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Harriett Jay

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{The Earthquake 1885}







ONE deathless flame, one holy name,
     One light that shines where’er I move,
Are thine, out of whose life I came,
     Through whom I live and love.

Dearest, I knew thee ere I knew
     Myself, and, stirring to thy breath,
From fountains of thy soul I drew
     This soul discerning Death.

The light of sun and stars, the clear
     Still air of yonder azure space,
The seas and sands of this green sphere,
     That is my dwelling-place.

All form, all motion, all delight,
     Fused in thy frame flash’d on to mine,
Grew quick, and woke to sense and sight,
     And last, to Love divine!

A thousand gifts the green earth gives                                       2
     Out of the fulness of her breast,
But she by whom one loves and lives
     Is God’s gift, and the best.

Fair type of tenderness and power,
     Of Love whence all things sweetly flow,
Constant as God through every hour
     Of happiness or woe,—

My Mother, take the book I bring,
     Sure of thy blessing on my brow!
This life of mine, these songs I sing,
     Are thine,—for they are thou!

Yea, they are thine, as they are his,
     That other part of thee and me,
Who greeted with a father’s kiss
     The child upon thy knee,

He is not lost (or all were lost);
     His voice ere long shall call us hence:
Unchanged he stands, though he has crost
     The borderland of sense.

For God were as a drop of dew,
     If individual love could fall
Back from the conscious type, whereto
     It floweth, crowning all!

When yonder sun has ceased to shine                                        3
     This earth subsist, those waters roll,
God shall preserve each breathing sign
     Of Love’s eternal soul! . . . .

One deathless flame, one holy name,
     One light that shines where’er I move,
Are thine, out of whose life I came,
     Through whom I live and love!



Even as I utter’d in such wise
     Thy praises, kneeling on my knee,
The Spirit with the pitiless eyes
     Came up and gazed on thee!

He lingered long beside thy bed,
     But hour by hour his face grew fair:
The greater Spirit overhead
     Was list’ning to my prayer!

Ah yes! He smiled on thee and me,
     Our Father who is in the skies:
I felt His mercy—I could see
     His strange, still, tearless eyes!

I clasped thee to my aching heart,
     I prayed till the dread Shape pass’d on:
God heard my cry—He did not part
     The mother and the son!

And all my pains and lonely fears                                              4
     Trembled to rapturous hope, and lo!
In passionate prayer that broke to tears
     I watch’d the Shadow go!



I asked for bread—a stone was given;
     I asked for Fame—men mock’d at me;
I asked for Love—my heart was riven
     By man’s worst cruelty.

I wander’d haunted and alone,
     I sank in doubts from day to day;
The snake Detraction crawl’d upon
     The roof ’neath which I lay.

I rush’d into the world, and smote
     The first proud foe that pass’d along;
Then treachery fasten’d on my throat
     And drained my soul of song.

Yet, dearest, thou wast one of three
     Who watch’d beside me, white as snow:
More rich than any king could be
     Was I, yet did not know!

Fool, to be clamouring for gold,
     When I possess’d a wealth divine!
Fool, to ask praises from the cold
     World, when the worlds were mine!

Fool, to go arm’d in hate and fear,                                            5
     When Heaven itself broke blue above;
Yea, thrice a fool, too deaf to hear
     The still small voice of Love!

Three angels to my hearth were given—
     Margaret, Mary, Harriett—
One watching waits in yonder heaven,
     But two are with me yet.

Margaret with the mother’s eyes,
     The sad grey hair, the holy mien,
Walks by my side, while Mary lies
     Under the kirkyard green.

[For darkness wrapt me like a cloud,
     While the pale spirit men name Death
Came, with white lilies and a shroud,
     And hush’d an angel’s breath.]

And she, Love’s youngest child divine,
     Cloth’d on with radiance heavenly sweet,
Places her little hand in mine
     And guides my faltering feet!

The earthly tumult fades away,
     The waters sigh, the stars keep chime,
Rose-red the great celestial Day
     Walks the waste waves of Time.

And so one thing at least is sure—                                             6
     Love, and the fountain whence it flows!
God keep me passionately pure
     To drink its deep repose!

