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´╗┐Title: Table Talk: Essays on Men and Manners
Author: Hazlitt, William, 1778-1830
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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By William Hazlitt



  1. On the Pleasure of Painting
  2. The Same Subject Continued
  3. On the Past and Future
  4. On Genius and Common Sense
  5. The Same Subject Continued
  6. Character of Cobbett
  7. On People With One Idea
  8. On the Ignorance of the Learned
  9. The Indian Jugglers
  10. On Living To One's-Self
  11. On Thought and Action
  12. On Will-Making
  13. On Certain Inconsistencies In Sir Joshua Reynolds's Discourses
  14. The Same Subject Continued
  15. On Paradox and Common-Place
  16. On Vulgarity and Affectation


  1. On a Landscape of Nicholas Poussin
  2. On Milton's Sonnets
  3. On Going a Journey
  4. On Coffee-House Politicians
  5. On the Aristocracy of Letters
  6. On Criticism
  7. On Great and Little Things
  8. On Familiar Style
  9. On Effeminacy of Character
  10. Why Distant Objects Please
  11. On Corporate Bodies
  12. Whether Actors Ought To Sit in the Boxes
  13. On the Disadvantages of Intellectual Superiority
  14. On Patronage and Puffing
  15. On the Knowledge of Character
  16. On the Picturesque and Ideal
  17. On the Fear of Death



'There is a pleasure in painting which none but painters know.' In
writing, you have to contend with the world; in painting, you have only
to carry on a friendly strife with Nature. You sit down to your task,
and are happy. From the moment that you take up the pencil, and look
Nature in the face, you are at peace with your own heart. No angry
passions rise to disturb the silent progress of the work, to shake the
hand, or dim the brow: no irritable humours are set afloat: you have no
absurd opinions to combat, no point to strain, no adversary to crush,
no fool to annoy--you are actuated by fear or favour to no man. There
is 'no juggling here,' no sophistry, no intrigue, no tampering with the
evidence, no attempt to make black white, or white black: but you resign
yourself into the hands of a greater power, that of Nature, with the
simplicity of a child, and the devotion of an enthusiast--'study with
joy her manner, and with rapture taste her style.' The mind is calm, and
full at the same time. The hand and eye are equally employed. In
tracing the commonest object, a plant or the stump of a tree, you
learn something every moment. You perceive unexpected differences, and
discover likenesses where you looked for no such thing. You try to set
down what you see--find out your error, and correct it. You need not
play tricks, or purposely mistake: with all your pains, you are still
far short of the mark. Patience grows out of the endless pursuit, and
turns it into a luxury. A streak in a flower, a wrinkle in a leaf, a
tinge in a cloud, a stain in an old wall or ruin grey, are seized
with avidity as the _spolia opima_ of this sort of mental warfare, and
furnish out labour for another half-day. The hours pass away untold,
without chagrin, and without weariness; nor would you ever wish to
pass them otherwise. Innocence is joined with industry, pleasure
with business; and the mind is satisfied, though it is not engaged in
thinking or in doing any mischief.(1)

I have not much pleasure in writing these _Essays_, or in reading them
afterwards; though I own I now and then meet with a phrase that I like,
or a thought that strikes me as a true one. But after I begin them, I am
only anxious to get to the end of them, which I am not sure I shall do,
for I seldom see my way a page or even a sentence beforehand; and when I
have as by a miracle escaped, I trouble myself little more about them.
I sometimes have to write them twice over: then it is necessary to read
the _proof_, to prevent mistakes by the printer; so that by the time
they appear in a tangible shape, and one can con them over with a
conscious, sidelong glance to the public approbation, they have lost
their gloss and relish, and become 'more tedious than a twice-told
tale.' For a person to read his own works over with any great delight,
he ought first to forget that he ever wrote them. Familiarity naturally
breeds contempt. It is, in fact, like poring fondly over a piece of
blank paper; from repetition, the words convey no distinct meaning
to the mind--are mere idle sounds, except that our vanity claims an
interest and property in them. I have more satisfaction in my own
thoughts than in dictating them to others: words are necessary to
explain the impression of certain things upon me to the reader, but they
rather weaken and draw a veil over than strengthen it to myself. However
I might say with the poet, 'My mind to me a kingdom is,' yet I have
little ambition 'to set a throne or chair of state in the understandings
of other men.' The ideas we cherish most exist best in a kind of shadowy

 Pure in the last recesses of the mind,

and derive neither force nor interest from being exposed to public view.
They are old familiar acquaintance, and any change in them, arising
from the adventitious ornaments of style or dress, is little to their
advantage. After I have once written on a subject, it goes out of my
mind: my feelings about it have been melted down into words, and _then_
I forget. I have, as it were, discharged my memory of its old habitual
reckoning, and rubbed out the score of real sentiment. For the future
it exists only for the sake of others. But I cannot say, from my own
experience, that the same process takes place in transferring our
ideas to canvas; they gain more than they lose in the mechanical
transformation. One is never tired of painting, because you have to set
down not what you knew already, but what you have just discovered. In
the former case you translate feelings into words; in the latter, names
into things. There is a continual creation out of nothing going on.
With every stroke of the brush a new field of inquiry is laid open;
new difficulties arise, and new triumphs are prepared over them. By
comparing the imitation with the original, you see what you have done,
and how much you have still to do. The test of the senses is severer
than that of fancy, and an over-match even for the delusions of our
self-love. One part of a picture shames another, and you determine to
paint up to yourself, if you cannot come up to Nature. Every object
becomes lustrous from the light thrown back upon it by the mirror of
art: and by the aid of the pencil we may be said to touch and handle
the objects of sight. The air-drawn visions that hover on the verge of
existence have a bodily presence given them on the canvas: the form
of beauty is changed into a substance: the dream and the glory of the
universe is made 'palpable to feeling as well as sight.'--And see! a
rainbow starts from the canvas, with its humid train of glory, as if
it were drawn from its cloudy arch in heaven. The spangled landscape
glitters with drops of dew after the shower. The 'fleecy fools' show
their coats in the gleams of the setting sun. The shepherds pipe their
farewell notes in the fresh evening air. And is this bright vision made
from a dead, dull blank, like a bubble reflecting the mighty fabric of
the universe? Who would think this miracle of Rubens' pencil possible
to be performed? Who, having seen it, would not spend his life to do
the like? See how the rich fallows, the bare stubble-field, the scanty
harvest-home, drag in Rembrandt's landscapes! How often have I looked
at them and nature, and tried to do the same, till the very 'light
thickened,' and there was an earthiness in the feeling of the air! There
is no end of the refinements of art and nature in this respect. One
may look at the misty glimmering horizon till the eye dazzles and the
imagination is lost, in hopes to transfer the whole interminable expanse
at one blow upon the canvas. Wilson said, he used to try to paint the
effect of the motes dancing in the setting sun. At another time, a
friend, coming into his painting-room when he was sitting on the
ground in a melancholy posture, observed that his picture looked like a
landscape after a shower: he started up with the greatest delight,
and said, 'That is the effect I intended to produce, but thought I had
failed.' Wilson was neglected; and, by degrees, neglected his art to
apply himself to brandy. His hand became unsteady, so that it was only
by repeated attempts that he could reach the place or produce the effect
he aimed at; and when he had done a little to a picture, he would say to
any acquaintance who chanced to drop in, 'I have painted enough for one
day: come, let us go somewhere.' It was not so Claude left his pictures,
or his studies on the banks of the Tiber, to go in search of other
enjoyments, or ceased to gaze upon the glittering sunny vales and
distant hills; and while his eye drank in the clear sparkling hues and
lovely forms of nature, his hand stamped them on the lucid canvas to
last there for ever! One of the most delightful parts of my life was
one fine summer, when I used to walk out of an evening to catch the last
light of the sun, gemming the green slopes or russet lawns, and gilding
tower or tree, while the blue sky, gradually turning to purple and gold,
or skirted with dusky grey, hung its broad marble pavement over all,
as we see it in the great master of Italian landscape. But to come to a
more particular explanation of the subject:--

The first head I ever tried to paint was an old woman with the upper
part of the face shaded by her bonnet, and I certainly laboured (at) it
with great perseverance. It took me numberless sittings to do it. I have
it by me still, and sometimes look at it with surprise, to think how
much pains were thrown away to little purpose,--yet not altogether in
vain if it taught me to see good in everything, and to know that there
is nothing vulgar in Nature seen with the eye of science or of true
art. Refinement creates beauty everywhere: it is the grossness of the
spectator that discovers nothing but grossness in the object. Be this as
it may, I spared no pains to do my best. If art was long, I thought that
life was so too at that moment. I got in the general effect the first
day; and pleased and surprised enough I was at my success. The rest was
a work of time--of weeks and months (if need were), of patient toil
and careful finishing. I had seen an old head by Rembrandt at Burleigh
House, and if I could produce a head at all like Rembrandt in a year, in
my lifetime, it would be glory and felicity and wealth and fame enough
for me! The head I had seen at Burleigh was an exact and wonderful
facsimile of nature, and I resolved to make mine (as nearly as I could)
an exact facsimile of nature. I did not then, nor do I now believe,
with Sir Joshua, that the perfection of art consists in giving
general appearances without individual details, but in giving general
appearances with individual details. Otherwise, I had done my work the
first day. But I saw something more in nature than general effect, and
I thought it worth my while to give it in the picture. There was a
gorgeous effect of light and shade; but there was a delicacy as well as
depth in the chiaroscuro which I was bound to follow into its dim and
scarce perceptible variety of tone and shadow. Then I had to make
the transition from a strong light to as dark a shade, preserving the
masses, but gradually softening off the intermediate parts. It was so
in nature; the difficulty was to make it so in the copy. I tried, and
failed again and again; I strove harder, and succeeded as I thought.
The wrinkles in Rembrandt were not hard lines, but broken and
irregular. I saw the same appearance in nature, and strained every nerve
to give it. If I could hit off this edgy appearance, and insert the
reflected light in the furrows of old age in half a morning, I did not
think I had lost a day. Beneath the shrivelled yellow parchment look of
the skin, there was here and there a streak of the blood-colour tinging
the face; this I made a point of conveying, and did not cease to compare
what I saw with what I did (with jealous, lynx-eyed watchfulness) till
I succeeded to the best of my ability and judgment. How many revisions
were there! How many attempts to catch an expression which I had seen
the day before! How often did we try to get the old position, and wait
for the return of the same light! There was a puckering up of the lips,
a cautious introversion of the eye under the shadow of the bonnet,
indicative of the feebleness and suspicion of old age, which at last we
managed, after many trials and some quarrels, to a tolerable nicety.
The picture was never finished, and I might have gone on with it to the
present hour.(2) I used to sit it on the ground when my day's work was
done, and saw revealed to me with swimming eyes the birth of new hopes
and of a new world of objects. The painter thus learns to look at Nature
with different eyes. He before saw her 'as in a glass darkly, but now
face to face.' He understands the texture and meaning of the visible
universe, and 'sees into the life of things,' not by the help of
mechanical instruments, but of the improved exercise of his faculties,
and an intimate sympathy with Nature. The meanest thing is not lost upon
him, for he looks at it with an eye to itself, not merely to his own
vanity or interest, or the opinion of the world. Even where there is
neither beauty nor use--if that ever were--still there is truth, and a
sufficient source of gratification in the indulgence of curiosity and
activity of mind. The humblest printer is a true scholar; and the best
of scholars--the scholar of Nature. For myself, and for the real comfort
and satisfaction of the thing, I had rather have been Jan Steen, or
Gerard Dow, than the greatest casuist or philologer that ever lived.
The painter does not view things in clouds or 'mist, the common gloss of
theologians,' but applies the same standard of truth and disinterested
spirit of inquiry, that influence his daily practice, to other subjects.
He perceives form, he distinguishes character. He reads men and books
with an intuitive eye. He is a critic as well as a connoisseur. The
conclusions he draws are clear and convincing, because they are taken
from the things themselves. He is not a fanatic, a dupe, or a slave; for
the habit of seeing for himself also disposes him to judge for himself.
The most sensible men I know (taken as a class) are painters; that is,
they are the most lively observers of what passes in the world about
them, and the closest observers of what passes in their own minds. From
their profession they in general mix more with the world than authors;
and if they have not the same fund of acquired knowledge, are obliged
to rely more on individual sagacity. I might mention the names of Opie,
Fuseli, Northcote, as persons distinguished for striking description
and acquaintance with the subtle traits of character.(3) Painters in
ordinary society, or in obscure situations where their value is
not known, and they are treated with neglect and indifference, have
sometimes a forward self-sufficiency of manner; but this is not so much
their fault as that of others. Perhaps their want of regular education
may also be in fault in such cases. Richardson, who is very tenacious of
the respect in which the profession ought to be held, tells a story of
Michael Angelo, that after a quarrel between him and Pope Julius II.,
'upon account of a slight the artist conceived the pontiff had put upon
him, Michael Angelo was introduced by a bishop, who, thinking to serve
the artist by it, made it an argument that the Pope should be reconciled
to him, because men of his profession were commonly ignorant, and of no
consequence otherwise; his holiness, enraged at the bishop, struck him
with his staff, and told him, it was he that was the blockhead, and
affronted the man himself would not offend: the prelate was driven
out of the chamber, and Michael Angelo had the Pope's benediction,
accompanied with presents. This bishop had fallen into the vulgar error,
and was rebuked accordingly.'

Besides the exercise of the mind, painting exercises the body. It is a
mechanical as well as a liberal art. To do anything, to dig a hole in
the ground, to plant a cabbage, to hit a mark, to move a shuttle, to
work a pattern,--in a word, to attempt to produce any effect, and to
_succeed,_ has something in it that gratifies the love of power, and
carries off the restless activity of the mind of man. Indolence is
a delightful but distressing state; we must be doing something to be
happy. Action is no less necessary than thought to the instinctive
tendencies of the human frame; and painting combines them both
incessantly.(4) The hand is furnished a practical test of the
correctness of the eye; and the eye, thus admonished, imposes fresh
tasks of skill and industry upon the hand. Every stroke tells as the
verifying of a new truth; and every new observation, the instant it is
made, passes into an act and emanation of the will. Every step is
nearer what we wish, and yet there is always more to do. In spite of the
facility, the fluttering grace, the evanescent hues, that play round the
pencil of Rubens and Van-dyke, however I may admire, I do not envy them
this power so much as I do the slow, patient, laborious execution of
Correggio, Leonardo da Vinci, and Andrea del Sarto, where every touch
appears conscious of its charge, emulous of truth, and where the painful
artist has so distinctly wrought,

 That you might almost say his picture thought.

In the one case the colours seem breathed on the canvas as if by magic,
the work and the wonder of a moment; in the other they seem inlaid in
the body of the work, and as if it took the artist years of unremitting
labour, and of delightful never-ending progress to perfection.(5) Who
would wish ever to come to the close of such works,--not to dwell on
them, to return to them, to be wedded to them to the last? Rubens, with
his florid, rapid style, complains that when he had just learned his
art, he should be forced to die. Leonardo, in the slow advances of his,
had lived long enough!

Painting is not, like writing, what is properly understood by a
sedentary employment. It requires not indeed a strong, but a continued
and steady exertion of muscular power. The precision and delicacy of
the manual operation, makes up for the want of vehemence,--as to balance
himself for any time in the same position the rope-dancer must strain
every nerve. Painting for a whole morning gives one as excellent an
appetite for one's dinner as old Abraham Tucker acquired for his by
riding over Banstead Downs. It is related of Sir Joshua Reynolds, that
'he took no other exercise than what he used in his painting-room,'--the
writer means, in walking backwards and forwards to look at his picture;
but the act of painting itself, of laying on the colours in the
proper place and proper quantity, was a much harder exercise than this
alternate receding from and returning to the picture. This last would be
rather a relaxation and relief than an effort. It is not to be wondered
at, that an artist like Sir Joshua, who delighted so much in the
sensual and practical part of his art, should have found himself at a
considerable loss when the decay of his sight precluded him, for
the last year or two of his life, from the following up of his
profession,--'the source,' according to his own remark, 'of thirty
years' uninterrupted enjoyment and prosperity to him.' It is only those
who never think at all, or else who have accustomed themselves to brood
incessantly on abstract ideas, that never feel ennui.

To give one instance more, and then I will have done with this rambling
discourse. One of my first attempts was a picture of my father, who was
then in a green old age, with strong-marked features, and scarred
with the smallpox. I drew it out with a broad light crossing the face,
looking down, with spectacles on, reading. The book was Shaftesbury's
_Characteristics_, in a fine old binding, with Gribelin's etchings. My
father would as lieve it had been any other book; but for him to read
was to be content, was 'riches fineless.' The sketch promised well; and
I set to work to finish it, determined to spare no time nor pains. My
father was willing to sit as long as I pleased; for there is a natural
desire in the mind of man to sit for one's picture, to be the object of
continued attention, to have one's likeness multiplied; and besides his
satisfaction in the picture, he had some pride in the artist, though he
would rather I should have written a sermon than painted like Rembrandt
or like Raphael. Those winter days, with the gleams of sunshine
coming through the chapel-windows, and cheered by the notes of the
robin-redbreast in our garden (that 'ever in the haunch of winter
sings'),--as my afternoon's work drew to a close,--were among the
happiest of my life. When I gave the effect I intended to any part of
the picture for which I had prepared my colours; when I imitated the
roughness of the skin by a lucky stroke of the pencil; when I hit
the clear, pearly tone of a vein; when I gave the ruddy complexion of
health, the blood circulating under the broad shadows of one side of
the face, I thought my fortune made; or rather it was already more
than made, I might one day be able to say with Correggio, '_I also am a
painter!_' It was an idle thought, a boy's conceit; but it did not make
me less happy at the time. I used regularly to set my work in the chair
to look at it through the long evenings; and many a time did I return to
take leave of it before I could go to bed at night. I remember sending
it with a throbbing heart to the Exhibition, and seeing it hung up there
by the side of one of the Honourable Mr. Skeffington (now Sir George).
There was nothing in common between them, but that they were the
portraits of two very good-natured men. I think, but am not sure, that I
finished this portrait (or another afterwards) on the same day that the
news of the battle of Austerlitz came; I walked out in the afternoon,
and, as I returned, saw the evening star set over a poor man's cottage
with other thoughts and feelings than I shall ever have again. Oh for
the revolution of the great Platonic year, that those times might come
over again! I could sleep out the three hundred and sixty-five thousand
intervening years very contentedly!--The picture is left: the table, the
chair, the window where I learned to construe Livy, the chapel where my
father preached, remain where they were; but he himself is gone to rest,
full of years, of faith, of hope, and charity!


(1) There is a passage in Werter which contains a very pleasing
illustration of this doctrine, and is as follows:--

'About a league from the town is a place called Walheim. It is very
agreeably situated on the side of a hill: from one of the paths which
leads out of the village, you have a view of the whole country; and
there to a good old woman who sells wine, coffee, and tea there: but
better than all this are two lime-trees before the church, which spread
their branches over a little green, surrounded by barns and cottages. I
have seen few places more retired and peaceful. I send for a chair and
table from the old woman's, and there I drink my coffee and read Homer.
It was by accident that I discovered this place one fine afternoon: all
was perfect stillness; everybody was in the fields, except a little boy
about four years old, who was sitting on the ground, and holding between
his knees a child of about six months; he pressed it to his bosom
with his little arms, which made a sort of great chair for it; and
notwithstanding the vivacity which sparkled in his eyes, he sat
perfectly still. Quite delighted with the scene, I sat down on a plough
opposite, and had great pleasure in drawing this little picture of
brotherly tenderness. I added a bit of the hedge, the barn-door, and
some broken cart-wheels, without any order, just as they happened
to lie; and in about an hour I found I had made a drawing of great
expression and very correct design without having put in anything of my
own. This confirmed me in the resolution I had made before, only to
copy Nature for the future. Nature is inexhaustible, and alone forms
the greatest masters. Say what you will of rules, they alter the true
features and the natural expression.'

(2) It is at present covered with a thick slough of oil and varnish
(the perishable vehicle of the English school), like an envelope of
goldbeaters' skin, so as to be hardly visible.

(3) Men in business, who are answerable with their fortunes for
the consequences of their opinions, and are therefore accustomed to
ascertain pretty accurately the grounds on which they act, before they
commit themselves on the event, are often men of remarkably quick and
sound judgements. Artists in like manner must know tolerably well what
they are about, before they can bring the result of their observations
to the test of ocular demonstration.

(4) The famous Schiller used to say, that he found the great happiness
of life, after all, to consist in the discharge of some mechanical duty.

(5) The rich _impasting_ of Titian and Giorgione combines something of
the advantages of both these styles, the felicity of the one with the
carefulness of the other, and is perhaps to be preferred to either.


The painter not only takes a delight in nature, he has a new
and exquisite source of pleasure opened to him in the study and
contemplation of works of art--

 Whate'er Lorraine light touch'd with soft'ning hue,
 Or savage Rosa dash'd, or learned Poussin drew.

He turns aside to view a country gentleman's seat with eager looks,
thinking it may contain some of the rich products of art. There is
an air round Lord Radnor's park, for there hang the two Claudes, the
Morning and Evening of the Roman Empire--round Wilton House, for there
is Vandyke's picture of the Pembroke family--round Blenheim, for there
is his picture of the Duke of Buckingham's children, and the most
magnificent collection of Rubenses in the world--at Knowsley, for there
is Rembrandt's Handwriting on the Wall--and at Burleigh, for there are
some of Guido's angelic heads. The young artist makes a pilgrimage to
each of these places, eyes them wistfully at a distance, 'bosomed high
in tufted trees,' and feels an interest in them of which the owner is
scarce conscious: he enters the well-swept walks and echoing archways,
passes the threshold, is led through wainscoted rooms, is shown the
furniture, the rich hangings, the tapestry, the massy services of
plate--and, at last, is ushered into the room where his treasure is, the
idol of his vows--some speaking face or bright landscape! It is stamped
on his brain, and lives there thenceforward, a tally for nature, and a
test of art. He furnishes out the chambers of the mind from the spoils
of time, picks and chooses which shall have the best places--nearest his
heart. He goes away richer than he came, richer than the possessor;
and thinks that he may one day return, when he perhaps shall have done
something like them, or even from failure shall have learned to admire
truth and genius more.

My first initiation in the mysteries of the art was at the Orleans
Gallery: it was there I formed my taste, such as it is; so that I am
irreclaimably of the old school in painting. I was staggered when I saw
the works there collected, and looked at them with wondering and with
longing eyes. A mist passed away from my sight: the scales fell off. A
new sense came upon me, a new heaven and a new earth stood before me.
I saw the soul speaking in the face--'hands that the rod of empire had
swayed' in mighty ages past--'a forked mountain or blue promontory,'

 --with trees upon't
 That nod unto the world, and mock our eyes with air.

