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Dream Of Rose Aylmer

( Originally Published 1906 )

" The lilies die with the dying hours !
Hushed is the song-birds' lay,
But I dream of summers and dream of flowers
That last alway."

A vision, just revealed and then withdrawn ; a dream that fled in the moment of waking ; a voice whose echo alone thrilled the air : —

"... one blue deep hour
Of lilies musical with busy bliss, — "

and then withdrawn into the unseen world to make Paradise more fair, — something of this was the dream of Rose Aylmer in the life of Walter Savage Landor, — a girl of seventeen with whom he wandered among garden roses and in shady lanes one summer in his earliest youth ; a girl who lent him a romance from whose pages he derived his idea of the poem of Gebir ; " and then their paths divided, — hers turning to India, where at the age of twenty she died, and his into the busy and absorbing experiences of life and literature, from whence, only at the age of nearly ninety years, was he released to go on into that far, fair country we shall all one day see. Yet, that this momentary vision of Rose Aylmer, in all her youth and grace and loveliness, left on Landor the most intense and permanent impress of all the experiences of his ninety years of life, can be doubted only by those who fail to understand that intense and eternal reality of an impress made on the imagination. It is the lightning-flash that leaves its mark ; the experience of one instant that stamps a lifetime.

" His instant thought a poet spoke
And filled the age his fame.
An inch of ground the lightning struck
But lit the sky with flame."

The poetry of a lifetime may be condensed into one brief summer's hour, but that hour will hold an influence far outweighing that of all the years. These are the moments that stamp their impress indelibly on life ; that control and determine its entire course and destiny. No one can ever go back of such experiences and be the same as before.

"Not wholly can the heart unlearn
The lesson of its better hours,
Nor yet has Time's dull footstep worn
To common dust that path of flowers."

Like a strain of ethereal music running as a motif through a great symphony, so the dream of Rose Aylmer ran through all Landor's long and varied experiences, only occasionally recur-ring to outward recognition, but holding its subtle coloring and control of his inner life. There are glimpses of things too beautiful for earthly realization that sometimes flash upon the vision ; through space and silence soul calls to soul, and all the fairy bells ring out in ethereal melody ; recognitions come as pledge and prophecy alone, and are withdrawn to flower into perfect realization in the life beyond. Yet within the cloud the glory lives undimmed, nor can any outer experience in life compare, in intensity and in ineffaceable impression, with these. Never can these experiences be 'banished from memory and imagination.

" We cross an unseen line
And lo ! another zone."

It is that which eludes the grasp, that which can never be defined, that thrills the soul with its immortal loveliness.

" The rose we gathered not
Lives in our hearts forever."

It is the voice that " from inmost dreamland calls " which echoes down the pathway of a life-time. In the beautiful words of Florence Earle Coates, -

"`Something I may not win attracts me ever, --
Something elusive, yet supremely fair,
Thrills me with gladness, but contents me never,
Fills me with sadness, yet forbids despair.

"It blossoms just beyond the paths I follow,
It shines beyond the farthest stars I see,
It echoes faint from ocean caverns hollow,
And from the land of dreams it beckons me.

"It calls, and all my best, with joyful feeling,
Essays to reach it as I make reply :
I feel its sweetness o'er my spirit stealing
Yet know ere I attain it, I must die ! "

The finer fruitions of life are like the seed that is not quickened unless it dies.

" The choicest fruitage comes not with the spring ;
But still for summer's mellowing touch must wait,
For storms and tears which seasoned excellence bring."

The life in this world

"... is not conclusion ; A sequel lies beyond."

