by littleness.

From the back window which overlooked the garden came scarcely a gleam of light, owing to the encroachments of a luxuriant ampelopsis. Near this window was a piano and a most elaborate and ornate music cabinet; and on a big oak table stood an old Mayflower kettle, so called because of its ornamentation of mayflower petals. Such was the cell. When the anchorite appeared I saw, to my surprise, a comparatively young-looking man, though he had passed sixty-two. He was slight in build, with a peaked beard and heavy dark eyebrows, and looked like an Elizabethan transferred bodily into the twentieth century, his ruff and slashed sleeves lost in transit. He wore dark clothes and an orange tie passed through a gold ring​—​the gift, as I afterwards learnt, of “Helen”303​—​and out of his breast pocket peeped the magenta handkerchief. We were on intimate terms in less time than can be recorded.

After a short chat we descended into the dining-room for tea, and I had no sooner entered than a beautiful dark Angora cat with eyes of jade and a grave appearance pushed its way between the French windows that looked into the garden, crossed the room with soft steps, and climbed on to Payne’s neck, settling itself much as if it had been a lady’s boa. It afterwards came to my knee and lavished upon me its solemn caresses, and I learnt that its name was Parthy or Partie304​—​short for Parthenopaeus​—​(one of the seven who took part in the expedition against Thebes).

A Persian cat that presently made its appearance, entering just as softly, answered to the name of Feridoun. And who has not heard of the Persian king of that ilk, and the verse:

’Twas Feridoun, by Heaven ordained,

Who first the world from vice restrained!305

I spoke of the garden, but a better name would have been the forest, for although only some twenty yards by ten (I speak quite by guess) it must have contained ten or a dozen trees, which I afterwards learnt were pears, and extraordinary to say, notwithstanding their treatment (or rather lack of treatment) they yielded remarkably well. Looked at from above I judged that not a single inch of the ground could be seen, so completely were the boughs interlaced. Between the “impenetrable forest” and the house were two bay-trees​—​“the poet’s bay,” as Payne affectionately called them, and some circular beds containing flowers of the lily kind. “The forest,” like the veiled window, was witness of Payne’s passion for privacy which amounted, as already intimated, almost to a disease. 10 Oxford Road, indeed, was not so much a house as a hermitage. Tea with Payne was a solemn and deeply religious function. He was his own blender, and the mixture was composed of the most expensive leaves. Ceylon, he would not look at. Having made the liquor, he poured it backwards and forwards, for some unaccountable reason, into various silver strainers and cups. He spoke quietly. He might have been a magician performing an incantation, or a high priest before some sacred altar. On us the ends of the world were come. I watched him with speechless awe. After tea we returned to the drawing-room, and I detailed my plans concerning the proposed biography of Burton. He then showed me “tall” copies of his own works, which, handsomely bound, were within convenient reach, and told me that most of the bindings were from his own designs.306 Our conversation was chiefly on literary matters, and in the course of these pages I shall give a number of examples of his Table Talk. Montaigne found the practice of conversation307 more delightful than any other experience in his life, and I certainly consider it one of my greatest privileges that I was able to converse so frequently with a man of Payne’s encyclopaedic knowledge, sharpness of wit, scholarship, taste and genius. The greatness of his mind had swept upon me the moment I first heard him speak.

During every interview I took notes whenever possible, and usually before his face, for he made no objection; and I was very careful, immediately after I left, to copy down as much of the remainder of the conversation as I could recollect. I still preserve the original note-books.308

Seated in an easy chair, with his legs crossed and his feet on a hassock, he was good enough to answer the many questions which in my desire to make my book309 as full as possible I ventured to ask him.

I commenced: You and Burton got on very well together?

P. Yes, he had a real regard for me. To look at him you would have taken him for a Chinaman.

T. W. One’s looks alter as one gets older.

P. Yes. The soul moulds the features. Young men are ugly, old men handsome.

T. W. What sort of person was Lady Burton?

P. (Speaking rather scornfully) Look at her face. [He referred to the portrait afterwards reproduced at p. 16 of my Life of Burton.] That will tell you. What does she look like?

T. W. She was not very diplomatic.

P. She was answerable for most of Burton’s troubles. She didn’t know the difference between truth and falsehood. She was able to convince herself that what she said was the right thing. She and Burton never understood each other.

T. W. No couple ever did. It would be against nature.

P. Still she had a clumsy zeal for Burton’s supposed interests. Her devotion to him was a great nuisance, still it was her great redeeming feature. She told me her life would have no interest for her without him.