Bring me no laurel wreaths to deck
     My brow, no gold in large increase;
Twine loving arms around my neck,
     And chain my soul to peace!

                                                         R. B.

                           May 1885.











That summer when the shocks of Earthquake came
Under the very streets of the Great City,
The Lady Barbara was the first to fly;
Yet flew not far, but pausing with her train
At Ferndale Priory, on the banks of Tweed,
Sat in the sun and held her frighten’d court.

Now thus the thing befell. The first shock came
At midnight, when the City partly slept,
But here and there, where lights of feast were lit
And men and women circled in the dance,
A murmur like the very voice of God,
A rocking like the rocking of the Deep,
Came, and the revellers looked at one another
In terror dumb as death; a moment’s space,
And all again was still, and haggard men                                             10
Question’d if it had only been a dream.
Next day the public journals blazed abroad
The nameless terror; how at dead of night
A deep vibration like a thunder-crash,
Faint yet distinct, brief yet electrical,
Had run through London; how some fiery force,
Volcanic, geocentric, such as that
Which in the former time laid Lisbon low,
Had stirred the roots of that vast tree of life,
The mighty City; how the troubled Thames
Had risen like a serpent in the night,
And, shuddering, overflown its slimy banks;
How the dark streets were shaken, rocked, and riven,
Above the sudden and mysterious swell
Of some dark subterranean sea of fire.

With hand half-palsied from a nameless fear,
The newsman nigh forgot his flowers of speech,
Telling of columns tottering to the fall,
Of shattered dwellings and of broken panes,                                      11
Of sleepers wakening in the dead of night,
Their white beds surging like the waves o’ the sea!

At Limehouse, on the troubled river-side,
A factory had fallen; farther east,
A narrow street had open’d to its sewers,
Just wide enough to show the seams of stone,
While the black dwellings upon either side,
With fissured walls and crackling window-panes,
Rock’d back from their foundations, but as yet
Stood firm and fell not; on the western side
Of great St. Paul’s, by folk descried at dawn,
A running crack like forkèd lightning ran—
Strange as the fabled writing on the wall,
And, like that writing, ominous of doom.
Yet, for the rest, the City stood unscathed.
The Earthquake, like a monster lioness
Watching its victim, some poor helpless lamb,
Having first stretched one cruel fatal claw
To strike it into terror, crouch’d unseen,                                             12
While through the affrighted victim’s feeble frame
Trembled mesmeric thrills of nameless fear
And dangerous expectation. All next day
The trouble and the hum of terror grew,
And when again the clouds of darkness fell,
Men feared to creep into their beds and sleep,
Lest the dark Deep should open under them!
So many sat in vigil, listening
All through the solemn watches of the night,
Which nevertheless passed by in starry peace;
And when the next night, and the next again,
Went by in silence, London breath’d once more,
The sounds of life once more grew jubilant,
And from their watch-towers and observatories
The hierarchy of Science reassured
The trembling townsfolk, bade them cast off fear,
Because the threat of doom had passed away.

But on the fourth night, when the streets were still,
Another throb from earth’s fierce heart of fire                                      13
Ran through the City with a thunder-shock,
Though feebler than the first: once more the Thames
Rose loudly sobbing and o’erswept its bed;
Once more the streets and walls chattered like teeth;
Once more men wakened shuddering out of sleep
With that dread sough of warning in their ears!