The more significant and the more real experiences await their fruition in the life which is to come. " Love comes not by obeyed commands, but by fulfilled conditions." Between Walter Savage Landor and Rose Aylmer the conditions were not then fulfilled. It was a poetic rather than an emotional dream that Rose Aylmer inspired in the poet ; yet there can hardly be a question as to the unconscious influence that her memory exercised over his life, — an influence of exquisite delicacy and exaltation. The charm of the little lyric which bears Rose Aylmer's name as its title is something that eludes all analysis and enchains every heart. " The deep and tender pathos of that little poem could hardly be sur-passed," says John Forster, and in delicacy and sweetness it is perfect. It was first printed in its present form some years after it was written, — and has since affected many readers with the same indefinable charm ascribed to it by Charles Lamb in an unpublished letter to Landor in 1832, when he wrote : " Many things I had to say to you which there was not time for. One why should I forget? 'T is for Rose Aylmer, which has a charm I cannot explain. I lived upon it for weeks."

Myth and legend and reality have so united themselves regarding the personality of Rose Aylmer that many of the readers and lovers of Landor have hardly ascribed to her an existence more real than that of Poe's " Lenore." Yet Rose had a local habitation and a name and a most interesting history, however brief in its experiences on earth. The Honorable Rose Whit-worth Aylmer was born in England in October, 1779, and died on March 2, 1800, in India. The Aylmer family date back to John Aylmer, bishop of London in the sixteenth century. From him was descended Baron Aylmer, the fourth of that title, who died in 1785. Lady Aylmer and her daughters were living in retirement in Swansea, Wales, when Landor, suspended from Oxford for some infringement of college rules, fixed on Swansea as his place of retreat to read Milton and Pindar, he being just twenty-one at the time ; and thus the fates arranged their meeting. A younger sister of Rose became Mrs. Paynter and her two daughters, Rose and Sophy, were well known in London Society. Rose Paynter became Lady Graves- Sawle, and a miniature of her, painted by O. J. Taylor, portrays her as one of the most beautiful of women. To her Landor wrote a great number of letters ranging over the years from about 1838 to 1863, shortly before his death. It was soon after establishing himself in Villa Landor on the Fiesolan hills that he met Mrs. Paynter — somewhere early in the decade of 1830-40. He had not seen her before since, as a little child, he remembered her when meeting daily with the beautiful Rose, the dream of his early youth. Mrs. Paynter gave him a lock of Rose's hair, a tress of burnished gold, which to the latest day of his life he kept in his cedar writing-desk. Not long before his death Landor opened this desk one day to show its treasures to Kate Field, who has thus recorded the incident :

" Ianthe's portrait is not the only treasure this old desk contains,' Landor said, as he replaced it and took up a small package, very carefully tied, which he undid with great precaution, as though the treasure had wings and might escape, if not well guarded. ` There !' he said, holding up a pen-wiper made of red and gold stuff in the shape of a bell with an ivory handle, — ` that pen-wiper was given to me by , Rose's sister, forty years ago. Would you believe it ? Have I not kept it well ? ' The pen-wiper looked as though it had been made the day before, so fresh was it. 'Now,' continued Landor, ' I intend to give that to you.,

"' But, Mr. Landor —'

Tut ! tut ! there are to be no buts about it. My passage for another world is already engaged, and I know you 'Il take good care of my keepsake. There, now, put it in your pocket, and only use it on grand occasions.'

" Into my pocket the pen-wiper went, and, wrapped in the same old paper, it lies in another desk, as free from ink as it was four years ago.

" Who Rose was, no reader of Landor need be told, — she to whom ` Andrea of Hungary' was dedicated, and of whom Lady Blessington, in one of her letters to Landor, wrote : ` The tuneful bird, inspired of old by the Persian rose, warbled not more harmoniously its praise than you do that of the English Rose, whom posterity will know through your beautiful verses.' Many and many a time the gray-bearded poet related incidents of which this English Rose was the heroine, and for the moment seemed to live over again an interesting episode of his mature years."

It was undoubtedly the lady whom Landor called " Ianthe " to whom he wrote the stanzas :

"No, my own love of other years !
No, it must never be.
Much rests with you that yet endears,
Alas ! but what with me ?
Could those bright years o'er me revolve
So gay, o'er you so fair,
The pearl of life we would dissolve
And each the cup might share.
You show that truth can ne'er decay,
Whatever fate befalls ;
I, that the myrtle and the bay
Shoot fresh on ruin'd walls."