Old Time had unlocked his treasures, and Fame stood portress at
the door. We had all heard of the names of Titian, Raphael, Guido,
Domenichino, the Caracci--but to see them face to face, to be in the
same room with their deathless productions, was like breaking some
mighty spell--was almost an effect of necromancy! From that time I lived
in a world of pictures. Battles, sieges, speeches in parliament seemed
mere idle noise and fury, 'signifying nothing,' compared with those
mighty works and dreaded names that spoke to me in the eternal silence
of thought. This was the more remarkable, as it was but a short time
before that I was not only totally ignorant of, but insensible to the
beauties of art. As an instance, I remember that one afternoon I was
reading _The Provoked Husband_ with the highest relish, with a green
woody landscape of Ruysdael or Hobbima just before me, at which I looked
off the book now and then, and wondered what there could be in that sort
of work to satisfy or delight the mind--at the same time asking myself,
as a speculative question, whether I should ever feel an interest in it
like what I took in reading Vanbrugh and Cibber?

I had made some progress in painting when I went to the Louvre to study,
and I never did anything afterwards. I never shall forget conning
over the Catalogue which a friend lent me just before I set out. The
pictures, the names of the painters, seemed to relish in the mouth.
There was one of Titian's Mistress at her toilette. Even the colours
with which the painter had adorned her hair were not more golden, more
amiable to sight, than those which played round and tantalised my fancy
ere I saw the picture. There were two portraits by the same hand--'A
young Nobleman with a glove'--Another, 'a companion to it.' I read
the description over and over with fond expectancy, and filled up the
imaginary outline with whatever I could conceive of grace, and dignity,
and an antique gusto--all but equal to the original. There was the
Transfiguration too. With what awe I saw it in my mind's eye, and
was overshadowed with the spirit of the artist! Not to have been
disappointed with these works afterwards, was the highest compliment I
can pay to their transcendent merits. Indeed, it was from seeing other
works of the same great masters that I had formed a vague, but no
disparaging idea of these. The first day I got there, I was kept for
some time in the French Exhibition Room, and thought I should not be
able to get a sight of the old masters. I just caught a peep at them
through the door (vile hindrance!) like looking out of purgatory into
paradise--from Poussin's noble, mellow-looking landscapes to where
Rubens hung out his gaudy banner, and down the glimmering vista to
the rich jewels of Titian and the Italian school. At last, by much
importunity, I was admitted, and lost not an instant in making use of my
new privilege. It was _un beau jour_ to me. I marched delighted through
a quarter of a mile of the proudest efforts of the mind of man, a whole
creation of genius, a universe of art! I ran the gauntlet of all the
schools from the bottom to the top; and in the end got admitted into the
inner room, where they had been repairing some of their greatest works.
Here the Transfiguration, the St. Peter Martyr, and the St. Jerome of
Domenichino stood on the floor, as if they had bent their knees, like
camels stooping, to unlade their riches to the spectator. On one side,
on an easel, stood Hippolito de Medici (a portrait by Titian), with a
boar-spear in his hand, looking through those he saw, till you turned
away from the keen glance; and thrown together in heaps were landscapes
of the same hand, green pastoral hills and vales, and shepherds piping
to their mild mistresses underneath the flowering shade. Reader, 'if
thou hast not seen the Louvre thou art damned!'--for thou hast not seen
the choicest remains of the works of art; or thou hast not seen all
these together with their mutually reflected glories. I say nothing of
the statues; for I know but little of sculpture, and never liked any
till I saw the Elgin Marbles.... Here, for four months together, I
strolled and studied, and daily heard the warning sound--'Quatres heures
passees, il faut fermer, Citoyens'--(Ah! why did they ever change their
style?) muttered in coarse provincial French; and brought away with
me some loose draughts and fragments, which I have been forced to
part with, like drops of life-blood, for 'hard money.' How often, thou
tenantless mansion of godlike magnificence--how often has my heart since
gone a pilgrimage to thee!

It has been made a question, whether the artist, or the mere man
of taste and natural sensibility, receives most pleasure from the
contemplation of works of art; and I think this question might be
answered by another as a sort of _experimentum crucis_, namely, whether
any one out of that 'number numberless' of mere gentlemen and amateurs,
who visited Paris at the period here spoken of, felt as much interest,
as much pride or pleasure in this display of the most striking monuments
of art as the humblest student would? The first entrance into the Louvre
would be only one of the events of his journey, not an event in his
life, remembered ever after with thankfulness and regret. He would
explore it with the same unmeaning curiosity and idle wonder as he would
the Regalia in the Tower, or the Botanic Garden in the Tuileries, but
not with the fond enthusiasm of an artist. How should he? His is
'casual fruition, joyless, unendeared.' But the painter is wedded to his
art--the mistress, queen, and idol of his soul. He has embarked his
all in it, fame, time, fortune, peace of mind--his hopes in youth, his
consolation in age: and shall he not feel a more intense interest
in whatever relates to it than the mere indolent trifler? Natural
sensibility alone, without the entire application of the mind to that
one object, will not enable the possessor to sympathise with all
the degrees of beauty and power in the conceptions of a Titian or a
Correggio; but it is he only who does this, who follows them into all
their force and matchless race, that does or can feel their full value.
Knowledge is pleasure as well as power. No one but the artist who has
studied nature and contended with the difficulties of art, can be aware
of the beauties, or intoxicated with a passion for painting. No one who
has not devoted his life and soul to the pursuit of art can feel the
same exultation in its brightest ornaments and loftiest triumphs which
an artist does. Where the treasure is, there the heart is also. It is
now seventeen years since I was studying in the Louvre (and I have on
since given up all thoughts of the art as a profession), but long after
I returned, and even still, I sometimes dream of being there again--of
asking for the old pictures--and not finding them, or finding them
changed or faded from what they were, I cry myself awake! What
gentleman-amateur ever does this at such a distance of time,--that is,
ever received pleasure or took interest enough in them to produce so
lasting an impression?

But it is said that if a person had the same natural taste, and the
same acquired knowledge as an artist, without the petty interests and
technical notions, he would derive a purer pleasure from seeing a fine
portrait, a fine landscape, and so on. This, however, is not so much
begging the question as asking an impossibility: he cannot have the same
insight into the end without having studied the means; nor the same
love of art without the same habitual and exclusive attachment to it.
Painters are, no doubt, often actuated by jealousy to that only which
they find useful to themselves in painting. Wilson has been seen poring
over the texture of a Dutch cabinet-picture, so that he could not see
the picture itself. But this is the perversion and pedantry of the
profession, not its true or genuine spirit. If Wilson had never looked
at anything but megilps and handling, he never would have put the soul
of life and manners into his pictures, as he has done. Another objection
is, that the instrumental parts of the art, the means, the first
rudiments, paints, oils, and brushes, are painful and disgusting;
and that the consciousness of the difficulty and anxiety with which
perfection has been attained must take away from the pleasure of the
finest performance. This, however, is only an additional proof of the
greater pleasure derived by the artist from his profession; for these
things which are said to interfere with and destroy the common interest
in works of art do not disturb him; he never once thinks of them, he
is absorbed in the pursuit of a higher object; he is intent, not on the
means, but the end; he is taken up, not with the difficulties, but with
the triumph over them. As in the case of the anatomist, who overlooks
many things in the eagerness of his search after abstract truth; or the
alchemist who, while he is raking into his soot and furnaces, lives in
a golden dream; a lesser gives way to a greater object. But it is
pretended that the painter may be supposed to submit to the unpleasant
part of the process only for the sake of the fame or profit in view. So
far is this from being a true state of the case, that I will venture to
say, in the instance of a friend of mine who has lately succeeded in an
important undertaking in his art, that not all the fame he has acquired,
not all the money he has received from thousands of admiring spectators,
not all the newspaper puffs,--nor even the praise of the _Edinburgh
Review_,--not all these put together ever gave him at any time the same
genuine, undoubted satisfaction as any one half-hour employed in the
ardent and propitious pursuit of his art--in finishing to his heart's
content a foot, a hand, or even a piece of drapery. What is the state
of mind of an artist while he is at work? He is then in the act of
realising the highest idea he can form of beauty or grandeur: he
conceives, he embodies that which he understands and loves best: that
is, he is in full and perfect possession of that which is to him the
source of the highest happiness and intellectual excitement which he can

In short, as a conclusion to this argument, I will mention a
circumstance which fell under my knowledge the other day. A friend had
bought a print of Titian's Mistress, the same to which I have alluded
above. He was anxious to show it me on this account. I told him it was
a spirited engraving, but it had not the look of the original. I believe
he thought this fastidious, till I offered to show him a rough sketch
of it, which I had by me. Having seen this, he said he perceived exactly
what I meant, and could not bear to look at the print afterwards. He had
good sense enough to see the difference in the individual instance;
but a person better acquainted with Titian's manner and with art in
general--that is, of a more cultivated and refined taste--would know
that it was a bad print, without having any immediate model to compare
it with. He would perceive with a glance of the eye, with a sort
of instinctive feeling, that it was hard, and without that bland,
expansive, and nameless expression which always distinguished Titian's
most famous works. Any one who is accustomed to a head in a picture can
never reconcile himself to a print from it; but to the ignorant they are
both the same. To a vulgar eye there is no difference between a Guido
and a daub--between a penny print, or the vilest scrawl, and the most
finished performance. In other words, all that excellence which lies
between these two extremes,--all, at least, that marks the excess above
mediocrity,--all that constitutes true beauty, harmony, refinement,
grandeur, is lost upon the common observer. But it is from this point
that the delight, the glowing raptures of the true adept commence. An
uninformed spectator may like an ordinary drawing better than the
ablest connoisseur; but for that very reason he cannot like the highest
specimens of art so well. The refinements not only of execution but of
truth and nature are inaccessible to unpractised eyes. The exquisite
gradations in a sky of Claude's are not perceived by such persons, and
consequently the harmony cannot be felt. Where there is no conscious
apprehension, there can be no conscious pleasure. Wonder at the first
sights of works of art may be the effect of ignorance and novelty; but
real admiration and permanent delight in them are the growth of taste
and knowledge. 'I would not wish to have your eyes,' said a good-natured
man to a critic who was finding fault with a picture in which the other
saw no blemish. Why so? The idea which prevented him from admiring this
inferior production was a higher idea of truth and beauty which was
ever present with him, and a continual source of pleasing and lofty
contemplations. It may be different in a taste for outward luxuries and
the privations of mere sense; but the idea of perfection, which acts
as an intellectual foil, is always an addition, a support, and a proud

Richardson, in his _Essays_, which ought to be better known, has left
some striking examples of the felicity and infelicity of artists, both
as it relates to their external fortune and to the practice of their
art. In speaking of _the knowledge of hands_, he exclaims: 'When one is
considering a picture or a drawing, one at the same time thinks this was
done by him(1) who had many extraordinary endowments of body and mind,
but was withal very capricious; who was honoured in life and death,
expiring in the arms of one of the greatest princes of that age, Francis
I., King of France, who loved him as a friend. Another is of him(2) who
lived a long and happy life, beloved of Charles V. emperor; and many
others of the first princes of Europe. When one has another in hand, we
think this was done by one(3) who so excelled in three arts as that any
of them in that degree had rendered him worthy of immortality; and one
moreover that durst contend with his sovereign (one of the haughtiest
popes that ever was) upon a slight offered to him, and extricated
himself with honour. Another is the work of him(4) who, without any one
exterior advantage but mere strength of genius, had the most sublime
imaginations, and executed them accordingly, yet lived and died
obscurely. Another we shall consider as the work of him(5) who restored
Painting when it had almost sunk; of him whom art made honourable, but
who, neglecting and despising greatness with a sort of cynical pride,
was treated suitably to the figure he gave himself, not his intrinsic
worth; which, (he) not having philosophy enough to bear it, broke
his heart. Another is done by one(6) who (on the contrary) was a fine
gentleman and lived in great magnificence, and was much honoured by his
own and foreign princes; who was a courtier, a statesman, and a painter;
and so much all these, that when he acted in either character, _that_
seemed to be his business, and the others his diversion. I say when
one thus reflects, besides the pleasure arising from the beauties and
excellences of the work, the fine ideas it gives us of natural things,
the noble way of thinking it suggest to us, an additional pleasure
results from the above considerations. But, oh! the pleasure, when a
connoisseur and lover of art has before him a picture or drawing of
which he can say this is the hand, these are the thoughts of him(7)
who was one of the politest, best-natured gentlemen that ever was; and
beloved and assisted by the greatest wits and the greatest men then in
Rome: of him who lived in great fame, honour, and magnificence, and
died extremely lamented; and missed a Cardinal's hat only by dying a
few months too soon; but was particularly esteemed and favoured by two
Popes, the only ones who filled the chair of St. Peter in his time, and
as great men as ever sat there since that apostle, if at least he ever
did: one, in short, who could have been a Leonardo, a Michael Angelo,
a Titian, a Correggio, a Parmegiano, an Annibal, a Rubens, or any other
whom he pleased, but none of them could ever have been a Raffaelle.'

The same writer speaks feelingly of the change in the style of different
artists from their change of fortune, and as the circumstances are
little known I will quote the passage relating to two of them:--

'Guido Reni, from a prince-like affluence of fortune (the just reward of
his angelic works), fell to a condition like that of a hired servant
to one who supplied him with money for what he did at a fixed rate; and
that by his being bewitched by a passion for gaming, whereby he lost
vast sums of money; and even what he got in his state of servitude
by day, he commonly lost at night: nor could he ever be cured of this
cursed madness. Those of his works, therefore, which he did in this
unhappy part of his life may easily be conceived to be in a different
style to what he did before, which in some things, that is, in the airs
of his heads (in the gracious kind) had a delicacy in them peculiar to
himself, and almost more than human. But I must not multiply instance
variation, and all the degrees of goodness, from the lowest of the
indifferent up to the sublime. I can produce evident proofs of this
in so easy a gradation, that one cannot deny but that he that did this
might do that, and very probably did so; and thus one may ascend and
descend, like the angels on Jacob's ladder, whose foot was upon the
earth, but its top reached to Heaven.

'And this great man had his unlucky circumstance. He became mad after
the philosopher's stone, and did but very little in painting or drawing
afterwards. Judge what that was, and whether there was not an alteration
of style from what he had done before this devil possessed him. His
creditors endeavoured to exorcise him, and did him some good, for he
set himself to work again in his own way; but if a drawing I have of a
Lucretia be that he made for his last picture, as it probably is (Vasari
says that was the subject of it), it is an evident proof of his decay;
it is good indeed, but it wants much of the delicacy which is commonly
seen in his works; and so I always thought before I knew or imagined it
to be done in this his ebb of genius.'

We have had two artists of our own country whose fate has been as
singular as it was hard: Gandy was a portrait-painter in the beginning
of the last century, whose heads were said to have come near to
Rembrandt's, and he was the undoubted prototype of Sir Joshua Reynolds's
style. Yet his name has scarcely been heard of; and his reputation, like
his works, never extended beyond his own country. What did he think of
himself and of a fame so bounded? Did he ever dream he was indeed an
artist? Or how did this feeling in him differ from the vulgar conceit
of the lowest pretender? The best known of his works is a portrait of an
alderman of Exeter, in some public building in that city.

Poor Dan. Stringer! Forty years ago he had the finest hand and the
clearest eye of any artist of his time, and produced heads and drawings
that would not have disgraced a brighter period in the art. But he fell
a martyr (like Burns) to the society of country gentlemen, and then of
those whom they would consider as more his equals. I saw him many
years ago when he treated the masterly sketches he had by him (one
in particular of the group of citizens in Shakespeare 'swallowing the
tailor's news') as 'bastards of his genius, not his children,' and
seemed to have given up all thoughts of his art. Whether he is since
dead, I cannot say; the world do not so much as know that he ever lived!


(1) Leonardo da Vinci.

(2) Titian.

(3) Michael Angelo.

(4) Correggio.

(5) Annibal Caracci.

(6) Rubens.

(7) Raffaelle.


I have naturally but little imagination, and am not of a very sanguine
turn of mind. I have some desire to enjoy the present good, and some
fondness for the past; but I am not at all given to build castles in the
air, nor to look forward with much confidence or hope to the brilliant
illusions held out by the future. Hence I have perhaps been led to form
a theory, which is very contrary to the common notions and feelings on
the subject, and which I will here try to explain as well as I can. When
Sterne in the _Sentimental Journey_ told the French Minister, that if
the French people had a fault, it was that they were too serious, the
latter replied that if that was his opinion, he must defend it with all
his might, for he would have all the world against him; so I shall have
enough to do to get well through the present argument.

I cannot see, then, any rational or logical ground for that mighty
difference in the value which mankind generally set upon the past and
future, as if the one was everything, and the other nothing--of no
consequence whatever. On the other hand, I conceive that the past is
as real and substantial a part of our being, that it is as much a _bona
fide_, undeniable consideration in the estimate of human life, as
the future can possibly be. To say that the past is of no importance,
unworthy of a moment's regard, because it has gone by, and is no longer
anything, is an argument that cannot be held to any purpose; for if the
past has ceased to be, and is therefore to be accounted nothing in the
scale of good or evil, the future is yet to come, and has never been
anything. Should any one choose to assert that the present only is of
any value in a strict and positive sense, because that alone has a real
existence, that we should seize the instant good, and give all else to
the winds, I can understand what he means (though perhaps he does not
himself);(1) but I cannot comprehend how this distinction between that
which has a downright and sensible, and that which has only a remote and
airy existence, can be applied to establish the preference of the
future over the past; for both are in this point of view equally ideal,
absolutely nothing, except as they are conceived of by the mind's eye,
and are thus rendered present to the thoughts and feelings. Nay, the one
is even more imaginary, a more fantastic creature of the brain than the
other, and the interest we take in it more shadowy and gratuitous; for
the future, on which we lay so much stress, may never come to pass at
all, that is, may never be embodied into actual existence in the whole
course of events, whereas the past has certainly existed once, has
received the stamp of truth, and left an image of itself behind. It is
so far then placed beyond the possibility of doubt, or as the poet has

 Those joys are lodg'd beyond the reach of fate.

It is not, however, attempted to be denied that though the future is
nothing at present, and has no immediate interest while we are speaking,
yet it is of the utmost consequence in itself, and of the utmost
interest to the individual, because it will have a real existence, and
we have an idea of it as existing in time to come. Well, then, the
past also has no real existence; the actual sensation and the interest
belonging to it are both fled; but it _has had_ a real existence, and
we can still call up a vivid recollection of it as having once been;
and therefore, by parity of reasoning, it is not a thing perfectly
insignificant in itself, nor wholly indifferent to the mind whether it
ever was or not. Oh no! Far from it! Let us not rashly quit our hold
upon the past, when perhaps there may be little else left to bind us
to existence. Is it nothing to have been, and to have been happy or
miserable? Or is it a matter of no moment to think whether I have been
one or the other? Do I delude myself, do I build upon a shadow or a
dream, do I dress up in the gaudy garb of idleness and folly a pure
fiction, with nothing answering to it in the universe of things and
the records of truth, when I look back with fond delight or with tender
regret to that which was at one time to me my all, when I revive the
glowing image of some bright reality,

 The thoughts of which can never from my heart?

Do I then muse on nothing, do I bend my eyes on nothing, when I turn
back in fancy to 'those suns and skies so pure' that lighted up my early
path? Is it to think of nothing, to set an idle value upon nothing, to
think of all that has happened to me, an of all that can ever interest
me? Or, to use the language of a fine poet (who is himself among my
earliest and not least painful recollections)--

 What though the radiance which was once so bright
 Be now for ever vanish'd from my sight,
 Though nothing can bring back the hour
 Of glory in the grass, of splendour in the flow'r--

yet am I mocked with a lie when I venture to think of it? Or do I not
drink in and breathe again the air of heavenly truth when I but 'retrace
its footsteps, and its skirts far off adore'? I cannot say with the same

 And see how dark the backward stream,
 A little moment past so smiling--

for it is the past that gives me most delight and most assurance of
reality. What to me constitutes the great charm of the _Confessions_ of
Rousseau is their turning so much upon this feeling. He seems to gather
up the past moments of his being like drops of honey-dew to distil a
precious liquor from them; his alternate pleasures and pains are the
bead-roll that he tells over and piously worships; he makes a rosary of
the flowers of hope and fancy that strewed his earliest years. When
he begins the last of the _Reveries of a Solitary Walker_, 'Il y a
aujourd'hui, jour des Paques Fleuris, cinquante ans depuis que j'ai
premier vu Madame Warens,' what a yearning of the soul is implied in
that short sentence! Was all that had happened to him, all that he had
thought and felt in that sad interval of time, to be accounted nothing?
Was that long, dim, faded retrospect of years happy or miserable--a
blank that was not to make his eyes fail and his heart faint within
him in trying to grasp all that had once filled it and that had since
vanished, because it was not a prospect into futurity? Was he wrong in
finding more to interest him in it than in the next fifty years--which
he did not live to see? Or if he had, what then? Would they have been
worth thinking of, compared with the times of his youth, of his first
meeting with Madame Warens, with those times which he has traced with
such truth and pure delight 'in our heart's tables'? When 'all the life
of life was flown,' was he not to live the first and best part of it
over again, and once more be all that he then was?--Ye woods that crown
the clear lone brow of Norman Court, why do I revisit ye so oft, and
feel a soothing consciousness of your presence, but that your high tops
waving in the wind recall to me the hours and years that are for ever
fled; that ye renew in ceaseless murmurs the story of long-cherished
hopes and bitter disappointment; that in your solitudes and tangled
wilds I can wander and lose myself as I wander on and am lost in the
solitude of my own heart; and that as your rustling branches give the
loud blast to the waste below--borne on the thoughts of other years, I
can look down with patient anguish at the cheerless desolation which
I feel within! Without that face pale as the primrose with hyacinthine
locks, for ever shunning and for ever haunting me, mocking my waking
thoughts as in a dream; without that smile which my heart could never
turn to scorn; without those eyes dark with their own lustre, still
bent on mine, and drawing the soul into their liquid mazes like a sea
of love; without that name trembling in fancy's ear; without that form
gliding before me like Oread or Dryad in fabled groves, what should I
do? how pass away the listless, leaden-footed hours? Then wave, wave on,
ye woods of Tuderley, and lift your high tops in the air; my sighs and
vows uttered by our mystic voice breathe into me my former being, and
enable me to bear the thing I am!--The objects that we have known
in better days are the main props that sustain the weight of our
affections, and give us strength to await our future lot. The future is
like a dead wall or a thick mist hiding all objects from our view;
the past is alive and stirring with objects, bright or solemn, and of
unfading interest. What is it in fact that we recur to oftenest? What
subjects do we think or talk of? Not the ignorant future, but the
well-stored past. Othello, the Moor of Venice, amused himself and his
hearers at the house of Signor Brabantio by 'running through the story
of his life even from his boyish days'; and oft 'beguiled them of their
tears, when he did speak of some disastrous stroke which his youth
suffered.' This plan of ingratiating himself would not have answered if
the past had been, like the contents of an old almanac, of no use but
to be thrown aside and forgotten. What a blank, for instance, does the
history of the world for the next six thousand years present to the
mind, compared with that of the last! All that strikes the imagination
or excites any interest in the mighty scene is _what has been_!(2)


