Chapter III

The Masque of Shadows


By 1866 Payne had formed friendships with two very remarkable young men​—​John Trivett Nettleship and Arthur O’Shaughnessy. The three friends, who became inseparable, were denominated “The Triumvirate.” Nettleship, born in 1841, and therefore about twenty-five, was large of stature and of sturdy build, with a thick crop of hair. Artist and mystic, he may be set down as a compound of the grand seigneur, Rabelais and Blake. It was the influence of Blake that led him to make, among similar productions, a painting of God with eyes turned inward upon His own glory. He was by turns tender, fiery, overbearing, violently aggressive, apathetic, and tender again. He could wound. With all his endeavours, success seemed unattainable. Large in stature, he had the big man’s weaknesses. Unlike Giant Despair, he clubbed not his foes but his best friends. His victims, however, continued to love him​—​in a way.

O’Shaughnessy, dreamer and poet, was a slight, frail, very erect Dresden-china looking figure (a thread-paper of a man, Payne called him), with small hands and feet. He was supposed to be a natural son of Lord Lytton the novelist; he was certainly an assistant in the Zoological Department of the British Museum, and few more delightful instances could be given of the square man in the round hole. Whatever he loved, was with “a supreme soul-filling” passion. Yet he understood the value of circumspection, for he says in a letter of 22 May, 1870: “Oh, how bitter and appalling is the thought that, for some little imperfection … for the weakness of a will, the blindness of a doubt … one may lose for ever, perhaps, the fairest and most precious good that might have been ours.” He was chivalrous as Bayard. He irritated his friends by writing in violet ink.

If Nettleship fell upon his friends with clubs, O’Shaughnessy treated his with neglect, allowing them to drift away. Yet, if they showed any inclination to return, he would run more than halfway to meet them. He spent his days among beetles stuck on pins and things in bottles, and his nights with the poets, among whom it was his ambition to be numbered.

To the colour Nettleship took from Rabelais allusion has already been made, but all three men were votaries of this writer. O’Shaughnessy frequently quoted him, usually in French; Payne, as will be seen, wrote not only poems,25 but also an essay on him.

By and by others were added to this little literary circle, and an essay club was formed, which met at the Fetherstone Hotel in Southampton Row, whence its name the Fetherstone Club. The members were: Payne, Nettleship, O’Shaughnessy, E. B. Baxter (who became a doctor), (Sir) H. S. Cotton, (Sir) Edmund W. Byrne (who became a judge), and (Sir) C. J. Lyall. On the programmes were the mysterious letters P.B.Y.O.B., which, however, meant nothing more alarming than, “Please bring your own bloater.” Nettleship read an essay on Browning,26 O’Shaughnessy on Criticism, Payne on Rabelais, and Lyall on Hafiz. Payne used to say that the seven men who were comprised in this little society were all of different nationalities. At that time Wagner was unknown in England, and Payne arranged some of that musician’s operas for the cosmopolitan septette.27 Indeed, it was largely owing to his efforts that Wagner eventually obtained vogue in this country.

Payne, O’Shaughnessy, and Nettleship were frequent guests at Mr. (afterwards Dr.) Richard Garnett’s, St. Edmund’s Terrace, near Primrose Hill, and also at Dr. Westland Marston’s28 hard by, and were included in any party given at either house. The good-humoured charge was sometimes made against the three friends of forming a mutual admiration society. Among Payne’s compliments to O’Shaughnessy was a sonnet, with a copy of the Divina Commedia.29 Nettleship, in an undated letter, wrote: “My dear Arthur,​—​Those lines of your Barcarole haunt me. I awoke this morning and the whisper of them was on my ear. The effect was as of a splendid jewelled snake, with cruel eyes, with no heart​—

“… for such a dream as love is lost before the morning.”

I shall make a picture of the lines.​—​Ever your loving, Jack.”

It was alleged of Nettleship, who, in spite of his thick crop of hair, was tormented by a dread of premature baldness, that he might any morning at an early hour be seen walking rapidly round Regent’s Park without his hat and boots. Payne and O’Shaughnessy read their poems to each other, and like other brilliant young men of the period they indulged in long hair, while Payne gloried in a series of ties in pale colours​—​pale lemon, pale blue, and pale cerise being his favourites; and all three admitted an admiration for Charles Wells’s dramatic poem, Joseph and his Brethren.30

Payne used to say that his first literary encouragement was from Anthony Trollope, who accepted for St. Paul’s Magazine a number of his poems. The following is the list:—

“A City Apologue,” December 1867 (Collected Poems, ii. 3).

