Chapter V

Trial of Mrs. Snee. Villon and New Poems


Payne’s long promised visit to Paris took place in 1873, and he stayed with Mallarmé. Madame Mallarmé taught Payne cookery, and he became an expert in the art, and thenceforward, to his great joy, he could himself prepare for the table his favourite perdrix aux choux. Mallarmé took him to see De Banville and Leconte de Lisle.85 Théodore De Banville, Payne described to me as very bald, clean shaven, and young looking​—​one of the best and kindest men he ever knew. To Payne’s amusement, Alphonse Lemerre, the publisher, used to tap De Banville on the chest, and say, with one tap for each syllable, “The-o-ville de Ban-dore.” Payne translated more of De Banville’s poems into English,86 and the two friends continued to correspond.

Payne used to describe Charles Marie Leconte de Lisle as a “big man with a sculptural head, and a large impressive face​—​an intellectual Cromwell​—​for he was of the Huguenot type​—​a marble colossus​—​a monument of impermeability​—​no man could get at him​—​and his handwriting was characteristic of him.”

Leconte de Lisle, who had seen Payne’s first three volumes (one of which, Intaglios, his sister had translated into French prose), once said to Payne, “I admire Swinburne, but when he is translated into French nothing is left of him but mere words​—​all the charm evaporates; when, however, I translate you the fundamental thought remains and is striking.”

Payne also met Catulle Mendès (who took him to see Victor Hugo), François Coppée, Henri Cazalis, Maurice Bouchor,87 Auguste Vitu, the theatrical critic and writer on Villon, Anatole France, Judith Gautier (daughter of the great Théophile), Villiers de L’Isle Adam,88 Jules La Forgue, Emile Blémont,89 and Augusta Holmes.

Victor Hugo once said of Payne: “He knows French literature better than any Frenchman.”

In 1873 O’Shaughnessy married Eleanor, elder daughter of Dr. Westland Marston; and Payne’s sister Annie became the wife of Mr. John Mostyn Pritchard. Mr. and Mrs. Pritchard resided for a few years at 29 Queen’s Gate. The debt Payne owed to his sister Annie cannot be estimated. He was proud of her appearance, for she was very beautiful. People turned round to look at her. And yet her looks were only a secondary consideration. To her brother she was both sibyl and critic. She listened with rapt attention to his poems, she advised, she prophesied success. Every stab which he received wounded her; every victory filled her heart with joy. But she was not only a devoted friend to her brother, she was also a woman of real insight and exquisite taste. Her criticisms of his work revealed a lofty and cultured mind. Writing to me, 7 April, 1916, and referring to these early years, she said: “He spent whole days out of doors walking, really long distances, talking or reading nearly the whole time to me. I was deeply attached to him; and recognized his real genius.” She was truly the Golden Sister.

Nora, the second sister, I met at Mrs. Pritchard’s. She was kind, generous, and thoroughly good at heart,90 but she was also masterful and unconciliatory. Payne, who was always short with her, called her “Napoleon.” She was indeed too much like her brother for them to be continuously on the best of terms, though for his genius she had an immense admiration. She loved him with a love that was more than love, and never lost an opportunity of sticking pins into him.

The third and youngest sister, Frances (Mrs. Byam), who in appearance strikingly resembles her brother John, it is my privilege to number among my most intimate friends​—​the bond having been in the first instance our common admiration for the genius of her brother; but I came to value her, as would anyone, for her own sake. Her vivacity is among her outstanding characteristics. Her company wakes in those who meet her all their finer instincts, and I think her brother also felt that influence, though he must often have smiled, as I too have smiled, at her curious and unwarrantable foible of self-detraction.

With most of his kinsfolk, however (nay, with all at certain times), John had differences, and once in a moment of irritation he said “God sends friends, the devil sends relatives.”

In 1874 Payne produced A Study of Rabelais, which is still in manuscript. It contains some forcible writing. Describing the condition of Europe at the close of the fifteenth century, he says: “Popes and priests sold passes to heaven for the gold that should enable them to convert earth into hell. The clear day of loving faith in God and confidence in His goodness had faded out before the mists of the ages; and in its stead reigned the hopeless night​—​a night black with unimaginable horrors, foul with awful larvæ of bygone beliefs. God seemed to have deserted the people, and they turned to Devil-worship.” Prophet after prophet had failed to dispel this darkness. Then arose Rabelais, and he with his “noble, frank, and joyous faith in nature and humanity” did not fail. Of Rabelais’ object in writing his masterpiece, Payne says: “He proposed to construct upon the basis of a popular legend and in the guise of an allegorical romance a monumental work that should contain the quintessence of human wisdom brought to bear upon the ills and sufferings of the time.” Friar John (the first great character in Rabelais), “who cannot sleep comfortably at night if he have not in the day done some heroic action,” Payne considers to be a portrait of Rabelais himself. Pantagruel (the second great character) is styled “a truly kingly figure, whose voice is ever heard above the roar of the tempest and through the blackness of the night, crying ‘Courage, friends, I see land. I see the day beginning to break.’” Panurge (the third great character) is declared to be “one of the most humorous and original figures ever drawn.” Payne accentuates the fact that Rabelais in his Prologue invites people to search deeply for the meaning under the outer shell of buffoonery, whence the book is to be compared to the grotesque statues of Silenus, which, being opened, were found to contain golden images of the gods.” The essay is accompanied by an outline of Rabelais’ life (1483​–​1553) and an account of the martyrdom of Rabelais’ great friend Etienne Dolet,91 who was burnt alive in Paris in 1543.

