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Frank Leward: Memorials

Bampton to Frank

Bampton to Frank.

Frankfort on the Maine, Oct. 5, 1848.

Dear old Friend,—How I wish you were with me here. For the first time in my life I am away from England and amongst castles of eld and mountains and Rhineland. I wonder whether there is any pleasure like this getting away from hard work in London and on circuit and going over with an amusing companion straight to Ostend and finding yourself in a land where all things are different to, and more interesting than, that you have been accustomed to all your life. We, Normanby and I, having looked on in luxurious donothingness for a short time at the assembled crowds at Ostend came on to lazy Bruges. There for three days we sauntered about the Grand Place and looked at the old red brick churches and the beautiful Memlings in the little room at the Hospital of S. John, where the good nuns nursed him and he repaid them in the best way a painter could by leaving them such works as raised my grovling soul heavenward, and appeared to be for richness and purity the noblest paintings I had ever seen. Then you know I have seen little besides our National Gallery and Lord Northwick's at Cheltenham. Lord Northwick's had too many Venuses and Cupids and allegoric paganisms to please me much. His dried-up Salvator Rosas did not interest me, only in spite of Ruskin whom I would generally follow as a humble disciple, I could not but admire his S. John the Evangelist by Carlo Dolci. But Bruges is Mediaeval and Christian and page 163Catholic. When you see the good folks come to worship at the churches you see religion is a part of themselves, not as with us a something added on. How it goes along with them from their cradle, in every important act through life it comes in to sanction it and accompanies them shrived, made partakers of the highest mysteries, annealed with ceremonies used only at the final moment, and therefore the more solemn, to the tomb. And thus forwarded on their last journey it leaves them not alone, faith love devotion follow their departing souls and seek them out wherever they may be with unwearying prayer and cry after them for mercy, forgiveness, and delight. How different to our formal Protestantism which consigns good and bad alike to the grave with the same unmeaning words of praise and false comfort, which nobody believes, and goes away as though it dared not follow them, and as though the quality of God's mercy was strained and could not be appealed to just then when it is most needed.

We listened to the Carillion ringing out nearly all the whole day long from the top of the tower where the golden dragon used to be before the men of Ghent ran off with it, as we took our cafe at the Panier d'Or, having generally dined at the Fleur de Blé. How the quiet place takes you back and back to the olden time to all the fuss and bustle of the fourteenth century when Bruges was one of the world's busy places. How come they on the scene again the old burghers, the Van Artewelds, their friends and foes. Froissart comes back once more enjoying his good cheer again and chats familiarly to us. page 164Then to Ghent with its Van Eyks at S. Gudule, how satisfying! If I began about Brussels and all the other places we went to in Flanders I should never stop, so I had better not begin. After all the old pictures and buildings I wanted to go to Spa but Normanby scorned the idea. He said there was a double zero, which was something in his opinion so terrible I gave it up at once, and we went on to Aix la Chapelle and so to the Rhine at Cologne. Aix was full of people and some gambling was going on. Normanby went to see it while I visited the tomb of Charlemagne. Ruminating there on his life and death and burial it struck me what an epic might be made on such a subject as they put him, just where I was standing, in a palatial vault seated on his antique throne, in all his panoply of state, the gospel book open before him, a golden lamp to light his darkened eyes great hero of a vanished age, with his good sword joyeuse at his side. I limned in my mind heroic staves and had got to the actual entombment:

"And by his side they buckled on joyeuse,

But never more from out thy glittern sheath Shalt thou be drawn, O flashing sword. Thee shall no weaker arm than his e'er wield, So lie thou there and rust."

I got so far with my epic, to be entitled "The burying of Charlemagne." I don't suppose I shall ever get any further, for at that point came Normanby muttering something about double zeros and dragged me off to Cologne. I was disappointed with Köln and with its church. Too large and glaring it seemed to me to lack the spirit which page 165generally consecrates mediaeval architecture—a spirit of modesty and gentle resignation, yielding to the world the palm of worldly excellence, while it retires from competition content to do good to be good and by God's help to make beautiful and useful things for His honour and the good of poor souls, to try tenderly to lift them up above themselves and right to the skies, if they will only assist a little in the effort. At Köln there is too much self-consciousness attempt to excel to make something larger than others have made. The result is German vulgarity and glare clothed in Gothic form. The tender grace of our unknown benefactors, who laboured all their lives to make something worthy of Him who made them, is wanting. As a retribution the thing that was to be perfection is unfinished, and appears to be-likely always to remain unfinished, unless some heretic power in the pride of wealth, with the spoils of better people and with a disdainful patronising air, comes and finishes it for them. This would be a fitting end of a bad beginning, it might be for a good warning, and teach a lesson to those whose object is not to be as good as they can be, but finer than others.

