Chapter XIX

Table Talk of the Year 1912. The Way of the Winepress (unpublished).

In the spring of 1912 Payne had a new and splendid access of poetry​—​the verses produced being those which he ultimately included in The Way of the Winepress, a volume which was passing through the press at the time of his death.

On 6 June I called at Mortimer Crescent and had tea and dined with him. I spoke of the pleasure I had derived from the Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff, describing it as one of the three or four most stimulating books in the world, and I said I had read everything I could by her and about her.

But he was just then in one of his tearing moods, and he toppled down one after another some of my best idols. Marie Bashkirtseff, Blake and FitzGerald were the first to fall. He called Marie Bashkirtseff “as depraved a piece of neurotic conceit as you would ever find.”

“Her Journal” I said, “is crowded with stimulating passages, for example On ne peut pas mal faire quelque chose qui vous remplit l’âme [It is impossible to do badly that which fills your soul]. Every man is in love with some dead woman, and I have lost my heart to Marie Bashkirtseff.”

My serious condition, however, failed to move him, and he declined to withdraw his strictures on her. Indeed, he was not in the habit of withdrawing anything at anytime. What he had said, he had said.

His attack on Marie Bashkirtseff was bad enough, but when he dubbed her gifted translator (Mathilde Blind) “a mourning coach-horse,” I thought it advisable to change the subject, so I ventured on a word in praise of D. G. Rossetti’s “Blessed Damozel.”

Payne threw off with, “I once said to Rossetti, you are like the fat boy in Pickwick, you try to make our flesh creep”; and he continued: “Rossetti was a man of talent not of genius ; Swinburne was a man of uncontrollable genius, of fantastic spontaneity. Rossetti squeezed out a little bit now and then. He laboured at his work. He would write a sonnet twelve times. There was no spontaneity in him. No, his work doesn’t show inspiration. Inspiration is a flame that ‘bloweth where it listeth.’”

T. W. The seraph of the sanctuary touches the lips of the inspired man with a live coal.541

P. Yes, that is so. The man of genius is on the tripod. The man of genius never succeeds in his lifetime. Schopenhauer is absolutely inspired when he gets upon this subject.

Rossetti’s name occurring again, Payne said: “Rossetti’s books were machined​—​puffed,” and then he made use of the saying that was so often in his mouth: “No work succeeds entirely on its own merits.”

Of Tennyson he spoke contemptuously, but I can best illustrate his attitude to that poet by quoting the Autobiography, where he says: “Tennyson I knew indeed, but (with a few great exceptions, such as parts of Maud and the ‘Wellington Ode’ in which he soared above his habitual defects) cared little for. With all his great qualities, he has always seemed to me no poet of the first order; he owed his popularity mainly to the way in which he pandered to the weaknesses of the intellectually lower classes and to his cunning fashion of idealizing the grossest gospel of disguised materialism in crass optimism. A French critic, on his death, described him as more a producer of popular chromolithographs than a true artist; nor am I inclined to quarrel with this description of him.”

To continue our conversation: “I hate,” said I, “the term now so much used⁁women-poets.”

P. Why not merely say “poets?” The word applies to both sexes.

T. W. Yes, but when you wish to distinguish between them, I mean. I prefer the term “poetesses.”

P. It is certainly better than women-poets.

T. W. But I need not have brought up the subject for there are no poetesses. (By this I did not mean that no Englishwoman has written charming verse, but that none has attained high rank as a poet.)

P. Oh, yes, there are. There’s Christina Rossetti, for example. She is a better poet than her brother.542

T. W. I don’t agree with you.

P. Nietzsche was a very great man, I think him greater every year. I have his seventeen volumes, in German,543 of course, always at my elbow. I take his philosophy as a stimulant, not as a system. Nietzsche’s notes for his philosophy are the high-water mark of modern literature​—​“Ah! Mother nature!” he interjected pathetically, “She let Gladstone live to eighty-nine, and cut off Nietzsche at forty-four!”544 He then dilated on Nietzsche’s extreme originality of thought, and said: “He has put the problems of life in a new way. He made a revaluation of all ideas of morality. Bacon says: ‘Morals are a fable agreed upon.’ Nietzsche is the only man who has pursued that remark to its logical conclusion. Nietzsche is a poet as well as a philosopher. You remember that saying of his: ‘True ideality is to see the glories of a sun-rise where a taper is lighted.’”545

While we were at tea (or rather while I was, for he only sat and rolled or smoked the eternal cigarette) he said: “This blend is the result of practice. It consists of four teas. After mixing them I leave them for six months hermetically sealed, in order that they may amalgamate. Do you like the bread?”