Neither in itself, then, nor as a subject of general contemplation, has
the future any advantage over the past. But with respect to our grosser
passions and pursuits it has. As far as regards the appeal to the
understanding or the imagination, the past is just as good, as real,
of as much intrinsic and ostensible value as the future; but there is
another principle in the human mind, the principle of action or will;
and of this the past has no hold, the future engrosses it entirely to
itself. It is this strong lever of the affections that gives so powerful
a bias to our sentiments on this subject, and violently transposes the
natural order of our associations. We regret the pleasures we have
lost, and eagerly anticipate those which are to come: we dwell with
satisfaction on the evils from which we have escaped (_Posthaec
meminisse iuvabit_)--and dread future pain. The good that is past is
in this sense like money that is spent, which is of no further use, and
about which we give ourselves little concern. The good we expect is
like a store yet untouched, and in the enjoyment of which we promise
ourselves infinite gratification. What has happened to us we think of
no consequence: what is to happen to us, of the greatest. Why so? Simply
because the one is still in our power, and the other not--because
the efforts of the will to bring any object to pass or to prevent it
strengthen our attachment or aversion to that object--because the pains
and attention bestowed upon anything add to our interest in it--and
because the habitual and earnest pursuit of any end redoubles the
ardour of our expectations, and converts the speculative and indolent
satisfaction we might otherwise feel in it into real passion. Our
regrets, anxiety, and wishes are thrown away upon the past; but the
insisting on the importance of the future is of the utmost use in aiding
our resolutions and stimulating our exertions. If the future were
no more amenable to our wills than the past; if our precautions, our
sanguine schemes, our hopes and fears were of as little avail in the one
case as the other; if we could neither soften our minds to pleasure, nor
steel our fortitude to the resistance of pain beforehand; if all objects
drifted along by us like straws or pieces of wood in a river, the will
being purely passive, and as little able to avert the future as to
arrest the past, we should in that case be equally indifferent to both;
that is, we should consider each as they affected the thoughts and
imagination with certain sentiments of approbation or regret, but
without the importunity of action, the irritation of the will, throwing
the whole weight of passion and prejudice into one scale, and leaving
the other quite empty. While the blow is coming, we prepare to meet it,
we think to ward off or break its force, we arm ourselves with patience
to endure what cannot be avoided, we agitate ourselves with fifty
needless alarms about it; but when the blow is struck, the pang is over,
the struggle is no longer necessary, and we cease to harass or torment
ourselves about it more than we can help. It is not that the one belongs
to the future and the other to time past; but that the one is a subject
of action, of uneasy apprehension, of strong passion, and that the other
has passed wholly out of the sphere of action into the region of

 Calm contemplation and majestic pains.(3)

It would not give a man more concern to know that he should be put to
the rack a year hence, than to recollect that he had been put to it a
year ago, but that he hopes to avoid the one, whereas he must sit down
patiently under the consciousness of the other. In this hope he wears
himself out in vain struggles with fate, and puts himself to the rack
of his imagination every day he has to live in the meanwhile. When the
event is so remote or so independent of the will as to set aside the
necessity of immediate action, or to baffle all attempts to defeat it,
it gives us little more disturbance or emotion than if it had already
taken place, or were something to happen in another state of being, or
to an indifferent person. Criminals are observed to grow more anxious as
their trial approaches; but after their sentence is passed, they become
tolerably resigned, and generally sleep sound the night before its

It in some measure confirms this theory, that men attach more or less
importance to past and future events according as they are more or less
engaged in action and the busy scenes of life. Those who have a fortune
to make, or are in pursuit of rank and power, think little of the
past, for it does not contribute greatly to their views: those who have
nothing to do but to think, take nearly the same interest in the past as
in the future. The contemplation of the one is as delightful and real as
that of the other. The season of hope has an end; but the remembrance of
it is left. The past still lives in the memory of those who have
leisure to look back upon the way that they have trod, and can from
it 'catch-glimpses that may make them less forlorn.' The turbulence of
action, and uneasiness of desire, must point to the future: it is only
in the quiet innocence of shepherds, in the simplicity of pastoral ages,
that a tomb was found with this inscription--'I ALSO WAS AN ARCADIAN!'

Though I by no means think that our habitual attachment to life is in
exact proportion to the value of the gift, yet I am not one of those
splenetic persons who affect to think it of no value at all. _Que peu de
chose est la vie humaine_, is an exclamation in the mouths of moralists
and philosophers, to which I cannot agree. It is little, it is short,
it is not worth having, if we take the last hour, and leave out all that
has gone before, which has been one way of looking at the subject. Such
calculators seem to say that life is nothing when it is over, and that
may in their sense be true. If the old rule--_Respice finem_--were to be
made absolute, and no one could be pronounced fortunate till the day
of his death, there are few among us whose existence would, upon those
conditions, be much to be envied. But this is not a fair view of the
case. A man's life is his whole life, not the last glimmering snuff of
the candle; and this, I say, is considerable, and not a _little matter_,
whether we regard its pleasures or its pains. To draw a peevish conclus
desires or forgetful indifference is about as reasonable as to say, a
man never was young because he has grown old, or never lived because he
is now dead. The length or agreeableness of a journey does not depend on
the few last steps of it, nor is the size of a building to be judged
of from the last stone that is added to it. It is neither the first nor
last hour of our existence, but the space that parts these two--not our
exit nor our entrance upon the stage, but what we do, feel, and think
while there--that we are to attend to in pronouncing sentence upon it.
Indeed it would be easy to show that it is the very extent of human
life, the infinite number of things contained in it, its contradictory
and fluctuating interests, the transition from one situation to another,
the hours, months, years spent in one fond pursuit after another; that
it is, in a word, the length of our common journey and the quantity
of events crowded into it, that, baffling the grasp of our actual
perception, make it slide from our memory, and dwindle into nothing in
its own perspective. It is too mighty for us, and we say it is nothing!
It is a speck in our fancy, and yet what canvas would be big enough to
hold its striking groups, its endless subjects! It is light as vanity,
and yet if all its weary moments, if all its head and heart aches were
compressed into one, what fortitude would not be overwhelmed with
the blow! What a huge heap, a 'huge, dumb heap,' of wishes, thoughts,
feelings, anxious cares, soothing hopes, loves, joys, friendships, it is
composed of! How many ideas and trains of sentiment, long and deep
and intense, often pass through the mind in only one day's thinking or
reading, for instance! How many such days are there in a year, how many
years in a long life, still occupied with something interesting,
still recalling some old impression, still recurring to some difficult
question and making progress in it, every step accompanied with a sense
of power, and every moment conscious of 'the high endeavour or the glad
success'; for the mind seizes only on that which keeps it employed,
and is wound up to a certain pitch of pleasurable excitement or lively
solicitude, by the necessity of its own nature. The division of the
map of life into its component parts is beautifully made by King Henry

 Oh God! methinks it were a happy life
 To be no better than a homely swain,
 To sit upon a hill as I do now,
 To carve out dials quaintly, point by point,
 Thereby to see the minutes how they run
 How many make the hour full complete,
 How many hours bring about the day,
 How many days will finish up the year,
 How many years a mortal man may live:
 When this is known, then to divide the times;
 So many hours must I tend my flock,
 So many hours must I take my rest,
 So many hours must I contemplate,
 So many hours must I sport myself;
 So many days my ewes have been with young,
 So many weeks ere the poor fools will yean,
 So many months ere I shall shear the fleece:
 So many minutes, hours, weeks, months, and years
 Past over to the end they were created,
 Would bring grey hairs unto a quiet grave.

I myself am neither a king nor a shepherd: books have been my fleecy
charge, and my thoughts have been my subjects. But these have found me
sufficient employment at the time, and enough to think of for the time
to come.

The passions contract and warp the natural progress of life. They
paralyse all of it that is not devoted to their tyranny and caprice.
This makes the difference between the laughing innocence of childhood,
the pleasantness of youth, and the crabbedness of age. A load of cares
lies like a weight of guilt upon the mind: so that a man of business
often has all the air, the distraction and restlessness and hurry of
feeling of a criminal. A knowledge of the world takes away the freedom
and simplicity of thought as effectually as the contagion of its
example. The artlessness and candour of our early years are open to all
impressions alike, because the mind is not clogged and preoccupied with
other objects. Our pleasures and our pains come single, make room for
one another, and the spring of the mind is fresh and unbroken, its
aspect clear and unsullied. Hence 'the tear forgot as soon as shed,
the sunshine of the breast.' But as we advance farther, the will
gets greater head. We form violent antipathies and indulge exclusive
preferences. We make up our minds to some one thing, and if we cannot
have that, will have nothing. We are wedded to opinion, to fancy,
to prejudice; which destroys the soundness of our judgments, and the
serenity and buoyancy of our feelings. The chain of habit coils itself
round the heart, like a serpent, to gnaw and stifle it. It grows rigid
and callous; and for the softness and elasticity of childhood, full of
proud flesh and obstinate tumours. The violence and perversity of our
passions come in more and more to overlay our natural sensibility and
well-grounded affections; and we screw ourselves up to aim only at those
things which are neither desirable nor practicable. Thus life passes
away in the feverish irritation of pursuit and the certainty of
disappointment. By degrees, nothing but this morbid state of feeling
satisfies us: and all common pleasures and cheap amusements are
sacrificed to the demon of ambition, avarice, or dissipation. The
machine is overwrought: the parching heat of the veins dries up and
withers the flowers of Love, Hope, and Joy; and any pause, any
release from the rack of ecstasy on which we are stretched, seems more
insupportable than the pangs which we endure. We are suspended between
tormenting desires and the horrors of _ennui_. The impulse of the will,
like the wheels of a carriage going down hill, becomes too strong for
the driver, Reason, and cannot be stopped nor kept within bounds. Some
idea, some fancy, takes possession of the brain; and however ridiculous,
however distressing, however ruinous, haunts us by a sort of fascination
through life.

Not only is this principle of excessive irritability to be seen at work
in our more turbulent passions and pursuits, but even in the formal
study of arts and sciences, the same thing takes place, and undermines
the repose and happiness of life. The eagerness of pursuit overcomes the
satisfaction to result from the accomplishment. The mind is overstrained
to attain its purpose; and when it is attained, the ease and alacrity
necessary to enjoy it are gone. The irritation of action does not cease
and go down with the occasion for it; but we are first uneasy to get to
the end of our work, and then uneasy for want of something to do. The
ferment of the brain does not of itself subside into pleasure and soft
repose. Hence the disposition to strong stimuli observable in persons of
much intellectual exertion to allay and carry off the over-excitement.
The _improvisatori_ poets (it is recorded by Spence in his _Anecdotes
of Pope_) cannot sleep after an evening's continued display of their
singular and difficult art. The rhymes keep running in their head in
spite of themselves, and will not let them rest. Mechanics and labouring
people never know what to do with themselves on a Sunday, though they
return to their work with greater spirit for the relief, and look
forward to it with pleasure all the week. Sir Joshua Reynolds was never
comfortable out of his painting-room, and died of chagrin and regret
because he could not paint on to the last moment of his life. He used
to say that he could go on retouching a picture for ever, as long as it
stood on his easel; but as soon as it was once fairly out of the house,
he never wished to see it again. An ingenious artist of our own time has
been heard to declare, that if ever the Devil got him into his clutches,
he would set him to copy his own pictures. Thus secure, self-complacent
retrospect to what is done is nothing, while the anxious, uneasy looking
forward to what is to come is everything. We are afraid to dwell upon
the past, lest it should retard our future progress; the indulgence of
ease is fatal to excellence; and to succeed in life, we lose the ends of


(1) If we take away from the _present_ the moment that Is just by and
the moment that is next to come, how much of it will be left for this
plain, practical theory to rest upon? Their solid basis of sense and
reality will reduce itself to a pin's point, a hair line, on which
our moral balance-masters will have some difficulty to maintain their
footing without falling over on either side.

(2) A treatise on the Millennium is dull; but who was ever weary of
reading the fables of the Golden Age? On my once observing I should like
to have been Claude, a person said, 'they should not, for that then
by this time it would have been all over with them.' As if it could
possibly signify when we live (save and excepting the present minute),
or as if the value of human life decreased or increased with successive
centuries. At that rate, we had better have our life still to come at
some future period, and so postpone our existence century after century
_ad infinitum_.

(3) In like manner, though we know that an event must have taken place
at a distance, long before we can hear the result, yet as long as we
remain in Ignorance of it, we irritate ourselves about it, and suffer
all the agonies of suspense, as if it was still to come; but as soon as
our uncertainty is removed, our fretful impatience vanishes, we resign
ourselves to fate, and make up our minds to what has happened as well as
we can.


We hear it maintained by people of more gravity than understanding, that
genius and taste are strictly reducible to rules, and that there is a
rule for everything. So far is it from being true that the finest breath
of fancy is a definable thing, that the plainest common sense is only
what Mr. Locke would have called a _mixed mode_, subject to a particular
sort of acquired and undefinable tact. It is asked, "If you do not know
the rule by which a thing is done, how can you be sure of doing it a
second time?" And the answer is, "If you do not know the muscles by the
help of which you walk, how is it you do not fall down at every step you
take?" In art, in taste, in life, in speech, you decide from feeling,
and not from reason; that is, from the impression of a number of things
on the mind, from which impression is true and well founded, though you
may not be able to analyse or account for it in the several particulars.
In a gesture you use, in a look you see, in a tone you hear, you judge
of the expression, propriety, and meaning from habit, not from reason
or rules; that is to say, from innumerable instances of like gestures,
looks, and tones, in innumerable other circumstances, variously
modified, which are too many and too refined to be all distinctly
recollected, but which do not therefore operate the less powerfully
upon the mind and eye of taste. Shall we say that these impressions (the
immediate stamp of nature) do not operate in a given manner till they
are classified and reduced to rules, or is not the rule itself grounded,
upon the truth and certainty of that natural operation?

How then can the distinction of the understanding as to the manner in
which they operate be necessary to their producing their due and uniform
effect upon the mind? If certain effects did not regularly arise out of
certain causes in mind as well as matter, there could be no rule given
for them: nature does not follow the rule, but suggests it. Reason is
the interpreter and critic of nature and genius, not their law-giver and
judge. He must be a poor creature indeed whose practical convictions do
not in almost all cases outrun his deliberate understanding, or who does
not feel and know much more than he can give a reason for. Hence the
distinction between eloquence and wisdom, between ingenuity and common
sense. A man may be dexterous and able in explaining the grounds of his
opinions, and yet may be a mere sophist, because he only sees one-half
of a subject. Another may feel the whole weight of a question, nothing
relating to it may be lost upon him, and yet he may be able to give no
account of the manner in which it affects him, or to drag his reasons
from their silent lurking-places. This last will be a wise man, though
neither a logician nor rhetorician. Goldsmith was a fool to Dr. Johnson
in argument; that is, in assigning the specific grounds of his opinions:
Dr. Johnson was a fool to Goldsmith in the fine tact, the airy,
intuitive faculty with which he skimmed the surfaces of things, and
unconsciously formed his Opinions. Common sense is the just result
of the sum total of such unconscious impressions in the ordinary
occurrences of life, as they are treasured up in the memory, and
called out by the occasion. Genius and taste depend much upon the same
principle exercised on loftier ground and in more unusual combinations.

I am glad to shelter myself from the charge of affectation or
singularity in this view of an often debated but ill-understood point,
by quoting a passage from Sir Joshua Reynolds's _Discourses_, which is
full, and, I think, conclusive to the purpose. He says:--

'I observe, as a fundamental ground common to all the Arts with which we
have any concern in this Discourse, that they address themselves only to
two faculties of the mind, its imagination and its sensibility.

'All theories which attempt to direct or to control the Art, upon any
principles falsely called rational, which we form to ourselves upon
a supposition of what ought in reason to be the end or means of Art,
independent of the known first effect produced by objects on the
imagination, must be false and delusive. For though it may appear
bold to say it, the imagination is here the residence of truth. If the
imagination be affected, the conclusion is fairly drawn; if it be not
affected, the reasoning is erroneous, because the end is not obtained;
the effect itself being the test, and the only test, of the truth and
efficacy of the means.

'There is in the commerce of life, as in Art, a sagacity which is
far from being contradictory to right reason, and is superior to any
occasional exercise of that faculty which supersedes it and does not
wait for the slow progress of deduction, but goes at once, by what
appears a kind of intuition, to the conclusion. A man endowed with this
faculty feels and acknowledges the truth, though it is not always in his
power, perhaps, to give a reason for it; because he cannot recollect and
bring before him all the materials that gave birth to his opinion;
for very many and very intricate considerations may unite to form the
principle, even of small and minute parts, involved in, or dependent on,
a great many things:--though these in process of time are forgotten, the
right impression still remains fixed in his mind.

'This impression is the result of the accumulated experience of our
whole life, and has been collected, we do not always know how or when.
But this mass of collective observation, however acquired, ought to
prevail over that reason, which, however powerfully exerted on any
particular occasion, will probably comprehend but a partial view of the
subject; and our conduct in life, as well as in the arts, is or ought to
be generally governed by this habitual reason: it is our happiness that
we are enabled to draw on such funds. If we were obliged to enter into a
theoretical deliberation on every occasion before we act, life would be
at a stand, and Art would be impracticable.

'It appears to me therefore' (continues Sir Joshua) 'that our first
thoughts, that is, the effect which any thing produces on our minds on
its first appearance, is never to be forgotten; and it demands for that
reason, because it is the first, to be laid up with care. If this be not
done, the artist may happen to impose on himself by partial reasoning;
by a cold consideration of those animated thoughts which proceed, not
perhaps from caprice or rashness (as he may afterwards conceit), but
from the fulness of his mind, enriched with the copious stores of all
the various inventions which he had ever seen, or had ever passed in
his mind. These ideas are infused into his design, without any conscious
effort; but if he be not on his guard, he may reconsider and correct
them, till the whole matter is reduced to a commonplace invention.

'This is sometimes the effect of what I mean to caution you against;
that is to say, an unfounded distrust of the imagination and feeling,
in favour of narrow, partial, confined, argumentative theories, and of
principles that seem to apply to the design in hand, without considering
those general impressions on the fancy in which real principles of
_sound reason_, and of much more weight and importance, are involved,
and, as it were, lie hid under the appearance of a sort of vulgar
sentiment. Reason, without doubt, must ultimately determine everything;
at this minute it is required to inform us when that very reason is to
give way to feeling.'(1)

Mr. Burke, by whom the foregoing train of thinking was probably
suggested, has insisted on the same thing, and made rather a
perverse use of it in several parts of his _Reflections on the French
Revolution_; and Windham in one of his _Speeches_ has clenched it into
an aphorism--'There is nothing so true as habit.' Once more I would
say, common sense is tacit reason. Conscience is the same tacit sense
of right and wrong, or the impression of our moral experience and
moral apprehensions on the mind, which, because it works unseen, yet
certainly, we suppose to be an instinct, implanted in the mind; as we
sometimes attribute the violent operations of our passions, of which we
can neither trace the source nor assign the reason, to the instigation
of the Devil!

I shall here try to go more at large into this subject, and to give such
instances and illustrations of it as occur to me.

One of the persons who had rendered themselves obnoxious to Government
and been included in a charge for high treason in the year 1794, had
retired soon after into Wales to write an epic poem and enjoy the
luxuries of a rural life. In his peregrinations through that beautiful
scenery, he had arrived one fine morning at the inn at Llangollen, in
the romantic valley of that name. He had ordered his breakfast, and was
sitting at the window in all the dalliance of expectation when a
face passed, of which he took no notice at the instant--but when his
breakfast was brought in presently after, he found his appetite for
it gone--the day had lost its freshness in his eye--he was uneasy and
spiritless; and without any cause that he could discover, a total change
had taken place in his feelings. While he was trying to account for this
odd circumstance, the same face passed again--it was the face of Taylor
the spy; and he was longer at a loss to explain the difficulty. He had
before caught only a transient glimpse, a passing side-view of the face;
but though this was not sufficient to awaken a distinct idea in his
memory, his feelings, quicker and surer, had taken the alarm; a string
had been touched that gave a jar to his whole frame, and would not let
him rest, though he could not at all tell what was the matter with him.
To the flitting, shadowy, half-distinguished profile that had glided by
his window was linked unconsciously and mysteriously, but inseparably,
the impression of the trains that had been laid for him by this
person;--in this brief moment, in this dim, illegible short-hand of
the mind he had just escaped the speeches of the Attorney and
Solicitor-General over again; the gaunt figure of Mr. Pitt glared by
him; the walls of a prison enclosed him; and he felt the hands of the
executioner near him, without knowing it till the tremor and disorder of
his nerves gave information to his reasoning faculties that all was
not well within. That is, the same state of mind was recalled by one
circumstance in the series of association that had been produced by the
whole set of circumstances at the time, though the manner in which this
was done was not immediately perceptible. In other words, the feeling of
pleasure or pain, of good or evil, is revived, and acts instantaneously
upon the mind, before we have time to recollect the precise objects
which have originally given birth to it.(2) The incident here mentioned
was merely, then, one case of what the learned understand by the
_association of ideas_: but all that is meant by feeling or common sense
is nothing but the different cases of the association of ideas, more
or less true to the impression of the original circumstances, as reason
begins with the more formal development of those circumstances, or
pretends to account for the different cases of the association of ideas.
But it does not follow that the dumb and silent pleading of the former
(though sometimes, nay often, mistaken) is less true than that of its
babbling interpreter, or that we are never to trust its dictates without
consulting the express authority of reason. Both are imperfect, both are
useful in their way, and therefore both are best together, to correct or
to confirm one another. It does not appear that in the singular instance
above mentioned, the sudden impression on the mind was superstition or
fancy, though it might have been thought so, had it not been proved by
the event to have a real physical and moral cause. Had not the same face
returned again, the doubt would never have been properly cleared up,
but would have remained a puzzle ever after, or perhaps have been soon
forgot.--By the law of association as laid down by physiologists, any
impression in a series can recall any other impression in that series
without going through the whole in order; so that the mind drops the
intermediate links, and passes on rapidly and by stealth to the more
striking effects of pleasure or pain which have naturally taken the
strongest hold of it. By doing this habitually and skillfully with
respect to the various impressions and circumstances with which our
experience makes us acquainted, it forms a series of unpremeditated
conclusions on almost all subjects that can be brought before it, as
just as they are of ready application to human life; and common sense is
the name of this body of unassuming but practical wisdom. Common sense,
however, is an impartial, instinctive result of truth and nature, and
will therefore bear the test and abide the scrutiny of the most severe
and patient reasoning. It is indeed incomplete without it. By ingrafting
reason on feeling, we 'make assurance double sure.'

 'Tis the last key-stone that makes up the arch...
 Then stands it a triumphal mark!  Then men
 Observe the strength, the height, the why and when
 It was erected; and still walking under,
 Meet some new matter to look up, and wonder.