“Columbus,” May 1868 (not republished).

“The Red Rose,” October 1868 (Collected Poems, ii. 38).

Quia Multum Amavit,” December 1868 (Collected Poems, ii. 17).

“The Search after the Fountain of Jouvence,”31 March-June 1869 (Collected Poems, i. 215).

His poem “A Dream Life” appeared in Temple Bar, March 1868 (Col. Poems, ii. 35). Other of his productions appeared in the St. James’s Magazine, to No. 40 of which periodical he also contributed a review of Blackie’s translation of Faust.

In these poems we see, as it were, two John Paynes​—​first the poet of London, and secondly the Romancer. The most noticeable feature in the “London City Poems,” as they were afterwards called, is pathos. Payne is pre-eminently the poet of London. All his work was done in the great city, and much of that work is influenced by its movement and roar. No poet before him had sung so enthusiastically and so continuously the London which he so dearly loved, and upon which he threw the glamour of his genius. He found London a mere huddle of bricks and mortar, he left it a city of enchantment. We may say of him as he himself said of Summer:

Was ever miracle like thine,

That solvest us of care and pine,

And even to London’s steppes of stone

A glory grantest of thine own?32

He may, indeed, be styled London’s only poet​—​in the sense that almost everything he wrote in the way of original verse (with the exception, of course, of his ballads) concerns the city of his birth.

Of the second Payne, the romancer, whose verses ring “with the golden choirings of the birds”33 we shall speak in subsequent chapters.

The origin of the poem “Quia Multum Amavit” was as follows​:—

One day in November 1868 Payne took his little sister Annie for a walk, and on their way they came upon some men who were dragging the Regent’s Canal. The surroundings were dank, gray, and gloomy. The water was dark and sullen, and presently the body of a woman with the water dripping from her hair and clothes was hauled to the bank. The scene was one which neither the poet nor his sister ever forgot, and “Quia Multum Amavit34 was one of the immediate results.

By 1868 Payne had become acquainted with Ford Madox Brown35 (whose son Oliver,36 though only eleven, had also displayed evidences of genius, both as author and artist), Burne Jones, William Bell Scott the painter-poet, Theodore Watts, who afterwards assumed the name of Watts-Dunton, and Simeon Solomon, who then resided at 12 Fitzroy Street, W.

Ford Madox Brown’s house, 37 Fitzroy Square,37 was big enough for a castle. “It had wide lofty rooms, massive stone staircases, and long underground passages leading to vaults that might have served for dungeons​—​a house haunted by echoes and with winds whispering secrets in its great chambers. Fires roared up the wide-mouthed chimneys.”38 Here Payne and O’Shaughnessy met not only Madox Brown, who with his long beard and pleasing carriage recalled the Florentine masters of old time, but also Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, Joaquin Miller, the American poet, who used to arrive at these gatherings in a bright cowboy shirt, wide-awake, and mud-bespattered riding boots, Christina Rossetti, Miss Mathilde Blind, the translator, and Mrs. William Morris, whose beauty her husband sang and Rossetti painted. Mrs. Morris was “divinely tall,” but no less remarkable than her height were her equally remarkable grace, her heavy dark hair, her full sensitive red lips,

her proud dark eyes

And her petulant quick replies.

There also entered about this time into the life of Nettleship, O’Shaughnessy, and Payne the lovely and pathetic figure of Helen Snee​—​the lady who inspired Payne’s muse as Beatrice had inspired Dante’s and Laura, Petrarch’s. There was this difference​—​whereas Dante woke to perfect song during the lifetime of Beatrice, and Petrarch during the lifetime of Laura​—​it was not until twenty-five years after Helen Snee’s death that Payne (though previously she had inspired his pen39) issued his beautiful Carol and Cadence, in which her loveliness, her personal charm, her intellectual gifts, and her pathetic fate are sung in deathless numbers. Payne himself recognized the remarkable resemblance between his worship of the idealized Helen and Dante’s worship of the idealized Beatrice.

Helen Matthews, for that was her maiden name, was born in London on 15 June, 1845.40 At an early age she married a Mr. Noble, who took her to Spain. He died abroad, and on 25 September, 1866, at the age of twenty-two, she was married in St. Paul’s Church, in the parish of St. Pancras, to Mr. Frederick Snee, a traveller for Messrs. Bass, the brewers of Stoke-on-Trent. They resided in Camden Town, and apparently at the house, 42 St. Augustine’s Road, from which Mrs. Noble was married. Mr. Snee, a tiny, bearded, extremely methodical, genuinely religious, and remarkably affectionate man, was greatly attached to his wife, but his business often kept him from home. In religion he was a Protestant, and apparently a member of the Church of England. Mrs. Snee was nominally a Roman Catholic.