About this time Payne had a kindness for Emma Lucy, daughter92 of Madox Brown (she too was a painter), and she certainly had for him a genuine regard; but on 31 March, 1874, she exchanged, as one of Payne’s friends said, “a tongue of flame for an icicle,” becoming the wife of William Rossetti. The episode had been on Payne’s part merely a brief intoxication. A few bitter epigrams93 at the expense of the bridegroom and of women in general, and all was forgotten.

On 5 November, 1874, died, at the age of seventeen, her half-brother, that Chatterton of Art, Oliver Madox Brown. Broken by the shock, Ford Madox Brown withdrew from society, and his house ceased to be a meeting-place for lovers of the Muses. “Hardly a soul came near it.”94 Payne commemorated the sad event by an “In Memoriam” poem.95

In 1875 we find Payne on terms of friendship with Max Eberstadt and George Lewis,96 who was married to Eberstadt’s sister, and he was often a guest at Lewis’s town house, 88 Portland Place, and at his country home, Ashley Cottage, Walton-on-Thames.

In these early days Payne was a partner in the firm of Newman and Payne, their place of business being 13 Clifford’s Inn. In 1875 Payne, who was regarded as a very clever lawyer in conveyancing and chancery practice, dissolved partnership with Newman, and removed to 3 Clifford’s Inn, where he employed as clerk Mr. Coulson Mead, a young man, who remained with him for twenty years, as long indeed as he continued to practise, and who was in touch with him for many years afterwards. Of Payne’s extreme kindness to and consideration for Mr. Mead, who was devoted to his chief, many instances could be cited. Payne, indeed, as a giver was most generous in individual cases.

It must have been about this time that Payne entered upon the resolve to translate into English the poems of the famous French robber-poet, Villon. By the middle of 1875 he had made considerable progress with the work. In May of that year we find him writing to Madox Brown in behalf of a friend in order to enquire the price for a painting of some children. In the reply, 29 May, Madox Brown invited Payne to dine at Fitzroy Square on the following day. He says: “We shall be quite alone and very glad to see you again, though you can understand that those who remind us most intimately of our poor boy are more hard to face than greater strangers.”

On 3 June Madox Brown tells Payne that he will be glad to hear some of the translations from Villon, and adds that he believes it will be a great treat to Philip Marston to hear them also. The price for the portraits of the children had proved prohibitive. “Thank you,” wrote Madox Brown, “for the trouble you gave yourself about the portraits, but I am not surprised at the result, for, you see, persons who do not buy pictures have always a difficulty to realize the fact that a row of good pictures may cost more than a row of good houses. It requires to be inured to the practice of giving such prices by little and little. P.S.​—​Of late I never leave Mrs. Brown long by herself of an evening, but I dare say there will be enough [in the Villon] that is readable for ladies’ ears without the more objectionable passages.”

For twelve months Payne had neither seen nor heard anything of Mrs. Snee, when in April 1876 the shocking news reached him that she had been arrested on a serious charge. Subsequent to September 1875 she and her husband had resided at 48 Crowndale Road, Camden Town. Her health had broken down, she was often in great pain, and her mind was unhinged. For long she had made a study of chemistry, and the desire to commit suicide sometimes came upon her. That she had ever really decided to take her life she herself strenuously denied, but she evidently wished to have by her a drug or some other medium which would enable her in a moment of intolerable agony to pass out of existence without anyone being able to suspect the cause. So she inserted in the Daily Telegraph for 18 February, 1876, the following advertisement: “To medical men in need of money, or students well up in chemistry and anatomy. A gentleman engaged in an interesting experiment is willing to give liberal remuneration for professional assistance.​—​W.Q., Post Office, Junction Road, Kentish Town, N.W.”