T. W. In writing my book310 I want to tell the precise truth, yet to avoid giving pain to anyone.

P. Be guided, then, by the advice of Voltaire: “To the living one owes consideration, and to the dead the truth.”

T. W. [Payne having made some remark about the Bible ] How splendid are the “Minor Prophets”! Think of the dusky grandeur of Hosea, the sublimity of Nahum! How stimulating are Haggai and Zechariah!

P. Much of their beauty is lost by the habit of connecting them with Christ. They are mad with lyricism.

He then read “Love Solicitous,”311 which is founded on the apostle John’s “Perfect love casteth out fear,”312 and Ovid’s “Love is a state full of anxious fear.” “Ovid,” he said, “understood the laws and statutes of love better than John did”; but he spoke with enthusiasm of John as a writer, and said “The Book of Revelation is full of the most heavy313 poetry.” He continued: “But Ovid, what a fine poet he is! You should read Marlowe’s translation of his Elegies.”

T. W. Dr. William King in his Political and Literary Anecdotes says that he could never read Ovid’s tale, Ceyx and Halcyone314 without weeping.

P. Then his feelings must have been very easily worked upon.

T. W. He says further, “I love Ovid.”

P. One can admire his writings, but in the man himself there is nothing attractive.

T. W. With the subject of Love you yourself often deal.

P. I hate injustice and cruelty.

T. W. You also use many beautiful words that are not in common use, for example, “zibiline, ensorcelled.”

P. Yes “zibiline,” the fur of the ermine, is a beautiful word. “Ensorcelled” occurs frequently in Torrens, an early translator of the Nights. Some words I hate and never use, “middling,”315 for example.

Just before I left he gave me copies of his Songs of Life and Death and New Poems and, at my request, wrote our names in them.316

In his letter of 28 September317 he made some references to one of my volumes of poetry, The Ivory Coffer: “I was pleased,” he said, “with your verses in their homely old fashioned style​—​Goldsmith and Cowper, with an occasional touch of Blake. Defoe (‘Doubtful company’) and ‘When Johnson called’​—​they and others remind me much of the racy old chapbooks of my boyhood.”

On 19 October I visited London chiefly for the purpose of examining the Burton collection in the Public Library at Camberwell, and I seized the opportunity to call again on Payne. He read to me with intense feeling several of his poems, including the magnificent “Prelude to Hafiz.”318 He evidently felt every word as he read it. I recall the beautiful language, the cadences, the pauses and his habits of twitching his shoulder in enjoyment while reading, and of lingering lovingly on the last syllables of some of the lines. Sometimes he dropped his voice lightly and sometimes, when he forgot himself, his delivery resolved itself into a monotonous swing.

T. W. There is nothing finer in the English language!

P. It is extremely concentrated.

T. W. As to Hafiz’s own work, one cannot always grasp the meaning.

P. You must take trouble to understand the gods.

T. W. You are invariably minute and accurate.

P. I always dot my i’s and give the exact reference in everything. Hypocrisy is the greatest of crimes. Mohammed puts hypocrites in the pit of fire​—​the ninth hell.”

It may be noted that in the poem Ibn et Tefrid presently to be considered, Payne, looking forward to the Day of Judgment, says:

“At least” I’ll, when asked what I’ve done and omitted,


“The sin of hypocrisy never committed

Have I.”319

and his remarks on Literary Morality in the Preface to his Omar Kheyyam, p. lxvii, show that he very frequently bore this subject in mind.

He then read his “Requiem for our Dead in South Africa,”320 and quoted the passage from Ecclesiasticus on which it is founded: “Their bodies are buried in peace, but their name liveth for evermore.”321 He betrayed great feeling, sometimes hurrying over a passage, sometimes lingering at the end of a line, sometimes looking at me over his glasses, in order to see whether he was holding my attention; and he equally enjoyed reading the fine sonnet on Rabelais (Vigil and Vision, p. 59).

T. W. You are a fervent admirer of Rabelais.

P. He consoled his time.

T. W. In you are combined the scholar, the poet and the musician. This union has not before occurred in English literature.

The comment pleased him, and he then read “Hafiz and Paul,”322 “The Roses of Solomon,”323 “England’s Hope,”324 and “Perfectibility,”325 remarking in connection with the last, “Progress goes in circles.”

I was particularly struck with the lines:

Where the banyans are alive with babbling apes,


With the loud sardonic laughter of the spheres.