Stephen Wheeler, the accomplished editor of a number of " Letters," and heretofore unpublished writings of Landor, says in one of his interesting volumes —

" I have been unable to find any portrait of Rose Aylmer. In Mr. Andrew Lang's collection of lyrics there is a picture of a ghost-like lady which is supposed to represent her, but it is, I fear, merely a fancy sketch. A portrait of Lady Graves-Sawle, Rose Aylmer's niece, was published in the ' Book of Beauty for 1840.'

Rose Aylmer went out to India in May of 1798, with her uncle and aunt, Sir Henry and Lady RusselL Sir Henry was then the Judge of the Supreme Court of Judicature in Bombay and he was one of the distinguished men of the time and was appointed to this responsible position by the Crown. Lady Russell took with her two nieces, Rose Aylmer and another young girl who became the wife of Sir Theophilus Metcalfe. Of Miss Aylmer's two years' life in India no record seems obtainable ; but her death is chronicled in an Indian journal entitled the " Asiatic Register," the notice reading that " the Hon. Miss Aylmer, a young lady of great beauty and accomplishments, died in Calcutta on March 3, 1800, of Asiatic cholera." Her tomb is in the design of a high shaft set on a pedestal composed of several tiers of steps. It is in the cemetery in South Park Street in Calcutta, and engraved on it is the following inscription : —

" In memory of the Honorable Rose Whit-worth Aylmer, who departed this life March 3, 1800, aged twenty years."

It is said to be to her death that Landor alludes in the lines : —

" My pictures blacken in their frames
As night comes on,
And youthful maids and wrinkled dames
Are now all one.

" Death of the day ! A sterner
Death Did worse before ;
The fairest form, the sweetest breath
Away he bore."

When Mrs. Paynter gave the lock of her sister's hair to Landor, he wrote : —

"Beautiful spoils ! borne off from vanquisht death !
Upon my heart's high altar shall ye lie,
Moved but by only one adorer's breath,
Retaining youth, rewarding constancy."

To Lady Graves-Sawle before her marriage he wrote a little birthday verse that ran : —

" Ten days, ten only, intervene
Within your natal day
And mine, O Rose !— but wide between
What years there spread away ! "

The voluminous letters written by Landor to Lady Graves-Sawle, both for years before her marriage, and after it, up to the closing year of his life, reveal Landor in all his tenderness and playful joy of spirit. In Rose Paynter he felt some one akin to his dream-love, Rose Aylmer. Although Miss Paynter had never seen her aunt, yet for Rose Aylmer's sake as well as her own, she was endeared to Landor. Under date of December, 1838, he writes to Rose Paynter in Paris : You ought to be very happy, for you have taken all our happiness with you, and you know how much there was of it. When on one side of you is sorrow at leaving the most affectionate of mothers ; on the other all the pleasures and all the hopes awaiting and inviting you, consider what a precious thing it is to be so beloved by everybody. It will never make you proud : may it always make you happy."

Again he playfully writes to her : —

" Did mamma ever let you into the secret that she sometimes writes Italian poetry ? She wrote these lines on the Friday : —


Si, reposa la mia Rosa !
La mattina pallidina
Segnera per infelici ;
Chi są, chi są, quanti amid !
Sosterranno dire addio
Tutti quelli, — ma non io.'

" I never prided myself on my talents for translation, but I have attempted to give the following as much the air of the original as possible : —

' Calmly fall the night's repose
On your eyelids, blessed Rose !
When pale morning shines again,
It will shine on bitter pain.
Friends who see you go away
(Oh, how many friends !) will say,
"Blessed Rose ! adieu ! adieu ! "
I may bear to say it, too,
But alas ! when far from you.'

" . . . I have brought your rose-tree into the house this morning. It lost its last leaf the day you went. . . . Wear for my sake on your birthday the small white flower which you tell me has been admired in Paris. . . . You have much to do, much to see, much to enjoy ; I will not allow you to sacrifice too many half-hours in writing to me ; for I know that I shall always possess a quiet little nook in your memory."