He spoke French fluently, and his duties sometimes carried him to Paris, where in the latter part of his life he resided, and he travelled in most of the western countries of Europe. He had some knowledge of German and Latin, and subsequently taught himself Greek. He was a lover of English literature, and especially of the works (both in poetry and prose) of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, whom he often quoted, and a fair musician, but he evidently sang indifferently, for we are told that he used to load the piano with popular songs which he sang “perfectly out of tune.” He was an enthusiastic philatelist, and had a fine collection of postage stamps. He had a vein of humour, he loved conundrums, and was never happier than when asking or guessing them.

Mrs. Snee was also small and slight in stature. Her amber hair fell “in clustering curls,” and she had “a passionate sensitive face” and bright gray eyes. By the witchery of her manner she fascinated​—​hypnotized all who came into her company. She was all melody and poetry, and beauty and grace. Payne likened her to a lovely butterfly. She delighted in the conversation of men of genius, and she had herself remarkable literary gifts. Those of her letters that have been preserved41 are the revelation of a highly strung and an abnormally sensitive and impassioned soul. They are studded with striking passages. Like her husband, she spoke French fluently, and was an ardent admirer of the works of Gautier (her “dear Théophile”) and Balzac, to which authors she was recommended by O’Shaughnessy. She says: “I am delighted at your selection of Gautier’s charming stories. I don’t believe there is anyone who would love them so much. How delicious is L’oreiller d’une Jeune Fille and Laquelle de Dent.” Of “Sylvain,” the eighth stripe in La Peau de Tigre, she says “a more delicious fancy never dawned on poet’s imagination.” “May I be pardoned,” she cries penitently, after reading Eugénie Grandet, “for having ever spoken disrespectfully of Balzac!”

Swinburne’s poems42 were constantly at her elbow. “The spirit of Poesy,” she said, “kept suggesting the most glorious things to her.” She could scarcely tear herself away from her books. “I read till I am stupid,” she says, “and still I read.” She revelled in life. At one time she was ambitious to go on the stage. “I have always some new delight,” she once exclaimed. Want of courage was her weakness. “There is nothing to be done with certain troubles,” she said, “except to walk away from them.” She put literature and art above all other pursuits, whence her dictum that “Poets should have no family ties.” “My life,” she once said, “is made of wild fits of delight and pain.”43

Thanks to her letters we see her “gliding” (the expression is her own) in the streets of Camden Town “like a pale ghost in white muslin,” or seated in the twilight reading “tenderly” to herself Keats’s Eve of St. Agnes, which she knew nearly by heart, or losing herself in one of “Gautier’s charming stories,” which makes her cry heartily. She describes her soul as full of delicious sadness, and opening “to the dying summer like a rose.”44

She had three cats, “Tim,” a sphinx; a white one (the gift of O’Shaughnessy), an amiable sleepy ball of thistle down; and a black one, “a lithe and agile familiar,” she says, “who caresses me with violence and keeps her fiery eyes fixed on mine. What passion there is in those sombre jewels!” She goes fishing to please her husband, and between them they catch “twenty-seven little bits,” but her “heart ached for the poor things.”

Her life was sometimes “too bitter to be borne.” She felt that she could “spill it like water.” She had a presentiment that she would die young. Sometimes she was so ill that she could scarcely bear her hair to be dressed, or her pretty new dress put on. There were times when she wished to turn her “pale little tired face to the wall and die.”

How Nettleship, O’Shaughnessy, and Payne became acquainted with the Snees is not revealed​—​it may have been at one of the concerts at Queen’s Hall​—​but they were on terms of friendship early in 1869. The spell of Mrs. Snee is seen in the products of Nettleship’s pencil, and, as we shall see, most of the poetry in O’Shaughnessy’s first volume owes its value almost entirely to her magnetic personality. Possibly Mrs. Snee was a guest at Madox Brown’s castle. If so, she must have met there her rival in the estimation of literary men and artists​—​Mrs. William Morris​—​though there could not have been a greater contrast than between the tall, dusky presence of Mrs. Morris and the petite, fragile, golden-haired “Helen.” Out of this frail-looking, poetical, ethereal woman Payne fabricated a goddess, such as neither earth nor Olympus ever saw, but, as we have already observed, it was not until twenty-five years after her death that the majority of his impassioned poems in praise of her were written. We have likened Payne’s attitude to Mrs. Snee to that of Rossetti towards Mrs. William Morris, whose face appears so frequently on his canvases; but a closer parallel is that offered by Edgar Allan Poe45 and the lady or ladies whom, after their death, he immortalized as Helen, Ulalume, and Annabel Lee. Mrs. Snee’s own attitude towards Payne, as revealed in her published letters, is merely that of respect for a scholar and man of genius, and he is always referred to distantly as “Mr. Payne.”