T. W. Yes, it is crisp and sweet, and above all it is well baked.

P. It is standard bread. I have threatened the bakeress, if she does not bake it enough, to give her a warm corner in a future state near Gladstone.

I defended Gladstone as a man of taste, and ventured to observe that at any rate he introduced the Journal of Marie Bashkirtseff to the English public. It transpired, however, that Gladstone had no virtues at all, so with the object of leading the conversation to a loftier subject I inquired after the cats.

P. Poor Top died last year, aged eighteen. D’Indy (referred to in the poems as Dandie546) is six and in his prime. He is named after D’Indy, the great modern French composer, and on account of his aloofness. D’Indy the composer writes for himself, and cares not a pin what the world thinks of his compositions. At this moment the cat we were discussing walked unconcernedly into the room and settled himself on a cushion. “See,” observed Payne, “he is looking into space​—​into Africa, as Dickens would have said.”547

T. W. I hope he doesn’t touch the birds in your garden.

P. No, he’s too well-bred for that.

T. W. I’ve taken to keeping cavies​—​guinea pigs​—​tortoise and white. I like to see them running about on my lawn. Besides, they keep it mown. It is a mistake to suppose that cavies are stupid animals. I find mine very intelligent.

P. No animal is stupid if you cultivate it. A donkey is a philosopher​—​a mistrustful philosopher.548

A reference to Mrs. Hutt led him to say, “Mrs. Hutt is dead, and her daughter is married.”549 He then asked me to dine with him and Mrs. Pritchard at her house Cleeve Lodge, 40 Hyde Park Gate, observing: “She will be glad to see you. She was deeply interested in your Life of Burton. I read all my poems to her. We are devoted to each other. My other sisters, Nora and Frances (Mrs. Byam) I do not see so often. Harry, my younger brother, is still practising as a solicitor. Think of it, no newspaper would take Ibn et Tefrid! You remember.”

T. W. Yes, and I was glad you omitted some of the stanzas and modified others.

Of Blake he said: “Blake achieved most success by his illustrations to Young’s Night Thoughts.”

“Possibly,” I replied, “but they are by no means his most brilliant work. His Prophetical Books interest me more than anything else he did, and the text is even more fascinating than the illustrations. It bristles with stimulating passages. If ever there was a man inspired, it was Blake.”

P. No, no. Blake took the rough side of Dante and did not catch his sublimity.

T. W. Blake was more influenced by the Minor Prophets550 than by Dante.

He then showed me, with satisfaction, some large Japanese pictures in mother-of-pearl, metal, etc., and a cocoa-nut mounted in ebony on an ebony elephant which he had just bought.

“You will be glad to know,” he said, while we were looking at them, “that I have had a new and splendid rush of poetry, chiefly sonnets. They will appear in my forthcoming book, which is to be called The Way of the Winepress. You remember Isaiah 63, verse 8, ‘I have trodden the winepress alone.’”

T. W. You have enlarged the scope of the sonnet more than any other poet. Your sonnets have the elevation of lyrics. You must have written 500.

P. Yes, I suppose I have, but although many are lyrical I keep strictly to the fourteen lines and the rhyme scheme. I never permit any looseness in that. I have adapted every kind of rhyme into the sonnet form.

T. W. No other poet has used so felicitously the double rhyme. Swinburne comes next.

P. Of the older writers, William Dunbar and other successors of Chaucer used it. Spenser and Dante, among poets, have inspired me most. I translated Dante, as you know, before I was twenty. I destroyed my translation three years ago.

He then talked about musicians and said: “It is not talent we need but genius. Elgar has no musical genius whatever. He has immense talent. We require not talent but genius. The bad ruins the public taste.”

T. W. You can’t have weeds and flowers too.

P. A very good illustration.

He then read me a number of the poems that were to appear in The Way of the Winepress, including “Introit,” “A Light Age,” “The Lost Lyre,” “They shall be called by a New Name,” “Morning Glory” and “Ars Moriendi” (The Art of Dying).

T. W. This last is sad and yet not sad.

P. It is exalted​—​that’s the expression [and he repeated one of the lines “Their plumes funereal in the wind swept ways”].

T. W. A vivid and musical line.

P. These poems are in the interstellar air.

T. W. They are cheerful. Nay, they have a persistent joyousness.

P. Say, rather, exaltation, other worldliness, beyond joy and pain​—​in Nietzsche’s phrase Jenseits von Gut und Böse.

He then read “Except a Corn of Wheat,” “Life’s Reckoning” and “Dreams of Eld.”