Then preachers prophesied the end of all,
Doom, and the opening of the seventh great seal;
While in the lonely streets and crowded lanes
The haggard folk clustered as thick as ants
Which feel the anthill crumbling underneath
Uprooted by the mole; the palaces
Were empty of their regal butterflies;
The parks and public squares were desolate,
The theatres abandoned to the dust,
And all glad sounds of merriment and feast
Hushed in the princely dwellings of the proud.
But in the city still, and in the marts                                                      14
The lamps of commerce flickered timorously;
A few pale men still walked about on ’Change,
And in the darkened vaults of dusty banks
Gaunt slaves still guarded gold.
                                               Then first of those
Who fled before the dark Cimmerian threat
Was that young wife whose delicate nether limbs
Were brawly buskin’d with celestial blue—
The Lady Barbara of Kensington.
Who doth not know our Barbara the learned,
Flower of Midlothian and the agnostic queen,
Who, full of culture to the finger tips,
A Scots earl’s daughter, born ’neath Arthur’s Seat,
Young, bonnie, winsome, and a poetess,
Married the little Yankee millionaire,
And flitted from the North to Babylon?
Her London mansion was the home of Art,
In style antique, with Argus on the walls
And “Salve” on the threshold of the door;
Her guests the very learned of the land                                                15
And every guest a lion great or small.
All through the season to her afternoons
The favourites of Fashion and the Muse,—
The last great traveller in gorilla-land,
The newest painter or musician,
The poet latest found and most divine,—
Flock’d, sure of worship and a cup of tea;
But chiefly (for our Barbara, understand,
Was nothing if not philosophical!)
The modern savant and the scientist,
The students of the heavens and the earth,
Professors of all ’ologies and ’isms,
Found there a welcome; there, in tongues diverse
As those that puzzled Babel long ago,
They wrangled o’er the nebular theory,
The spectrum of the tail of the new comet
Just seen in Capricornus, Bastian’s scheme
Of life’s beginning. Nor the occult alone,
But every male or female wanderer
Out of the beaten highway of the creeds                                            16
Was gathered into Barbara’s peaceful fold:
The castaway who had in soul’s despair,
His cassock lost, his prayer-book left i’ the hold,
Plunged overboard from that old ship the Church,
Now tossing water-logg’d amidst the storm;
The Arian and the Unitarian,
The lady Medium, the Spiritualist,
The Æsthetic, who, proclaiming Art for Art,
Carving his God on his own handiwork,
Proves totem-worship not an empty dream.

But when the murmur of the Earthquake came,
The teacup trembled in the scoffer’s hand,
The wise looked foolish, and the lions ran
Lowing together like affrighted stirks.
In that dread moment, he who faced the Sphynx
And read annihilation in its eyes,
Who, from the cynosure of mastery,
Survey’d the conflict and the wreck of worlds,
Saw suns grow dark like torches suddenly                                         17
Plunged hissing into water, and foretold,
With scientific equanimity,
The sure extinction of the human race,
Became as terror-stricken as a bairn
Who, waking suddenly at dead of night
To find the night-light out, begins to wail.
Then many named God’s Judgment with a sigh
Who thitherto had named it with a smile!

But ever fleet in feminine resolve,
And now made fleeter by a fluttering fear,
Our Barbara did not pause to think or pray,
But, followed by her folk and husband, fled
Back to her native Scotland, where she dwelt
In safety at the Priory, gathering
Faint rumours from the City far away.
Thence, when her fears had time for breathing space,
And when no message of destruction came,
She issued to her chosen votaries
Sweet-scented missives in her own fair hand,                                     18
Bidding them, while the terror held the City,
To attend her Court of Learning, bright and glad
As any mediæval Court of Love,
In that fair dwelling on the banks of Tweed.

In flocks they came, the apostles of the creeds,
Poets and painters and philosophers,
Teachers and preachers, lions, lionesses,
Long-haired æsthetes, long-winded scientists;
And since the Priory could not lodge them all,
The inns and cottages around about
Were full of spectacled and bearded men,
Whose strange ways made the country people gape
In wonder and in awe; but every day
They gathered at the Priory, droning there
Like bees about their queen.
                                               ’Twas summer time.
The hills and vales had put their glory on,
And wandering in Barbara’s Paradise,
You would have thought the world as sweet and safe                         19
As on Creation’s day. Fronting the south,
Upon the shoulder of a woody brae,
The broad and comely modern mansion stood,
And pausing on its air-hung terraces
You saw beneath you on the river-side
The roofless ruin whence it took its name.
All round stretched park and pale, with colonnades
Where the horse-chestnut spread its seven-leafed fan
And broke to amber foam of waxen blooms
O’er deep green dells where dappled fallow deer
Like restless shadows among shadows moved;
With ponds of silver, where with dripping run
The marble Naiad o’er her image hung,
Girt with the water-lily’s oilèd leaves;
With sweeps of fronded fern and flowery knolls
As full of twinkling ears and watchful eyes—
Coney and squirrel, doe and leveret—
As any happy dell in Fairyland!
Beyond the woodland, sloping to the banks,
Were shaven lawns with flower-edged paths between.                         20
In midst of these, upon the river-side,
Clearly reflected in the running river,
The Priory ruins, roofless, windowless,
And thickly carpeted with emerald grass.