A young medical student, William Kingston Vance, replied. She indicated her need, promising a solatium of £100, and signed her name William Quarll. A correspondence followed, but one of the letters, by mischance, found its way to the Dead Letter Office, and was opened by the police. As a result both the student and Mrs. Snee were arrested. The news no sooner spread than her old friends gathered staunchly round her. O’Shaughnessy and Payne consulted with Mr. Snee, and offered all possible help (Nettleship was away on his wedding tour),97 and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy wrote to Mrs. Snee letters full of sympathy as might be expected from a tender-hearted woman to a sister in distress. Payne, who acted as Mrs. Snee’s attorney, wrote on 25 April, 1876, from 20 North Row, Park Lane, to O’Shaughnessy: “I have been since at work almost day and night in preparing for her defence. There can be no doubt, to those who know her, of her innocence; but fortune has been so cruel to her that it will be terribly uphill work to force conviction on strangers. I cannot tell what a cruel sorrow the poor little soul’s misfortune is to me; but you no doubt feel it equally.”

The first hearing took place at Bow Street on 21 April. On 25 April Mrs. Snee wrote to O’Shaughnessy: “I fear my unfortunate accomplice, whom I saw for the first time when he was charged with me at Scotland Yard, will be utterly ruined through me. I have resolved to touch nothing but bread and water, or sometimes coffee, until he too shall be free. I feel that nothing I can do can atone for the mischief I have done. He wrote many uncalled-for letters, and after a time they grew purely scientific, in fact on toxicology, which always somehow possessed a magnetic attraction for me, as anything relating in the slightest degree to chemistry always had.

Payne wrote to O’Shaughnessy on 27 April: “You are right in supposing that the incessant work that has been necessary has been a great solace; indeed, it has been the one thing which has kept my heart from breaking, and I can indeed appreciate the terrible addition to your grief the feeling of helplessness must be. But, nevertheless, I have comfort for you; the little soul has rallied in an extraordinary manner, and is wonderfully well and cheerful (I have just come from her), especially since I have procured permission to supply her with books and other little comforts, and, in particular (you will smile even in the midst of your misery), since I obtained leave for her to have a complete change of dress, etc., so that she might be properly dressed to-morrow [second hearing at Bow Street]. They brought her away, as she says, in an old dress almost in rags, and it is a natural womanly feeling to be glad to be neat and nice again. I am much more sanguine than I was about the case, and I do hope to resist a committal to-morrow.

The same day Mr. Snee wrote to O’Shaughnessy:

“My dear Mr. O’Shaughnessy,—

“It is kind of you to try to cheer me in my misery. I have seen Helen again; she seems well in health, and was touched at hearing you had been to Clerkenwell. The sympathy that meets me at every turn is most cheering and needed. My heart is there between cold walls​—​a lifeless automaton is here. Many such days will kill me. Be assured I perfectly appreciate your suffering also.”

The second hearing took place at Bow Street on 28 April.

Writing next day from the House of Detention to O’Shaughnessy, Mrs. Snee98 says: “I have had a new light altogether and see that with ceaseless activity of hands and brains I have lost, wasted, and misapplied every faculty. If I escape from this terrible pass I mean to devote myself wholly and solely first to my dear husband, who has behaved so nobly, and then entirely to domestic duties and works of charity. … I shall seek emotion and excitement no more​—​not even of the most purely intellectual or artistic kind. It has been given to me to see what few see in this world, the robe of conventionalisms stripped off those I love, and the divine glory of the spirit revealed in full and overpowering radiance; I fall on my knees and worship this revelation. My heart is full to bursting with love and gratitude. I have dear George Herbert’s poems to comfort me, and fine needlework when I wish to sew.”

Payne wrote to O’Shaughnessy on 30 April: “I have been so unwell that I have not stirred out since I came home yesterday, but be sure I will bear up by sheer force of will and not break down. I understand Mr. Snee explained to you on Saturday what had taken place. The matter is not so bad as the newspaper reports make it out, although it is most distressing not to be able to get our poor little friend out of prison. … I, of course, saw her on Saturday afternoon, and found her at first much depressed, but I think I managed to cheer her up by showing her how anxious we were about her, and how unremitting would be our efforts to rescue her from her cruel position.”

The third hearing at Bow Street took place on 5 May, when the prisoners were committed for trial “for unlawfully conspiring to kill and murder” Helen Snee.

While Mrs. Snee was in Newgate she was treated with the utmost consideration, and the letters which she received from her husband and Mr. and Mrs. O’Shaughnessy gave her inexpressible comfort. Payne, as her attorney, was able to see her in prison almost every day. She read books of biography, history, and travels, and anything about animals. Her one trouble was “the dead and awful silence” of the prison, but the regime was distinctly beneficial to her health.