Perhaps this is all prejudiced rubbish. I confess to having got a little bilious over the Rhine wine when I was at Köln, and I do not like the North Germans. They are too much like the English, and I came away for a change. I get enough of the English at home. When I got on one of the new packet-boats which navigate the Rhine I soon recovered. Bohn with its studenten I did not care too much for, but page 166then came Coblentz and we went right up the banks of the blue Mosselle on foot to Treves, and stayed at the Roth House. Then back again by boat. A far-off look lighted up old Normanby's eyes all the while, as though he had further distant projects ahead, all too deep to allow him to take a more than passing interest in the sights we saw. He looked on me as one on pleasure bent, while he had the business of life before him; something more real, more earnest, than the mere wandering pleasures of the tourist. He didn't say much, but I could see there was something great in his heart. I suspected what it was, and would not be hurried on too fast. Not Ehrenbreitstein, not even Lorlei nor all the other historic memories of the Rhine, could get from him more than a portion of his regards. So we passed them all. Asmanshauser, Johanisberg, Rudesheim, clothed with their vineyards, indeed did arouse for a moment his attention as though they were in some way connected distantly with his mighty projects, but the Schloss Rhinestein, whose massive walls, its miniature gardens, chapel, and fountain, the most complete specimen of feudal fortress, interested me more than I can say, were of small concern to him. We strolled, or at least I should have tried to stroll, through the Niederwald, if he hadn't forced me into a rapid pace, and then passing loved Bingen we came to Maintz. At Maintz I firmly insisted upon bathing in old father Rhine's rushing invigorating waters. We took a boat and plunged into its ice-cold stream, carried onward carried downward in its torrent delicious ineffable. We rose some two hundred yards below where we had page 167plunged. Who wouldn't be a German and love the Rhine! From Maintz we went over the bridge of boats and drove to Wiesbaden. There we emerged from the Middle Ages and became modern once again. Normanby grew frantic with delight and I did not ignore the fleeting pleasures of the world, the open-air concerts, the warm autumn weather, even the dinners. We lived in the open air except when Normanby dragged me into the salons. What a scene! Men and women, old and young, many nations, crowding round the green cloth tables while the chink of money drove away thoughts of other things. Their faces what a study! Greed, avarice, lust of gold. Some seeking distraction from themselves. "Trentesix rouge pair et passe." "Treize noir impair et manque." Such like cries all day long from the employés. Normanby did not play, though there was not a double zero; but he produced a large book in which, whenever I went into the spacious decorated rooms, I saw him working endless problems. I did the first day venture two or three thalers for amusement. At first I won, then I lost, then I gave it up. After three days of problem-working Normanby came home rather late and flushed and said he had found it. "Found what!" I said. "A system perfectly certain, but let us leave here." So we left next day. We walked right over the Taunus Hills to Hombourg, passing some pretty pastoral and mountain country, the people most courteous and polite. At Hombourg we found more open-air concerts, better dinners, larger crowds, finer Casino and other gambling saloons. Normanby produced his big book, which with page 168our baggage had come round by Frankfort. Next day as I watched him I saw him stake and win and loose considerable sums. I got tired and went out to hear the band play and enjoy a refreshing bath in Hombourg waters. At dinner Normanby came home happy eager excited and ordered a grand dinner and insisted on having the most expensive wines, which he told me were all to go down to his separate account; of course I didn't object. Afterwards he let out that he had won considerably hinted that his fortune was made and held out hopes that I should not be forgotten. As we drank our café and smoked our cigars on the terrace looking out over those fine gardens whose illuminations were almost eclipsed by the full autumn moon I could almost fancy myself in fairyland so pleasant was the scene. There Normanby his honest old face lit up with a curious look like a mild Mephistopheles tempting Dr. Faustus revealed the secret of his success and discovered the talisman that should change his 300 a year into a fabulous large fortune. When he had won a little more he would increase his stake and make 400 a day easily. My non-mathematic mind could not follow and certainly could not refute his system, or understand the process by which he worked it out. Then he ordered more Schloss Johanisberger at the restaurant, and we returned to our inn to bed. His mind was too excited to play any more that night, but next morning after coffee and a bath his system was to be enforced coolly yet with vigour.