Here, where the uncut hair o’ the grass grows deep,
The summer light falls solemn and subdued,
While entering the mouldering roofless walls,
Pencilled with golden moss and lichens grey
Where’er the night-black ivy doth not crawl,
You see the jackdaws in a cawing crowd,
Like spirits of the long-departed monks,
Rise from the topmost ruins clamorously
And flit against the azure patch of sky.
The world, the thought of man, dissolves away,
And with a sea of stillness overhead
You walk in awe, even like a charmèd man
Pacing the voiceless bottom of the Deep.

     Crossing the ivy-hung refectory                                                     21
You glide beneath a broad low porch of stone,
And in a moment, ere you know it, pass
From shadow into sunlight,—for you stand
Upon a terrace set with flowery urns
Descending to the very water’s brim.
Upon that terrace, in the summer sheen,
There stands the figure of a naked Faun,
Goat-eared, goat-footed, playing on his pipes
And smiling like the very Pan himself.
Straightway upon the ears (or so it seems)
There comes the summer sound of singing birds,
Of fountains falling, runlets murmuring,
Leaves rustling, wood and valley echoing
In joy primeval to that sylvan sound;
And glancing back upon the Priory walls,
O'er which the jackdaws hover in a crowd,
You half expect to see the monks appear,
Hornèd like satyrs, shouting, streaming forth
To foot it to the merry pipes of Pan.

     Upon this terrace sat, one summer day,                                          22
Our hostess, smiling ’neath her parasol
On troops of motley guests; close to her side
Three Graces, cousins, born in Annandale,
With country cheeks of strawberry and cream;
A little in the background, grimly pleased,
Cigar in mouth, straw hat upon his head,
Midas, her husband. Scattered here and there,
Grouped on the flowery lawns and garden seats,
In summer costumes brighter than the flowers,
Or learnèd suits of philosophic black,
The fugitives from threaten’d Babylon;
While in and out the Priory’s ruin’d walls,
Like glad bees swarming in and out the hive,
Throng’d others, garrulous as the busy daws
Gossiping in the ivy overhead.
Some on the shining river rowed and sang,
Fluttering in shallops round the granite stairs;
Some promenaded, deep in learn’d talk;
While liveried lacqueys and trim serving lasses
Moved here and there with baskets of ripe fruit,                                 23
Clusters of grapes, and draughts of mountain dew.
’Twas like a golden glimpse of Arcady
Painted by Watteau for a happy court,
With nymphs and satyrs neatly modernised,
Shepherds and shepherdesses gaily dight
As shapes of Dresden china, bright and clean.
The Priory in the background, dark and grey
Against a sky of clear and burning gold,
And in the foreground such a sylvan view
Of winding water, fields of growing grain,
Clusters of woodland, knolls and bosky bowers,
Melting away to dim blue heathery hills,
As made the place seem Arcady indeed!
Golden the prospect, earth and azure heaven
Mingling their happy lights like Life and Love,
And eyes that on the winding river gazed
Could scarce discern within those crystal depths
Water from heaven, heaven from the heavenly stream.

     “What news from London?” Lady Barbara cried                           24
To one, a little dapper scientist,
Fresh from the train, who trotted to her seat
Shaking her small gloved hand; and with a smile
The new-comer replied, “The City stands!
And though the streets and marts are empty still
Of all save those who are over poor to fly,
Many believe the peril passed away.
This morning’s journals say a shock was felt
On Thursday at Madrid; if so, the fires
Whose fierce pulsations took us unaware,
Are running southward, back to warmer zones,
Their tropic birthplace, near the heart of Earth.”