But reason, not employed to interpret nature, and to improve and perfect
common sense and experience, is, for the most part, a building without a
foundation. The criticism exercised by reason, then, on common sense may
be as severe as it pleases, but it must be as patient as it is severe.
Hasty, dogmatical, self-satisfied reason is worse than idle fancy or
bigoted prejudice. It is systematic, ostentatious in error, closes up
the avenues of knowledge, and 'shuts the gates of wisdom on mankind.' It
is not enough to show that there is no reason for a thing that we do
not see the reason of it: if the common feeling, if the involuntary
prejudice sets in strong in favour of it, if, in spite of all we can do,
there is a lurking suspicion on the side of our first impressions,
we must try again, and believe that truth is mightier than we. So, in
ordering a definition of any subject, if we feel a misgiving that there
is any fact or circumstance emitted, but of which we have only a vague
apprehension, like a name we cannot recollect, we must ask for more
time, and not cut the matter short by an arrogant assumption of the
point in dispute. Common sense thus acts as a check-weight on sophistry,
and suspends our rash and superficial judgments. On the other hand, if
not only no reason can be given for a thing, but every reason is clear
against it, and we can account from ignorance, from authority, from
interest, from different causes, for the prevalence of an opinion or
sentiment, then we have a right to conclude that we have mistaken
a prejudice for an instinct, or have confounded a false and partial
impression with the fair and unavoidable inference from general
observation. Mr. Burke said that we ought not to reject every prejudice,
but should separate the husk of prejudice from the truth it encloses,
and so try to get at the kernel within; and thus far he was right. But
he was wrong in insisting that we are to cherish our prejudices 'because
they are prejudices': for if all are well founded, there is no occasion
to inquire into their origin or use; and he who sets out to philosophise
upon them, or make the separation Mr. Burke talks of in this spirit
and with this previous determination, will be very likely to mistake
a maggot or a rotten canker for the precious kernel of truth, as was
indeed the case with our Political sophist.

There is nothing more distinct than common sense and vulgar opinion.
Common sense is only a judge of things that fall under common
observation, or immediately come home to the business and bosoms of men.
This is of the very essence of its principle, the basis of its
pretensions. It rests upon the simple process of feeling,--it anchors
in experience. It is not, nor it cannot be, the test of abstract,
speculative opinions. But half the opinions and prejudices of mankind,
those which they hold in the most unqualified approbation and which
have been instilled into them under the strongest sanctions, are of this
latter kind, that is, opinions not which they have ever thought, known,
or felt one tittle about, but which they have taken up on trust from
others, which have been palmed on their understandings by fraud or
force, and which they continue to hold at the peril of life, limb,
property, and character, with as little warrant from common sense in the
first instance as appeal to reason in the last. The _ultima ratio regum_
proceeds upon a very different plea. Common sense is neither priestcraft
nor state-policy. Yet 'there's the rub that makes absurdity of so long
life,' and, at the same time, gives the sceptical philosophers the
advantage over us. Till nature has fair play allowed it, and is not
adulterated by political and polemical quacks (as it so often has been),
it is impossible to appeal to it as a defence against the errors and
extravagances of mere reason. If we talk of common sense, we are twitted
with vulgar prejudice, and asked how we distinguish the one from the
other; but common and received opinion is indeed 'a compost heap' of
crude notions, got together by the pride and passions of individuals,
and reason is itself the thrall or manumitted slave of the same lordly
and besotted masters, dragging its servile chain, or committing all
sorts of Saturnalian licenses, the moment it feels itself freed from
it.--If ten millions of Englishmen are furious in thinking themselves
right in making war upon thirty millions of Frenchmen, and if the last
are equally bent upon thinking the others always in the wrong, though it
is a common and national prejudice, both opinions cannot be the dictate
of good sense; but it may be the infatuated policy of one or both
governments to keep their subjects always at variance. If a few
centuries ago all Europe believed in the infallibility of the Pope,
this was not an opinion derived from the proper exercise or erroneous
direction of the common sense of the people; common sense had nothing to
do with it--they believed whatever their priests told them. England at
present is divided into Whigs and Tories, Churchmen and Dissenters; both
parties have numbers on their side; but common sense and party spirit
are two different things. Sects and heresies are upheld partly by
sympathy, and partly by the love of contradiction; if there was nobody
of a different way of thinking, they would fall to pieces of themselves.
If a whole court say the same thing, this is no proof that they think
it, but that the individual at the head of the court has said it; if a
mob agree for a while in shouting the same watchword, this is not to
me an example of the _sensus communis_, they only repeat what they have
heard repeated by others. If indeed a large proportion of the people are
in want of food, of clothing, of shelter--if they are sick, miserable,
scorned, oppressed--an d if each feeling it in himself, they all say so
with one voice and one heart, and lift up their hands to second their
appeal, this I should say was but the dictate of common sense, the cry
of nature. But to waive this part of the argument, which it is needless
to push farther,--l believe that the best way to instruct mankind is
not by pointing out to them their mutual errors, but by teaching them
to think rightly on indifferent matters, where they will listen with
patience in order to be amused, and where they do not consider a
definition or a syllogism as the greatest injury you can offer them.

There is no rule for expression. It is got at solely by _feeling_, that
is, on the principle of the association of ideas, and by transferring
what has been found to hold good in one case (with the necessary
modifications) to others. A certain look has been remarked strongly
indicative of a certain passion or trait of character, and we attach the
same meaning to it or are affected in the same pleasurable or painful
manner by it, where it exists in a less degree, though we can define
neither the look itself nor the modification of it. Having got the
general clue, the exact result may be left to the imagination to
vary, to extenuate or aggravate it according to circumstances. In the
admirable profile of Oliver Cromwell after ----, the drooping eyelids,
as if drawing a veil over the fixed, penetrating glance, the nostrils
somewhat distended, and lips compressed so as hardly to let the breath
escape him, denote the character of the man for high-reaching policy
and deep designs as plainly as they can be written. How is it that we
decipher this expression in the face? First, by feeling it. And how is
it that we feel it? Not by re-established rules, but by the instinct of
analogy, by the principle of association, which is subtle and sure in
proportion as it is variable and indefinite. A circumstance, apparently
of no value, shall alter the whole interpretation to be put upon an
expression or action and it shall alter it thus powerfully because
in proportion to its very insignificance it shows a strong general
principle at work that extends in its ramifications to the smallest
things. This in fact will make all the difference between minuteness
and subtlety or refinement; for a small or trivial effect may in given
circumstances imply the operation of a great power. Stillness may be the
result of a blow too powerful to be resisted; silence may be imposed
by feelings too agonising for utterance. The minute, the trifling
and insipid is that which is little in itself, in its causes and
its consequences; the subtle and refined is that which is slight and
evanescent at first sight, but which mounts up to a mighty sum in
the end, which is an essential part of an important whole, which has
consequences greater than itself, and where more is meant than meets
the eye or ear. We complain sometimes of littleness in a Dutch picture,
where there are a vast number of distinct parts and objects, each small
in itself, and leading to nothing else. A sky of Claude's cannot fall
under this censure, where one imperceptible gradation is as it were
the scale to another, where the broad arch of heaven is piled up of
endlessly intermediate gold and azure tints, and where an infinite
number of minute, scarce noticed particulars blend and melt into
universal harmony. The subtlety in Shakespear, of which there is an
immense deal scattered everywhere up and down, is always the instrument
of passion, the vehicle of character. The action of a man pulling his
hat over his forehead is indifferent enough in itself, and generally
speaking, may mean anything or nothing; but in the circumstances in
which Macduff is placed, it is neither insignificant nor equivocal.

 What! man, ne'er pull your hat upon your brows, etc.

It admits but of one interpretation or inference, that which follows

 Give sorrow words: the grief that does not speak,
 Whispers the o'er-fraught heart, and bids it break.

The passage in the same play, in which Duncan and his attendants are
introduced, commenting on the beauty and situation of Macbeth's castle,
though familiar in itself, has been often praised for the striking
contrast it presents to the scenes which follow.--The same look in
different circumstances may convey a totally different expression. Thus
the eye turned round to look at you without turning the head indicates
generally slyness or suspicion; but if this is combined with large
expanded eyelids or fixed eyebrows, as we see it in Titian's pictures,
it will denote calm contemplation or piercing sagacity, without anything
of meanness or fear of being observed. In other cases it may imply
merely indolent, enticing voluptuousness, as in Lely's portraits of
women. The languor and weakness of the eyelids give the amorous turn
to the expression. How should there be a rule for all this beforehand,
seeing it depends on circumstances ever varying, and scarce discernible
but by their effect on the mind? Rules are applicable to abstractions,
but expression is concrete and individual. We know the meaning of
certain looks, and we feel how they modify one another in conjunction.
But we cannot have a separate rule to judge of all their combinations
in different degrees and circumstances, without foreseeing all those
combinations, which is impossible; or if we did foresee them, we should
only be where we are, that is, we could only make the rule as we now
judge without it, from imagination and the feeling of the moment. The
absurdity of reducing expression to a preconcerted system was perhaps
never more evidently shown than in a picture of the Judgment of Solomon
by so great a man as N. Poussin, which I once heard admired for the
skill and discrimination of the artist in making all the women, who are
ranged on one side, in the greatest alarm at the sentence of the judge,
while all the men on the opposite side see through the design of it.
Nature does not go to work or cast things in a regular mould in this
sort of way. I once heard a person remark of another, 'He has an eye
like a vicious horse.' This was a fair analogy. We all, I believe, have
noticed the look of a horse's eye just before he is going to bite or
kick. But will any one, therefore, describe to me exactly what that
look is? It was the same acute observer that said of a self-sufficient.,
prating music-master, 'He talks on all subjects _at sight_'--which
expressed the man at once by an allusion to his profession, the
coincidence was indeed perfect. Nothing else could compare with the easy
assurance with which this gentleman would volunteer an explanation of
things of which he was most ignorant, but the _nonchalance_ with which
a musician sits down to a harpsichord to play a piece he has never seen
before. My physiognomical friend would not have hit on this mode of
illustration without knowing the profession of the subject of his
criticism; but having this hint given him, it instantly suggested itself
to his 'sure trailing.' The manner of the speaker was evident; and the
association of the music-master sitting down to play at sight,
lurking in his mind, was immediately called out by the strength of his
impression of the character. The feeling of character and the felicity
of invention in explaining it were nearly allied to each other. The
first was so wrought up and running over that the transition to the last
was very easy and unavoidable. When Mr. Kean was so much praised for the
action of Richard in his last struggle with his triumphant antagonist,
where he stands, after his sword is wrested from him, with his hands
stretched out, 'as if his will could not be disarmed, and the very
phantoms of his despair had a withering power,' he said that he borrowed
it from seeing the last efforts of Painter in his fight with Oliver.
This assuredly did not lessen the merit of it. Thus it ever is with the
man of real genius. He has the feeling of truth already shrined in his
own breast, and his eye is still bent on Nature to see how she expresses
herself. When we thoroughly understand the subject it is easy to
translate from one language into another. Raphael, in muffling up the
figure of Elymas the Sorcerer in his garments, appears to have extended
the idea of blindness even to his clothes. Was this design? Probably
not; but merely the feeling of analogy thoughtlessly suggesting this
device, which being so suggested was retained and carried on, because
it flattered or fell in with the original feeling. The tide of passion,
when strong, overflows and gradually insinuates itself into all nooks
and corners of the mind. Invention (of the best kind) I therefore do not
think so distinct a thing from feeling as some are apt to imagine. The
springs of pure feeling will rise and fill the moulds of fancy that are
fit to receive it. There are some striking coincidences of colour
in well-composed pictures, as in a straggling weed in the foreground
streaked with blue or red to answer to a blue or red drapery, to the
tone of the flesh or an opening in the sky:--not that this was intended,
or done by the rule (for then it would presently become affected and
ridiculous), but the eye, being imbued with a certain colour, repeats
and varies it from a natural sense of harmony, a secret craving and
appetite for beauty, which in the same manner soothes and gratifies the
eye of taste, though the cause is not understood. _Tact, finesse_,
is nothing but the being completely aware of the feeling belonging to
certain situations, passions, etc., and the being consequently sensible
to their slightest indications or movements in others. One of the most
remarkable instances of this sort of faculty is the following story,
told of Lord Shaftesbury, the grandfather of the author of the
_Characteristics_. He had been to dine with Lady Clarendon and her
daughter, who was at that time privately married to the Duke of York
(afterwards James II.), and as he returned home with another nobleman
who had accompanied him, he suddenly turned to him, and said, 'Depend
upon it, the Duke has married Hyde's daughter.' His companion could
not comprehend what he meant; but on explaining himself, he said, 'Her
mother behaved to her with an attention and a marked respect that it is
impossible to account for in any other way; and I am sure of it.' His
conjecture shortly afterwards proved to be the truth. This was carrying
the prophetic spirit of common sense as far as it could go.


(1) Discourse XIII. vol. ii. pp. 113-117.

(2) Sentiment has the same source as that here pointed out. Thus the
_Ranz des Vaches_, which has such an effect on the minds of the Swiss
peasantry, when its well-known sound is heard, does not merely recall
to them the idea of their country, but has associated with it a thousand
nameless ideas, numberless touches of private affection, of early hope,
romantic adventure and national pride, all which rush in (with mingled
currents) to swell the tide of fond remembrance, and make them languish
or die for home. What a fine instrument the human heart is! Who shall
touch it? Who shall fathom it? Who shall 'sound it from Its lowest note
to the top of its compass?' Who shall put his hand among the strings,
and explain their wayward music? The heart alone, when touched by
sympathy, trembles and responds to their hidden meaning!


Genius or originality is, for the most part, _some strong quality in
the mind, answering to and bringing out some new and striking quality in

Imagination is, more properly, the power of carrying on a given feeling
into other situations, which must be done best according to the hold
which the feeling itself has taken of the mind.(1) In new and unknown
combinations the impression must act by sympathy, and not by rule,
but there can be no sympathy where there is no passion, no original
interest. The personal interest may in some cases oppress and
circumscribe the imaginative faculty, as in the instance of Rousseau:
but in general the strength and consistency of the imagination will be
in proportion to the strength and depth of feeling; and it is rarely
that a man even of lofty genius will be able to do more than carry on
his own feelings and character, or some prominent and ruling passion,
into fictitious and uncommon situations. Milton has by allusion
embodied a great part of his political and personal history in the
chief characters and incidents of _Paradise Lost_. He has, no doubt,
wonderfully adapted and heightened them, but the elements are the same;
you trace the bias and opinions of the man in the creations of the poe
above the definition of genius. 'Born universal heir to all humanity,'
he was 'as one, in suffering all who suffered nothing'; with a perfect
sympathy with all things, yet alike indifferent to all: who did not
tamper with Nature or warp her to his own purposes; who 'knew all
qualities with a learned spirit,' instead of judging of them by his own
predilections; and was rather 'a pipe for the Muse's finger to play what
stop she pleasd,' than anxious to set up any character or pretensions of
his own. His genius consisted in the faculty of transforming himself
at will into whatever he chose: his originality was the power of seeing
every object from the exact point of view in which others would see
it. He was the Proteus of human intellect. Genius in ordinary is a more
obstinate and less versatile thing. It is sufficiently exclusive and
self-willed, quaint and peculiar. It does some one thing by virtue of
doing nothing else: it excels in some one pursuit by being blind to all
excellence but its own. It is just the reverse of the cameleon; for
it does not borrow, but lends its colour to all about it; or like the
glow-worm, discloses a little circle of gorgeous light in the twilight
of obscurity, in the night of intellect that surrounds it. So did
Rembrandt. If ever there was a man of genius, he was one, in the proper
sense of the term. He lived in and revealed to otters a world of his
own, and might be said to have invented a new view of nature. He did
not discover things _out of_ nature, in fiction or fairy land, or make
a voyage to the moon 'to descry new lands, rivers or mountains in her
spotty globe,' but saw things _in_ nature that every one had missed
before him and gave others eyes to see them with. This is the test and
triumph of originality, not to show us what has never been, and what we
may therefore very easily never have dreamt of, but to point out to
us what is before our eyes and under our feet, though we have had
no suspicion of its existence, for want of sufficient strength of
intuition, of determined grasp of mind, to seize and retain it.
Rembrandt's conquests were not over the _ideal_, but the real. He did
not contrive a new story or character, but we nearly owe to him a fifth
part of painting, the knowledge of _chiaroscuro_--a distinct power and
element in art and nature. He had a steadiness, a firm keeping of mind
and eye, that first stood the shock of 'fierce extremes' in light and
shade, or reconciled the greatest obscurity and the greatest brilliancy
into perfect harmony; and he therefore was the first to hazard this
appearance upon canvas, and give full effect to what he saw and
delighted in. He was led to adopt this style of broad and startling
contrast from its congeniality to his own feelings: his mind grappled
with that which afforded the best exercise to its master-powers: he
was bold in act, because he was urged on by a strong native impulse.
Originality is then nothing but nature and feeling working in the mind.
A man does not affect to be original: he is so, because he cannot help
it, and often without knowing it. This extraordinary artist indeed might
be said to have had a particular organ for colour. His eye seemed to
come in contact with it as a feeling, to lay hold of it as a substance,
rather than to contemplate it as a visual object. The texture of his
landscapes is 'of the earth, earthy'--his clouds are humid, heavy, slow;
his shadows are 'darkness that may be felt,' a 'palpable obscure'; his
lights are lumps of liquid splendour! There is something more in this
than can be accounted for from design or accident: Rembrandt was not a
man made up of two or three rules and directions for acquiring genius.

I am afraid I shall hardly write so satisfactory a character of Mr.
Wordsworth, though he too, like Rembrandt, has a faculty of making
something out of nothing, that is, out of himself, by the medium through
which he sees and with which he clothes the barrenest subject. Mr.
Wordsworth is the last man to 'look abroad into universality,' if that
alone constituted genius: he looks at home into himself, and is 'content
with riches fineless.' He would in the other case be 'poor as winter,'
if he had nothing but general capacity to trust to. He is the greatest,
that is, the most original poet of the present day, only because he is
the greatest egotist. He is 'self-involved, not dark.' He sits in the
centre of his own being, and there 'enjoys bright day.' He does not
waste a thought on others. Whatever does not relate exclusively
and wholly to himself is foreign to his views. He contemplates a
whole-length figure of himself, he looks along the unbroken line of
his personal identity. He thrusts aside all other objects, all other
interests, with scorn and impatience, that he may repose on his own
being, that he may dig out the treasures of thought contained in it,
that he may unfold the precious stores of a mind for ever brooding over
itself. His genius is the effect of his individual character. He stamps
that character, that deep individual interest, on whatever he meets. The
object is nothing but as it furnishes food for internal meditation, for
old associations. If there had been no other being in the universe, Mr.
Wordsworth's poetry would have been just what it is. If there had been
neither love nor friendship, neither ambition nor pleasure nor business
in the World, the author of the _Lyrical Ballads_ need not have been
greatly changed from what he is--might still have 'kept the noiseless
tenour of his way,' retired in the sanctuary of his own heart, hallowing
the Sabbath of his own thoughts. With the passions, the pursuits, and
imaginations of other men he does not profess to sympathise, but 'finds
tongues in the trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones,
and good in everything.' With a mind averse from outward objects, but
ever intent upon its own workings, he hangs a weight of thought and
feeling upon every trifling circumstance connected with his past
history. The note of the cuckoo sounds in his ear like the voice of
other years; the daisy spreads its leaves in the rays of boyish delight
that stream from his thoughtful eyes; the rainbow lifts its proud arch
in heaven but to mark his progress from infancy to manhood; an old thorn
is buried, bowed down under the mass of associations he has wound about
it; and to him, as he himself beautifully says,

 The meanest flow'r that blows can give
 Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.

It is this power of habitual sentiment, or of transferring the interest
of our conscious existence to whatever gently solicits attention, and
is a link in the chain of association without rousing our passions or
hurting our pride, that is the striking feature in Mr. Wordsworth's mind
and poetry. Others have left and shown this power before, as Wither,
Burns, etc., but none have felt it so intensely and absolutely as to
lend to it the voice of inspiration, as to make it the foundation of a
new style and school in poetry. His strength, as it so often happens,
arises from the excess of his weakness. But he has opened a new avenue
to the human heart, has explored another secret haunt and nook of
nature, 'sacred to verse, and sure of everlasting fame.' Compared with
his lines, Lord Byron's stanzas are but exaggerated common-place, and
Walter Scott's poetry (not his prose) old wives' fables.(2) There is no
one in whom I have been more disappointed than in the writer here spoken
of, nor with whom I am more disposed on certain points to quarrel; but
the love of truth and justice which obliges me to do this, will not
suffer me to blench his merits. Do what he can, he cannot help being an
original-minded man. His poetry is not servile. While the cuckoo returns
in the spring, while the daisy looks bright in the sun, while the
rainbow lifts its head above the storm--

 Yet I'll remember thee, Glencairn,
 And all that thou hast done for me!

Sir Joshua Reynolds, in endeavouring to show that there is no such thing
as proper originality, a spirit emanating from the mind of the artist
and shining through his works, has traced Raphael through a number of
figures which he has borrowed from Masaccio and others. This is a bad
calculation. If Raphael had only borrowed those figures from others,
would he, even in Sir Joshua's sense, have been entitled to the praise
of originality? Plagiarism, in so far as it is plagiarism, is not
originality. Salvator is considered by many as a great genius. He is
what they call an irregular genius. My notion of genius is not exactly
the same as theirs. It has also been made a question; whether there is
not more genius in Rembrandt's Three Trees than in all Claude Lorraine's
landscapes. I do not know how that may be; but it was enough for Claude
to have been a perfect landscape-painter.

Capacity is not the same thing as genius. Capacity may be described to
relate to the quantity of knowledge, however acquired; genius, to its
quality and the mode of acquiring it. Capacity is power over given ideas
combinations of ideas; genius is the power over those which are not
given, and for which no obvious or precise rule can be laid down. Or
capacity is power of any sort; genius is power of a different sort from
what has yet been shown. A retentive memory, a clear understanding, is
capacity, but it is not genius. The admirable Crichton was a person of
prodigious capacity; but there is no proof (that I know) that he had an
atom of genius. His verses that remain are dull and sterile. He could
learn all that was known of any subject; he could do anything if others
could show him the way to do it. This was very wonderful; but that
is all you can say of it. It requires a good capacity to play well at
chess; but, after all, it is a game of skill, and not of genius. Know
what you will of it, the understanding still moves in certain tracks in
which others have trod it before, quicker or slower, with more or less
comprehension and presence of mind. The greatest skill strikes out
nothing for itself, from its own peculiar resources; the nature of the
game is a thing determinate and fixed: there is no royal or poetical
road to checkmate your adversary. There is no place for genius but in
the indefinite and unknown. The discovery of the binomial theorem was
an effort of genius; but there was none shown in Jedediah Buxton's being
able to multiply 9 figures by 9 in his head. If he could have multiplied
90 figures by 90 instead of 9, it would have been equally useless toil
and trouble.(3) He is a man of capacity who possesses considerable
intellectual riches: he is a man of genius who finds out a vein of new
ore. Originality is the seeing nature differently from others, and
yet as it is in itself. It is not singularity or affectation, but the
discovery of new and valuable truth. All the world do not see the wh
looking at. Habit blinds them to some things; short-sightedness to
others. Every mind is not a gauge and measure of truth. Nature has her
surface and her dark recesses. She is deep, obscure, and infinite. It is
only minds on whom she makes her fullest impressions that can penetrate
her shrine or unveil her _Holy of Holies_. It is only those whom she has
filled with her spirit that have the boldness or the power to reveal her
mysteries to others. But Nature has a thousand aspects, and one man can
only draw out one of them. Whoever does this is a man of genius. One
displays her force, another her refinement; one her power of harmony,
another her suddenness of contrast; one her beauty of form, another her
splendour of colour. Each does that for which he is bast fitted by his
particular genius, that is to say, by some quality of mind into which
the quality of the object sinks deepest, where it finds the most cordial
welcome, is perceived to its utmost extent, and where again it forces
its way out from the fulness with which it has taken possession of
the mind of the student. The imagination gives out what it has first
absorbed by congeniality of temperament, what it has attracted and
moulded into itself by elective affinity, as the loadstone draws and
impregnates iron. A little originality is more esteemed and sought for
than the greatest acquired talent, because it throws a new light upon
things, and is peculiar to the individual. The other is common; and may
be had for the asking, to any amount.