The trial took place on Wednesday, 31 May, and Thursday, 1 June, before Mr. Justice Mellor. Nothing could be proved against Mrs. Snee except that she wished to procure certain drugs, or against the student except that he was prepared to supply them. The jury brought both prisoners in guilty​—​“for unlawfully conspiring to kill and murder” Helen Snee, but recommended both to mercy. They took the view that Mrs. Snee was a romantic lady and that her dabbling in the science and literature of suicide was mere dilettantism. The judge passed a sentence of eighteen months on Vance. In passing sentence on Mrs. Snee, he said (as reported in The Times): “As to the female prisoner, looking only at the circumstances, though there might be suspicions behind, he regarded her in the light of an unfortunate lady who had been tempted either by illness, the ennui of life, or some other motive; but he was willing to take her case on the supposition that there was nothing more sinister behind it. She herself knew whether the whole truth of this matter had been discovered. But he should treat her simply on the evidence before him. It appeared she was an accomplished woman, with literary tastes, and having many inducements not to quarrel with the world. In the circumstances he should be failing in his duty if he passed on her a lighter sentence than imprisonment for six calendar months.”

This was forty-two years ago. It is certain that at the present day justice would have been attempered with a far larger admixture of mercy.

The public deeply sympathized with Mrs. Snee, regarding the unfortunate lady as a subject for pity rather than animadversion, let alone punishment. Payne had the satisfaction of knowing that he had done his very utmost for his poor friend and that human nature could do no more. The sentence, however, was a terrible blow to him.

Early in 1877, at Payne’s invitation, a number of his friends visited him at his rooms 20, North Row, Park Lane, in order to hear him read part of his translation of Villon.

Among those present were Mr. John H. Ingram99 (the editor of Poe’s works), Mr. Malcolm C. Salaman and Justin Huntley McCarthy, who was then an extraordinary boy writing for The Examiner. They were all so deeply interested that they agreed to assemble on another evening in order to hear the remainder of the work. On the second occasion Payne also read to them another poem which he had recently written, Lautrec, a vampire story. “We then,” says Mr. Salaman, “decided to found a Villon Society for the purpose of publishing translations that an ordinary publisher would not bring out, and Payne’s Villon was to be the first issue.” Such was the origin of a Society which became world famous. The first secretaries were Mr. A. Granger Hutt and Mr. H. B. Wheatley. No books were published by the Society, however, excepting those by Payne, all of whose subsequent works bore its imprint.

As early as 1875 Payne, who was an excellent Arabist, and had for some time been drawn to the masterpieces of the East, had resolved upon a translation of the Arabian Nights. He commenced his task in earnest on 5 February, 1877, that is just after the completion of the Villon, but with this subject we shall deal in a later chapter.

In April 1878 Payne wrote to ask De Banville whether any portrait of Villon was known. De Banville replied on 18 April, from Rue de l’Eperon:

“Dear Monsieur and Poet,—

“No portrait of Villon exists unless it be absolutely visionary. My friend, M. Alphonse Pégat100 who is a great trouveur, in vain sought one when he published his work entitled Great French Poets, and Villon is the only poet whose portrait he has been unable to give. But in his work on Villon he gives a very curious vignette representing some beings who have been hanged, and also a curious facsimile, printed in the Gothic edition of Jean Tripperel (15th century).

As to Vitu, he has some very original and peculiar ideas on Villon and on certain passages in the known editions, which he believes to be incorrect; which ideas he has often explained to me in a very excited manner. If you have any questions to ask him he lives at 36 Avenue Wagram.

“You may imagine my happiness in learning that you, in your friendship, which I so greatly value, had dedicated to me your translation, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.”

Accompanying the letter is a Ballade à John Payne, Traducteur de Villon.

The manuscript of the Villon was still in the hands of the publishers on 4 September, 1878, for in a letter of that date Payne castigates them for occupying “more than four months in printing a little book of fewer than 200 pages!” “Do,” he says, “for goodness’ sake, make an effort and let us get this nightmare business off our hands.”

The edition was limited to 157 numbered copies. It may here be stated for convenience that a second (expurgated) edition appeared in 1881 and a third (complete) edition in 1892.