T. W. How do you know that the spheres laugh?

P. Poets know everything.

He then read “Barcarolle”326 (The Sailing Song) and “Evensong,”327 which is on his favourite subjects of duty, faith, and love; and talked of his old friends, and particularly of De Banville, of whom he always spoke with affection, and whom he described as “Young-looking, bald, clean shaven, witty and kind.”

T. W. You are too much of a recluse.

P. I am a shy bird.

T. W. You are young-looking.

P. I always was. Joaquin Miller once said to me, with the American accent, “I like young men like you, Payne, not old men like Hueffer.”328

T. W. You met Watts-Dunton in your younger days?

P. I knew Watts [he never would say Watts-Dunton] but nobody was to be compared with Swinburne. He outshone everybody.

T. W. What is the great central teaching of your poetry?

P. The importance of Duty. Duty is my pole star.329

T. W. You have no notes to your Arabian Nights? (I was thinking of Burton’s method).

P. Notes are unnecessary. There is nothing to explain.

T. W. Are you a Wordsworthian?

P. I regard appreciation of Wordsworth as the true test of a poet. A real poet must love Wordsworth.

For Payne’s further remarks on this poet reference should be made to Carol and Cadence, pp. 177 and 265, the Wordsworth sonnet Vigil and Vision, p. 60, and the footnote in the Omar Kheyyam, p. 64.

T. W. The Edinburgh Review [No. 335, July 1886] praised your Arabian Nights.

P. Grudgingly. A critic should possess three requisites:

1. Industry to read a book.

2. Capacity to appreciate it.

3. Honesty to say the truth about it.

T. W. Do you know who wrote the article?

P. I believe it was Stanley Poole.

T. W. The writer of the short account of the Nights which appears in Chambers’s Encyclopaedia, makes the ignorant remark: “Payne’s Translation is complete, but not very accurate.” It is a pity the name of the writer is not appended. He ought to be gibbeted.

P. The writer of the article in the Edinburgh Review was no friend of mine, but he was evidently an Arabic scholar. He says “Burton is much less accurate than Payne.”330 Still it does not matter what people say. Fact is fact. Yacoub Artin Pasha and Dr. Steingass, both of them distinguished Arabists, were intense admirers of my translation. Another admirer was S. A. Strong, librarian of the House of Lords.

T. W. Dr. Steingass, Burton’s friend?

P. Yes, I have some of his letters. I’ll give them to you. They will help you in your proposed work. He then looked them out and handed them to me.

Upon my mentioning that I should be glad to refer to the Edinburgh Review article, he said, “I have a copy to spare. It is at your service.” He then took a flash light and went up into a room at the top of the house to look for it, I following him. After a chat there about the various books which he, or I, removed from the shelves, we returned to the drawing-room, and the conversation drifted on to his translation of Omar Kheyyam and he read to me some of the quatrains.

T. W. I am afraid I don’t like the word “skinker” which is used so often. It seems to me inapplicable to a girl with hyacinthine curls of amber-scented hair.331 FitzGerald, you know, calls her “Heart’s Desire,” “Saki, the Cypress-Slender minister of Wine,” and other pretty names.

P. Skinker is a good old English word. Both Shakespeare and Massinger use it.332

My third interview was on 30 November, my special object being to receive from Payne a packet of forty letters written to him by Burton. After presenting me with copies of his Hamid the Luckless and Intaglios, in both of which he wrote our names, and also of Vigil and Vision and Songs of Consolation, he said: “I have been dipping into your Life of Edward FitzGerald, and got deeply interested in parts.”

T. W. It is a delightful subject.

P. FitzGerald must have been a very difficult person to live with.

When long afterwards I mentioned this remark to Mrs. Byam she said with a smile, “Not nearly so difficult as was my brother himself.”

To continue our conversation, I said, “There is a strange charm in some of FitzGerald’s quatrains.”

P. FitzGerald’s Omar Kheyyam is a mere rifacimento of a few of Kheyyam’s verses.

T. W. I know it is only mosaic work, but it is beautiful all the same.

P. It has been absurdly overrated.

He then launched out against the Omar Kheyyam Club333 ending his tirade with “The FitzGerald Club would be a more suitable name.”

T.W. What does it matter? Any excuse for a literary symposium is good enough.

P. Have not, too, many of the references in the Reviews been pitiable? They call the Persian poet Omar. It is just as sensible as to refer to the plays of William, instead of the plays of Shakespeare. Omar corresponds with our Christian name. Kheyyam (accent on second syllable) does not mean tentmaker.