In a letter to Miss Paynter under date of March, 1839, accompanying a copy for her of his little volume, " Andrea of Hungary and Giovanna of Naples," Landor says : " Believe me, it is a horrible thing to have many literary friends. They are apt to fancy that, however your time may be occupied, you must at all events have time enough to read what they send you.

Of Dickens Landor wrote, in a letter to Miss Paynter : " You fill me with delight by your generous and just remarks on Dickens. No mortal man ever exerted so beneficial and extensive an influence over the human heart."

A little lyric written to this later Rose of his friendship thus runs : —

" Nay, thank me not again for those
Camellias, that untimely rose ;
But if, whence you might please the more,
And win the few unwon before,
I sought the flowers you loved to wear
O'erjoyed to see them in your hair,
Upon my grave, I pray you, set
One primrose or one violet.
Nay, I can wait a little yet."

To Mrs. Paynter, Landor remarked in a letter that her daughter Rose had kept alive in him the spirit of poetry.

Miss Paynter was married in February of 1866 to Sir Charles Graves-Sawle, and for her wedding day Landor sent her a poem in which occur the lines:

". . . Arise,
Far-sighted bride ! Look forward ! Clearer views
And higher hopes lie under calmer skies.
Fortune in vain called out to thee ; in vain
Rays from high regions darted ; Wit poured out
His sparkling treasures ; Wisdom laid his crown
Of richer jewels at thy reckless feet.
Well hast thou chosen. I repeat the words,
Adding as true ones, not untold before,
That incense must have fire for its ascent,
Else 't is inert and cannot reach the idol."

For the birthday of Lady Graves-Sawle in 1857 he sent her the lyric : —

"The shadows deepen round me ; take,
I will not say my last adieu,
But, this faint verse ; and for my sake
Keep the last line I trace for you.

"The years that lightly touch your head
Nor steal away nor change one hair
Press upon mine with heavy tread
And leave but barren laurels there."

In 1860 he is urging Lady Graves-Sawle and her husband to visit him in Florence. " The Gulf of Spezia is quite as well worth seeing as the Bay of Naples," he says, " and Florence is richer in works of art than any other city in the world."

Again, in January of 1862, he writes to her of the many friends who are dead. " Mrs. Browning among these ; and Browning has gone to England, probably never to revisit Florence. There still remain Kirkup and Mrs. Trollope." And the last letter that Landor ever wrote to this cherished young friend was on her birthday, January 19, of 1864. " You see, dear Rose," he writes, " that I have not forgotten the nineteenth of January. May you have many such birthdays, all as happy as any in the past. In ten days more I shall enter my eighty-ninth year. . . . This is probably the last tidings you will receive from your affectionate old friend."

So it proved to be, although Landor lived on until the following September. But in all the chapters of human history there is perhaps no more tender and poetic idyl than this Dream of Rose Aylmer transferred from the beautiful ideal of his earliest youth to her niece and namesake, Rose Paynter, and thus continuing over a space of sixty-eight years, even into the closing years of his life.

In February of 1896 Sir Charles and Lady Graves-Sawle celebrated their golden wedding at their home in Penrice, Cornwall. They were the recipients of many gifts, among which were a pair of gold Queen Anne cups, presented by the Earl of Mount-Edgcombe in behalf of the county magistrates, with an illuminated address and a gold clock from their tenantry. Sir Charles Graves-Sawle was then eighty years of age. This event of less than a decade since seems to strangely bridge the time from the lovely Rose Aylmer of Landor's most exquisite lyric to the present day. Nor can this chapter in the life of Walter Savage Landor have any other closing save the lyric --almost the last that ever came from his pen — that follows :

" The grave is open ; soon to close
On him who sang the charms of Rose,
Her pensive brow, her placid eye,
Her smile, angelic purity,
Her voice so sweet, her speech so sage,
It checked wild Youth and cheered dull Age,
Her truth when others were untrue,
And vows forgotten.
Friends, adieu !
The grave is open. . . . O how far
From under that bright morning star."

The rest is silence.

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