Even previous to the issue of the Villon, Payne, as we have seen, had begun to make a name, but it was not until the appearance of this splendid translation, made in the original metres of the French poet, that he really became famous. From 10 Rue de l’Eperon, Paris, De Banville wrote to him 16 October, 1878: “My dear Friend (You see I claim the title which you gave me on your first page, and I take possession of it as I would of a conquest), I received your fine Villon when I was in bed, for I have been poorly, otherwise I would have thanked you before. But, however touched and pleased I may be by your fraternal dedication, I must address to you my compliments before my thanks. What an honour you are conferring on France, and what a magnificent present you have made to England! Thanks to you she has now not only another poet, but another great poet, yet you have essentially kept to his French feeling. You have, indeed, made Villon one of your own poets, now and for ever. May God grant that we have here in France artists capable of performing similar wonders, and of rendering in a masterly manner into French your great compatriots. Alas! only one Englishman has been adequately rendered into our language, and that one, moreover, an American, Edgar Allan Poe. I have met many Frenchmen who pretend that they understand English; but I have known only one who could substantiate his claim, namely Baudelaire. I have never experienced a greater pleasure than in listening to him when he recites English verse. It sounds like the harmonizing accuracy of an instrument played by the skilled hand of an infallible musician. He has been reading to me your Villon … and I admire throughout its whole length the way in which you have kept to the movement, the rhythm, the sonority and the evident meaning of the original. No, this is not a translation, it is an English Villon come to life. Now he belongs to you as much as to us. Victor Hugo, greatly fatigued by the numberless meetings at which he has had to preside, has been taking a rest for several months at Guernsey; as soon as I am up I will try to find out the best means of sending him his copy.” In the meantime De Banville had drawn the attention of M. Maurice Bouchor to the work. Writing to Payne 21 December, 1878, De Banville says: “Bouchor is all that is most charming, amiable and artistic. It was I who advised him to ask you for your Villon. He is a true and agreeable friend, and I should be delighted if he were to make your acquaintance. He knows English admirably; all he does he does well. If you have not his books you ought to ask him for them. Inasmuch as the man pleases you, know the Poet. We have at last finished your Villon with the aid of Auguste Vitu, who has studied that great poet for more than thirty years and knows him through and through. He was amazed at the fidelity with which you had been able to transfer him to your language without mutilating him in any respect. Unfortunately his great work on Villon, which will consist of no fewer than three volumes, will not appear for several years. I think it would have helped you immensely. Indeed, he has made (in reference to the text) some very important discoveries. In respect to the hitherto unknown published texts, he obtains great help from the various manuscripts which he is collecting.

“Would you be so kind as to say whether you have read a long article on me by Andrew Lang in the New Quarterly Review101 of 21 October? If you have this article by you and tell me what you think of it I shall be grateful.”

Mallarmé also wrote enthusiastically of the Villon, but the greatest tribute of all came from Maurice Bouchor, who dealt with the subject in a long and searching review.

After pointing out the many difficulties that have to be encountered by any translator of Villon, M. Bouchor shows that Payne had most happily overcome them all. “We find,” he continues, “in his translation the tone of mingled good humour and raillery, the heart-felt philosophy which gives to Villon’s verse a charm superior to that of sheer artistic beauty … and the supple, vigorous and complex form that distinguish the original.” After pointing out that Payne’s translation answers exactly to the rhythm of the original, he quotes the magnificent stanzas upon “Death,” of which Payne has fully rendered the energy:


I know full well that rich and poor,

Villein and noble, high and low,

Laymen and clerks, gracious and dour,

Wise men and foolish, sweet of show

Or foul of favour, dames that go

Ruffed and rebatoed, great or small

High-tired or hooded, Death (I know)

Without exception seizes all.102


Paris or Helen though one be,

Who dies, in pain and drearihead,

For lack of breath and blood dies he

His gall upon his heart is shed;

Then doth he sweat, God knows how dread

A sweat and none there is to allay

His ills, child, kinsman, in his stead

None will go bail for him that day


Death makes him shiver and turn pale,

Sharpens his nose and swells his veins,

Puffs up his throat, makes his flesh fail,

His joints and nerves greatens and strains

Fair women’s bodies, soft as skeins

Of silk, so tender, smooth and rare,

Must you too suffer all these pains?

Ay, or alive to heaven fare.103

Bouchor also singles out for special praise “The Ballad of Old Time Ladies,”104 a poem which “every one knows by heart in France,”

Tell me where, in what land of shade,

Bides fair Flora of Rome and where

Are Thais and Archipiade,

Cousins-german of beauty rare,

And Echo, more than mortal fair,

That, when one calls by river-flow

Or marish, answers out of the air?

But what is become of last year’s snow?

Where did the learn’d Heloïsa vade,

For whose sake Abelard might not spare

(Such dole for love on him was laid)

Manhood to lose and a cowl to wear?

And where is the queen who willed whilere

That Buridan, tied in a sack, should go

Floating down Seine from the turret stair?

But what is become of last year’s snow?