The value of any work is to be judged of by the quantity of originality
contained in it. A very little of this will go a great way. If Goldsmith
had never written anything but the two or three first chapters of the
_Vicar of Wakefield_ or the character of a Village Schoolmaster, they
would have stamped him a man of genius. The editors of Encyclopedias are
not usually reckoned the first literary characters of the age. The works
of which they have the management contain a great deal of knowledge,
like chests or warehouses, but the goods are not their own. We should
as soon think of admiring the shelves of a library; but the shelves of a
library are useful and respectable. I was once applied to, in a
delicate emergency, to write an article on a difficult subject for an
Encyclopedia, and was advised to take time and give it a systematic and
scientific form, to avail myself of all the knowledge that was to be
obtained on the subject, and arrange it with clearness and method. I
made answer that as to the first, I had taken time to do all that I ever
pretended to do, as I had thought incessantly on different matters for
twenty years of my life;(4) that I had no particular knowledge of the
subject in question, and no head for arrangement; and that the utmost
I could do in such a case would be, when a systematic and scientific
article was prepared, to write marginal notes upon it, to insert
a remark or illustration of my own (not to be found in former
Encyclopedias), or to suggest a better definition than had been offered
in the text. There are two sorts of writing. The first is compilation;
and consists in collecting and stating all that is already known of any
question in the best possible manner, for the benefit of the uninformed
reader. An author of this class is a very learned amanuensis of other
people's thoughts. The second sort proceeds on an entirely different
principle: instead of bringing down the account of knowledge to the
point at which it has already arrived, it professes to start from
that point on the strength of the writer's individual reflections; and
supposing the reader in possession of what is already known, supplies
deficiencies, fills up certain blanks, and quits the beaten road in
search of new tracts of observation or sources of feeling. It is in vain
to object to this last style that it is disjointed, disproportioned,
and irregular. It is merely a set of additions and corrections to
other men's works, or to the common stock of human knowledge, printed
separately. You might as well expect a continued chain of reasoning
in the notes to a book. It skips all the trite, intermediate, level
common-places of the subject, and only stops at the difficult passages
of the human mind, or touches on some striking point that has been
overlooked in previous editions. A view of a subject, to be connected
and regular, cannot be all new. A writer will always be liable to be
charged either with paradox or common-place, either with dulness or
affectation. But we have no right to demand from any one more than
he pretends to. There is indeed a medium in all things, but to unite
opposite excellencies is a task ordinarily too hard for mortality. He
who succeeds in what he aims at, or who takes the lead in any one mode
or path of excellence, may think himself very well off. It would not
be fair to complain of the style of an Encyclopedia as dull, as wanting
volatile salt; nor of the style of an Essay because it is too light and
sparkling, because it is not a _caput mortuum_. So it is rather an
odd objection to a work that it is made up entirely of 'brilliant
passages'--at least it is a fault that can be found with few works, and
the book might be pardoned for its singularity. The censure might indeed
seem like adroit flattery, if it were not passed on an author whom any
objection is sufficient to render unpopular and ridiculous. I grant it
is best to unite solidity with show, general information with particular
ingenuity. This is the pattern of a perfect style; but I myself do not
pretend to be a perfect writer. In fine, we do not banish light French
wines from our tables, or refuse to taste sparkling Champagne when we
can get it because it has not the body of Old Port. Besides, I do not
know that dulness is strength, or that an observation is slight because
it is striking. Mediocrity, insipidity, want of character is the great

 Mediocribus esse poetis
 Non Dii, non homines, non concessere columnae.

Neither is this privilege allowed to prose-writers in our time any more
than to poets formerly.

It is not then acuteness of organs or extent of capacity that
constitutes rare genius or produces the most exquisite models of
art, but an intense sympathy with some one beauty or distinguishing
characteristic in nature. Irritability alone, or the interest taken in
certain things, may supply the place of genius in weak and otherwise
ordinary minds. As there are certain instruments fitted to perform
certain kinds of labour, there are certain minds so framed as to produce
certain _chef-d'oeuvres_ in art and literature, which is surely the best
use they can be put to. If a man had all sorts of instruments in his
shop and wanted one, he would rather have that one than be supplied with
a double set of all the others. If he had them twice over, he could only
do what he can do as it is, whereas without that one he perhaps cannot
finish any one work he has in hand. So if a man can do one thing better
than anybody else, the value of this one thing is what he must stand
or fall by, and his being able to do a hundred other things merely
_as well_ as anybody else would not alter the sentence or add to his
respectability; on the contrary, his being able to do so many other
things well would probably interfere with and encumber him in the
execution of the only thing that others cannot do as well as he, and so
far be a drawback and a disadvantage. More people, in fact, fail from a
multiplicity of talents and pretensions than from an absolute poverty
of resources. I have given instances of this elsewhere. Perhaps
Shakespear's tragedies would in some respects have been better if he had
never written comedies at all; and in that case his comedies might well
have been spared, though they must have cost us some regret. Racine,
it is said, might have rivalled Moliere in comedy; but he gave up the
cultivation of his comic talents to devote himself wholly to the tragic
Muse. If, as the French tell us, he in consequence attained to the
perfection of tragic composition, this was better than writing comedies
as well as Moliere and tragedies as well as Crebillon. Yet I count those
persons fools who think it a pity Hogarth did not succeed better in
serious subjects. The division of labour is an excellent principle in
taste as well as in mechanics. Without this, I find from Adam Smith, we
could not have a pin made to the degree of perfection it is. We do not,
on any rational scheme of criticism, inquire into the variety of a man's
excellences, or the number of his works, or his facility of production.
_Venice Preserved_ is sufficient for Otway's fame. I hate all those
nonsensical stories about Lope de Vega and his writing a play in a
morning before breakfast. He had time enough to do it after. If a man
leaves behind him any work which is a model in its kind, we have no
right to ask whether he could do anything else, or how he did it, or
how long he was about it. All that talent which is not necessary to the
actual quantity of excellence existing in the world, loses its object,
is so much waste talent or _talent to let_. I heard a sensible man say
he should like to do some one thing better than all the rest of the
world, and in everything else to be like all the rest of the world. Why
should a man do more than his part? The rest is vanity and vexation
of spirit. We look with jealous and grudging eyes at all those
qualifications which are not essential; first, because they are
superfluous, and next, because we suspect they will be prejudicial.
Why does Mr. Kean play all those harlequin tricks of singing, dancing,
fencing, etc.? They say, 'It is for his benefit.' It is not for his
reputation. Garrick indeed shone equally in comedy and tragedy. But he
was first, not second-rate in both. There is not a greater impertinence
than to ask, if a man is clever out of his profession. I have heard
of people trying to cross-examine Mrs. Siddons. I would as soon try to
entrap one of the Elgin Marbles into an argument. Good nature and common
sense are required from all people; but one proud distinction is enough
for any one individual to possess or to aspire to.


(1) I do not here speak of the figurative or fanciful exercise of the
imagination, which consists in finding out some striking object or image
to illustrate another.

(2) Mr. Wordsworth himself should not say this, and yet I am not sure he
would not.

(3) The only good thing I have ever heard come of this man's singular
faculty of memory was the following. A gentleman was mentioning his
having been sent up to London from the place where he lived to see
Garrick act. When he went back into the country he was asked what he
thought of the player and the play. 'Oh!' he said, 'he did not know: he
had only seen a little man strut about the stage and repeat 7956 words
one hand to his forehead, and seeming mightily delighted, called
out, 'Ay, indeed! And pray, was he found to be correct?' This was the
supererogation of literal matter-of-fact curiosity. Jedediah Buxton's
counting the number of words was idle enough; but here was a fellow who
wanted some one to count them over again to see if he was correct.

 The force of _dulness_ could no farther go!

(4) Sir Joshua Reynolds, being asked how long it had taken him to do a
certain picture, made answer, 'All my life!.'


People have about as substantial an idea of Cobbett as they have of
Cribb. His blows are as hard, and he himself is as impenetrable. One has
no notion of him as making use of a fine pen, but a great mutton-fist;
his style stuns his readers, and he 'fillips the ear of the public with
a three-man beetle.' He is too much for any single newspaper antagonist;
'lays waste' a city orator or Member of Parliament, and bears hard upon
the Government itself. He is a kind of _fourth estate_ in the politics
of the country. He is not only unquestionably the most powerful
political writer of the present day, but one of the best writers in the
language. He speaks and thinks plain, broad, downright English. He might
be said to have the clearness of Swift, the naturalness of Defoe,
and the picturesque satirical description of Mandeville; if all such
comparisons were not impertinent. A really great and original write
sense, Sterne was not a wit, nor Shakespear a poet. It is easy to
describe second-rate talents, because they fall into a class and enlist
under a standard; but first-rate powers defy calculation or comparison,
and can be defined only by themselves. They are _sui generis_, and
make the class to which they belong. I have tried half a dozen times
to describe Burke's style without ever succeeding,--its severe
extravagance; its literal boldness; its matter-of-fact hyperboles; its
running away with a subject, and from it at the same time,--but there
is no making it out, for there is no example of the same thing
anywhere else. We have no common measure to refer to; and his qualities
contradict even themselves.

Cobbett is not so difficult. He has been compared to Paine; and so far
it is true there are no two writers who come more into juxtaposition
from the nature of their subjects, from the internal resources on which
they draw, and from the popular effect of their writings and their
adaptation (though that is a bad word in the present case) to the
capacity of every reader. But still if we turn to a volume of Paine's
(his _Common Sense_ or _Rights of Man_) we are struck (not to say
somewhat refreshed) by the difference. Paine is a much more sententious
writer than Cobbett. You cannot open a page in any of his best and
earlier works without meeting with some maxim, some antithetical and
memorable saying, which is a sort of starting-place for the argument,
and the goal to which it returns. There is not a single _bon mot_, a
single sentence in Cobbett that has ever been quoted again. If anything
is ever quoted from him, it is an epithet of abuse or a nickname. He is
an excellent hand at invention in that way, and has 'damnable iteration'
in him. What could be better than his pestering Erskine year after year
with his second title of Baron Clackmannan? He is rather too fond of
_the Sons and Daughters of Corruption_. Paine affected to reduce things
to first principles, to announce self-evident truths. Cobbett troubles
himself about little but the details and local circumstances. The first
appeared to have made up his mind beforehand to certain opinions, and to
try to find the most compendious and pointed expressions for them: his
successor appears to have no clue, no fixed or leading principles, nor
ever to have thought on a question till he sits down to write about it;
but then there seems no end of his matters of fact and raw materials,
which are brought out in all their strength and sharpness from not
having been squared or frittered down or vamped up to suit a theory--he
goes on with his descriptions and illustrations as if he would never
come to a stop; they have all the force of novelty with all the
familiarity of old acquaintance; his knowledge grows out of the subject,
and his style is that of a man who has an absolute intuition of what
he is talking about, and never thinks of anything else. He deals in
premises and speaks to evidence--the coming to a conclusion and summing
up (which was Paine's _forte_) lies in a smaller compass. The one could
not compose an elementary treatise on politics to become a manual for
the popular reader, nor could the other in all probability have kept
up a weekly journal for the same number of years with the same spirit,
interest, and untired perseverance. Paine's writings are a sort of
introduction to political arithmetic on a new plan: Cobbett keeps
a day-book, and makes an entry at full of all the occurrences and
troublesome questions that start up throughout the year. Cobbett, with
vast industry, vast information, and the utmost power of making what he
says intelligible, never seems to get at the beginning or come to
the end of any question: Paine in a few short sentences seems by his
peremptory manner 'to clear it from all controversy, past, present, and
to come.' Paine takes a bird's-eye view of things. Cobbett sticks
close to them, inspects the component parts, and keeps fast hold of the
smallest advantages they afford him. Or, if I might here be indulged
in a pastoral allusion, Paine tries to enclose his ideas in a fold for
security and repose; Cobbett lets _his_ pour out upon the plain like a
flock of sheep to feed and batten. Cobbett is a pleasanter writer for
those to read who do not agree with him; for he is less dogmatical, goes
more into the common grounds of fact and argument to which all appeal,
is more desultory and various, and appears less to be driving at a
present conclusion than urged on by the force of present conviction.
He is therefore tolerated by all parties, though he has made himself by
turns obnoxious to all; and even those he abuses read him. The Reformers
read him when he was a Tory, and the Tories read him now that he is a
Reformer. He must, I think, however, be _caviare_ to the Whigs.(1)

If he is less metaphysical and poetical than his celebrated prototype,
he is more picturesque and dramatic. His episodes, which are numerous
as they are pertinent, are striking, interesting, full of life
and _naivete_, minute, double measure running over, but never
tedious--_nunquam sufflaminandus erat_. He is one of those writers who
can never tire us, not even of himself; and the reason is, he is always
'full of matter.' He never runs to lees, never gives us the vapid
leavings of himself, is never 'weary, stale, and unprofitable,' but
always setting out afresh on his journey, clearing away some old
nuisance, and turning up new mould. His egotism is delightful, for
there is no affectation in it. He does not talk of himself for lack
of something to write about, but because some circumstance that has
happened to himself is the best possible illustration of the subject,
and he is not the man to shrink from giving the best possible
illustration of the subject from a squeamish delicacy. He likes both
himself and his subject too well. He does not put himself before it,
and say, 'Admire me first,' but places us in the same situation with
himself, and makes us see all that he does. There is no blindman's-buff,
no conscious hints, no awkward ventriloquism, no testimonies of
applause, no abstract, senseless self-complacency, no smuggled
admiration of his own person by proxy: it is all plain and above-board.
He writes himself plain William Cobbett, strips himself quite as naked
as anybody would wish--in a word, his egotism is full of individuality,
and has room for very little vanity in it. We feel delighted, rub our
hands, and draw our chair to the fire, when we come to a passage of this
sort: we know it will be something new and good, manly and simple, not
the same insipid story of self over again. We sit down at table with
the writer, but it is to a course of rich viands, flesh, fish, and
wild-fowl, and not to a nominal entertainment, like that given by the
Barmecide in the _Arabian Nights_, who put off his visitors with calling
for a number of exquisite things that never appeared, and with the
honour of his company. Mr. Cobbett is not a _make-believe_ writer: his
worst enemy cannot say that of him. Still less is he a vulgar one: he
must be a puny, common-place critic indeed who thinks him so. How
fine were the graphical descriptions he sent us from America: what a
Transatlantic flavour, what a native gusto, what a fine _sauce piquante_
of contempt they were seasoned with! If he had sat down to look
at himself in the glass, instead of looking about him like Adam in
Paradise, he would not have got up these articles in so capital a
style. What a noble account of his first breakfast after his arrival in
America! It might serve for a month. There is no scene on the stage more
amusing. How well he paints the gold and scarlet plumage of the American
birds, only to lament more pathetically the want of the wild wood-notes
of his native land! The groves of the Ohio that had just fallen beneath
the axe's stroke 'live in his description,' and the turnips that he
transplanted from Botley 'look green' in prose! How well at another time
he describes the poor sheep that had got the tick and had bled down in
the agonies of death! It is a portrait in the manner of Bewick, with
the strength, the simplicity, and feeling of that great naturalist. What
havoc be makes, when he pleases, of the curls of Dr. Parr's wig and
of the Whig consistency of Mr. (Coleridge?)! His _Grammar_, too, is as
entertaining as a story-book. He is too hard upon the style of others,
and not enough (sometimes) on his own.

As a political partisan no one can stand against him. With his
brandished club, like Giant Despair in the _Pilgrim's Progress_, he
knocks out their brains; and not only no individual but no corrupt
system could hold out against his powerful and repeated attacks, but
with the same weapon, swung round like a flail, that he levels his
antagonists, he lays his friends low, and puts his own party _hors de
combat_. This is a bad propensity., and a worse principle in political
tactics, though a common one. If his blows were straightforward and
steadily directed to the same object, no unpopular minister could live
before him; instead of which he lays about right and left, impartially
and remorselessly, makes a clear stage, has all the ring to himself, and
then runs out of it, just when he should stand his ground. He throws
his head into his adversary's stomach, and takes away from him all
inclination for the fight, hits fair or foul, strikes at everything, and
as you come up to his aid or stand ready to pursue his advantage, trips
up your heels or lays you sprawling, and pummels you when down as
much to his heart's content as ever the Yanguesian carriers belaboured
Rosinante with their pack-staves. 'He has the back-trick simply the best
of any man in Illyria.' He pays off both scores of old friendship and
new-acquired enmity in a breath, in one perpetual volley, one raking
fire of 'arrowy sleet' shot from his pen. However his own reputation or
the cause may suffer in consequence, he cares not one pin about that, so
that he disables all who oppose, or who pretend to help him. In fact, he
cannot bear success of any kind, not even of his own views or party; and
if any principle were likely to become popular, would turn round against
it to show his power in shouldering it on one side. In short, wherever
power is, there he is against it: he naturally butts at all obstacles,
as unicorns are attracted to oak trees, and feels his own strength only
by resistance to the opinions and wishes of the rest of the world. To
sail with the stream, to agree with the company, is not his humour. If
he could bring about a Reform in Parliament, the odds are that he would
instantly fall foul of and try to mar his own handiwork; and he quarrels
with his own creatures as soon as he has written them into a little
vogue--and a prison. I do not think this is vanity or fickleness so much
as a pugnacious disposition, that must have an antagonistic power to
contend with, and only finds itself at ease in systematic opposition.
If it were not for this, the high towers and rotten places of the world
would fall before the battering-ram of his hard-headed reasoning; but if
he once found them tottering, he would apply his strength to prop them
up, and disappoint the expectations of his followers. He cannot agree to
anything established, nor to set up anything else in its stead. While it
is established, he presses hard against it, because it presses upon him,
at least in imagination. Let it crumble under his grasp, and the motive
to resistance is gone. He then requires some other grievance to set his
face against. His principle is repulsion, his nature contradiction: he
is made up of mere antipathies, an Ishmaelite indeed without a fellow.
He is always playing at hunt-the-slipper in politics. He turns round
upon whoever is next him. The way to wean him from any opinion, and
make him conceive an intolerable hatred against it, would be to place
somebody near him who was perpetually dinning it in his ears. When he is
in England he does nothing but abuse the Boroughmongers and laugh at the
whole system; when he is in America he grows impatient of freedom and a
republic. If he had stayed there a little longer he would have become a
loyal and a loving subject of His Majesty King George IV. He lampooned
the French Revolution when it was hailed as the dawn of liberty by
millions: by the time it was brought into almost universal ill-odour by
some means or other (partly no doubt by himself), he had turned, with
one or two or three others, staunch Buonapartist. He is always of the
militant, not of the triumphant party: so far he bears a gallant show
of magnanimity. But his gallantry is hardly of the right stamp. It wants
principle; for though he is not servile or mercenary, he is the victim
of self-will. He must pull down and pull in pieces: it is not in his
disposition to do otherwise. It is a pity; for with his great talents
he might do great things, if he would go right forward to any useful
object, make thorough stitch-work of any question, or join hand and
heart with any principle. He changes his opinions as he does his
friends, and much on the same account. He has no comfort in fixed
principles; as soon as anything is settled in his own mind, he quarrels
with it. He has no satisfaction but the chase after truth, runs a
question down, worries and kills it, then quits it like a vermin, and
starts some new game, to lead him a new dance, and give him a fresh
breathing through bog and brake, with the rabble yelping at his heels
and the leaders perpetually at fault. This he calls sport-royal. He
thinks it as good as cudgel-playing or single-stick, or anything else
that has life in it. He likes the cut and thrust, the falls, bruises,
and dry blows of an argument: as to any good or useful results that may
come of the amicable settling of it, any one is welcome to them for him.
The amusement is over when the matter is once fairly decided.

There is another point of view in which this may be put. I might say
that Mr. Cobbett is a very honest man with a total want of principle,
and I might explain this paradox thus:--I mean that he is, I think, in
downright earnest in what he says, in the part he takes at the time;
but in taking that part, he is led entirely by headstrong obstinacy,
caprice, novelty 'pique, or personal motive of some sort, and not by
a steadfast regard for truth or habitual anxiety for what is right
uppermost in his mind. He is not a fee'd, time-serving, shuffling
advocate (no man could write as he does who did not believe himself
sincere); but his understanding is the dupe and slave of his
momentary, violent, and irritable humours. He does not adopt an opinion
'deliberately or for money,' yet his conscience is at the mercy of the
first provocation he receives, of the first whim he takes in his
head: he sees things through the medium of heat and passion, not with
reference to any general principles, and his whole system of thinking is
deranged by the first object that strikes his fancy or sours his temper
education. He is a self-taught man, and has the faults as well as
excellences of that class of persons in their most striking and glaring
excess. It must be acknowledged that the editor of the _Political
Register_ (the _twopenny trash_, as it was called, till a bill passed
the House to raise the price to sixpence) is not 'the gentleman and
scholar,' though he has qualities that, with a little better management,
would be worth (to the public) both those titles. For want of knowing
what has been discovered before him, he has not certain general
landmarks to refer to, or a general standard of thought to apply to
individual cases. He relies on his own acuteness and the immediate
evidence, without being acquainted with the comparative anatomy or
philosophical structure of opinion. He does not view things on a large
scale or at the horizon (dim and airy enough, perhaps)--but as they
affect himself, close, palpable, tangible. Whatever he finds out is his
own, and he only knows what he finds out. He is in the constant hurry
and fever of gestation; his brain teems incessantly with some fresh
project. Every new light is the birth of a new system, the dawn of a
new world outstripping and overreaching himself. The last opinion is the
only true one. He is wiser to-day than he was yesterday. Why should he
not be wiser to-morrow than he was to-day?--Men of a learned education
are not so sharp-witted as clever men without it; but they know the
balance of the human intellect better; if they are more stupid, they are
more steady, and are less liable to be led astray by their own sagacity
and the overweening petulance of hard-earned and late-acquired wisdom.
They do not fall in love with every meretricious extravagance at first
sight, or mistake an old battered hypothesis for a vestal, because they
are new to the ways of this old world. They do not seize upon it as a
prize, but are safe from gross imposition by being as wise and no wiser
than those who went before them.