Reference should here be made to Payne’s remarks in his Omar Kheyyam, pp. xvii and 18.

P. My translation was financially a great success.

T. W. That speaks well for you. You rise in my estimation. Any fool can write a book, it takes a man of genius to sell one.

As on previous occasions the evening was spent partly in the drawing-room, but we also spent a good deal of time in his study, a snuggery at the top of the house which, like the adjoining apartment, was filled from floor to ceiling with books. Here, seated at a writing table provided with a swinging book-holder, similar to those in use at the British Museum, he would converse on all manner of subjects.

I afterwards learnt that I was marvellously privileged to be allowed to enter this holy place. Very few others were ever admitted. To enter it uninvited, was to escape with your life​—​and only just escape. One day his brother Harry, learning that John was there, had the temerity to walk upstairs and enter. John was at first speechless with anger. Then came the clap of thunder. “How dare you! Go out this instant. Don’t you know that an author’s study is as sacred as a lady’s bedroom!”

It was many days before the wretched Harry dare venture into the house, let alone the sanctuary.

In another room at the top of the house was a joiner’s bench with all kinds of tools, joinery being one of Payne’s recreations.

Dinner with Payne was a rather elaborate function, for he was very much of an epicure. He had quite a library of cookery books, and as I have already noticed he was himself a skilful cook. But what was he not? He was carpenter, chemist, strategist, politician, gardener​—​to say nothing of musician, translator, scholar and poet. He was everything. I remember particularly one dinner, the principal dish of which was partridges and mushrooms. It was not so much a dinner as a poem​—​composed by Payne and taken down by Parsley.

On the table was a cruet with seventeen different sorts of sauces. He bade me help myself. In order to veil my ignorance of their qualities, I said I preferred to trust to him. He thereupon “blended” four or five of them as if they were tea, and I must say the result was excellent. He then mentioned the name of each sauce and carefully explained its use, but I am afraid all his erudition was lost on me. He tried me next with different wines​—​really, I very rarely drink wine​—​and as to my uneducated taste they were all pretty much alike I selected one at random. He complimented me on my acumen, and the same brand was always thenceforward placed before me when I dined with him, and invariably alluded to as “your tipple.” I have no doubt it was the “tipple divine” that Omar Kheyyam made so much fuss about, but as I did not want to run the risk of being disillusioned, I asked no questions. We drank out of old long-stemmed Dutch glasses, beautiful both in shape and colour. Certainly the wine was pleasant to taste, but in Payne’s house one could have sworn to a rare and exquisite bouquet even in pure water drunk out of a christening mug of the ugliest Victorian make.

He urged me to help myself to some olives.

P. How do you like them?

T. W. Excellent. Direct from Egypt, I suppose (for I knew that Artin Pasha frequently sent him presents).

P. “No. Spiers and Pond’s. They understand my requirements. I want but little here below, but want that little good.”334 Of course there was Stilton cheese. No dinner at 10 Oxford Road would have been complete without it.

One evening there resembled another. We usually found ourselves in easy chairs, Payne on the front-window side of the fireplace, with a glass and tobacco on a whatnot at his elbow, smoking a cigarette or nervously rolling one, and spreading tobacco all over the room in the operation; and I on the other side with a pyramid of oranges within easy reach.

I spoke of him as “smoking” cigarettes, but it would be more accurate to say that he blew into and made fireworks of them, a habit occasioned by the fact that owing to his unskilfulness in shaping the cigarette, the end would often as not be empty. Sometimes before applying a cigarette to his mouth he put “a bonnet” on it.

While the little Chinaman softly wagged his head, and protruded his tongue and moved his hands, and while the fire, made of ship-logs, crackled and sent out tongues of red, yellow, blue and violet flames, caused by the salt, salt-petre and tar with which they were impregnated, and the andirons gleamed, we talked of matters literary​—​I invariably as the pupil, Payne as master. In respect to the logs, I may say that he always endeavoured to get this kind of firewood. Everything that he did proclaimed the poet. Nothing in his house happened by accident. Everything had been carefully thought out.

The conversation was usually of a placid nature, except when we touched on Politics. At such times Payne would get blood-thirsty, though he invariably ended his tirade against the Liberals and Radicals with a hearty laugh. Without troubling to ascertain what my opinions were he always assumed that they precisely tallied with his own. If I differed openly, it was all the same​—​I was merely suffering from a momentary aberration or weakness. It would pass. He called himself a Tory Revolutionist. “A revolution,” he said, “is necessary to purge the nation of the puerile stuff forced into it by Democracy, and then,” he added, with a ripple of his unforgettable and very contagious laughter​—​half guffaw, half titter​—​and in recollection, I suppose, of his old Bristol exploit, “I should like to shoulder a rifle.” His pet aversions were still Gladstone and Bright, but as they had been dead so long, it seemed to me that it would have been just as reasonable to lose one’s equanimity over Adam or Noah.

