John Oliver Hobbes
( Originally Published 1901 )
JOHN OLIVER HOBBES is the pseudonym of Mrs. Pearl Mary Teresa Craigie. It appeared first in 1891, in the Pseudonym Library, over the study entitled " Some Emotions and a Moral." It is related that the first publisher to whom that story was offered accepted it on condition that the author find another title and make other lesser changes. She refused to make a single change, and the work finally went to a more courageous — and, we may say,— longer-headed publisher. "The author proposes and the publisher disposes," is not an every-day maxim.
Mrs. Craigie (doubtless many readers will be surprised to learn it) was born in Boston, Mass., on Nov. 3, 1867. Her mother's maiden name was Laura Hortense Arnold. Her father, John Morgan Richards, is the son of the Rev. James Richards, D.D., the founder of Auburn Theological Seminary, New York. Pearl was educated first privately, by tutors, then in Paris, and then in London, where, for a good many years, her father has chosen to reside. In London she was a pupil at University College. There she studied the ancient classics enthusiastically ; and there she attracted the attention of the well-known Professor Goodwin, by whose advice, later, she took up literature as a profession.
In 1887, at the age of nineteen, she was married to Mr. Reginald Walpole Craigie, a member of a well-established English family. Four years after the marriage she left her husband, taking with her their child, John Churchill Craigie, who was born in August, 1890 ; and in 1895 the separation culminated in a divorce. Since then Mrs. Craigie and her son have lived with her parents at 56 Lancaster Gate, W., London. Her amusements are music and chess.
This, in brief, is the biography of one of the most brilliant figures in contemporary English literature. And we hasten to claim her for America, for, notwithstanding her long residence abroad, notwithstanding her English interests and associations, she is at heart, we hear, " a very staunch American." But, in the first place, she is an intellectual cosmopolite. Her gifts have brought back to her a welcome from wherever men and women read English ; and to-day English is the language of the four corners of the globe.
In one respect, Mrs. Craigie reminds us of her greatest hero, Robert Orange. We do not need to lift the veil of domesticity to form the opinion that married life half stifled her ambition. She was not born to serve two masters. Orange was too sincere a man to take advantage of Parflete's death. His heart said "Rome," and to Rome he went ; and we can see him going, tranquilly yet determinedly. In some such manner, we fancy, Mrs. Craigie must have gone back to her father's house. Literally, too, she went to Rome, for she became a Roman Catholic in 1892, the year following the separation from her husband.
The year 1891 was doubly momentous. It saw not only her departure from under her husband's roof, but also the publication of her first book, "Some Emotions and a Moral." We have been informed that eighty thousand copies were sold in a few weeks ; anyhow, it is a positive fact that the book was one of the sensations of the day. For a long while the reading public remained incredulous over the announcement that the author was a woman. It was not merely the pseudonym, John Oliver Hobbes, that excited the incredulity ; it was also the form and the style of the book itself.
Mrs. Craigie once remarked that women are at a disadvantage in picturing men in their relations one to the other, particularly in the intimate relations of the mess-room and the smoking-room, and she cited Jane Austen's consummate tact in eluding the difficulty by keeping men apart, or, rather, by keeping them in the society of women. It oftentimes demands consummate tact to enforce the realization of a limitation; and in an artist the inability to paint things as they are seen is certainly a grave limitation. Of such a limitation the author of " Robert Orange " — we mention her most notable book — betrays no consciousness, for it is not in her. She affords us the enjoyment rather of consummate skill than of consummate tact. Therein she resembles, not Jane Austen, but George Eliot.
At the same time, we remember that when " Robert Orange " was the rage, some critics charged Mrs. Craigie with a lack of the power of convincing. " This is a fanciful hero," they declared. " Can a man love a woman so humanly, so deliriously as is herein depicted," asked one of them, " while being simultaneously drawn toward the monastic life ? " The novelist gave the best of answers — that Robert Orange was no mere production of the imagination, no embodiment of an idea, but a study from life.
The fact is, to make use of the novelist's expression, " Character is infinitely various, and the possibilities of action are in-exhaustible. When a fictitious personage does or says an incredible thing — of course I am not speaking of fairy tales, but of fiction that bears some relation to fact—it is incredible, not in the abstract, as it were, but because it is wrongly correlated to the individual character. Speaking for my-self, I hate and distrust plausibility. No writer is so little plausible as Balzac. His people are as full of surprises as our own most intimate friends ! "
We recall the comment that Mrs. Craigie's pages are filled with such subtle observations, straight philosophy and shining epigrams that they must be read slowly to be enjoyed. They are indeed, as a rule, pages relishable to the last word. Their psychology is always interesting and sometimes deeply affecting. They are pages not made to suit Marion Crawford's dictum, that a novel should be mere entertainment — assuming that his definition of entertainment goes no further than shivers and laughs. They who have found Mr. Craw-ford's " In the Palace of the King " the best of entertainment may have gone to sleep over Mrs. Craigie's " The School for Saints." Plausibility is not always to be distrusted. How prolix to such persons must have seemed the pages describing the journey of the hero and the heroine of "Robert Orange " to St. Malo. Orange had suddenly plunged from irresolution into marriage, and, as he looked down on Brigit's face in the starlight, his secret ideals returned to trouble him. The author suddenly plunges into the philosophy of the situation :
" Men's designs are never so indefinite and confused as when they meet with no outward resistance. A close attack has proved the salvation of most human wills and roused the energy of many drooping convictions. It is seldom good that one should enter into any vocation very easily, sweetly, and without strife. The best apprenticeships, whether ecclesiastical or religious, or civil or military, or political or artistic, are never the most calm. Whether we study the lives of saints or the lives of those distinguished in any walk of human endeavor where perfection, in some degree or other, has been at least the goal, we always find that the first years of the pursuit have been one bitter history of temptations, doubts, despondencies, struggles, and agonizing inconsistencies of volition. To natures cold originally, or extinguished by a false asceticism, many seeming acts of sacrifice are but the subtle indulgence of that curious selfishness which is not the more spiritual because it is independent of others, or the less repulsive because it is most contented in its isolation from every responsibility. A renunciation means the deliberate putting away of some-thing keenly loved, anxiously desired, or actually possessed ; it does not mean a well-weighed acceptance of the lesser, rather than the greater, trials of life."