To the subjects of the fleeting nature of worldly prosperity, the worthlessness of riches and of all physical advantages and the equality of all in death, Villon also turns in the “Ballad of Good Doctrine to those of ill life.” Payne thus renders the most striking of the stanzas:

When I consider all the heads

That in these charnels gathered be,

Those that are sleeping in these beds

May have (for aught that I can see)

Been mighty lords of high degree,

Bishops and dames—or else poor churls:

There is no difference to me

’Twixt watercarriers’ bones and earls’.105

M. Bouchor’s article concludes with a glowing tribute “to the patience, the solid erudition, the ease and subtle dexterity and the intrinsic poetical talent” which everywhere characterize the work. Indeed, all other translations of Villon are, compared with Payne’s, either cheap tinsel or saltless commonplace. In Payne we have the translation of genius by genius. At home the work was also received with a chorus of praise. Matthew Arnold wrote106 24 May, 1879:

“Dear Mr. Payne,—

“The translations are very good, but I am especially delighted with the Introduction. I have not read M. Longnon, but his predecessors were very barren and disappointing, whereas your Introduction is full of satisfactions for the lover of Villon’s poetry​—​and the lover of a man’s poetry will also have always a weakness for the man himself, and to this you are kind, too.

“Believe me, sincerely yours,

Matthew Arnold.”

“In the field of translation,” said Dr. Garnett, “Mr. Payne is literally without a rival.” The Westminster Review and other periodicals bestowed upon it many encomiums.

When I asked Payne where Villon is at his best he replied: “I would not underrate his ballads, but he is at his best in Octaves 12 to 62 of the ‘Greater Testament.’ This passage is one uninterrupted flow of humour, satire and pathos.”

Another literary event of the same year, 1878, was the publication of the vampire poem Lautrec.

In January and April 1879 Payne published anonymously in the New Quarterly Review specimens of his proposed translation of the Nights, and throughout the year he laboured sedulously at his project.

In a letter to Payne of 7 February, 1879, Madox Brown makes some reference to a literary gathering at which Payne had been the most acceptable speaker. He says: “My wife and daughters107 and Miss Blind108 have been bullying me about the way I performed my duties as chairman the other evening. I ought to apologize to you or explain that my remarks were intended for Mr. Cronin109: your speech contained more valuable information than all the others on that Japanese occasion, and but for the inordinate prolixity of Cronin and others would have been just what was wanted.”

The following letter, written from 20 North Row, Park Lane, 24 February, 1879, is interesting as showing Payne’s connection with Charles Godfrey Leland110 (“Hans Breitmann”), the gypsy enthusiast:

“Dear Mr. Leland,—​As I feared, I found it quite impossible to come to you on Saturday, notwithstanding my great desire to do so; but I hope to call on you without fail on Saturday evening next with or without my friend Dr. Cazalis.

“Very truly your brother in Rabelais,

John Payne.”

In February 1880 appeared New Poems, which included “Salvestra,” “Thorgerda,” “The Ballad of Isobel,” and the villanelle commencing “The Air is White,”111 all of which were already familiar to Payne’s friends, who had heard him read them at Madox Brown’s castle.112 The book, which is full of beautiful poetry, contains echoes of Villon. Sometimes Payne falls into a melancholy strain​—​for the subject of death is a frequent one in his poems; but he is not long in that mood, as the “Ritournel,” and other poems, the result of his oriental studies, sufficiently indicate. Unfortunately the reception accorded to the volume was disappointing.

Writing from 3 Clifford’s Inn on 11 February, 1880, to Mr. J. H. Ingram,113 Payne says: “I am afraid your impression of the book [New Poems] is unfavourable. If so I am sorry, as it is my va-tout, and if it fails I shall retire for ever from the poetic contest, which has up to the present time brought me nothing but misery and injustice.”

Payne, who was a German scholar, must often have heard the proverb, “Wasps always attack the best fruit.” In his Autobiography114 he quotes the Turkish proverb, “The little curs bark but the caravan passes on.” It is a pity these saws did not occur to him at this moment. Don’t give in, poet! The failure of New Poems was a blow to Payne; a blow far more crushing was in store for him.

Mr. and Mrs. Snee were then living at 37 Fitzroy Road, and the health of Mrs. Snee had for some time been declining.

In the summer of 1879 she took her young children Dorothy and Julian to Pevensey, where she stayed some weeks; but she derived little benefit from the change, and when the new year opened her condition gave her friends additional anxiety. On the 18th of April she expressed a wish to see Payne, and Mr. Snee sent for him. He hastened to the house, but before he could arrive phthisis and exhaustion had done their worst. That wonderful little golden-haired being, which by its beauty, its grace and its mental charm had magnetized poet, painter and scholar, lay dead and cold. And yet in a sense that beauty was really imperishable, stereotyped as it is on the perfect page of genius. She was buried in St. Mary’s (Catholic) Cemetery, Kensal Green. A gothic tombstone115 of white marble, bearing her name and the dates of her birth and death, commemorates the Beatrice of the 19th century​—​one of the loveliest and most gifted women of her age.