T. W. There is so much in them that is quotable.

P. A whole philosophy is concentrated in almost any one of the sonnets.

T. W. They make your former sonnets seem almost bald.

P. Mrs. Pritchard has heard them again and again. She is never tired of listening to them.

T. W. You describe them as interstellar and super-stellar. These words are alike.

P. Very nearly, not quite. He then read the fine sonnet called “Ideality” (founded on the saying of Nietzsche already alluded to) and “A New Commandment”​—​“That which thou dost do lightly; live thy life out as the linnet sings.”

Again I observed that there was a wonderful joyousness about them all, but he would not allow the term, his thoughts were still “stitched to the stars.”

“Say exaltation,” he added “if you like.”

T. W. Your life is the ordinary poet’s turned backwards. You end where others begin. Most poets have done their best work in the early days. Yours has been done in the evening of life.

This remark pleased him, and he said: “Yes, no doubt about it.” He then read the sunshiny and autobiographical “Joy.” “As a boy,” he commented, “I delighted chiefly in the beauties of nature and ‘the poet’s perfect word’; as a man my chief pleasure has been to feel the seeds of song unfold in myself.” He then read “The Last Prayer,” “Resurrection,” which I thoroughly disliked, and told him so, “The Whirligig” and “Some Day,” in reference to which he said: “They will praise me when I am gone. I am my own hindrance to my fame as a poet, for I am alive. All these poems, you see, are above the earth​—​beyond the reach of good and evil.” He then took up “Thought and Speech,” observing before he began it “This is a tremendous one,” and he subsequently read “Life’s Motive Force” which is on the subject of Imagination​—​perhaps the finest poem in the volume​—​“Consistency,” “The Lode Star,” and “Drunk or Sober” which runs as follows:


Drunkenness (old Hafiz ’twas that said)

Drunkenness is better than dead dryness.

In this world of rottenness and wryness,

Where the sage is silent as the dead,

Where the Gods among the folk might tread

And be no more noted for their nighness,

In this day when lowness scoffs at highness,

Better drunk than sober go to bed.

Either aching heart or aching head;

Take thy choice, O servant of the Highest;

Sick at heart and sober, with the Real

All thy life to languish, or, instead,

Day and night to be, until thou diest,

Drunken with the wine of the Ideal.

He then read “Horses of the Sun,” “The Sower,” and “Etiamsi omnes, ego non,” the sonnet on the subject of Job’s words “Though He slay me yet will I trust in Him,” against which sonnet I stoutly protested both at the time and subsequently. I have always judged that it was written just after his letter to me on Pessimism.552 The next poems were the beautiful “Love for Love,” “The Unknown God,” “New Lamps for Old.” Here he interjected: “The best faith is that without a priest, a faith that is pure of the poisonous parasite,” a remark that reminded me of his friend Arbuthnot’s saying on the same subject. He then read “The Kingdom of Heaven is Within You,” “Sly Nature,” “Coelum non animum,”553Procul este!" founded on Aeneid VI. 258, and “A Poisonous Heritage.” “Here,” he interjected, “is a thing that has never been said before.” Then he read “The Salt of Life,” in which he insists once more upon the necessity of humour and laughter, “The Turn of the Tide,” “The Restless Dead,” “The Last Strength,” on the subject of the “inexpugnable city of the soul,” “Buried Cities,” “The Lonely Harvester” and “Song and Sacrament.” “This,” he commented, “is the poet’s sacrament, you know​—​that which abideth, ‘but not the aspiring of thy soul,’” and he spoke of himself as a pantheist.

T. W. They are all huge subjects.

P. They are tremendous, aren’t they? They will amaze some people.

T. W. They are all heavy with thought.

P. Yes, for the immediate understanding. They want study.

The next sonnet “Nil nisi bonum554 gave me great pleasure, not only because it was written with the knowledge that I was engaged upon a biography of him, but also because it showed that his views as to how a biography ought to be written corresponded precisely with my own. In connection with it he said: “A man’s failings as well as his great qualities should be recorded. The dead man belongs to history. He is not the property of any particular class or church.” Then he read “Whom ye ignorantly worship, we the world’s dream interpreters declare,” “Divine things are not to be taken by storm”555 and “Illusive Thought.”

T. W. These sonnets are heavy with meaning, but now and again there is a jarring note. I refer to some of the references to the Deity.