“Pray God it be so,” answer’d Barbara;
Then turning ’neath her sunshade, she resumed
Her converse with the group surrounding her:
“Dear friends, you are right!—what scene, howe’er so bonnie,
What country merriment, howe’er so merry,
Can compensate us children of the age                                                25
For London in the season? I confess,
Though Scottish born and Edinboro’ bred,
From boot to bonnet I’m a Londoner!
And even here with chosen friends around
I miss the mighty flow, the changeful sound,
Of yon vast ocean of Humanity.
The canker-worm of Ennui gnaws the heart
Of Pleasure’s full-blown rose! Come, who’ll devise
Some sport to fleet away the golden time?
Who’ll lead our drowsy-headed idleness
In flowery fetters of some pleasant toil,
Until the Earthquake-Monster is appeased,
And gladly once again we enter in
Fashion’s celestial gate?”
                                         Smiling she paused,
And for a space none answer’d; but the air
Was filled with summer music, and we heard,
Above the humming of the honey-bees
That flitted in and out the flowery knolls,
The black rooks sleepily cawing, and the dove                                    26
Cooing clear answer from the Priory woods;
On a wild apple-tree that clung and bloomed
High on the ruin’d walls, the blue-wing’d jay
Flash’d screaming, and along the river-side
The kingfisher, an azure ray, flew past.
Thus all things were alive with peaceful joy:
The dædal Earth, bright faced and golden hair’d,
With ample heaving bosom, sighed for bliss,
Through half-closed eyelids blinking up at heaven!

Then one said, “As near Florence long ago
Gallants and gentle dames that fled the Plague
Sat ’neath green boughs and passed the golden time
In dainty tale-telling, that grew divine
On eloquent Boccaccio’s honeyed tongue,
So let us here, to fleet the summer hours,
Tell tales of Mirth and Love and Love’s disdain!
Be thou our Queen of Love, let these thy maids
Twine a green garland for the brows of him
Whose tale beguiles the fever’d fancy best!”
“Alas!” said Barbara, sighing wearily,                                                 27
The world is old and grey before its time;
And that blind god, who used to run before
Its happy feet, and wave the golden torch,
Beckoning with smiles, now sits as Darwin’s ape
Upon its shoulder, whispering ‘Vanity!’
Ours is no Court of Love for amorous dames
And bonnie cavaliers; hush’d is Love’s lyre,
Its poet dead, his cold hand on its strings;
And all remaining now for man to seek
Is the great Problem neither bard nor seer
Has help’d as yet to solve!”
                                             Then with a smile
Cold as the scalpel, Douglas Sutherland,
Critic and comic vivisectionist,
Young cynic of the Cynical Review,
Scot from the mountains, but a renegade
Forswearing homely porridge and the trews,
Who, drifting round the compass of the creeds,
Had found no foothold for his slippery feet,
Cried, “The great Problem ever sought by fools,                                  28
Forgetting that whoever fronts the Sphinx,
And meets her stony glare, must rave till doom!”

Here the plump pantheist, Spinoza Smith,
With luminous eye and hanging underlip,
Loose gait, lax logic, interposed and said,
“Better to rave like the old oracle
Than, quivering like a restless tadpole, haunt
The muddy shallows of perpetual doubt!”
Turning to Barbara, “Since we moderns seek
A summer pastime like those Florentines,
Why not let that same Problem be our theme,
And let each man and woman tell in turn
Some chronicle of those who, quick or dead,
Have wander’d problem-haunted through the world?”

“Agreed!” cried Barbara; then, brightly turning
Her face upon the groups surrounding her,
“A golden thought, to employ our idleness
With tales of meaning and of mystery—
Not old wives’ rhymes to frighten foolish bairns,                                  29
But stories wise that sad Philosophy,
The way-worn wandering Jew, still toiling on
With staff and wallet, croaks at every door!
How say you? Shall our new Decameron
Take as its theme no little pasteboard god,
Pink Cupid or bright-eyed Saint Valentine,
But God Himself, the riddle of the worlds?”

Smiling she paused. We looked at one another,
And even then we seemed to hear afar
The murmur of that subterranean voice
Which thundered from the fiery heart of Earth,
Threatening the mighty City in its pride.
“Agreed! agreed!” we clamoured, echoing her;
“Begin the sport, and be yourself our Queen!”

