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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 4
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    Some quarter of an hour's walk from Bedford Park, out on the high
    road to Richmond, lived W. E. Henley, and I, like many others,
    began under him my education. His portrait, a lithograph by
    Rothenstein, hangs over my mantlepiece among portraits of other
    friends. He is drawn standing, but, because doubtless of his
    crippled legs, he leans forward, resting his elbows upon some
    slightly suggested object--a table or a window-sill. His heavy
    figure and powerful head, the disordered hair standing upright,
    his short irregular beard and moustache, his lined and wrinkled
    face, his eyes steadily fixed upon some object, in complete
    confidence and self-possession, and yet as in half-broken reverie,
    all are exactly as I remember him. I have seen other portraits and
    they too show him exactly as I remember him, as though he had but
    one appearance and that seen fully at the first glance and by all
    alike. He was most human--human, I used to say, like one of
    Shakespeare's characters--and yet pressed and pummelled, as it
    were, into a single attitude, almost into a gesture and a speech,
    as by some overwhelming situation. I disagreed with him about
    everything, but I admired him beyond words. With the exception of
    some early poems founded upon old French models, I disliked his
    poetry, mainly because he wrote _Vers Libre_, which I associated
    with Tyndall and Huxley and Bastien-Lepage's clownish peasant
    staring with vacant eyes at her great boots; and filled it
    with unimpassioned description of an hospital ward where his leg
    had been amputated. I wanted the strongest passions, passions that
    had nothing to do with observation, and metrical forms that seemed
    old enough to be sung by men half-asleep or riding upon a journey.
    Furthermore, Pre-Raphaelitism affected him as some people are
    affected by a cat in the room, and though he professed himself at
    our first meeting without political interests or convictions, he
    soon grew into a violent unionist and imperialist. I used to say
    when I spoke of his poems: 'He is like a great actor with a bad
    part; yet who would look at Hamlet in the grave scene if Salvini
    played the grave-digger?' and I might so have explained much that
    he said and did. I meant that he was like a great actor of
    passion--character-acting meant nothing to me for many years--and
    an actor of passion will display some one quality of soul,
    personified again and again, just as a great poetical painter,
    Titian, Botticelli, Rossetti may depend for his greatness upon a
    type of beauty which presently we call by his name. Irving, the
    last of the sort on the English stage, and in modern England and
    France it is the rarest sort, never moved me but in the expression
    of intellectual pride; and though I saw Salvini but once, I am
    convinced that his genius was a kind of animal nobility. Henley,
    half inarticulate--'I am very costive,' he would say--beset with
    personal quarrels, built up an image of power and magnanimity till
    it became, at moments, when seen as it were by lightning, his true
    self. Half his opinions were the contrivance of a sub-consciousness
    that sought always to bring life to the dramatic crisis, and
    expression to that point of artifice where the true self could
    find its tongue. Without opponents there had been no drama,
    and in his youth Ruskinism and Pre-Raphaelitism, for he was
    of my father's generation, were the only possible opponents. How
    could one resent his prejudice when, that he himself might play a
    worthy part, he must find beyond the common rout, whom he derided
    and flouted daily, opponents he could imagine moulded like
    himself? Once he said to me in the height of his imperial
    propaganda, 'Tell those young men in Ireland that this great thing
    must go on. They say Ireland is not fit for self-government but
    that is nonsense. It is as fit as any other European country but
    we cannot grant it.' And then he spoke of his desire to found and
    edit a Dublin newspaper. It would have expounded the Gaelic
    propaganda then beginning, though Dr. Hyde had as yet no league,
    our old stories, our modern literature--everything that did not
    demand any shred or patch of government. He dreamed of a tyranny
    but it was that of Cosimo de Medici.
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