“Gladstone and Bismarck,” he said, “are the modern ectypes of Dante’s Judas and Brutus.”

When the weather was inclement he used to say it was because Gladstone had gone aloft.

Sir Wilfred Lawson (temperance advocate and wit) he cruelly alluded to as “that sour old pantaloon.” Now and again I put in a word for these unfortunate politicians who were unable to defend themselves from his truculence, but all in vain. Them, too, he chased into cellars with his unanswerable rifle. He either talked me down, though in the pleasantest manner possible, or assumed that in my heart of hearts I was really of his opinion.

“At the present day,” he went on, “there is a revolt against authority of every kind. Everybody wants to be rich or famous without doing anything for it.”

He also severely mauled the musical critics of the day. “When I read them,” he said, “I want blood and plenty of it. For So-and-So [unfortunately I omitted to set down the name] no earthly punishment is sufficient. He ought to have eternal torment”​—​and then, amused by his own vehemence, he burst out into hearty laughter.

His principal grievance against the musical critics was their preference for English composers. It was not because the composers were English that he objected to them, but because of the poorness of their work. What angered him was the attempt to foist on the world “inferior stuff,” as if it were worthy because it was English. He would have been the first to welcome a great English composer. “In art,” he once said, “there should be no nationality.” Then he added angrily: “But all remonstrance is useless. The gods themselves are powerless against stupidity.” His musical preferences and dislikes are nowhere stated more energetically than in the sonnet in the Supplement to Vigil and Vision, “On the Newspaper Cry for the exclusive encouragement of Contemporary English Composers.” There and elsewhere he is loud in praise of the “tone poems” of Liszt, “the golden horn notes of Schubert,”335 and of the compositions of Hugh Pierson, Olsen, Smetana, Kistler, Fibich, Heise, Borch, Zöllner, Goldschmidt, Hartmann, Blockx, D’Indy and others. Taylor had possibilities, Elgar now and then could “lure a strain” that’s worth remembering, but for “Sullivan and all his crew” he had nothing but unmeasured contempt. He held that music should be “extremely simple or very deep,” whereas “Sullivan had pandered to the depraved taste of an ignorant public.”

In “Populo” (Carol and Cadence, p. 223) he falls upon those

Who suffered Schubert starve and passing Berlioz by,

The feet of Auber kissed,

Tchaikowsky, Dvorak, Brahms, applauded to the sky

And scorned the name of Liszt.

In Vigil and Vision he pays warm and eloquent tributes to Haydn, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Berlioz, Liszt, Wagner, Merkel, and J. P. E. Hartmannand speaks contemptuously of Tchaikowsky, “dreary Dvorak,” Brahms and Sullivan. In a footnote to the Introduction to the Omar Kheyyam, (of all places!) and in Humoristica (first series)336 he also savagely attacks Tchaikowsky and Brahms.

He knew Gounod, Liszt and Wagner personally, having met them in France and Germany.

In his Autobiography337 he says: “Wagner music has always been as much and as essential a part of my life as literature. Although all but untaught (I had only a few months’ teaching on the violin when a lad) and brought up amongst unmusical338 people, I have a species of innate gift for music, which enables me to judge and appreciate the strangest and most unconventional compositions and to reproduce upon the piano (without a previous hearing) the most complicated orchestral and other works. ‘But for music,’ as Disraeli says, in one of those flashes of wit and wisdom which shine like diamonds in the vast rubbish heap of his novels, ‘we might almost say the Beautiful, i.e. the formally, externally Beautiful, is dead,’339 and, indeed, I hardly know how I could have borne the burden of my life without it.340 I cannot but feel that my love and practice of music are to be traced everywhere in my verses, in which it seems to me that it is impossible for any insight to mistake the hand of the student of melodic expression and above all of orchestral harmonies, and that the technique of the latter especially and inevitably suggests the familiar use and knowledge of music in its subtlest and most recondite forms, if, indeed, it may not at times be accused of encroaching too far upon the limits of the sister art. Berlioz,341 by the way, is and has always been, quite as dear to me as Wagner, and he has the advantage over the latter of being the precursor. His ‘Symphonie Fantastique,’ produced in 1830, is still the unsurpassed type of romantic music, as it was the first great example;342 but Liszt above all is my composer; with his transcendent purity of aspiration (the nostalgia of another and a nobler world​—​his mystic spirit-harmonies) and his interstellar splendour of expression​—​he appeals more to my personality than any other master, although I love and appreciate many and many another, including many who are practically unknown in England.” Elsewhere he sums up his admiration for Berlioz, Wagner and Liszt by calling them “The Thunderers Three.”