Mr. Snee felt very deeply the loss of his beautiful and accomplished wife, and he116 took a melancholy pleasure in visiting her grave and in seeing that it was kept supplied with flowers and in order.

Payne had been depressed by the ill reception of his poems, but the death of the lady whose delightful personality had inspired so many of them, paralysed all his efforts. He was struck dumb. His Muse was utterly silenced, his hand refused to write. His heart died within him. What we were accustomed to call the “Long Hiatus” ensued. For close upon twenty years he wrote no more original poetry. The effect of this blow is described again and again in Carol and Cadence, written twenty-five years after:

In the mid spring,

When heaven and earth,

When land and sea

And all that are within them stir and sing,

For a rapture of new birth,

There fell on me

Inexorciseable calamity:

The love that lit my life from me took wing.

For many a day

The sky was blue

For me in vain;

’Twixt Spring and Winter, January and May,

Scant difference I knew:

A trance of pain

Life was, o’er which the years’ funereal train

Lapsed, like a stream, unnoted, on its way.

There had come upon him

“Life’s immedicable woe.”

Mrs. Snee had been a lover of roses, really perhaps because they bloom in the month of her birth; and after her death Payne, as he tells us in Carol and Cadence,117 could never bear their smell.

The inconsolable grief which Dante felt when Beatrice died is a matter of history, as is also his resolve not to speak or write of her any more till he should be able to say of her that which was never said of woman. A similar resolve took possession of Payne; and the splendour with which he ultimately enveloped the hapless “Helen”118 is scarcely less dazzling than that which the earlier poet was enabled to cast round the lady of the Vita Nuova and the Divina Commedia.

Among those to whom Payne told his grief was his friend De Banville, who on 20 June, 1880, wrote to him as follows:

“I have not ceased to think about you and to suffer for you. Your sorrow is the worst that comes to poor human creatures; and I know all that your soul, so loving and so tender, must suffer. It remains for you to continue to search for and to find again, the dear absent one, who cannot have entirely left you. But what pain, what grief to see a beloved person suffer so long! It is in this last that I pity you the most, and I can see how slowly the bitter hours must have passed. But how good of you to remember me in your sorrow! Write verses if you are able to do so, and as soon as you can do so. Poetry is a sacred vessel into which our tears are happy to fall. Have you heard how misfortune is conspiring against our poor friend Mallarmé? He has just lost his son and his father-in-law, and at this moment he is suffering from articular rheumatics which prevents him from going to give his lessons and endangers him from earning his living.

“Bouchor is at this moment in London, and I trust that you will meet him. He is a musical fanatic. When they give selections from Wagner at Munich or elsewhere he puts everything else aside and off he rushes. He has left for London so as to be present at some grand concerts.”

If Payne, for long, wrote no more original verse, his pen was constantly busy with prose. In the Nineteenth Century for September 1880 appeared an article by him on Villon. It is, however, practically the same as the “Prefatory Note” to his translation of that poet. Among the periodicals that took notice of the article was Vanity Fair, in which appeared a comment, which was characterized by Payne, in a letter to Ingram, as an “outrageous piece of spiteful insolence.” This, however, was but one of the many shafts which mediocrity was to level at outstanding genius.

The same year there passed through the press a work by Richard C. Christie on Etienne Dolet,119 the friend of Rabelais. Payne’s review of it, a manuscript of 46 quarto pages, which has never been published, is in my possession. In human life the comic always trenches on the tragic. There is a farceur at every funeral, a mourner at every feast. At this very time when Payne’s heart was sore owing to the death of Mrs. Snee a quarrel occurred between him and Swinburne, and, of all things in the world, on account of their difference of opinion concerning certain ancient English poets! It was one of the articles of Payne’s creed that John Marston120 stood as a dramatist second and second only to Shakespeare. Now Swinburne had for some time been a furious admirer of Cyril Tourneur, whose Plays and Poems, edited by John Churton Collins, had appeared in 1878.121 This work the public had received coldly, and how strongly Swinburne felt on the subject may be judged by a passage in one of his letters122 to Collins: “I do think the neglect of that superb genius, when so adequately presented and introduced to the notice of readers, is the grossest instance of general stupidity and torpor in literary taste and scholarship that I ever witnessed.”123

One day Swinburne went so far as to say that both Webster and Cyril Tourneur were greater than Marston. Now there was fire and brimstone met! Payne defended Marston tooth and nail, and poured all the vitriol of his scorn on Cyril Tourneur, who, he said, had written nothing whatever of value beyond a few scattered lines, whereas Marston’s plays (the Dutch Courtezan being the best) were masterpieces; and as a result of the quarrel the two poets were not on speaking terms for months. Relating the story to me long afterwards Payne said: “Swinburne was very thrawn. You know what that means​—​contrary. He even put Dobell on a level with Beddoes. All Beddoes’ poetry is of the highest flight. Cyril Tourneur has an occasional felicitous phrase, that is all.” In later years Swinburne used to describe the Dialogue in Beddoes’ “Death’s Jest Book” as “the howls of madmen trying to out-stun one another.”