At dinner next night he came back looking fagged page 169worn and old but quietly jubilant. Again he had succeeded. More Steinberg Cabinet and Johanisberg and another quiet evening. He said his calculations required so great an effort he could not play after dinner. Before we went back to bed, as we sauntered through the rooms among the crowd of gold-seekers, he pointed out one man with immense piles of gold before him, and told me his name which I forget. This man he said had several times broken the bank and had made enormous sums by his play, but though he had watched him carefully he could not discover what his system was. Perhaps he hasn't got one, I suggested, but that only showed my ignorance he said. In passing the Trente et Quarante table Normanby casually threw down a few Frederick d'or and invariably won, either he had the philosopher's stone in his pocket or his luck was extraordinary. "You see, old fellow," he said as we walked home, "how easily a mathematician can do it. After two or three months of this I shall most likely take a little schloss near here or perhaps at Baden-Baden and drive over for an hour or so every day, that will be time enough to win a hundred or two. Of course I shall spend the season in London one can't be working one's brains in this way all the year round. There will always be a room and a horse for you old fellow at the schloss Normanby and there's some fine deer-stalking at the Duke of Nassau's place. I expect too I shall want a little box in Paris, it will be jolly when you come over there to see me. By Jove, what dinners we shall have." "That comes from being a senior Op.," I said, "but don't make my water too much, I feel hungry page 170already," so he insisted on deviled chicken and champagne and then we went to bed.

Poor Normanby he was at his post next morning with the punctuality of an old Roman soldier, but with different thoughts. Whether it was that he thought too much of his schloss on the Rhine or the little box and dinners at Paris I cannot tell, but about four o'clock in the afternoon when I had finished my reading for the day and was walking about the gardens I came upon the most forlorn wretched-looking Normanby that ever was."His eyes of all assurance razed," as Dante says, in idiotic despair. I couldn't help laughing heartily in which he joined wildly it was so absurd. I saw it all in a glance. It wasn't necessary to ask a question. I took his arm and after a little I ventured "All gone!" "Every stiver" he said. "What all the winnings of these latter days?" "Every stiver and that's not the worst all I brought has gone too." Then he ranted at everything, he hadn't kept to his system, he had made a mistake in his calculations, he thought there must be something he hadn't anticipated. He cursed his luck, he used very strong expressions about his luck.

So we went home early. I advised him to lie down and sleep it off, so he laid down and didn't come to dinner. I had only a modest glass of German beer that day, poor Normanby had no dinner at all, his appetite was gone as well as his money. Next day I got up at six ordered our bill and had to pay after all for the splendour of the last day or two, which came to a considerable sum. Then I roused Normanby and never page 171shall I forget his look when he sat up in bed. In dreamland he had forgotten his losses, there he was still a Fortunatus and about to be the lord of chateaux and horses and happy shooting grounds, but when he was quite awoke and the reality of his situation came upon him all at once he groaned and laid down again. "We're off to Frankfort," I said, "I'm going to pack up your things." "Thanks" old man "let us get out of this place" he said, and dressed most disconsolately, "but how about the bill?" he said. "Paid," said I. "Thanks old man," that was all he could say. So we left the dazzling scene, and I suppose the same whirligig went on and other Normanbys would come to forge as gorgeous visions of pleasure and splendour without toil, fair fleeting dream, to go away as sad at heart.

Frankfort-on-the-Maine, this old free burgher town, is an interesting place, with the kaisers hanging round its Römer walls, an irony in the republican city whence old kaisers have long been banished, as I fear they must be from all the world some day. I have heard here for the first time in Germany the great school of German music, and I look with reverence and love at the house where Mendelssohn enjoyed much happy time. Great Mendelssohn, little more than two years ago I saw him at Birmingham conducting his new oratorio, the greatest work of genius I think this dull earth has heard for many a day; will it ever hear such another? And why should such a man just showing us what he could do, just rising to the maturity of his power, giving the highest delight to those whom his early works had educated, page 172why should he just then be taken from us, and leave us so inadequately to imagine what he might have done? I remember how a tenor solo towards the end of the oratorio was being sung by a young singer Felix was so moved he could hardly go on conducting. Only such minds as his can realise and appreciate the sublimity of such productions. I had the pleasure and honour to meet him afterwards privately and heard him play, and accompanied him on my violin while he played a German air I am very fond of. Though he must have known the grandeur of his compositions and have felt the divine afflatus that inspired them, he was the most modest of men, charming companion, happy and genial. What would one not have given to know him well, to have been his friend!