Early in 1870 O’Shaughnessy decided to issue his poems in book form, and he consulted his friends on the subject of a title for the volume. Payne suggested “something in German.” Mrs. Snee enquired (2 February, 1870): “Do you think Etherea would be a pretty name for the book? Or perhaps Mr. Payne could find some little-known Greek word signifying brain-born, or some Greek equivalent for the German title he proposed. It would be so much prettier all in one word.”

Eventually O’Shaughnessy decided on the title An Epic of Women, and his book was published46 by Hotten on 18 April, 1870. The illustrations, which were fantastic and Blake-like, were from the pencil of Nettleship, and the volume was dedicated to Payne. Almost every page is lighted up with Mrs. Snee’s “heavy golden locks”​—​“the wonder of her hair.” Of her, too, O’Shaughnessy was thinking when he wrote in “Palm Flowers”:

All the perfumes and perfections

Of that clime have met with grace

In her body, and complexions

Of its flowers are on her face.

As it was her loveliness and intellect that first prompted him to write, so she herself is the sole burden of his song.

Other houses at which the Triumvirate were welcome were Sir Thomas and Lady Duffus Hardy’s, Portsdown Road, Maida Vale; J. C. Robinson’s, Gore Street; William Rossetti’s, Endsleigh Gardens; and Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s, 16 Cheyne Walk. At D. G. Rossetti’s they met Christina Rossetti, Edward John Trelawny, R. H. Home, and Theodore Watts (Watts-Dunton), to say nothing of the racoon, which swallowed and apparently enjoyed “a shillingsworth of prussic acid,” the armadillo, the zebu, the wombat, and other uncanny beasts that happened for the moment to be ranging this lively establishment. The wombat which devoured the contents of a valuable box of cigars, and which had a friendly habit of nestling against visitors and nibbling their legs, died young, and Rossetti was the recipient of quite a number of condolences, all of them more or less insincere. The conversations often took place in the Green Dining-room, among the languorous beauties on Rossetti’s canvases. Of the talkers Payne was most attracted by E. J. Trelawny,47 then a striking old man with a white beard. This, together with his hawk nose and deeply-recessed eyes, and his fine figure, made him look like a viking. He always went stockingless, and he loved of a morning to bathe in ice-cold water. He had been the friend of Byron and Shelley, of whom he told extraordinary tales. As he spoke, the ghosts of the two poets and of Mary Shelley48 and Claire Clairmont seemed to glide about one. He had also known Peacock, whom he hated, and Godwin, whom he underrated. He used to say that a man with an iron will could force his way anywhere. He had an iron will, but there was nowhere in particular that he wanted to go. But if he made no name in literature (though he could write the most virile English), he was a more magnetic figure than most of the great ones with whom he mingled. Everybody wanted to meet the vigorous old Spartan. Between Payne and Shelley there was much in common, and Payne was glad through the medium of Trelawny to come close to a poet whose music he admired, and with whose attitude towards life he sympathized.

Mr. St. Clair Baddeley, who met Payne at William Rossetti’s, says49: “I was struck by his foreign appearance and electric ardour and power of expression, which seemed almost to give shocks to the subdued vivacity of that literary abode. I had lately been in France and Italy, so it seemed refreshing to me, but still it gave me no rest. Madox Brown was there, and didn’t get a word in edgeways. Trelawny called Payne a mosquito.”

That Payne​—​the shyest of men​—​should, when in company, and when he forgot himself, easily, by his ardour, dominate any gathering in which he took part will seem surprising to those who did not know him personally. Many instances, however, similar to the one recorded by Mr. Baddeley could be advanced.

In the meantime Payne had prepared for the press the volume of Sonnets which was subsequently published with the title of Intaglios. They were written mainly in 1868 and 1869, and the MS. was in the publisher’s hands50 at the end of the latter year. There were, however, long delays, and when on 19 July, 1870, war broke out between France and Germany the book was stopped.51 Curious to say not only was Payne’s first volume of poems stopped by a war between France and Germany, but his last volume also, as will be seen, was stopped by the outbreak of war between the same two countries​—​the Great War which ultimately involved most of the world.