He made no comment, but read “Dream and Vision,” “Towards Appeasement,” “The Last Inn,” “Song and Sacrament,” “Leconte de Lisle,” and finally the autobiographical and pathetic “Moth Flights.”

T. W. Interstellar is a fine word.

P. Yes, it’s a word I pretty often use.

I can see him now reading these poems, his sixteenth-century face, his gray silk cap, his black eyebrows, his gray beard​—​the magenta pocket handkerchief, the orange tie, the flimsy folio manuscript. He was within two months of seventy. While he read a blackbird was piping in the garden.

The notes of that blackbird are still in my ear.

With trails of glory to his grave escorted,

The sun hath set;

The light fades fast: but from the boughs unthwarted

By his poetic rapture still transported

The blackbird warbles yet.556

He then said: “I intend as a motto for the book a line in Shelley’s ‘Adonais’ running something like ‘I soared out of the body of this death.’” On turning the passage out he found that the exact words were, “He has out-soared the shadow of our night.”

I asked him what progress he had made with the new translation Seif ben Dhi Yezn, but I judged from his reply that he had scarcely begun it.

About this time the editor of The Academy asked me to write for that periodical an Appreciation of Payne, and on 18 June Payne, at my request, sent me copies of the two sonnets “Horses of the Sun” and “Drunk and Sober,” for insertion in it.557 At the same time he presented me with the proof sheets of the Heine. He was particularly pleased about the article, because he had been under the impression that The Academy was one of the periodicals that were prejudiced against him, “The Academy opening,” he said, “really looks promising, and it’s a good omen that this is Waterloo day.”

I may note here that Payne was a great noticer of coincidences, and certainly in his own life, as elsewhere pointed out, some curious coincidences occurred. To the fact that his first and last volumes of poetry were both stopped by a war between France and Germany I have already alluded. I recall one other coincidence. The galley proof of my Life of Burton, Section 104, was corrected by Payne on 28 November, 1905. On it occurs the sentence “Payne . . . wrote on November 28 (1881) to Burton, and using the words Tantus labor non sit cassus suggested collaboration.” Payne pencilled underneath: “28 November, 1905, curious coincidence.”

When I sent him the MS. of The Academy article he suggested a few alterations and enclosed for insertion in it a copy of “Introit” from The Way of the Winepress, observing: “It would, I think, be advisable to speak of my ‘short poems’ instead of ‘sonnets.’ Sonnet is a word of fear to the unthinking herd.”

When he wrote to me on 24 June,558 the quotation from Shelley was still in his thoughts, for he spoke of himself as having “outsoared the shadow of our night” and as having “passed beyond the mist and mire of our work-a-day world of trade and truckle into a purer and serener air, a region where, as Rabelais says, ‘the call of the cook is heard no more.’”

On 12 August, 1912, I founded the Blake Society, but Payne was not interested, and he would never allow Blake any particular merit.

In August and September Payne, Mrs. Pritchard and Miss Brereton went on a motoring tour through Warwick, Gloucestershire, Wales and Derbyshire.

On 14 September my article “John Payne and his Work” appeared in The Academy, and when Payne returned from his tour he found awaiting him a letter from me with a copy of the periodical, and also a letter from my friend Professor P. Berger,559 of Bordeaux, author of William Blake, Mysticisme et Poesie. He wrote to me 15 September560: “Many thanks for The Academy article which reads very well, also for all your zeal on my behalf, zeal, I am afraid, wasted on so hopeless a subject. I am now writing to M. Berger.”

The letter, which is dated 15 September, 1912, ran: “I find your letter awaiting me on my return last night from a month’s motoring tour, hence the delay in acknowledging your great kindness in writing to me and in assuring you that I shall feel a particular pleasure in adding your name to the long list of distinguished Frenchmen whose friendship and sympathy have been among the most precious memories of my life. Alas! of most of them but memories remain; ‘all mes fideles de Paris,’ as Banville called himself and others, Leconte de Lisle, Mallarmé, Villiers [de l’Isle Adam], Manet, etc., etc., are gone. Cazalis, who died last year, was the last of them; and the younger generation have little attraction for a ‘Romantique impenitent’ like myself. Apropos of the younger generation, you will be interested to know that I am half-way through the third instalment (volumes 7 and 8) of my Flowers of France, dealing with ‘The Latter Days,’ Coppée to Paul Fort. This, if I live, will in due course be followed by volumes 1 and 2, ‘The Beginnings,’ Châtelain de Coucy to Mellin de St. Gellais, and Volume 4, ‘The Dark Ages,’ Malherbe to André Chenier, completing the work and forming a complete anthology of French verse.”