“Then thus,” said Barbara, “we form our court:
Be you our maids of honour”—here she smiled
On the three cousins born in Annandale—
“You gentlemen our faithful cavaliers
And braw-drest pages, headed if you please                                       30
By Verity as learned Chamberlain.
Be thou,” she added (turning next to me),
“Our poet lyrical and laureate,
Breaking our measured prose at intervals
To music; and do thou, Sir Whimsical
(Nodding her head at Douglas as she spoke),
Assume the hood and baldrick of the Fool,
Here at our elbow set, with privilege
To make a passing jest from time to time
Of better wiser folk!”
                                   Here Douglas seized
A stalk of foxglove drooping purple bells,
And shook it, zany-fashion, in the air,
Crying “By Touchstone and by Rigoletto,
I accept the scoffer’s office cheerfully,
And on my badge, expect much merriment
When wise men choose so lunatic a theme!”
“To-morrow,” laughing added Barbara,
“Our coronation revels shall begin;
And after that, each summer afternoon,                                               31
We shall conjure you, on your fealty,
To gather here, and rax your wits to speed
The solemn pastime. Till yon smiling sun
Again is near his setting, we dismiss
Our court, and leave our leal and loving friends
Free to devise what other sports they please—
To-morrow we shall mount our throne and reign!”

And with that tryst to meet upon the morrow
We scattered, some to dream about the park,
Some to explore the neighbouring rocks and woods,
Some to the dusky Priory libraries,
To fleet the moments till the dinner-bell
Should bring the pasturing human flocks together.
But I, who knew by heart the winding Tweed,
Wander’d away along the river-side
Glad-hearted and alone, and drank for hours
Full sweetness and full summer, pondering
The green world’s problem with a poet’s heart.
’Twas the glad flower-time—over orchard walls,
Mossy and golden, softly blushed the pear,                                         32
Though apple-blooms were falling; scented May
Ran quick along the hedgerows, white and red;
And lilac, scented like a maiden’s breath,
Flower’d in sun-shaded gardens, maiden-like;
And lush laburnum shook its locks of gold
O’er bonnie banks of green and golden broom;
The white pea lit its delicate lamps afield,
And in the lanes speedwell and campion
Cluster’d round snow-white stars of Bethlehem.
The bee, with dusty gold upon his thigh,
Humm’d busily to himself; the butterfly,
A wingèd flower, blew lightly higher and thither;
The woods, the fields, the lanes, were all alive
With quick-eyed sylvan creatures, numerous
As motes i’ the sunshine. Cheerily sung the lark,
Answer’d from hawthorn branches by the merle,
Gold-bill’d and silver-throated. By the river
The heron stood as motionless as stone
Over his dim blue double, then arose
With soft dark flap of wing, to light again                                            33
Among the speckled shallows lower down.
Lingering silent on the banks, I saw
The muddy cabin of the water-rat,
And in the calm beheld the brown rogue swim,
Bearing a green leaf for his little house,
His whisker’d nose above the surface peeping,
A long bright ripple sparkling in his track.

Musing I wandered, till, beyond the braes,
The sun sank crimson among purple isles
And reefs of black, and from the paling west
The round thin filmy moon floated like silk,
Then ’gainst the green transparent topmost leaves
O’ the woodland flutter’d, brightening. Then, the glades
Dark’ning, the dusky mavis and the merle
Pour’d their precipitate rapture ’mong the boughs,
And nestling lovers listen’d as they sang:
         Lover! lover!
         Kiss sweet! kiss sweet! sweet!
         Woo her now! woo her now!
The glassy river sparkled smooth as jet,                                               34
Just touch’d with crystal beams.
                                                     Soft as a leaf
The gloaming fell, and flutter’d like a veil
Over the half-closed eyelids of the world.
Stars glimmer’d faintly, opening one by one
And blossoming above me, while I stole
Through warmly scented shadows till I gained
Dark fern-clad slopes that ran to hills of heather,
And looking heavenward saw a painter’s vision.
There like a naked maiden stood the Moon,
Wading in saffron shallows of the west:
Timidly, with a tender backward glance,
She reach’d a faltering foot to feel the way,
Then, brightly smiling, as the lucent waves
Wash’d, tipt with splendour, round her swan-white throat,
Bent forward, cleft the dusk with ivory hands,
And swam in splendour thro’ the seas of night.



The Earthquake continued

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The Fleshly School Controversy
Buchanan and the Press
Buchanan and the Law


The Critical Response
Harriett Jay


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