We have seen how fiercely Payne attacked the composers who offended him. There were degrees, however, in his fury. When not entirely displeased he merely called them “cheap idols,” or “adulterous blots.”

During my third interview with Payne we also conversed on the subject of France. Payne loved France, but could see no future for her. “She is destined,” he said, sorrowfully, “to be split up into four. Germany will seize the eastern departments, England will take Normandy, and the rest will form two minor states.” This, it must be remembered, was in 1904​—​that is, ten years before the commencement of the Great War.343 For Turkey, too, he had an inordinate affection. “The Turks,” he alleged, “would be a great people if they were adequately led.344 They are among the best common soldiers in the world. They are equalled only by the English.”

As Payne was an accomplished Italian scholar, and as I had a few days previous been reading Fairfax’s Tasso and Rose’s Ariosto, I desired his opinion on some of the south European poets. “Fairfax’s Tasso,” he said, “is better than the original. Tasso, however, shines brightest not in his Jerusalem but in his Aminta and the sonnets. The poetry of both Tasso and Ariosto is inferior to that of Boccaccio, but Camoens, the Portuguese poet, is above them all. Dante and Leopardi345 are the only poets of Italy. Of the three portions of the Divine Comedy I prefer the Purgatory. Longfellow’s translation is better than Cary’s.”

“It may be truer to the original,” I said, “but it is certainly less readable.”

He expressed some surprise that I could not enjoy Balzac, but admitted that Balzac has too much of Paris, just as Dickens has too much of London. “Dickens,” he said, “is the second English writer. He comes next to Shakespeare. We go to Dickens for pathos as well as for humour.”

I said I could not agree with him, and insisted that Dickens was a humorist pure and simple, and nothing more.

He went on: “Humour is the salt of life. A man who has it can face the world without fear. It is wit and love combined. The difference between Dickens and Thackeray is that Dickens laughs with people, Thackeray laughs at people. Martin Chuzzlewit346 is Dickens’s greatest book. Thackeray is a notable figure, all the same. There is real power in the man, but he disgusts me. His idea of fun is other people’s misery. He wrote only one book, Vanity Fair.” Payne’s admiration for Dickens is expressed in several of his poems, notably “Trinitas Anglica.”347

He called George Macdonald “a great romancer,” praising particularly Alex Forbes of Howglen, but he was unjust to R. L. Stevenson, whom he defined as “a plagiarist built up of Daniel Defoe and Captain Marryat.”

Portions of Payne’s Autobiography form a new and extraordinary Dunciad, but of course it does not follow that every person included in it is necessarily the contemptible personage that Payne considered him. We think none the worse of the charming Puritan poet George Withers because Pope, in a distempered moment, put him in the eighteenth century Dunciad, nor of Daniel Defoe because it is written of him, “Earless on high stood unabashed Defoe.”

On p. 5 of the Autobiography we read: “It is the younger generation, men of my own standing, such as *****,348 Lang,349 and others who are jealous of me, and who, having obtained complete control over the press, contrive to keep my name and work not only from receiving its due recognition, but even from coming to the knowledge of the public. It is, I imagine, little known in America how completely corrupt is the contemporary English literary press,350 which is altogether worked by a rigorous combine of two or three cliques, the members of which employ their powers solely for the glorification of themselves and their fellow-riggers of the market, and the crushing out of notice of all who do not belong to their gang, this scalting into temporary and purely factitious notoriety a number of fourth-class littérateurs,351 such as ****, Lang, ******, ***********, *******, Watson, **********, Phillips,352 Stevenson, Grant Allen and others of whom it is safe to predict that scarcely a line will be extant fifty years hence.”

In a subsequent page he speaks of “mere handicrafts-men like *****, Lang and ******.”

Solomon is credited with having said, “There is no new thing under the sun.” We are told that in the old Dunciad somebody else’s “wooden head” originally occupied the place into which the great Daniel’s was afterwards thrust; and in the new Dunciad lo, a Watson gives place to a **********! Payne evidently gave Watson’s poems a second reading, and decided that their author was too good for the niche.