On 15 September I received a letter from Mrs. Pritchard in which she expressed her “sincere appreciation” of my efforts in her brother’s behalf, and she invited me to lunch with her on 22 November.

I duly arrived at Cleeve Lodge561 on that date, and had lunch and tea with her and her sister Nora.

Payne himself was to have joined us, but for some reason or other he did not put in an appearance. I often recall this my first interview with the Golden Sister. She was queenly in appearance, and if of the beauty of her early days only traces were left, still such as she was, so she was. Like her brother she hated hypocrisy. How the subject arose I forget, but I happened to say that some elderly ladies resorted to subterfuges which not only did not make them look younger but which thoroughly spoilt them. She smiled and spoke with pity of an old lady of her own acquaintance who used hair dye and cosmetics. Mrs. Pritchard was authoritative, otherwise she would not have been Payne’s sister. I was charmed with her conversation and her devotion to her brother, and I was impressed by her ability as a literary critic. She told me for the purposes of this work the story of Payne’s early days, Nora now and again swooping in upon the conversation​—​stormy petrel as she was​—​and disappearing as suddenly.

When I mentioned the differences Payne and I had on the subjects, in particular, of Providence and William Blake, she smiled and said simply, “I know.”

I wrote to Payne on 27 November (1912) as follows: “I spent on Saturday a most delightful afternoon with Mrs. Pritchard. If you don’t mind my saying so, it was really better without you, as we were able to talk about you and your work with greater freedom. I think of reprinting The Academy article. Please look over it and return it to me when you have corrected the errors.

“The editor has left out one sentence, so it reads as though your cat, and not you, were master of and had translated from fifteen languages. I think the world has treated you pretty badly. First it gave Burton the honour of being the translator of the Arabian Nights, and now it makes your cat (D’Indy) the author of the rest of your Translations. Nothing remains for it except to father your original poems on somebody else. … To go back to D’Indy, it appears that he is also an accomplished musician. This made all of us here laugh so heartily that I almost forgave the editor for the mistake. It is fortunate that you also have a sense of humour.”

Payne replied on 28 November (1912)562 enclosing the article with corrections and suggestions, and I had it reprinted and issued in connection with the John Payne Society. He says: “I expect to-morrow to have finished the new book The Latter Days, volumes 7 and 8 of Flowers of France. Two volumes written and fair copied in a little more than four months’ time! Somewhat of a record I think.

“You told me some time ago that you knew Herbert Jenkins, the publisher. What do you think of proposing to him Ibn et Tefrid (the second edition, of course)? Young publishers are often enterprising.”

On 30 November, 1912,563 he wrote to me: ”The Latter Days (printer’s copy) finished yesterday. I feel inclined to throw it into the fire. What is the good!”

[541] I was thinking of Isaiah vi, 7.

[542] In the letter to Mrs. Robinson, 26 February, 1913 (No. 3 of the series) he had said of Rossetti: “He, though not a great, was a true poet.”

[543] He called German “the most formless and ill-digested of languages.”

[544] Nietzsche (1844–1900) reached fifty-six, but only as a breathing corpse, incapable of thought or action.

[545] In The Way of the Winepress Payne has a sonnet on this subject—“Ideality.”

[546] Top, Dandie live; but Robin, Partie, Rover

Shireen and Mick, their earthly ills are over.

Carol and Cadence, p. 74.

[547] An allusion to Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House.

[548] Cf. “the philosophic beast” of Carol and Cadence, p. 70.

[549] She is now Mrs. Vinter.

[550] Minor, of course, only in the sense that their books are short.

[551] This sonnet appeared subsequently, by permission, in my article on Payne in The Academy, and it has often been reprinted since in the John Payne Society circulars.

[552] See p. 218.

[553] Horace Ep., Bk. I, Ep. XI.

[554] De vivis nil nisi bonum.

[555] Title subsequently altered to its Latin equivalent “Divina non expugnanda.”

[556] Carol and Cadence, p. 48.

[557] Only the latter was used.

[558] Letters to T. W., No. 85.

[559] M. Berger sent me a copy of this work on 4 September, 1912. It has since been translated into English by Mr. Daniel H. Conner, member of the Blake Society.

[560] Letters to T. W., No. 86.

[561] 40, Hyde Park Gate.

[562] Letters to T. W., No. 87.

[563] Letters to T. W., No. 88.