In the meantime Payne had sent to the press another volume of poems, to which he had given the title of The Masque of Shadows,52 which he dedicated to O’Shaughnessy. It appeared in September 1870, and it contained four poems: “The Masque of Shadows,” “The Rime of Redemption,” “The Building of the Dream,” and “The Romance of Sir Floris.” The opening poem is the story of the wanderings of a “gray ghost”​—​a shadow among shadowy temples, vistas

Of colonnades and peristyles,

Prolonged and joined for endless miles,

shadowy trees and shadowy flowers in a land where a shadow sun rises from shadow depths. Watts-Dunton once said to me: “If you want to know whether a man is a true poet, ask yourself whether he sees things just as they are, or whether he looks at things through a poetic gauze.53 Mr. Payne answers to the test, and he is therefore a true poet.”

“The Rime of Redemption,” which is by turns a seething sea of poetry and a rushing mighty whirlwind, places Payne in the very first rank of ballad writers. It is the most terrific fantasy in the language.

On its first perusal the reader, while thrilled to the marrow​—​stirred to the bottom of his soul​—​may ask whether feelings so high-wrought ought to have been permitted expression. There they are, however, poured out hissing hot, and still hissing; but it must be borne in mind that they are those, not of the author, but of the dramatis personæ presented by him.

“The Building of the Dream” tells how Squire Ebhart learnt from a magic scroll that if he were to ride forth under certain conditions he would reach a place where he would see realized the dreams of his youth. After various adventures he comes to a throne on which is seated a beauteous lady—

Whoever had the kiss

Of her red lips kiss’d never woman more,

Having attained the shore

Of that supernal bliss the ancients sought

So long.

In her company his soul is steeped in ravishment, but the joy proves too great for him. The ineffable bliss is harder to bear than the preceding woes. He tells his mind to the lady, she with sadness permits him to depart, and he dies. The poem is crowded with beauties, nor could it be otherwise, descriptive as it is of a land where the white moon pours “full hands of pearl upon the breezy moors,” and where the starry lily petals unfold beneath their “golden-gauffred green.”

“The Romance of Sir Floris” is equally rich in striking pictures. Now and again an unusual word is used, but always with effect, as in the description of the magic boat with its “prow of cymophane,” and in the couplet:

The flowers seemed zaffirin54 and blue,

And crystal-clear with wonder dew.

These poems reveal the influence on Payne of the German ballad-writers, especially Bürger, whose “Lenore” was at the time very popular in this country.

Among those to whom Payne sent copies were Joseph Knight, the literary critic, who was described by Lord Lytton as “the most conscientious reviewer in England,”55 Browning, Matthew Arnold, Madox Brown, D. G. Rossetti,56 and Swinburne. In a letter to O’Shaughnessy of 27 September, 1870, Knight says: “I see your work is dedicated to Mr. Payne, from whom I received a volume of poems of high merit. Flattered as I was by its receipt, I never acknowledged it for the reason that I was stupid enough not to be able to ascertain who was the sender until the time for writing was past.” Knight and Payne subsequently became friends, and Knight was in the habit of praising Payne’s work whenever opportunity offered.

D. G. Rossetti wrote on 7 November, 1870:

My Dear Payne,—

“You see I’ve scratched out Sir, which I hope you will let drop between us. Will you dine with me on Wednesday at 7? I’ve asked O’Shaughnessy and Knight. Nettleship, I suppose, must be given up for the present.

“When I last met you I had hardly any knowledge of your volume, which I had only just succeeded in borrowing from Madox Brown. I now have to thank you for the copy so kindly sent, and need not say my acquaintance with it is largely increased, though I have not yet read the last poem. Of the three I have read, I think on the whole ‘The Building of the Dream’ is my favourite, though the metre of the ‘Masque’ seems to be much better suited to a poem of any length. On the other hand, the ‘Rime of Redemption’ has incomparably the finest groundwork of the three as regards its subject, … In the B. of D., the description of the fairy lady is worthy of the finest examples of this kind of romance, and the incidental song is exquisite in structure. This (as, indeed, the others are too) is full of imaginative picture work to quite a remarkable degree and conveys most notably that sense of the poet’s self-enjoyment which is indispensable to the enjoyment of the tender. Much more in this direction I might say … But I am sure you will be best pleased by my giving my whole opinion on your work. I think then that the pouring forth of poetical material is the greatest danger against which an affluent imagination has to contend, and in my own view it needs not only a concrete form of some kind, but immense concentration brought to bear on that also, before material can be said to have become absolutely anything else. If this is neglected the time is apt to come soon when the poet finds that he has written as much as anyone can ever read, the work being, in fact, what ought on another plan of production to have occupied his lifetime. Self-repetition is certainly the quality which must be absolutely eradicated from work before it can be looked upon as finally dealt with, and nothing but the most complete attention will ever eradicate this. I hope I do not seem presumptuous in undertaking to indicate solely on grounds of study​—​not of personal pretension on my part​—​what seems to me to be perhaps your rock ahead. … I should be very much interested to see the Ballads and Poems you announce, as well as the Sonnets, since I judge these must belong to the order of work on which I should expect you finally to rely for success. Will you bring something with you on Wednesday (if, as I hope, you can come then) and read it to us?