Paine said on some occasion, 'What I have written, I have written'--as
rendering any further declaration of his principles unnecessary. Not so
Mr. Cobbett. What he has written is no rule to him what he is to write
maintain the opinions of the last six days against friend or foe. I
doubt whether this outrageous inconsistency, this headstrong fickleness,
this understood want of all rule and method, does not enable him to go
on with the spirit, vigour, and variety that he does. He is not pledged
to repeat himself. Every new _Register_ is a kind of new Prospectus. He
blesses himself from all ties and shackles on his understanding; he has
no mortgages on his brain; his notions are free and unencumbered. If he
was put in trammels, he might become a vile hack like so many more. But
he gives himself 'ample scope and verge enough.' He takes both sides of
a question, and maintains one as sturdily as the other. If nobody else
can argue against him, he is a very good match for himself. He writes
better in favour of Reform than anybody else; he used to write better
against it. Wherever he is, there is the tug of war, the weight of the
argument, the strength of abuse. He is not like a man in danger of being
_bed-rid_ in his faculties--he tosses and tumbles about his unwieldy
bulk, and when he is tired of lying on one side, relieves himself by
turning on the other. His shifting his point of view from time to time
not merely adds variety and greater compass to his topics (so that the
_Political Register_ is an armoury and magazine for all the materials
and weapons of political warfare), but it gives a greater zest and
liveliness to his manner of treating them. Mr. Cobbett takes nothing
for granted as what he has proved before; he does not write a book of
reference. We see his ideas in their first concoction, fermenting and
overflowing with the ebullitions of a lively conception. We look on at
the actual process, and are put in immediate possession of the grounds
and materials on which he forms his sanguine, unsettled conclusions. He
does not give us samples of reasoning, but the whole solid mass, refuse
and all.

 He pours out all as plain
 As downright Shippen or as old Montaigne.

This is one cause of the clearness and force of his writings. An
argument does not stop to stagnate and muddle in his brain, but passes
at once to his paper. His ideas are served up, like pancakes, hot and
hot. Fresh theories give him fresh courage. He is like a young and lusty
bridegroom that divorces a favourite speculation every morning, and
marries a new one every night. He is not wedded to his notions, not he.
He has not one Mrs. Cobbett among all his opinions. He makes the most
of the last thought that has come in his way, seizes fast hold of it,
rumbles it about in all directions with rough strong hands, has his
wicked will of it, takes a surfeit, and throws it away.--Our author's
changing his opinions for new ones is not so wonderful; what is more
remarkable is his facility in forgetting his old ones. He does not
pretend to consistency (like Mr. Coleridge); he frankly disavows all
connection with himself. He feels no personal responsibility in this
way, and cuts a friend or principle with the same decided indifference
that Antipholis of Ephesus cuts AEgeon of Syracuse. It is a hollow
thing. The only time he ever grew romantic was in bringing over the
relics of Mr. Thomas Paine with him from America to go a progress
with them through the disaffected districts. Scarce had he landed in
Liverpool when he left the bones of a great man to shift for themselves;
and no sooner did he arrive in London than he made a speech to disclaim
all participation in the political and theological sentiments of his
late idol, and to place the whole stock of his admiration and enthusiasm
towards him to the account of his financial speculations, and of his
having predicted the fate of paper-money. If he had erected a little
gold statue to him, it might have proved the sincerity of this
assertion; but to make a martyr and a patron saint of a man, and to dig
up 'his canonised bones' in order to expose them as objects of devotion
to the rabble's gaze, asks something that has more life and spirit in
it, more mind and vivifying soul, than has to do with any calculation
of pounds, shillings, and pence! The fact is, he _ratted_ from his own
project. He found the thing not so ripe as he had expected. His heart
failed him; his enthusiasm fled, and he made his retractation. His
admiration is short-lived; his contempt only is rooted, and his
resentment lasting.--The above was only one instance of his building too
much on practical _data_. He has an ill habit of prophesying, and goes
on, though still decieved. The art of prophesying does not suit Mr.
Cobbett's style. He has a knack of fixing names and times and places.
According to him, the Reformed Parliament was to meet in March 1818--it
did not, and we heard no more of the matter. When his predictions
fail, he takes no further notice of them, but applies himself to new
ones--like the country people who turn to see what weather there is in
the almanac for the next week, though it has been out in its reckoning
every day of the last.

Mr. Cobbett is great in attack, not in defence; he cannot fight an
up-hill battle. He will not bear the least punishing. If any one turns
upon him (which few people like to do) he immediately turns tail. Like
an overgrown schoolboy, he is so used to have it all his own way, that
he cannot submit to anything like competition or a struggle for the
mastery; he must lay on all the blows, and take none. He is bullying
and cowardly; a Big Ben in politics, who will fall upon others and crush
them by his weight, but is not prepared for resistance, and is soon
staggered by a few smart blows. Whenever he has been set upon, he has
slunk out of the controversy. The _Edinburgh Review_ made (what is
called) a dead set at him some years ago, to which he only retorted by
an eulogy on the superior neatness of an English kitchen-garden to a
Scotch one. I remember going one day into a bookseller's shop in Fleet
Street to ask for the _Review_, and on my expressing my opinion to a
young Scotchman, who stood behind the counter, that Mr. Cobbett might
hit as hard in his reply, the North Briton said with some alarm, 'But
you don't think, sir, Mr. Cobbett will be able to injure the Scottish
nation?' I said I could not speak to that point, but I thought he was
very well able to defend himself. He, however, did not, but has borne a
grudge to the _Edinburgh Review_ ever since, which he hates worse than
the _Quarterly_. I cannot say I do.(2)


(1) The late Lord Thurlow used to say that Cobbett was the only writer
that deserved the name of a political reasoner.

(2) Mr. Cobbett speaks almost as well as he writes. The only time l ever
saw him he seemed to me a very pleasant man--easy of access, affable,
clear-headed, simple and mild in his manner, deliberate and unruffled in
his speech, though some of his expressions were not very qualified. His
figure is tall and portly. He has a good, sensible face--rather full,
with little grey eyes, a hard, square forehead, a ruddy complexion, with
hair grey or powdered; and had on a scarlet broadcloth waistcoat
with the flaps of the pockets hanging down, as was the custom for
gentlemen-farmers in the last century, or as we see it in the pictures
of Members of Parliament in the reign of George I. I certainly did not
think less favourably of him for seeing him.


There are people who have but one idea: at least, if they have more,
they keep it a secret, for they never talk but of one subject.

There is Major Cartwright: he has but one idea or subject of discourse,
Parliamentary Reform. Now Parliamentary Reform is (as far as I know) a
very good subject to talk about; but why should it be the only one? To
hear the worthy and gallant Major resume his favourite topic, is like
law-business, or a person who has a suit in Chancery going on. Nothing
can be attended to, nothing can be talked of but that. Now it is getting
on, now again it is standing still; at one time the Master has promised
to pass judgment by a certain day, at another he has put it off again
and called for more papers, and both are equally reasons for speaking of
it. Like the piece of packthread in the barrister's hands, he turns
and twists it all ways, and cannot proceed a step without it. Some
schoolboys cannot read but in their own book; and the man of one idea
cannot converse out of his own subject. Conversation it is not; but
a sort of recital of the preamble of a bill, or a collection of grave
arguments for a man's being of opinion with himself. It would be well if
there was anything of character, of eccentricity in all this; but
that is not the case. It is a political homily personified, a walking
common-place we have to encounter and listen to. It is just as if a man
was to insist on your hearing him go through the fifth chapter of the
Book of Judges every time you meet, or like the story of the Cosmogony
in the _Vicar of Wakefield._ It is a tine played on a barrel-organ. It
is a common vehicle of discourse into which they get and are set down
when they please, without any pain or trouble to themselves. Neither is
it professional pedantry or trading quackery: it has no excuse. The man
has no more to do with the question which he saddles on all his hearers
than you have. This is what makes the matter hopeless. If a farmer talks
to you about his pigs or his poultry, or a physician about his patients,
or a lawyer about his briefs, or a merchant about stock, or an author
about himself, you know how to account for this, it is a common
infirmity, you have a laugh at his expense and there is no more to be
said. But here is a man who goes out of his way to be absurd, and is
troublesome by a romantic effort of generosity. You cannot say to him,
'All this may be interesting to you, but I have no concern in it':
you cannot put him off in that way. He retorts the Latin adage upon
you-_Nihil humani a me alienum puto._ He has got possession of a subject
which is of universal and paramount interest (not 'a fee-grief, due to
some single breast'), and on that plea may hold you by the button as
long as he chooses. His delight is to harangue on what nowise regards
himself: how then can you refuse to listen to what as little amuses you?
Time and tide wait for no man. The business of the state admits of no
delay. The question of Universal Suffrage and Annual Parliaments stands
first on the order of the day--takes precedence in its own right of
every other question. Any other topic, grave or gay, is looked upon
in the light of impertinence, and sent _to Coventry._ Business is an
interruption; pleasure a digression from it. It is the question before
every company where the Major comes, which immediately resolves itself
into a committee of the whole upon it, is carried on by means of a
perpetual virtual adjournment, and it is presumed that no other is
entertained while this is pending--a determination which gives its
persevering advocate a fair prospect of expatiating on it to his dying
day. As Cicero says of study, it follows him into the country, it stays
with him at home: it sits with him at breakfast, and goes out with him
to dinner. It is like a part of his dress, of the costume of his person,
without which he would be at a loss what to do. If he meets you in the
street, he accosts you with it as a form of salutation: if you see him
at his own house, it is supposed you come upon that. If you happen to
remark, 'It is a fine day,' or 'The town is full,' it is considered as a
temporary compromise of the question; you are suspected of not going
the whole length of the principle. As Sancho, when reprimanded for
mentioning his homely favourite in the Duke's kitchen, defended himself
by saying, 'There I thought of Dapple, and there I spoke of him,' so
the true stickler for Reform neglects no opportunity of introducing
the subject wherever he is. Place its veteran champion under the frozen
north, and he will celebrate sweet smiling Reform; place him under the
mid-day Afric suns, and he will talk of nothing but Reform--Reform so
sweetly smiling and so sweetly promising for the last forty years--

 Dulce ridentem Lalagen,
 Dulce loquentem!

A topic of this sort of which the person himself may be considered as
almost sole proprietor and patentee is an estate for life, free from
all encumbrance of wit, thought, or study, you live upon it as a settled
income; and others might as well think to eject you out of a capital
freehold house and estate as think to drive you out of it into the wide
world of common sense and argument. Every man's house is his castle; and
every man's common-place is his stronghold, from which he looks out
and smiles at the dust and heat of controversy, raised by a number of
frivolous and vexatious questions--'Rings the world with the vain stir!'
A cure for this and every other evil would be a Parliamentary Reform;
and so we return in a perpetual circle to the point from which we set
out. Is not this a species of sober madness more provoking than the
real? Has not the theoretical enthusiast his mind as much warped, as
much enslaved by one idea as the acknowledged lunatic, only that the
former has no lucid intervals? If you see a visionary of this class
going along the street, you can tell as well what he is thinking of and
will say next as the man that fancies himself a teapot or the Czar of
Muscovy. The one is as inaccessible to reason as the other: if the one
raves, the other dotes!

There are some who fancy the Corn Bill the root of all evil, and others
who trace all the miseries of life to the practice of muffling up
children in night-clothes when they sleep or travel. They will declaim
by the hour together on the first, and argue themselves black in the
face on the last. It is in vain that you give up the point. They persist
in the debate, and begin again--'But don't you see--?' These sort of
partial obliquities, as they are more entertaining and original, are
also by their nature intermittent. They hold a man but for a season. He
may have one a year or every two years; and though, while he is in the
heat of any new discovery, he will let you hear of nothing else, he
varies from himself, and is amusing undesignedly. He is not like the
chimes at midnight.

People of the character here spoken of, that is, who tease you to death
with some one idea, generally differ in their favourite notion from the
rest of the world; and indeed it is the love of distinction which is
mostly at the bottom of this peculiarity. Thus one person is remarkable
for living on a vegetable diet, and never fails to entertain you
all dinner-time with an invective against animal food. One of this
self-denying class, who adds to the primitive simplicity of this sort of
food the recommendation of having it in a raw state, lamenting the death
of a patient whom he had augured to be in a good way as a convert to his
system, at last accounted for his disappointment in a whisper--'But she
ate meat privately, depend upon it.' It is not pleasant, though it is
what one submits to willingly from some people, to be asked every time
you meet, whether you have quite left off drinking wine, and to be
complimented or condoled with on your looks according as you answer in
the negative or affirmative. Abernethy thinks his pill an infallible
cure for all disorders. A person once complaining to his physician that
he thought his mode of treatment had not answered, he assured him it was
the best in the world,--'and as a proof of it,' says he, 'I have had one
gentleman, a patient with your disorder, under the same regimen for the
last sixteen years!'--l have known persons whose minds were entirely
taken up at all times and on all occasions with such questions as
the Abolition of the Slave Trade, the Restoration of the Jews, or the
progress of Unitarianism. I myself at one period took a pretty strong
turn to inveighing against the doctrine of Divine Right, and am not yet
cured of my prejudice on that subject. How many projectors have gone mad
in good earnest from incessantly harping on one idea: the discovery of
the philosopher's stone, the finding out the longitude, or paying off
the national debt! The disorder at length comes to a fatal crisis;
but long before this, and while they were walking about and talking as
usual, the derangement of the fancy, the loss of all voluntary power to
control or alienate their ideas from the single subject that occupied
them, was gradually taking place, and overturning the fabric of the
understanding by wrenching it all on one side. Alderman Wood has, I
should suppose, talked of nothing but the Queen in all companies for the
last six months. Happy Alderman Wood! Some persons have got a definition
of the verb, others a system of short-hand, others a cure for typhus
fever, others a method for preventing the counterfeiting of bank-notes,
which they think the best possible, and indeed the only one. Others in
leaving you to add a fourth. A man who has been in Germany will
sometimes talk of nothing but what is German: a Scotchman always
leads the discourse to his own country. Some descant on the Kantean
philosophy. There is a conceited fellow about town who talks always and
everywhere on this subject. He wears the Categories round his neck like
a pearl-chain: he plays off the names of the primary and transcendental
qualities like rings on his fingers. He talks of the Kantean system
while he dances; he talks of it while he dines; he talks of it to his
children, to his apprentices, to his customers. He called on me to
convince me of it, and said I was only prevented from becoming a
complete convert by one or two prejudices. He knows no more about it
than a pikestaff. Why then does he make so much ridiculous fuss about
it? It is not that he has got this one idea in his head, but that he has
got no other. A dunce may talk on the subject of the Kantean philosophy
with great impunity: if he opened his lips on any other he might be
found out. A French lady who had married an Englishman who said little,
excused him by saying, 'He is always thinking of Locke and Newton.'
This is one way of passing muster by following in the suite of great
names!--A friend of mine, whom I met one day in the street, accosted
me with more than usual vivacity, and said, 'Well, we're selling, we're
selling!' I thought he meant a house. 'No,' he said, 'haven't you seen
the advertisement in the newspapers? I mean five and twenty copies of
the Essay.' This work, a comely, capacious quarto on the most abstruse
metaphysics, had occupied his sole thoughts for several years, and he
concluded that I must be thinking of what he was. I believe, however, I
may say I am nearly the only person that ever read, certainly that ever
pretended to understand it. It is an original and most ingenious work,
nearly as incomprehensible as it is original, and as quaint as it is
ingenious. If the author is taken up with the ideas in his own head and
no others, he has a right; for he has ideas there that are to be met
with nowhere else, and which occasionally would not disgrace a Berkeley.
A dextrous plagiarist might get himself an immense reputation by putting
them in a popular dress. Oh! how little do they know, who have never
done anything but repeat after others by rote, the pangs, the labour,
the yearnings and misgivings of mind it costs to get at the germ of
an original idea--to dig it out of the hidden recesses of thought and
nature, and bring it half-ashamed, struggling, and deformed into the
day--to give words and intelligible symbols to that which was never
imagined or expressed before! It is as if the dumb should speak for the
first time, as if things should stammer out their own meaning through
the imperfect organs of mere sense. I wish that some of our fluent,
plausible declaimers, who have such store of words to cover the want of
ideas, could lend their art to this writer. If he, 'poor, unfledged' in
this respect, 'who has scarce winged from view o' th' nest,' could find
a language for his ideas, truth would find a language for some of her
secrets. Mr. Fearn was buried in the woods of Indostan. In his leisure
from business and from tiger-shooting, he took it into his head to look
into his own mind. A whim or two, an odd fancy, like a film before the
eye, now and then crossed it: it struck him as something curious, but
the impression at first disappeared like breath upon glass. He thought
no more of it; yet still the same conscious feelings returned, and what
at first was chance or instinct became a habit. Several notions had
taken possession of his brain relating to mental processes which he had
never heard alluded to in conversation, but not being well versed in
such matters, he did not know whether they were to be found in learned
authors or not. He took a journey to the capital of the Peninsula on
purpose, bout Locke, Reid, Stewart, and Berkeley, whom he consulted with
eager curiosity when he got home, but did not find what he looked for.
He set to work himself, and in a few weeks sketched out a rough draft of
his thoughts and observations on bamboo paper. The eagerness of his new
pursuit, together with the diseases of the climate, proved too much for
his constitution, and he was forced to return to this country. He put
his metaphysics, his bamboo manuscript, into the boat with him, and as
he floated down the Ganges, said to himself, 'If I live, this will live;
if I die, it will not be heard of.' What is fame to this feeling? The
babbling of an idiot! He brought the work home with him and twice had it
stereotyped. The first sketch he allowed was obscure, but the improved
copy he thought could not fail to strike. It did not succeed. The world,
as Goldsmith said of himself, made a point of taking no notice of it.
Ever since he has had nothing but disappointment and vexation,--the
greatest and most heart-breaking of all others--that of not being able
to make yourself understood. Mr. Fearn tells me there is a sensible
writer in the _Monthly Review_ who sees the thing in its proper
light, and says so. But I have heard of no other instance. There are,
notwithstanding, ideas in this work, neglected and ill-treated as it has
been, that lead to more curious and subtle speculations on some of the
most disputed and difficult points of the philosophy of the human mind
(such as _relation_, _abstraction_, etc.) than have been thrown out in
any work for the last sixty years, I mean since Hume; for since his time
there has been no metaphysician in this country worth the name. Yet
his _Treatise on Human Nature_, he tells us, 'fell still-born from the
press.' So it is that knowledge works its way, and reputation lingers
far behind it. But truth is better than opinion, I maintain it; and
as to the two stereotyped and unsold editions of the Essay on
Consciousness, I say, _Honi soit qui mal y pense!_'(1)--My Uncle Toby had
one idea in his head, that of his bowling-green, and another, that of
the Widow Wadman. Oh, spare them both! I will only add one more anecdote
in illustration of this theory of the mind's being occupied with one
idea, which is most frequently of a man's self. A celebrated lyrical
writer happened to drop into a small party where they had just got
the novel of _Rob Roy,_ by the author of _Waverley_. The motto in the
title-page was taken from a poem of his. This was a hint sufficient, a
word to the wise. He instantly went to the book-shelf in the next
room, took down the volume of his own poems, read the whole of that in
question aloud with manifest complacency, replaced it on the shelf, and
walked away, taking no more notice of Rob Roy than if there had been no
such person, nor of the new novel than if it had not been written by
its renowned author. There was no reciprocity in this. But the writer in
question does not admit of any merit second to his own.(2)

Mr. Owen is a man remarkable for one idea. It is that of himself and the
Lanark cotton-mills. He carries this idea backwards and forwards with
him from Glasgow to London, without allowing anything for attrition,
and expects to find it in the same state of purity and perfection in
the latter place as at the former. He acquires a wonderful velocity and
impenetrability in his undaunted transit. Resistance to him is vain,
while the whirling motion of the mail-coach remains in his head.

 Nor Alps nor Apennines can keep him out,
  Nor fortified redoubt.

He even got possession, in the suddenness of his onset, of the
steam-engine of the _Times_ newspaper, and struck off ten thousand
woodcuts of the Projected Villages, which afforded an ocular
demonstration to all who saw them of the practicability of Mr. Owen's
whole scheme. He comes into a room with one of these documents in his
hand, with the air of a schoolmaster and a quack doctor mixed, asks very
kindly how you do, and on hearing you are still in an indifferent state
of health owing to bad digestion, instantly turns round and observes
that 'All that will be remedied in his plan; that indeed he thinks too
much attention has been paid to the mind, and not enough to the body;
that in his system, which he has now perfected and which will shortly
be generally adopted, he has provided effectually for both; that he has
been long of opinion that the mind depends altogether on the physical
organisation, and where the latter is neglected or disordered the former
must languish and want its due vigour; that exercise is therefore a part
of his system, with full liberty to develop every faculty of mind and
body; that two Objections had been made to his _New View of Society_,
viz. its want of relaxation from labour, and its want of variety; but
the first of these, the too great restraint, he trusted he had already
answered, for where the powers of mind and body were freely exercised
and brought out, surely liberty must be allowed to exist in the highest
degree; and as to the second, the monotony which would be produced by a
regular and general plan of co-operation, he conceived he had proved
in his _New View_ and _Addresses to the Higher Classes_, that the
co-operation he had recommended was necessarily conducive to the most
extensive improvement of the ideas and faculties, and where this was the
case there must be the greatest possible variety instead of a want of
it.' And having said this, this expert and sweeping orator takes up his
hat and walks downstairs after reading his lecture of truisms like a
playbill or an apothecary's advertisement; and should you stop him at
the door to say, by way of putting in a word in common, that Mr. Southey
seems somewhat favourable to his plan in his late Letter to Mr. William
Smith, he looks at you with a smile of pity at the futility of all
opposition and the idleness of all encouragement. People who thus swell
out some vapid scheme of their own into undue importance seem to me to
labour under water in the head--to exhibit a huge hydrocephalus! They
may be very worthy people for all that, but they are bad companions and
very indifferent reasoners. Tom Moore says of some one somewhere, 'that
he puts his hand in his breeches pocket like a crocodile.' The phrase is
hieroglyphical; but Mr. Owen and others might be said to put their
foot in the question of social improvement and reform much in the same
unaccountable manner.

I hate to be surfeited with anything, however sweet. I do not want to
be always tied to the same question, as if there were no other in the
world. I like a mind more Catholic.

 I love to talk with mariners,
 That come from a far countree.