Perhaps the quarrel was more Swinburne’s fault than Payne’s, for the incident is paralleled by several other stories of Swinburne, notably his rupture with Churton Collins. But Payne, too, in his younger days, as several incidents recorded in this book bear witness, was also very quick to take offence. When I think of this story I always recall the quarrel between Sterne’s father and a brother officer about a goose, but happily the Payne-Swinburne altercation did not lead to a duel, nor were the poets very long estranged.

If, however, Payne and Swinburne differed on the subject of the Elizabethan dramatists they were entirely at one in their admiration of Villon, of several of whose poems Swinburne also made translations. In November 1880 appeared in the columns of the St. James’s Gazette an attack, by Payne, in Villonian French verse, on Gladstone, who is styled “Cromwell-Bilboquet.”124

[85] In 1886 he succeeded to Victor Hugo’s chair at the Academy.

[86] E.g. “The Ballad of the King’s Orchard,” New Poems, p. 14.

[87] In Payne’s Flowers of France will be found translations from all these writers.

[88] See Omar Kheyyam, xxiv., footnote, and the sonnet to him, Vigil and Vision, p. 63.

[89] See also Flowers of France: The Latter Days, vol. i. pp. 38–40.

[90] “Nora in spite of her hard skin is the finest gold underneath, and, though she hurts me terribly sometimes, I suppose she can’t help it.”​—​Letter of Harry Payne to his wife, 1 June, 1816.

[91] Payne wrote in 1880 an Essay on Dolet. See p. 68.

[92] Only daughter of Madox Brown by his first marriage. She was born 19 July, 1843.

[93] See chapter xvi, p. 213.

[94] Ford Madox Brown, by Ford M. Hueffer.

[95] Collected Poems, ii. 308.

[96] Afterwards Sir George Lewis.

[97] He was married on 15 April to Miss Hinton, daughter of James Hinton, surgeon and metaphysician.

[98] These letters from Newgate are on the official blue paper. The writing is thicker than that of the earlier letters.

[99] John H. Ingram, born 1849, edited Poe’s works with Memoir 1874, published life of Poe 1880, and Oliver Madox Brown, a Biography, 1884 (Payne possessed a copy of this work).

[100] He then kept a bookshop, Librairie de l’Echo de la Sorbonne, 17 Rue Fontanes.

[101] Reprinted in Andrew Lang’s Essays in Little.

[102] Edition of 1892, p. 34.

[103] We have followed the 1892 edition which differs slightly from that of 1881.

[104] Edition of 1892, p. 35.

[105] Edition of 1892, p. 97.

[106] From the Athenæum Club.

[107] Mrs. Wm. Rossetti and Mrs. Hueffer.

[108] Mathilde Blind, the translator.

[109] Also referred to as an “old fogey.”

[110] His Life and Letters, by Mrs. Pennell, appeared in 1906.

[111] This was set to music by Dal Young, and published by Weekes & Co., 14 Hanover Street, Regent Street.

[112] Letter of Madox Brown to Payne, 3 March, 1880.

[113] Editor of Edgar Allan Poe’s works.

[115] The number of the grave is 7828. It is enclosed by small marble piers connected by chains.

[116] As Mr. Snee at this point passes out of Payne’s life it may be mentioned that he most carefully educated his children Frederick, Dorothy and Julian​—​Dorothy at the Moravian School, Bedford, and Julian at Buxton College, Forest Gate. His letters (1892–1896) to Dorothy to whom he was passionately attached, have been preserved, and attest to his winsome and self-sacrificial disposition. Frederick died 1 February, 1899, at the age of thirty-one, and was buried at Boscombe. Mr. Snee, after representing Messrs. Bass at Paris for a number of years, was in 1894 pensioned off by the firm. He retired to Chiswick, where he died 17 September, 1902, aged sixty-eight. There is a memorial cross to him in the cemetery that adjoins Chiswick old church.

[118] See p. 209.

[119] Payne’s translation of the Cantique of Dolet will be found in the Collected Poems, vol ii. p. 382.

[120] Payne possessed subsequently Marston’s works edited by A. H. Bullen, 3 vols., 1887.

[121] Dedicated to Swinburne.

[122] 30 November, 1882.

[123] Life of John Churton Collins, p. 60.

[124] It appears in Collected Poems, ii. 206. See also Notes to Collected Poems, ii. 388. Bilboquet=a toy which consists of a puppet so formed and loaded as always to recover its upright position.