“Ever yours,

D. G. Rossetti.”

On 23 October, 1870, Ford Madox Brown wrote:

My Dear Mr. Payne,—

“I trust my long silence with respect to your poems which you so kindly sent me may not be interpreted as want of sympathy with them. When Mr.57 Garnett sent me the book I was on the point of starting for the North, and I was unwilling to write and thank you without having first perused the volume. Since, we have read the book more than once, and with increased conviction of the high merits of it as poetry and the extraordinary mastery it displays in the matter of versification and melody. A remarkable instance of this is the song in ‘The Building of the Dream,’ which is as delightful in cadence to the ear as it is beautiful to look at as a piece of decorative painting. The sonnet at the beginning has given all who have read it most unbounded satisfaction. Dr. Hueffer58 last night dictated (straight off) a very beautiful and faithful translation of it into German. The two central poems, ‘The Rime of Redemption’ and ‘The Building of the Dream,’ have the most hold on our sympathies. ‘The Rime of Redemption’ both for sustained ring of melody and completeness of excitement carried on in story is perhaps the one that gives most satisfaction.

“I should wish to arrange some evening on which the other poets, Rossetti, Morris,59 etc., could meet you here. Would next Wednesday or Thursday suit you, should I be able to secure the chief of the others for the same night?”

Mrs. Snee, writing to O’Shaughnessy 24 October, 1870, says: “Don’t omit to thank Mr. Payne for me for his kindness and courtesy in sending me the book. I am very sensible of the honour, and shall prize it greatly.”

We find D. G. Rossetti inviting O’Shaughnessy, Payne, and Joseph Knight to dine with him on Thursday, 17 November; and on 28 November Madox Brown writes to Payne: “The drawing I promised to let you see before it goes off is finished. Could you dine here at 7 on Wednesday? I will ask O’Shaughnessy and Sidney Colvin,60 who wishes to meet you.”

Browning acknowledged the receipt of his copy of The Masque of Shadows on 11 June, 1871, describing the poems as “a gift indeed to be thankful for.”

As we said, a copy of The Masque of Shadows was sent to Swinburne, who had also received a copy of An Epic of Women. Thirty-five years later Swinburne said to me: “I well remember the incident. Two young poets sent me their first volumes, O’Shaughnessy and Payne. O’Shaughnessy’s had no merit,61 but I saw at once that Payne was a true poet. His ‘Rime of Redemption’ is a masterpiece.” Payne was desirous of making Swinburne’s acquaintance, and the following note written by Madox Brown from 37 Fitzroy Square on (Friday) 7 July, 1871, is therefore of interest: “My dear Payne,—​I think I have heard you say you would like to meet Swinburne. He has promised to be here Sunday. If not otherwise engaged we shall be glad if you will look in about 9.” Payne took advantage of the opportunity, consequently the two poets first met on Sunday, 9 July, 1871, and a friendship at once sprang up between them.

In the meantime the elder Payne and his family had removed from London to Shrubhill House, Box,62 Wiltshire, a lone but pretty spot where the three counties of Wilts, Gloucester and Somerset meet, close to Box Tunnel. Adjoining the house was a beautiful garden, which went down in terraces to an orchard. Here “dear old Aunty Payne” joined them, and here she died at the great age of eighty-eight. John used to go to Shrubhill, Box, for the apple gathering, and we have recollections of that season in “The Building of the Dream” (“Toss’d seas of apple snow”),63 and in other poems.

“Tell mamma,” he once wrote, “to have plenty of puppies and babies to roll down the grassy banks.” He used to climb into the apple trees, and his sisters Frances, Annie, and Nora were expected to take the fruit from his hands and dance attendance on him generally. But he was dictatorial and impatient. “I shall not call you separately,” he said, “so I will give you one name to include all three​—​Fanora. When I call Fanora, the nearest one is to come.” And she had to.