All this in a breath, we may say; and yet, a dozen lines further on, begins another page of philosophical speculations. Mrs. Craigie is not content to paint the body : she must paint the soul also. For the most part they are the speculations met on the road from Aristotle to Cardinal Newman; but, for the most part, too, they have been freshened and garnished in the novelist's analytical mind. Her analytical faculties seem to have undergone a large development during the period of her domestic trouble and religious doubts. It was then, for the first time, that her mind came into contact with the minds of the great Christian psychologists. " Has it ever struck you," she asked a visitor casually, " that the Church of Rome, which alone among the churches of Western Europe enjoins and enforces continual examinations of conscience, is the real creator of modern analytical fiction ? The Fathers of the Church are the fathers of psychology. St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Bernard, and Abelard—where will you find subtler soul-searching than in their writings?"
In soul-searching, the author of "Love and the Soul-Hunters "— an appropriate title for the moment—is not excelled by any of her contemporaries, not even by the chirurgical dare-devil, Gabriele d'Annunzio. Yet she has also written passages of heart- touching tenderness, nor is she above smiles and little satires. Indeed, to mention love, who that ever reads it can soon forget the impassioned confession of Lady Sara-Louise-Tatiana-Valérie De Treverell :
"I never say my prayers, because I cannot say them, but I love somebody, too. Whenever I hear his name I could faint. When I see him I could sink into the ground. At the sight of his handwriting I grow cold from head to foot, I tremble, my heart aches so that it seems breaking in two. I long to be with him, yet when I am with him I have nothing to say. I have to escape and be miserable all alone. He is my thought all day : the last before I sleep, the first when I awake. I could cry, and cry, and cry. I try to read, and I remember not a word. I like playing best, for then l can almost imagine that he is listening. But when I stop playing and look round, I find myself in an empty room. It is awful! I call his name ; no one answers. I whisper it; still no answer. I throw myself on the ground, and I say, ' Think of me ! think of me ! you shall, you must, you do think of me ! ' It is great torture and a great despair. Perhaps it is a madness, too. But it is my way of loving. I want to live while I live. If I knew for certain that he loved me—me only the joy, I think, would kill me. Love ! Do you know, poor little angel, what it means? Sometimes it is a curse."
It is more than plausible that Pensée, who had to listen to this, was really " shaking like some small flower in a violent gale."
Lately Mrs. Craigie has done some writing for the stage. Without question the best of her plays is "The Ambassador," which fulfils Mr. Howells's ideal, for like one of the best of Oscar Wilde's plays or Mr. Pinero's, it is as lustrous between covers as in the theatre. But all in all, our heroine's career as a playwright has not been a flattering experience, and we were not unprepared for her recent statement that " the public does not want to think in the theatre, or to have the serious aspects of life forced upon its attention. What it chiefly wants is flattery," and so on, in the traditional manner of the fallen idol. Fortunately, perhaps, for the reputation of Alexander, he had no other worlds to conquer.
" Love and the Soul-Hunters " is the novel on which Mrs. Craigie has been working lately. She writes us that she also has in mind a serial story for Harper's and a play.
The novelist is described as " a slender woman, not very tall, but very well built. Her face, eyes and hair are dark, and she has a wonderful sort of personal magnetism which, her friends believe, would have served her well had she gone on the stage." She has occasionally gone to a convent to write, for her temperament demands tranquillity. When in London she writes in the library, which is on the first floor of the Richards house. In the summer most of her work is done at Steephill Castle, Isle of Wight.
She sits for hours ruminating on her plots, then she writes, rapidly, accurately. Literally she transfers the story chapter by chapter from her mind to the paper on the table before her. In society she is said to have been admired — mostly for her intellectual charms since her school days. Although not robust in health — she generally spends the winter in the south of Europe or in Egypt — she does an amount of work that quite nullifies the effect of her remark to Mr. Archer (" Real Conversations," in the Critic) that "in all our speculations upon the differences of faculty in the two sexes, we are rather apt to forget the effect of the fundamental difference in mere bodily power of endurance."