I am not for 'a collusion' but 'an exchange' of ideas. It is well to
hear what other people have to say on a number of subjects. I do not
wish to be always respiring the same confined atmosphere, but to vary
the scene, and get a little relief and fresh air out of doors. Do all
we can to shake it off, there is always enough pedantry, egotism,
and self-conceit left lurking behind; we need not seal ourselves up
hermetically in these precious qualities, so as to think of nothing but
our own wonderful discoveries, and hear nothing but the sound of our own
voice. Scholars, like princes, may learn something by being incognito.
Yet we see those who cannot go into a bookseller's shop, or bear to be
five minutes in a stage-coach, without letting you know who they are.
They carry their reputation about with them as the snail does its
shell, and sit under its canopy, like the lady in the lobster. I cannot
understand this at all. What is the use of a man's always revolving
round his own little circle? He must, one should think, be tired of it
himself, as well as tire other people. A well-known writer says with
much boldness, both in the thought and expression, that 'a Lord is
imprisoned in the Bastille of a name, and cannot enlarge himself into
man'; and I have known men of genius in the same predicament. Why must
a man be for ever mouthing out his own poetry, comparing himself with
Milton, passage by passage, and weighing every line in a balance of
posthumous fame which he holds in his own hands? It argues a want of
imagination as well as common sense. Has he no ideas but what he has put
into verse; or none in common with his hearers? Why should he think it
the only scholar-like thing, the only 'virtue extant,' to see the merit
of his writings, and that 'men were brutes without them'? Why should he
bear a grudge to all art, to all beauty, to all wisdom, that does not
spring from his own brain? Or why should he fondly imagine that there is
but one fine thing in the world, namely, poetry, and that he is the only
poet in it? It will never do. Poetry is a very fine thing; but there are
other things besides it. Everything must have its turn. Does a wise man
think to enlarge his comprehension by turning his eyes only on himself,
or hope to conciliate the admiration of others by scouting, proscribing,
and loathing all that they delight in? He must either have a
disproportionate idea of himself, or be ignorant of the world in which
he lives. It is quite enough to have one class of people born to think
the universe made for them!--It seems also to argue a want of repose,
of confidence, and firm faith in a man's real pretensions, to be always
dragging them forward into the foreground, as if the proverb held
here--_Out of sight out of mind._ Does he, for instance, conceive that
no one would ever think of his poetry unless he forced it upon them by
repeating it himself? Does he believe all competition, all allowance
of another's merit, fatal to him? Must he, like Moody in the _Country
Girl_, lock up the faculties of his admirers in ignorance of all other
fine things, painting, music, the antique, lest they should play truant
to him? Methinks such a proceeding implies no good opinion of his own
genius or their taste: it is deficient in dignity and in decorum. Surely
if any one is convinced of the reality of an acquisition, he can bear
not to have it spoken of every minute. If he knows he has an undoubted
superiority in any respect, he will not be uneasy because every one
he meets is not in the secret, nor staggered by the report of rival
excellence. One of the first mathematicians and classical scholars of
the day was mentioning it as a compliment to himself that a cousin of
his, a girl from school, had said to him, 'You know (Manning) is a very
plain good sort of a young man, but he is not anything at all out of the
common.' Leigh Hunt once said to me, 'I wonder I never heard you speak
upon this subject before, which you seem to have studied a good deal.' I
answered, 'Why, we were not reduced to that, that I know of!'--

There are persons who, without being chargeable with the vice here
spoken of, yet 'stand accountant for as great a sin'; though not dull
and monotonous, they are vivacious mannerists in their conversation,
and excessive egotists. Though they run over a thousand subjects in
mere gaiety of heart, their delight still flows from one idea, namely,
themselves. Open the book in what page you will, there is a frontispiece
of themselves staring you in the face. They are a sort of Jacks o' the
Green, with a sprig of laurel, a little tinsel, and a little smut,
but still playing antics and keeping in incessant motion, to attract
attention and extort your pittance of approbation. Whether they talk of
the town or the country, poetry or politics, it comes to much the same
thing. If they talk to you of the town, its diversions, 'its palaces,
its ladies, and its streets,' they are the delight, the grace, and
ornament of it. If they are describing the charms of the country, they
give no account of any individual spot or object or source of pleasure
but the circumstance of their being there. 'With them conversing, we
forget all place, all seasons, and their change.' They perhaps pluck a
leaf or a flower, patronise it, and hand it you to admire, but select no
one feature of beauty or grandeur to dispute the palm of perfection
with their own persons. Their rural descriptions are mere landscape
backgrounds with their own portraits in an engaging attitude in front.
They are not observing or enjoying the scene, but doing the honours as
masters of the ceremonies to nature, and arbiters of elegance to all
humanity. If they tell a love-tale of enamoured princesses, it is plain
they fancy themselves the hero of the piece. If they discuss poetry,
their encomiums still turn on something genial and unsophisticated,
meaning their own style. If they enter into politics, it is understood
that a hint from them to the potentates of Europe is sufficient. In
short, as a lover (talk of what you will) brings in his mistress at
every turn, so these persons contrive to divert your attention to the
same darling object--they are, in fact, in love with themselves, and,
like lovers, should be left to keep their own company.


(1) Quarto poetry, as well as quarto metaphysics, does not always sell.
Going one day into a shop in Paternoster Row to see for some lines in
Mr. Wordsworth's _Excursion_ to interlard some prose with, I applied to
the constituted authorities, and asked if I could look at a copy of the
_Excursion?_ The answer was, 'Into which country, sir?'

(2) These fantastic poets are like a foolish ringer at Plymouth that
Northcote tells the story of. He was proud of his ringing, and the boys
who made a jest of his foible used to get him in the belfry and ask him,
'Well now, John, how many good ringers are there in Plymouth?' 'Two,' he
would say, without any hesitation. 'Ay, indeed! and who are they?' 'Why,
first, there's myself, that's one; and-- and--' 'Well, and who's the
other?' 'Why, there's-- there's-- Ecod, I can't think of any other but
myself.' _Talk we of one Master Launcelot._ The story is of ringers: it
will do for any vain, shallow, self-satisfied egotist of them all.


 For the more languages a man can speak,
 His talent has but sprung the greater leak:
 And, for the industry he has spent upon't,
 Must full as much some other way discount.
 The Hebrew, Chaldee, and the Syriac
 Do, like their letters, set men's reason back,
 And turn their wits that strive to understand It
 (Like those that write the characters) left-handed.
 Yet he that is but able to express
 No sense at all in several languages
 Will pass for learneder than he that's known
 To speak the strongest reason in his own.

The description of persons who have the fewest ideas of all others are
mere authors and readers. It is better to be able neither to read nor
write than to be able to do nothing else. A lounger who is ordinarily
seen with a book in his hand is (we may be almost sure) equally without
the power or inclination to attend either to what passes around him or
in his own mind. Such a one may be said to carry his understanding about
with him in his pocket, or to leave it at home on his library shelves.
He is afraid of venturing on any train of reasoning, or of striking out
any observation that is not mechanically suggested to him by parsing
his eyes over certain legible characters; shrinks from the fatigue of
thought, which, for want of practice, becomes insupportable to him; and
sits down contented with an endless, wearisome succession of words and
half-formed images, which fill the void of the mind, and continually
efface one another. Learning is, in too many cases, but a foil to common
sense; a substitute for true knowledge. Books are less often made use of
as 'spectacles' to look at nature with, than as blinds to keep out
its strong light and shifting scenery from weak eyes and indolent
dispositions. The book-worm wraps himself up in his web of verbal
generalities, and sees only the glimmering shadows of things reflected
from the minds of others. Nature _puts him out._ The impressions of real
objects, stripped of the disguises of words and voluminous roundabout
descriptions, are blows that stagger him; their variety distracts, their
rapidity exhausts him; and he turns from the bustle, the noise, and
glare, and whirling motion of the world about him (which he has not an
eye to follow in its fantastic changes, nor an understanding to reduce
to fixed principles), to the quiet monotony of the dead languages, and
the less startling and more intelligible combinations of the letters of
the alphabet. It is well, it is perfectly well. 'Leave me to my repose,'
is the motto of the sleeping and the dead. You might as well ask the
paralytic to leap from his chair and throw away his crutch, or, without
a miracle, to 'take up his bed and walk,' as expect the learned reader
to throw down his book and think for himself. He clings to it for his
intellectual support; and his dread of being left to himself is like the
horror of a vacuum. He can only breathe a learned atmosphere, as other
men breathe common air. He is a borrower of sense. He has no ideas of
his own, and must live on those of other people. The habit of supplying
our ideas from foreign sources 'enfeebles all internal strength of
thought,' as a course of dram-drinking destroys the tone of the stomach.
The faculties of the mind, when not exerted, or when cramped by custom
and authority, become listless, torpid, and unfit for the purposes of
thought or action. Can we wonder at the languor and lassitude which is
thus produced by a life of learned sloth and ignorance; by poring over
lines and syllables that excite little more idea or interest than if
they were the characters of an unknown tongue, till the eye closes on
vacancy, and the book drops from the feeble hand! I would rather be a
wood-cutter, or the meanest hind, that all day 'sweats in the eye of
Phoebus, and at night sleeps in Elysium,' than wear out my life so,
'twixt dreaming and awake.' The learned author differs from the learned
student in this, that the one transcribes what the other reads. The
learned are mere literary drudges. If you set them upon original
composition, their heads turn, they don't know where they are. The
indefatigable readers of books are like the everlasting copiers of
pictures, who, when they attempt to do anything of their own, find
they want an eye quick enough, a hand steady enough, and colours bright
enough, to trace the living forms of nature.

Any one who has passed through the regular gradations of a classical
education, and is not made a fool by it, may consider himself as having
had a very narrow escape. It is an old remark, that boys who shine at
school do not make the greatest figure when they grow up and come out
into the world. The things, in fact, which a boy is set to learn at
school, and on which his success depends, are things which do not
require the exercise either of the highest or the most useful faculties
of the mind. Memory (and that of the lowest kind) is the chief faculty
called into play in conning over and repeating lessons by rote in
grammar, in languages, in geography, arithmetic, etc., so that he who
has the most of this technical memory, with the least turn for other
things, which have a stronger and more natural claim upon his childish
attention, will make the most forward school-boy. The jargon containing
the definitions of the parts of speech, the rules for casting up an
account, or the inflections of a Greek verb, can have no attraction to
the tyro of ten years old, except as they are imposed as a task upon
him by others, or from his feeling the want of sufficient relish of
amusement in other things. A lad with a sickly constitution and no very
active mind, who can just retain what is pointed out to him, and has
neither sagacity to distinguish nor spirit to enjoy for himself, will
generally be at the head of his form. An idler at school, on the other
hand, is one who has high health and spirits, who has the free use of
his limbs, with all his wits about him, who feels the circulation of his
blood and the motion of his heart, who is ready to laugh and cry in a
breath, and who had rather chase a ball or a butterfly, feel the open
air in his face, look at the fields or the sky, follow a winding path,
or enter with eagerness into all the little conflicts and interests of
his acquaintances and friends, than doze over a musty spelling-book,
repeat barbarous distichs after his master, sit so many hours pinioned
to a writing-desk, and receive his reward for the loss of time and
pleasure in paltry prize-medals at Christmas and Midsummer. There is
indeed a degree of stupidity which prevents children from learning the
usual lessons, or ever arriving at these puny academic honours. But what
passes for stupidity is much oftener a want of interest, of a sufficient
motive to fix the attention and force a reluctant application to the dry
and unmeaning pursuits of school-learning. The best capacities are as
much above this drudgery as the dullest are beneath it. Our men of the
greatest genius have not been most distinguished for their acquirements
at school or at the university.

 Th' enthusiast Fancy was a truant ever.

Gray and Collins were among the instances of this wayward disposition.
Such persons do not think so highly of the advantages, nor can they
submit their imaginations so servilely to the trammels of strict
scholastic discipline. There is a certain kind and degree of intellect
in which words take root, but into which things have not power to
penetrate. A mediocrity of talent, with a certain slenderness of moral
constitution, is the soil that produces the most brilliant specimens of
successful prize-essayists and Greek epigrammatists. It should not be
forgotten that the least respectable character among modern politicians
was the cleverest boy at Eton.

Learning is the knowledge of that which is not generally known to
others, and which we can only derive at second-hand from books or other
artificial sources. The knowledge of that which is before us, or about
us, which appeals to our experience, passions, and pursuits, to the
bosoms and businesses of men, is not learning. Learning is the knowledge
of that which none but the learned know. He is the most learned man who
knows the most of what is farthest removed from common life and actual
observation, that is of the least practical utility, and least liable to
be brought to the test of experience, and that, having been handed down
through the greatest number of intermediate stages, is the most full
of uncertainty, difficulties, and contradictions. It is seeing with the
eyes of others, hearing with their ears, and pinning our faith on their
understandings. The learned man prides himself in the knowledge of names
and dates, not of men or things. He thinks and cares nothing about his
next-door neighbours, but he is deeply read in the tribes and castes of
the Hindoos and Calmue Tartars. He can hardly find his way into the
next street, though he is acquainted with the exact dimensions
of Constantinople and Pekin. He does not know whether his oldest
acquaintance is a knave or a fool, but he can pronounce a pompous
lecture on all the principal characters in history. He cannot tell
whether an object is black or white, round or square, and yet he is a
professed master of the laws of optics and the rules of perspective. He
knows as much of what he talks about as a blind man does of colours. He
cannot give a satisfactory answer to the plainest question, nor is he
ever in the right in any one of his opinions upon any one matter of
fact that really comes before him, and yet he gives himself out for an
infallible judge on all these points, of which it is impossible that he
or any other person living should know anything but by conjecture. He is
expert in all the dead and in most of the living languages; but he can
neither speak his own fluently, nor write it correctly. A person of
this class, the second Greek scholar of his day, undertook to point out
several solecisms in Milton's Latin style; and in his own performance
there is hardly a sentence of common English. Such was Dr. ----. Such
is Dr. ----. Such was not Porson. He was an exception that confirmed
the general rule, a man that, by uniting talents and knowledge with
learning, made the distinction between them more striking and palpable.

A mere scholar, who knows nothing but books, must be ignorant even of
them. 'Books do not teach the use of books.' How should he know anything
of a work who knows nothing of the subject of it? The learned pedant is
conversant with books only as they are made of other books, and those
again of others, without end. He parrots those who have parroted others.
He can translate the same word into ten different languages, but he
knows nothing of the _thing_ which it means in any one of them. He
stuffs his head with authorities built on authorities, with quotations
quoted from quotations, while he locks up his senses, his understanding,
and his heart. He is unacquainted with the maxims and manners of the
world; he is to seek in the characters of individuals. He sees no beauty
in the face of nature or of art. To him 'the mighty world of eye and
ear' is hid; and 'knowledge,' except at one entrance, 'quite shut out.'
His pride takes part with his ignorance; and his self-importance rises
with the number of things of which he does not know the value, and which
he therefore despises as unworthy of his notice. He knows nothing of
pictures,--'Of the colouring of Titian, the grace of Raphael, the
purity of Domenichino, the _corregioscity_ of Correggio, the learning
of Poussin, the airs of Guido, the taste of the Caracci, or the grand
contour of Michael Angelo,'--of all those glories of the Italian and
miracles of the Flemish school, which have filled the eyes of mankind
with delight, and to the study and imitation of which thousands have in
vain devoted their lives. These are to him as if they had never been,
a mere dead letter, a by-word; and no wonder, for he neither sees
nor understands their prototypes in nature. A print of Rubens'
Watering-place or Claude's Enchanted Castle may be hanging on the walls
of his room for months without his once perceiving them; and if you
point them out to him he will turn away from them. The language of
nature, or of art (which is another nature), is one that he does not
understand. He repeats indeed the names of Apelles and Phidias, because
they are to be found in classic authors, and boasts of their works as
prodigies, because they no longer exist; or when he sees the finest
remains of Grecian art actually before him in the Elgin Marbles, takes
no other interest in them than as they lead to a learned dispute,
and (which is the same thing) a quarrel about the meaning of a Greek
particle. He is equally ignorant of music; he 'knows no touch of it,'
from the strains of the all-accomplished Mozart to the shepherd's pipe
upon the mountain. His ears are nailed to his books; and deadened with
the sound of the Greek and Latin tongues, and the din and smithery of
school-learning. Does he know anything more of poetry? He knows the
number of feet in a verse, and of acts in a play; but of the soul or
spirit he knows nothing. He can turn a Greek ode into English, or a
Latin epigram into Greek verse; but whether either is worth the trouble
he leaves to the critics. Does he understand 'the act and practique
part of life' better than 'the theorique'? No. He knows no liberal
or mechanic art, no trade or occupation, no game of skill or chance.
Learning 'has no skill in surgery,' in agriculture, in building, in
working in wood or in iron; it cannot make any instrument of labour,
or use it when made; it cannot handle the plough or the spade, or the
chisel or the hammer; it knows nothing of hunting or hawking, fishing or
shooting, of horses or dogs, of fencing or dancing, or cudgel-playing,
or bowls, or cards, or tennis, or anything else. The learned professor
of all arts and sciences cannot reduce any one of them to practice,
though he may contribute an account of them to an Encyclopedia. He has
not the use of his hands nor of his feet; he can neither run, nor walk,
nor swim; and he considers all those who actually understand and can
exercise any of these arts of body or mind as vulgar and mechanical
men,--though to know almost any one of them in perfection requires long
time and practice, with powers originally fitted, and a turn of mind
particularly devoted to them. It does not require more than this to
enable the learned candidate to arrive, by painful study, at a doctor's
degree and a fellowship, and to eat, drink, and sleep the rest of his

The thing is plain. All that men really understand is confined to a very
small compass; to their daily affairs and experience; to what they have
an opportunity to know, and motives to study or practise. The rest
is affectation and imposture. The common people have the use of their
limbs; for they live by their labour or skill. They understand their own
business and the characters of those they have to deal with; for it
is necessary that they should. They have eloquence to express their
passions, and wit at will to express their contempt and provoke
laughter. Their natural use of speech is not hung up in monumental
mockery, in an obsolete language; nor is their sense of what is
ludicrous, or readiness at finding out allusions to express it, buried
in collections of _Anas_. You will hear more good things on the outside
of a stage-coach from London to Oxford than if you were to pass a
twelvemonth with the undergraduates, or heads of colleges, of that
famous university; and more _home_ truths are to be learnt from
listening to a noisy debate in an alehouse than from attending a formal
one in the House of Commons. An elderly country gentlewoman will often
know more of character, and be able to illustrate it by more amusing
anecdotes taken from the history of what has been said, done, and
gossiped in a country town for the last fifty years, than the best
bluestocking of the age will be able to glean from that sort of learning
which consists in an acquaintance with all the novels and satirical
poems published in the same period. People in towns, indeed, are
woefully deficient in a knowledge of character, which they see only _in
the bust_, not as a whole-length. People in the country not only know
all that has happened to a man, but trace his virtues or vices, as they
do his features, in their descent through several generations, and
solve some contradiction in his behaviour by a cross in the breed half
a century ago. The learned know nothing of the matter, either in town
or country. Above all, the mass of society have common sense, which the
learned in all ages want. The vulgar are in the right when they judge
for themselves; they are wrong when they trust to their blind guides.
The celebrated nonconformist divine, Baxter, was almost stoned to death
by the good women of Kidderminster, for asserting from the pulpit that
'hell was paved with infants' skulls'; but, by the force of argument,
and of learned quotations from the Fathers, the reverend preacher at
length prevailed over the scruples of his congregation, and over reason
and humanity.

Such is the use which has been made of human learning. The labourers
in this vineyard seem as if it was their object to confound all common
sense, and the distinctions of good and evil, by means of traditional
maxims and preconceived notions taken upon trust, and increasing in
absurdity with increase of age. They pile hypothesis on hypothesis,
mountain high, till it is impossible to come at the plain truth on any
question. They see things, not as they are, but as they find them in
books, and 'wink and shut their apprehensions up,' in order that they
may discover nothing to interfere with their prejudices or convince them
of their absurdity. It might be supposed that the height of human wisdom
consisted in maintaining contradictions and rendering nonsense sacred.
There is no dogma, however fierce or foolish, to which these persons
have not set their seals, and tried to impose on the understandings of
their followers as the will of Heaven, clothed with all the terrors
and sanctions of religion. How little has the human understanding been
directed to find out the true and useful! How much ingenuity has been
thrown away in the defence of creeds and systems! How much time
and talents have been wasted in theological controversy, in law, in
politics, in verbal criticism, in judicial astrology, and in finding out
the art of making gold! What actual benefit do we reap from the writings
of a Laud or a Whitgift, or of Bishop Bull or Bishop Waterland, or
Prideaux' Connections, or Beausobre, or Calmet, or St. Augustine, or
Puffendord, or Vattel, or from the more literal but equally learned and
unprofitable labours of Scaliger, Cardan, and Scioppius? How many grains
of sense are there in their thousand folio or quarto volumes? What would
the world lose if they were committed to the flames to-morrow? Or are
they not already 'gone to the vault of all the Capulets'? Yet all these
were oracles in their time, and would have scoffed at you or me, at
common sense and human nature, for differing with them. It is our turn
to laugh now.

To conclude this subject. The most sensible people to be met with in
society are men of business and of the world, who argue from what they
see and know, instead of spinning cobweb distinctions of what things
ought to be. Women have often more of what is called _good sense_ than
men. They have fewer pretensions; are less implicated in theories; and
judge of objects more from their immediate and involuntary impression on
the mind, and, therefore, more truly and naturally. They cannot reason
wrong; for they do not reason at all. They do not think or speak by
rule; and they have in general more eloquence and wit, as well as sense,
on that account. By their wit, sense, and eloquence together, they
generally contrive to govern their husbands. Their style, when they
write to their friends (not for the booksellers), is better than that of
most authors.--Uneducated people have most exuberance of invention
and the greatest freedom from prejudice. Shakespear's was evidently an
uneducated mind, both in the freshness of his imagination and in the
variety of his views; as Milton's was scholastic, in the texture both of
his thoughts and feelings. Shakespear had not been accustomed to write
themes at school in favour of virtue or against vice. To this we owe the
unaffected but healthy tone of his dramatic morality. If we wish to know
the force of human genius we should read Shakespear. If we wish to see
the insignificance of human learning we may study his commentators.


No notes for this essay.