One of the most noticeable features in Payne’s character was his extreme​—​his painful​—​shyness. For example, Browning once invited him to his house in De Vere Gardens, Hyde Park Gate, and Payne went, but on seeing a number of carriages at the door he was so overcome by this particular weakness that he turned round and walked straight home again. Wherever he went this troublesome characteristic accompanied him. Thus although he often travelled on the continent with his three sisters (and a big bag), and although he spoke French fluently, he would force Nora, and even Frances​—​though she was then only a schoolgirl​—​to ask the way, make purchases, etc., in French. At hotels he would, if possible, have a bedroom that could be approached only through the apartment occupied by his sisters. Indeed, he was never comfortable unless there was a barrier of some kind between himself and the world. Their travels took them to Germany, Holland, Belgium, and Switzerland. He knew every stone in Belgium and South Germany, and its literary association. Another of his characteristics was his excessively impassioned temperament. His friends recall the violent way in which he gave expression to his ultra-conservatism, with the result, occasionally, of giving deep offence to men of more moderate views. Once, when he and his sisters were crossing the Mer de Glace at the top of Mont Blanc, he stopped and wrote on the ground with his alpen-stock, “Damn Bright and Gladstone.” But standing on the roof of Europe he was not solely occupied in airing his political leanings. The ice, the snow, the panorama spread before him found reflection subsequently in that series of poems on mountain and hill that form so conspicuous a feature in his various volumes of original poetry.64 His muse, like lunary, revelled on the heights. The letters written in the snow must have been obliterated within a few moments, but his poems will endure as long as Mont Blanc himself.

Then, too, he had a peculiar and pawky humour, which manifested itself wherever he went and whatsoever the topic of conversation. In the Museum at Amsterdam he was particularly interested in an enormous iguanodon. At Haarlem the hotels were overcrowded, and the chops with which the party was served proved not only very large, but very tough. Payne, pointing with a fork to one of them, exclaimed solemnly, “Iguanodon chops.”

Thanks to a lithe body and an ardent temperament he was a very rapid walker. He tore through the streets of the different towns they visited with tremendous strides. His sister Nora would be just behind him, Annie behind her, and Frances round the last corner, trying not to catch them up (that was hopeless), but to keep them in view if possible. If he did not lose his sisters it was not his fault. And so they did the continent.

Sometimes his eagerness and unbridled impatience produced inconvenient sequels. On one occasion he and his sisters had been walking and riding all day in the neighbourhood of Bruges (Bruges being especially tiring owing to its cobbles), and he had not allowed them to have a meal, simply because he himself had not wanted one. They arrived dead tired and ravenously hungry at the quaint little Hôtel de l’Univers, and seated themselves for dinner, but there was rum in the pudding (that was the finishing touch), and Frances had no sooner tasted it than she went into a dead faint. Nora rang the bell, the landlady, plump and voluble, ran in and water was demanded and obtained. Payne, sincerely troubled, made impracticable suggestions, and the landlady, who looked on anxiously, exclaimed from time to time: “S’est-elle remis de son evanouissement?” (Has she got over her fainting fit?).

The following year the sightseeing was conducted on precisely the same lines. Again Payne, with his seven league boots, and lost to everything but the associations of the place, strode maniacally about the country, his sisters toilsomely following in the near or dim distance. Once more, dog-tired, they reached the same hotel, there was the same plump, voluble landlady, the same table, the same chair in which Frances had fainted. As before, the whole party was famished. Frances remembered the incident of the fainting, and turning to Nora said, “I won’t sit in that chair.”

“Superstition!” said Nora scornfully, “then I will.” But she had no sooner seated herself than she in her turn went off into a dead faint.

The landlady, putting up her hands in confusion, cried out: “Les dames anglaises​—​se sont encore une fois évanouies” (The English ladies have again fainted). Payne’s impracticable suggestions, the bringing of water, and the other accessories of the previous occasion were all repeated; and it ultimately dawned on Payne that to take one’s sisters about on the continent is not unattended with responsibility.

“In every country we visited,” says Mrs. Byam, “he ordered the national wine and dish​—​his favourite being perdrix aux choux,65 and whether we liked it or not we had to have it.”

As regards religion, Payne, though an ardent admirer of the Bible, the rhythm and beauty of which he was never tired of extolling, and though both in poem and conversation a eulogist of the life and teaching of our Lord, was not in the habit of attending a place of worship. When his sister Frances said that she liked to attend a place of worship he commented: “Quite right, you need it. Ordinary people do. I don’t.” In these early days he was an Emersonian, later he embraced the ideas of Schopenhauer, whence, says he, “I found an abiding harbour for my soul in the spiritual uplands of the Vedanta.”66 Later, he simply described himself as a pantheist. That the views of the pantheist would, however, receive large acceptance he did not believe. “Abstract truths,” he said, “the mysteries of the ideal are not to be understanded of the vulgar.”

