William Ernest Henley; a Study in the "Counter-Decadence" of the 'Nineties

By Jerome Hamilton Buckley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5.
THE APPRENTICE-JOURNALIST. EDINBURGH AND LONDON: 1876-1880

THE appearance of the "Hospital Sketches" in the Cornhill had encouraged Henley to think of himself as the poet. Now released from the Infirmary, he concluded that a Circumstance, less "fell" than he had feared, was intending him to see with the poet's eye and to speak in the poet's voice. From his garret high above Princes Street he heard the sea wind whistling like organ music through the chimney pots of Edinburgh. In the evening he saw the terraced rows of the Old Town spread out below him in the dark, bejeweled with lamps, and far to the west the menacing Castle silhouetted against a silver sky. He looked poetically out over the same sordid city that long before had amazed and delighted and disgusted a querulous Matthew Bramble. And poetically he made of his observation lyric and sonnet.

Louis read his verses with approval; and in July, 1875, he sent a selection from them to Sidney Colvin, suggesting that the "lovely" melodies were "not altogether without some trace of [his] influence."1 Yet for all his romantic charm, Louis was forever the Scot; and as such, he attained a practicality almost beyond Henley's comprehension. If he praised the poetry, he taught the poet that in prose lay his livelihood. By precept and example, he proved that journalism itself might be treated as an art. Accordingly, Henley turned his gaze from the hills beyond to the publishing houses below. Though he kept by him always his "pipes pandean" and through them gave utterance to his deepest emotion, he sought his career elsewhere. Only after he had won repute as editor and critic could he gain audience for his descriptions of "the implacable night" and the "sinister seduction of the Moon."

It was probably through Stevenson's efforts that Hen

____________________
1
Stevenson, Works, XXVII, 113.

-71-

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