To the verse writers among the gibbeted Nine he gave the name of the “Poets of the Deliquescence”​—​a chemical term, by which he meant that they were nearly all water. I have often heard him speak contemptuously of the age of *****, Stevenson and Lang, and he once favoured me with what he called the “Tenth Beatitude”: “Blessed” are the poor in technique, for they shall see ***** and find favour with Lang and **********.” Could bitterness go further!

Lastly in the letters to Tracy Robinson we have reference to “smart journalists like Lang and ******, whose popularity is the result of unscrupulous advertisement and press manipulation.”

When, indeed, on the subject of the Nine, Payne was a veritable Devil-among-the-Tailors. In none of them would he ever see anything good, any more than he would see good in Bright and Gladstone. He used to say “The Logrollers and Pressnobblers of to-day are, like Rabelais’ monks, banded together to deceive and hoodwink the world.”

Against those of the Nine who had the misfortune to be of Scottish descent he was particularly biassed. One day in conversation with me, the name of Mr. T. W. H. Crosland having occurred, he said: “He has written one smart book, The Unspeakable Scot.” Anything, indeed, hurled at the Keltic Fringe gave him almost childish pleasure. In his “Ode to the East Wind,” he draws the attention of that Fiend of Air towards the politicians and logrollers that have invaded England, and addressing him says:

Out upon them, pour thy fury

Back to Youghal, Cork and Newry,

Cardiff, drive them with thy daggers,

Swansea, Aberdeen and Fife.

It must not be supposed, however, that the Nine were the only authors whom he castigated. In Humoristica (2nd Series, 1909), “Poorjohn”353 Morley, James Bryce, and George Meredith (whose books are ridiculed again and again) are labelled first as “two bores and a banterer,”354 and then as “two doctrinaire drones and a cramp jargoneer,” and there is a reference to Morley’s “flavourless personality,”355 but it is evident that it is the Radical tendencies of these men that give offence, rather than their shortcomings as authors. ******* **** is dismissed as a “cheap second-hand Oscar Wilde.” For Sir Oliver Lodge Payne had a sincere respect, and he asks sorrowfully how it came about that Lodge cast his “hat in this circus.”

Other authors upon whom he poured scorn were Coventry Patmore, Martin Tupper, Sir Edwin Arnold and Sir Lewis Morris whom he placed on a level with the poetasters of the Ecole du Bons Sens in France.356

Reference has already been made to Dr. Nix, a friend of Payne’s younger days, and to his matter of fact manner. When Dr. Nix married and settled in Weymouth Street, Payne was a frequent visitor at his house​—​he always spent his Sunday evenings there​—​and he made pets of the children.

One day Dr. Nix said to Payne, “Where did you get all your information from?” just as one might ask, “Do you get your cheese from Spiers and Pond’s or from the local tradesman?”

Payne replied, “By reading novels and looking in shop-windows.” But the answer was not altogether ironical. To both these practices Payne was inordinately addicted. Drapers’ shops particularly attracted him, owing to their display of colour; and I think it was also because the names of the materials sometimes enabled him to add to his vocabulary, which, vast as it was, he constantly endeavoured to enlarge; but of course I may be wrong in this assumption.

He read a novel a day. Of his respect for George Macdonald we have already spoken. He was also partial to the works of Cicely Sidgwick, Louis Tracy, and Harold Bindloss. A special favourite with him was An Imaginative Man, by Robert Hichens. By the books of C. A. Collins (Dickens’s son-in-law) he was strangely fascinated, and in conversation with me he often referred to them, praising particularly A Cruise upon Wheels, A New Sentimental Journey and the Bar Sinister. There is a sonnet to Collins in Carol and Cadence.357

On 14 December, 1904, I put before him a literary scheme which I felt convinced would be to his advantage, and I offered if he would give me a letter of authority to take at once the steps which would ensure its success. Writing on 30 December,358 he said: “I am feeling a little better and take advantage of the improvement to answer your most kind and sympathetic letter of the 14th. I have been, no doubt partly by my own fault, a lonely man all my life, and have neither received nor expected sympathy nor appreciation; but the want of them has much saddened those hours of depression which come but too often to the high-strung nerve-dominated servant of the Spirit, and this makes such spontaneous affection and sympathy as yours doubly welcome to me. I accept with pleasure your kind offer, and enclose you such a letter of authority as you suggest.”