Oct. 6th.—I had almost forgotten in my description of old towns and modern gambling places, and reminiscences of Mendelssohn, to tell you how things have been going on with me since I wrote last, and how it is I can afford to take this pleasant holiday. It is then in this wise. After I had gone Circuit some time and had got to know some of the leading juniors well they occasionally asked me to hold their briefs, or as the saying is to devil for them at Westminster, when having three or four cases on at the same time they found it difficult to attend to them all themselves. On one occasion I had been engaged all day in this way in a big case in which a good firm of solicitors were instructing my learned friends, and I had examined one or two witnesses, while the said friends were all out of court attending to other cases, page 173and one of the said firm at the end of the day, to my great surprise, asked me where my chambers were, and said he wished to send me a brief in the morning so as to be certain of some one who would not leave him in the lurch, and in the morning sure enough the brief came with a respectable fee marked on it and I took greater interest than ever in the case. It lasted three days more, and afterwards they sent several instructions for pleadings and some briefs and I suppose were satisfied with my performances and perhaps mentioned me to other firms, for from that time briefs came in at shorter and shorter intervals. But the crowning point was on circuit when a young man and his wife, a delicate-looking young woman, were charged with murdering an old man and were undefended, and I happening to be in the criminal court the Judge asked me to undertake the defence. It certainly did look a bad case as the evidence for the Crown came out. The prisoners lived near the old man on a wild almost uninhabited part of the Yorkshire moorlands. It was known that he was miserly and had stored up a considerable sum of money. The young woman and the old man had been on rather intimate terms while her husband was away at work at a place about eight miles off. On the evening of the murder, according to the dying depositions of the old man, the young woman came into his cottage disguised and stayed there for some time talking, and while she was there a man, whom he believed to be her husband from his voice, came and knocked at the door and while the old man was opening the door he received a blow from page 174behind on the back of his head which knocked him down and partly stunned him. When he came to he found the woman kneeling on him and to stop his cries she rammed her own hair down his throat with a short stick. The stick was afterwards found in the cottage, and was produced in court, covered with blood and with some hair sticking to it. The two people then went off, taking with them what money they could find and leaving the old man dying. In the morning some one passing heard his groans and having given the alarm his depositions were taken and he died. The female prisoner next day changed two cheques which it was proved the old man had lately received, and several pounds were found in the cottage where the husband slept when at work, and one witness swore that he had seen the male prisoner near the old man's cottage about four o'clock in the morning after the affair. This was the case for the prosecution, and it took all day. After it was concluded I saw both prisoners separately. He seemed a goodnatured stupid sort of fellow. She was a weak nice-looking young woman of 22, apparently incapable of any act of violence, and was nursing her second baby a child of not quite three months old. The man declared he had slept at the place where he was at work all the night of the robbery, that it was harvest time and two men slept in the same room with him, both of whom had come up voluntarily to give evidence, and that his employer saw him at work at five in the morning. He accounted for possession of the money by saying his wife had given it him when he went home on the Saturday night before to page 175pay their rent with. The woman said she had found the cheques next day near the old man's cottage when she went, hearing he had been attacked, to see how he was, and as she was being pressed to pay a bill, when she heard the old man was dead and no one was likely to claim the money, she used the cheques to pay it with.

The next morning I proceeded with the defence, and called the two fellow-servants of the man, who proved as he had said, then I called the employer, who proved he was up at five in the morning and found the prisoner at his usual work. The female prisoner's father, a respectable sort of man, proved that he had given his daughter ten pounds a few days before to help her pay her rent that was in arrear. I had got out of one of the witnesses for the crown who knew the poor old man that some strange woman had been seen about his cottage a little time before, and I made the most of that. I saw the employer's evidence had got rid of the case against the husband, and I made the most of the point that if the evidence against him which had seemed so strong had been shown to be unreliable, so the evidence against her should be looked upon with suspicion. As to the possession of the cheques, which was the feature in the case the most damning, what more probable that the real thief should have got rid of so dangerous a piece of evidence as a cheque as soon as possible by throwing it away as soon as he got outside, and what more likely than the female prisoner's story that she page 176found them there, what more, conclusive proof of her innocence than the very fact that she dealt with those very cheques immediately after the robbery; would, I said, one with a guilty conscience have done so? If too I said you are of opinion that the man who was admittedly there just before the blow was struck was not the husband of this woman, and who can say he was, after the evidence of the two men who slept in the room with him all that night, how could the woman have been my client, what male accomplice could she have except her husband. I did on the whole pretty well, and what do you think old man I quoted that curious instance of hanging an innocent man on mere circumstantial evidence which you told us of when you were in Van Diemen's Land. I had to put it as a supposititious case, but trusting to your great discretion and veracity I added suddenly, "That once actually happened, and by a British jury sitting as you are now that man was judicially murdered." I think the jury was struck by it and they acquitted both prisoners, which I confess was more than I expected. The Judge was very complimentary in his summing up, and afterwards I got a good many defences. Thus in less than three years since I was called I am earning a very tolerable income and one that is likely to go on improving.

I must now stop this unconscionable long letter. Tomorrow we start homeward down the Rhine, then to Antwerp, where I look forward to seeing Rubens' great picture (how I dislike all I have seen of his yet!), and so page 177back to London fogs and hard work. Write soon old man I want particularly to hear how you are getting on.—Yours as ever,

C. Augustin B.