He was young in appearance, and always “kept a very young heart.” He liked bright colours, and he wore an orange tie passed through a gold ring. A magenta handkerchief usually peeped out of his side pocket.

[25] E.g. “Rabelais,” in Vigil and Vision, p. 59.

[26] Published in 1868. British Museum Press Mark 11824 b40.

[27] See also Songs of Life and Death, Introductory poem, and the Wagner sonnets in Vigil and Vision.

[28] Mrs. Garnett’s mother and Mrs. Marston were sisters. Dr. Marston’s son was the blind poet, Philip Bourke Marston.

[29] Collected Poems, ii. p. 173.

[30] See the edition of this work in The World’s Classics, p. xx.

[31] Appears in Collected Poems as “The Fountain of Youth.”

[32] Carol and Cadence, p. 103.

[33] “Fountain of Youth,” Collected Poems, vol. i.

[34] Collected Poems, ii. 17, where the woman is represented as having been “found drowned below Waterloo Bridge.” Her name is given as Eliza Farrell.

[35] Ford Madox Brown was twice married. He married in 1840 Elizabeth Bromley, and in 1848 Emma Hill, a girl of fifteen. He had three children​—​Lucy (m. William Rossetti), Catherine (m. Dr. Hueffer), and Oliver.

[36] He died 5 November, 1874. See Payne’s Collected Poems, ii. 308, and the Biography of O. M. Brown, by J. H. Ingram, 1883.

[37] The historic house where Thackeray lodged Colonel Newcombe.

[38] Arthur O’Shaughnessy, by Louise Chandler Moulton, 1894.

[39] Some of the poems in Songs of Life and Death and in New Poems seem to have been inspired by her.

[40] According to her gravestone in Kensal Green Cemetery (Roman Catholic). This would make her 34 years 10 months at date of her death. According to her death certificate she was 35 at that date. If the latter is correct she must have been born 15 June, 1844.

[41] The originals are now in the possession of Mr. Thomas James Wise. Most are on white paper, one is on buff, a few are on black-edged white paper, and some have her husband’s monogram F and S entangled. The early letters were written with a fine pen, the later with a thick one.

[42] Poems and Ballads, 1st Series.

[43] Letter, 19 June, 1871.

[44] 27 July, 1870.

[45] Payne and Ingram, the biographer of Poe, became, as will be seen, intimate friends.

[46] Five hundred copies were printed and O’Shaughnessy paid £35 on account, 420 were sold by 21 February, 1873, when the bill amounted to £101 12s. 5d. The 420 copies sold at 3s. 6d., less certain charges, came to £73 10s. The balance due to the publisher was therefore £28 2s. 5d.

[47] He died 13 August, 1881.

[48] She died in 1851.

[49] Letter of Mr. Baddeley to me, 8 September, 1918. By the same post, curiously, I heard from William Rossetti, who was then “close upon eighty-nine and very infirm both in hearing and eyesight and otherwise.”

[50] Basil Montagu Pickering, 196 Piccadilly.

[51] Payne told me this at my second interview with him, 19 October, 1904.

[52] Publisher, Basil Montagu Pickering, 196 Piccadilly.

[53] Wagner quotes Schiller as saying of “Something,” “that it alone is true because it never was.” Letter to Mathilde Wesendonck, pp. 96, 97.

[54] Zaffre is a cobalt used for painting on glass.

[55] Letter to O’Shaughnessy, 8 July, 1874.

[56] Inscription “Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Esq., a token (such as it is) of admiration of Mr. Rossetti’s genius.”

[57] Afterwards Dr.

[58] Franz Hueffer (1845–1889) took degree Ph.D. at Göttingen in 1869. He married in 1872 Catherine, younger daughter of Madox Brown. A distinguished musical critic, he published in 1874 his remarkable book, Richard Wagner and the Music of the Future.

[59] William Morris.

[60] Now Sir Sidney Colvin.

[61] Swinburne was far too sweeping. In this work O’Shaughnessy showed himself a poet of considerable promise.

[62] The house is still standing.

[63] Collected Poems, i. p. 80.

[64] See especially Vigil and Vision, pp. 14, 15.

[65] Partridges and cabbage.

[66] See his remarks on the Vedas, pref. to Omar Kheyyam, p. xlv., and his sonnet “Vedantasara,” in Vigil and Vision, p. 97.