I had also urged him to set to work upon some new great translation, and he goes on: “As to a new translation359 I have such an one in my thought and I should be only too glad to be able to work at it; but, until the hermetic moment (as the old alchemists had it) comes, it is only endeavour wasted to attempt it.”

[294] Letters to the Robinsons, No. 10.

[295] Title altered to Songs of Consolation.

[296] Letters to the Robinsons, No. 11.

[297] Letters to T. W., No. 1.

[298] Horace, Ode III.

[299] Two vols., January 1904.

[300] Four vols., March 1904.

[301] Letters to T. W., No. 2.

[302] Letters to T. W., No. 3.

[303] Mrs. Snee.

[304] After Partie’s death (April 1906) Payne wrote (Carol and Cadence, p. 74):

Yet many an hour there is in which I’d fain,

Of all the dear dead, ’neath the clay that moulder,

Feel Rover’s fondling head upon my shoulder

Or Partie’s paws about my neck again.

[305] Shah Namah of Ferdausi.

[306] One of green rhododendron leaves on white was designed by Miss Daisy Hutt.

[307] Book III, ch. viii.

[308] I adopted the same plan in connection with my interviews with Swinburne, Watts-Dunton, and others.

[309] On Burton.

[310] The Life of Sir Richard Burton.

[311] Songs of Consolation, p. 108.

[312] Ov., Her. I. 12. Payne calls him “the Sulmonean Rhapsodist.”

[313] Weighty. Cf. Shakespeare’s “a matter of heavy consequence,” All’s Well, ii. 5.

[314] Metamorphoses. See King’s Anecdotes, p. 30.

[315] I was surprised to notice that he used unnecessarily words ending in “st,” e.g. “amongst” instead of “among,” which is certainly better.

[316] The rest of the conversation on this occasion is incorporated in the early chapters of this work.

[317] Letters to T. W., No. 5.

[318 Songs of Consolation, p. 90.

[319 Ibn et Tefrid, p. 25, q. 78.

[320 Collected Poems, ii. 324.

[321] Ecclus. 44, v. 14.

[322] Vigil and Vision, p. 59.

[323] Songs of Consolation, p. 69.

[324] Songs of Consolation, p. 73.

[325] Songs of Consolation, p. 14.

[326] Songs of Consolation, p. 101.

[327] Songs of Consolation, p. 127.

[328] Franz Hueffer, Madox Brown’s son-in-law (1845–1889), who was three years younger than Payne. Apparently he was old in his ways.

[329] Cf. Carol and Cadence, p. 239, and “Litany” in Songs of Consolation.

[330] Ed. Rev., No. 335, p. 180.

[331] Payne’s Omar Kheyyam, p. 119.

[332] John Lyly uses it in Mother Bombie, Act II, Scene 1.

[333] See also his remarks in the Preface to his Omar Kheyyam, and in Ibn et Tefrid, 1st ed., p. 24, q. 74.

[334] For Omar Kheyyam’s sentiments on the subject of wanting little see Payne’s Omar Kheyyam, p. 181.

[335] Vigil and Vision, p. 46.

[336] Page 11.

[337] Page 21.

[338] He is here hardly fair to his mother and Mrs. Pritchard.

[339] See, too, Payne’s sonnet Vigil and Vision, p. 35 top line.

[340] Cf. Musicke (a mithridat for melancholy), John Lyly, Mydas, Act IV, Scene 4.

[341] See sonnet on Berlioz’s Faust, Vigil and Vision, p. 45.

[342] See, too, Flowers of France, Romantic Period, vol ii. p. 160, footnote, and Vigil and Vision, p. 43.

[343] The conclusion of which, unhappily, he did not live to see.

[344] General Byam agreed with him.

[345] For Payne’s translation of Leopardi’s “Chorus of the Dead,” see Collected Poems, ii. 383. He once planned the translation of the whole of Leopardi.

[346] Reference to Captain Swosser in Vigil and Vision, p. 128.

[347] Vigil and Vision, p. 65.

[348] A very well known man of letters.

[349] Andrew Lang.

[350] This was written in 1902.

[351] Very well known men of letters alive to-day.

[352] Stephen Phillips.

[353] A cheap fish.

[354] A banterer is defined by Anthony Wood (seventeenth century) as “one who talks floridly nonsense.”

[355] 2nd Series, p. 31.

[356] See the Heine, vol i. p. 311 footnote.

[357] Page 174.

[358] Letters to T. W., No. 12.

[359] Apparently the Heine.