Coming forward and seating himself on the ground in his white dress and
tightened turban, the chief of the Indian Jugglers begins with tossing
up two brass balls, which is what any of us could do, and concludes with
keeping up four at the same time, which is what none of us could do to
save our lives, nor if we were to take our whole lives to do it in. Is
it then a trifling power we see at work, or is it not something next to
miraculous? It is the utmost stretch of human ingenuity, which nothing
but the bending the faculties of body and mind to it from the tenderest
infancy with incessant, ever anxious application up to manhood can
accomplish or make even a slight approach to. Man, thou art a wonderful
animal, and thy ways past finding out! Thou canst do strange things,
but thou turnest them to little account!--To conceive of this effort of
extraordinary dexterity distracts the imagination and makes admiration
breathless. Yet it costs nothing to the performer, any more than if it
were a mere mechanical deception with which he had nothing to do but to
watch and laugh at the astonishment of the spectators. A single error
of a hairsbreadth, of the smallest conceivable portion of time, would be
fatal: the precision of the movements must be like a mathematical truth,
their rapidity is like lightning. To catch four balls in succession in
less than a second of time, and deliver them back so as to return with
seeming consciousness to the hand again; to make them revolve round him
at certain intervals like the planets in their spheres; to make them
chase one another like sparkles of fire, or shoot up like flowers or
meteors; to throw them behind his back and twine them round his neck
like ribbons or like serpents; to do what appears an impossibility, and
to do if with all the ease, the grace, the carelessness imaginable; to
laugh at, to play with the glittering mockeries; to follow them with his
eye as if he could fascinate them with its lambent fire, or as if he had
only to see that they kept time with the music on the stage,--there is
something in all this which he who does not admire may be quite sure
he never really admired anything in the whole course of his life. It is
skill surmounting difficulty, and beauty triumphing over skill. It seems
as if the difficulty once mastered naturally resolved itself into ease
and grace, and as if to be overcome at all, it must be overcome
without an effort. The smallest awkwardness or want of pliancy or
self-possession would stop the whole process. It is the work of
witchcraft, and yet sport for children. Some of the other feats are
quite as curious and wonderful, such as the balancing the artificial
tree and shooting a bird from each branch through a quill; though none
of them have the elegance or facility of the keeping up of the brass
balls. You are in pain for the result, and glad when the experiment is
over; they are not accompanied with the same unmixed, unchecked delight
as the former; and I would not give much to be merely astonished without
being pleased at the game time. As to the swallowing of the sword, the
police ought to interfere to prevent it. When I saw the Indian Juggler
do the same things before, his feet were bare, and he had large rings on
the toes, which kept turning round all the time of the performance, as
if they moved of themselves.--The hearing a speech in Parliament drawled
or stammered out by the Honourable Member or the Noble Lord; the ringing
the changes on their common-places, which any one could repeat after
them as well as they, stirs me not a jot, shakes not my good opinion of
myself; but the seeing the Indian Jugglers does. It makes me ashamed of
myself. I ask what there is that I can do as well as this? Nothing. What
have I been doing all my life? Have I been idle, or have I nothing to
show for all my labour and pains? Or have I passed my time in pouring
words like water into empty sieves, rolling a stone up a hill and then
down again, trying to prove an argument in the teeth of facts, and
looking for causes in the dark and not finding them? Is there no one
thing in which I can challenge competition, that I can bring as an
instance of exact perfection in which others cannot find a flaw? The
utmost I can pretend to is to write a description of what this fellow
can do. I can write a book: so can many others who have not even learned
to spell. What abortions are these Essays! What errors, what ill-pieced
transitions, what crooked reasons, what lame conclusions! How little
is made out, and that little how ill! Yet they are the best I can do.
I endeavour to recollect all I have ever observed or thought upon a
subject, and to express it as nearly as I can. Instead of writing on
four subjects at a time, it is as much as I can manage to keep the
thread of one discourse clear and unentangled. I have also time on
my hands to correct my opinions, and polish my periods; but the one I
cannot, and the other I will not do. I am fond of arguing: yet with a
good deal of pains and practice it is often as much as I can do to beat
my man; though he may be an indifferent hand. A common fencer would
disarm his adversary in the twinkling of an eye, unless he were a
professor like himself. A stroke of wit will sometimes produce this
effect, but there is no such power or superiority in sense or reas
hardly know the professor from the impudent pretender or the mere

I have always had this feeling of the inefficacy and slow progress of
intellectual compared to mechanical excellence, and it has always made
me somewhat dissatisfied. It is a great many years since I saw Richer,
the famous rope-dancer, perform at Sadler's Wells. He was matchless
in his art, and added to his extraordinary skill exquisite ease, and
unaffected, natural grace. I was at that time employed in copying a
half-length picture of Sir Joshua Reynolds's; and it put me out of
conceit with it. How ill this part was made out in the drawing! How
heavy, how slovenly this other was painted! I could not help saying
to myself, 'If the rope-dancer had performed his task in this manner,
leaving so many gaps and botches in his work, he would have broken his
neck long ago; I should never have seen that vigorous elasticity of
nerve and precision of movement!'--Is it, then, so easy an undertaking
(comparatively) to dance on a tight-rope? Let any one who thinks so get
up and try. There is the thing. It is that which at first we cannot do
at all which in the end is done to such perfection. To account for this
in some degree, I might observe that mechanical dexterity is confined
to doing some one particular thing, which you can repeat as often as
you please, in which you know whether you succeed or fail, and where the
point of perfection consists in succeeding in a given undertaking.--In
mechanical efforts you improve by perpetual practice, and you do so
infallibly, because the object to be attained is not a matter of taste
or fancy or opinion, but of actual experiment, in which you must either
do the thing or not do it. If a man is put to aim at a mark with a bow
and arrow, he must hit it or miss it, that's certain. He cannot deceive
himself, and go on shooting wide or falling short, and still fancy that
he is making progress. No distinction between right and wrong, between
true and false, is here palpable; and he must either correct his aim or
persevere in his error with his eyes open, for which there is neither
excuse nor temptation. If a man is learning to dance on a rope, if he
does not mind what he is about he will break his neck. After that it
will be in vain for him to argue that he did not make a false step. His
situation is not like that of Goldsmith's pedagogue:--

 In argument they own'd his wondrous skill,
 And e'en though vanquish'd, he could argue still.

Danger is a good teacher, and makes apt scholars. So are disgrace,
defeat, exposure to immediate scorn and laughter. There is no
opportunity in such cases for self-delusion, no idling time away, no
being off your guard (or you must take the consequences)--neither is
there any room for humour or caprice or prejudice. If the Indian Juggler
were to play tricks in throwing up the three case-knives, which keep
their positions like the leaves of a crocus in the air, he would cut his
fingers. I can make a very bad antithesis without cutting my fingers.
The tact of style is more ambiguous than that of double-edged
instruments. If the Juggler were told that by flinging himself under the
wheels of the Juggernaut, when the idol issues forth on a gaudy day, he
would immediately be transported into Paradise, he might believe it, and
nobody could disprove it. So the Brahmins may say what they please on
that subject, may build up dogmas and mysteries without end, and not be
detected; but their ingenious countryman cannot persuade the frequenters
of the Olympic Theatre that he performs a number of astonishing feats
without actually giving proofs of what he says.--There is, then, in this
sort of manual dexterity, first a gradual aptitude acquired to a given
exertion of muscular power, from constant repetition, and in the next
place, an exact knowledge how much is still wanting and necessary to be
supplied. The obvious test is to increase the effort or nicety of the
operation, and still to find it come true. The muscles ply instinctively
to the dictates of habit. Certain movements and impressions of the hand
and eye, having been repeated together an infinite number of times, are
unconsciously but unavoidable cemented into closer and closer union; the
limbs require little more than to be put in motion for them to follow a
regular track with ease and certainty; so that the mere intention of the
will acts mathematically like touching the spring of a machine, and you
come with Locksley in _Ivanhoe_, in shooting at a mark, 'to allow for
the wind.'

Further, what is meant by perfection in mechanical exercises is
the performing certain feats to a uniform nicety, that is, in fact,
undertaking no more than you can perform. You task yourself, the limit
you fix is optional, and no more than human industry and skill can
attain to; but you have no abstract, independent standard of difficulty
or excellence (other than the extent of your own powers). Thus he who
can keep up four brass balls does this _to perfection_; but he cannot
keep up five at the same instant, and would fail every time he attempted
it. That is, the mechanical performer undertakes to emulate himself, not
to equal another.(2) But the artist undertakes to imitate another, or to
do what Nature has done, and this it appears is more difficult, viz.
to copy what she has set before us in the face of nature or 'human face
divine,' entire and without a blemish, than to keep up four brass balls
at the same instant, for the one is done by the power of human skill
and industry, and the other never was nor will be. Upon the whole,
therefore, I have more respect for Reynolds than I have for Richer; for,
happen how it will, there have been more people in the world who could
dance on a rope like the one than who could paint like Sir Joshua. The
latter was but a bungler in his profession to the other, it is true; but
then he had a harder taskmaster to obey, whose will was more wayward and
obscure, and whose instructions it was more difficult to practise.
You can put a child apprentice to a tumbler or rope-dancer with a
comfortable prospect of success, if they are but sound of wind and limb;
but you cannot do the same thing in painting. The odds are a million to
one. You may make indeed as many Haydons and H----s as you put into that
sort of machine, but not one Reynolds amongst them all, with his grace,
his grandeur, his blandness of gusto, 'in tones and gestures hit,'
unless you could make the man over again. To snatch this grace beyond
the reach of art is then the height of art--where fine art begins,
and where mechanical skill ends. The soft suffusion of the soul, the
speechless breathing eloquence, the looks 'commercing with the skies,'
the ever-shifting forms of an eternal principle, that which is seen but
for a moment, but dwells in the heart always, and is only seized as
it passes by strong and secret sympathy, must be taught by nature
and genius, not by rules or study. It is suggested by feeling, not by
laborious microscopic inspection; in seeking for it without, we lose the
harmonious clue to it within; and in aiming to grasp the substance, we
let the very spirit of art evaporate. In a word, the objects of fine art
are not the objects of sight, but as these last are the objects of taste
and imagination, that is, as they appeal to the sense of beauty, of
pleasure, and of power in the human breast, and are explained by that
finer sense, and revealed in their inner structure to the eye in return.
Nature is also a language. Objects, like words, have a meaning; and the
true artist is the interpreter of this language, which he can only do by
knowing its application to a thousand other objects in a thousand other
situations. Thus the eye is too blind a guide of itself to distinguish
between the warm or cold tone of a deep-blue sky; but another sense acts
as a monitor to it and does not err. The colour of the leaves in autumn
would be nothing without the feeling that accompanies it; but it is
that feeling that stamps them on the canvas, faded, seared, blighted,
shrinking from the winter's flaw, and makes the sight as true as touch--

 And visions, as poetic eyes avow,
 Cling to each leaf and hang on every bough.

The more ethereal, evanescent, more refined and sublime part of art is
the seeing nature through the medium of sentiment and passion, as each
object is a symbol of the affections and a link in the chain of our
endless being. But the unravelling this mysterious web of thought
and feeling is alone in the Muse's gift, namely, in the power of
that trembling sensibility which is awake to every change and every
modification of its ever-varying impressions, that

 Thrills in each nerve, and lives along the line.

This power is indifferently called genius, imagination, feeling, taste;
but the manner in which it acts upon the mind can neither be defined by
abstract rules, as is the case in science, nor verified by continual,
unvarying experiments, as is the case in mechanical performances. The
mechanical excellence of the Dutch painters in colouring and handling
is that which comes the nearest in fine art to the perfection of certain
manual exhibitions of skill. The truth of the effect and the facility
with which it is produced are equally admirable. Up to a certain point
everything is faultless. The hand and eye have done their part. There
is only a want of taste and genius. It is after we enter upon that
enchanted ground that the human mind begins to droop and flag as in a
strange road, or in a thick mist, benighted and making little way with
many attempts and many failures, and that the best of us only escape
with half a triumph. The undefined and the imaginary are the regions
that we must pass like Satan, difficult and doubtful, 'half flying, half
on foot.' The object in sense is a positive thing, and execution comes
with practice.

Cleverness is a certain _knack_ or aptitude at doing certain things,
which depend more on a particular adroitness and off-hand readiness than
on force or perseverance, such as making puns, making epigrams, making
extempore verses, mimicking the company, mimicking a style, etc.
Cleverness is either liveliness and smartness, or something answering
to _sleight of hand_, like letting a glass fall sideways off a table, or
else a trick, like knowing the secret spring of a watch. Accomplishments
are certain external graces, which are to be learned from others, and
which are easily displayed to the admiration of the beholder,
viz. dancing, riding, fencing, music, and so on. These ornamental
acquirements are only proper to those who are at ease in mind and
fortune. I know an individual who, if he had been born to an estate of
five thousand a year, would have been the most accomplished gentleman of
the age. He would have been the delight and envy of the circle in which
he moved--would have graced by his manners the liberality flowing from
the openness of his heart, would have laughed with the women, have
argued with the men, have said good things and written agreeable ones,
have taken a hand at piquet or the lead at the harpsichord, and have set
and sung his own verses--nugae canorae--with tenderness and spirit;
a Rochester without the vice, a modern Surrey! As it is, all these
capabilities of excellence stand in his way. He is too versatile for a
professional man, not dull enough for a political drudge, too gay to be
happy, too thoughtless to be rich. He wants the enthusiasm of the poet,
the severity of the prose-writer, and the application of the man
of business. Talent differs from genius as voluntary differs from
involuntary power. Ingenuity is genius in trifles; greatness is genius
in undertakings of much pith and moment. A clever or ingenious man is
one who can do anything well, whether it is worth doing or not; a great
man is one who can do that which when done is of the highest importance
make of a small city a great one. This gives one a pretty good idea of
the distinction in question.

Greatness is great power, producing great effects. It is not enough that
a man has great power in himself; he must show it to all the world in
a way that cannot be hid or gainsaid. He must fill up a certain idea in
the public mind. I have no other notion of greatness than this twofold
definition, great results springing from great inherent energy. The
great in visible objects has relation to that which extends over space;
the great in mental ones has to do with space and time. No man is truly
great who is great only in his lifetime. The test of greatness is the
page of history. Nothing can be said to be great that has a distinct
limit, or that borders on something evidently greater than itself.
Besides, what is short-lived and pampered into mere notoriety is of a
gross and vulgar quality in itself. A Lord Mayor is hardly a great man.
A city orator or patriot of the day only show, by reaching the height
of their wishes, the distance they are at from any true ambition.
Popularity is neither fame nor greatness. A king (as such) is not a
great man. He has great power, but it is not his own. He merely wields
the lever of the state, which a child, an idiot, or a madman can do.
It is the office, not the man we gaze at. Any one else in the same
situation would be just as much an object of abject curiosity. We laugh
at the country girl who having seen a king expressed her disappointment
by saying, 'Why, he is only a man!' Yet, knowing this, we run to see a
king as if he was something more than a man.--To display the greatest
powers, unless they are applied to great purposes, makes nothing for
the character of greatness. To throw a barleycorn through the eye of a
needle, to multiply nine figures by nine in the memory, argues definite
dexterity of body and capacity of mind, but nothing comes of
either. There is a surprising power at work, but the effects are not
proportionate, or such as take hold of the imagination. To impress the
idea of power on others, they must be made in some way to feel it. It
must be communicated to their understandings in the shape of an increase
of knowledge, or it must subdue and overawe them by subjecting their
wills. Admiration to be solid and lasting must be founded on proofs
from which we have no means of escaping; it is neither a slight nor a
voluntary gift. A mathematician who solves a profound problem, a poet
who creates an image of beauty in the mind that was not there before,
imparts knowledge and power to others, in which his greatness and
his fame consists, and on which it reposes. Jedediah Buxton will be
forgotten; but Napier's bones will live. Lawgivers, philosophers,
founders of religion, conquerors and heroes, inventors and great
geniuses in arts and sciences, are great men, for they are great
public benefactors, or formidable scourges to mankind. Among ourselves,
Shakespear, Newton, Bacon, Milton, Cromwell, were great men, for
they showed great power by acts and thoughts, that have not yet been
consigned to oblivion. They must needs be men of lofty stature, whose
shadows lengthen out to remote posterity. A great farce-writer may be
a great man; for Moliere was but a great farce-writer. In my mind, the
author of _Don Quixote_ was a great man. So have there been many others.
A great chess-player is not a great man, for he leaves the world as he
found it. No act terminating in itself constitutes greatness. This will
apply to all displays of power or trials of skill which are confined to
the momentary, individual effort, and construct no permanent image or
trophy of themselves without them. Is not an actor then a great man,
because 'he dies and leaves the world no copy'? I must make an exception
for Mrs. Siddons, or else give up my definition of greatness for her
sake. A man at the top of his profession is not therefore a great man.
He is great in his way, but that is all, unless he shows the marks of
a great moving intellect, so that we trace the master-mind, and can
sympathise with the springs that urge him on. The rest is but a craft or
_mystery_. John Hunter was a great man--_that_ any one might see without
the smallest skill in surgery. His style and manner showed the man.
He would set about cutting up the carcass of a whale with the same
greatness of gusto that Michael Angelo would have hewn a block of
marble. Lord Nelson was a great naval commander; but for myself, I
have not much opinion of a seafaring life. Sir Humphry Davy is a great
chemist, but I am not sure that he is a great man. I am not a bit the
wiser for any of his discoveries, nor I never met with any one that was.
But it is in the nature of greatness to propagate an idea of itself, as
wave impels wave, circle without circle. It is a contradiction in terms
for a coxcomb to be a great man. A really great man has always an
idea of something greater than himself. I have observed that certain
sectaries and polemical writers have no higher compliment to pay their
most shining lights than to say that "Such a one was a considerable man
in his day." Some new elucidation of a text sets aside the authority of
the old interpretation, and a "great scholar's memory outlives him half
a century," at the utmost. A rich man is not a great man, except to his
dependents and his steward. A lord is a great man in the idea we have of
his ancestry, and probably of himself, if we know nothing of him but his
title. I have heard a story of two bishops, one of whom said (speaking
of St. Peter's at Rome) that when he first entered it, he was rather
awe-struck, but that as he walked up it, his mind seemed to swell and
dilate with it, and at last to fill the whole building: the other said
that as he saw more of it, he appeared to himself to grow less and less
every step he took, and in the end to dwindle into nothing. This was
in some respects a striking picture of a great and little mind; for
greatness sympathises with greatness, and littleness shrinks into
itself. The one might have become a Wolsey; the other was only fit to
become a Mendicant Friar--or there might have been court reasons for
making him a bishop. The French have to me a character of littleness in
all about them; but they have produced three great men that belong to
every country, Moliere, Rabelais, and Montaigne.

To return from this digression, and conclude Essay. A singular instance
of manual dexterity was shown in the person of the late John Cavanaugh,
whom I have several times seen. His death was celebrated at the time
in an article in the _Examiner_ newspaper (Feb. 7, 1819), written
apparently between jest and earnest; but as it is _pat_ to our purpose,
and falls in with my own way of considering such subjects, I shall here
take leave to quote it:--

'Died at his house in Burbage Street, St. Giles's, John Cavanagh, the
famous hand fives-player. When a person dies who does any one thing
better than any one else in the world, which so many others are trying
to do well, it leaves a gap in society. It is not likely that any one
will now see the game of fives played in its perfection for many years
to come--for Cavanagh is dead, and has not left his peer behind him.
It may be said that there are things of more importance than striking a
ball against a wall--there are things, indeed, that make more noise and
do as little good, such as making war and peace, making speeches and
answering them, making verses and blotting them, making money and
throwing it away. But the game of fives is what no one despises who has
ever played at it. It is the finest exercise for the body, and the best
relaxation for the mind. The Roman poet said that "Care mounted behind
the horseman and stuck to his skirts." But this remark would not have
applied to the fives-player. He who takes to playing at fives is twice
young. He feels neither the past nor future "in the instant." Debts,
taxes, "domestic treason, foreign levy, nothing can touch him further."
He has no other wish, no other thought, from the moment the game begins,
but that of striking the ball, of placing it, of _making_ it! This
Cavanagh was sure to do. Whenever he touched the ball there was an end
of the chase. His eye was certain, his hand fatal, his presence of mind
complete. He could do what he pleased, and he always knew exactly what
to do. He saw the whole game, and played it; took instant advantage of
his adversary's weakness, and recovered balls, as if by a miracle and
from sudden thought, that every one gave for lost. He had equal power
and skill, quickness and judgment. He could either outwit his antagonist
by finesse, or beat him by main strength. Sometimes, when he seemed
preparing to send the ball with the full swing of his arm, he would by a
slight turn of his wrist drop it within an inch of the line. In general,
the ball came from his hand, as if from a racket, in a straight,
horizontal line; so that it was in vain to attempt to overtake or stop
it. As it was said of a great orator that he never was at a loss for
a word, and for the properest word, so Cavanagh always could tell
the degree of force necessary to be given to a ball, and the precise
direction in which it should be sent. He did his work with the greatest
ease; never took more pains than was necessary; and while others were
fagging themselves to death, was as cool and collected as if he had just
entered the court. His style of play was as remarkable as his power of
execution. He had no affectation, no trifling. He did not throw away
the game to show off an attitude or try an experiment. He was a fine,
sensible, manly player, who did what he could, but that was more than
any one else could even affect to do. His blows were not undecided and
ineffectual--lumbering like Mr. Wordsworth's epic poetry, nor wavering
like Mr. Coleridge's lyric prose, nor short of the mark like Mr.
Brougham's speeches, nor wide of it like Mr. Canning's wit, nor foul
like the _Quarterly_, nor _let_ balls like the _Edinburgh Review_.
Cobbett and Junius together would have made a Cavanagh. He was the best
_up-hill_ player in the world; even when his adversary was fourteen, he
would play on the same or better, and as he never flung away the game
through carelessness and conceit, he never gave it through laziness
or want of heart. The only peculiarity of his play was that he never
_volleyed_, but let the balls hop; but if they rose an inch from the
ground he never missed having them. There was not only nobody equal, but
nobody second to him. It is supposed that he could give any other
player half the game, or beat him with his left hand. His service was
tremendous. He once played Woodward and Meredith together (two of the
best players in England) in the Fives-court, St. Martin's street, and
made seven and twenty aces following by services alone--a thing unheard
of. He another time played Peru, who was considered a first-rate
fives-player, a match of the best out of five games, and in the three
first games, which of course decided the match, Peru got only one ace.
Cavanagh was an Irishman by birth, and a house-painter by profession.
He had once laid aside his working-dress, and walked up, in his smartest
clothes, to the Rosemary Branch to have an afternoon's pleasure. A
person accosted him, and asked him if he would have a game. So they
agreed to play for half a crown a game and a bottle of cider. The first
game began--it was seven, eight, ten, thirteen, fourteen, all. Cavanagh
won it. The next was the same. They played on, and each game was hardly
contested. "There," said the unconscious fives-player, "there was a
stroke that Cavanagh could not take: I never played better in my life,
and yet I can't win a game. I don't know how it is!" However, they
played on, Cavanagh winning every game, and the bystanders drinking the
cider and laughing all the time. In the twelfth game, when Cavanagh was
only four, and the stranger thirteen, a person came in and said, "What!
are you here, Cavanagh?" The words were no sooner pronounced than the
astonished player let the hall drop from his hand, and saying, "What!
have I been breaking my heart all this time to beat Cavanagh?" refused
to make another effort. "And yet, I give you my word," said Cavanagh,
telling the story with some triumph, "I played all the while with my
clenched fist."--He used frequently to ploy matches at Copenhagen House
for wagers and dinners. The wall against which they play is the same
that supports the kitchen-chimney, and when the wall resounded louder
than usual, the cooks exclaimed, "Those are the Irishman's balls," and
the joints trembled on the spit!--Goldsmith consoled himself that there
were places where he too was admired: and Cavanagh was the admiration
of all the fives-courts where he ever played. Mr. Powell, when he played
matches in the Court in St. Martin's Street, used to fill his gallery
at half a crown a head with amateurs and admirers of talent in whatever
department it is shown. He could not have shown himself in any ground in
England but he would have been immediately surrounded with inquisitive
gazers, trying to find out in what part of his frame his unrivalled
skill lay, as politicians wonder to see the balance of Europe suspended
in Lord Castlereagh's face, and admire the trophies of the British
Navy lurking under Mr. Croker's hanging brow. Now Cavanagh was as
good-looking a man as the Noble Lord, and much better looking than the
Right Hon. Secretary. He had a clear, open countenance, and did not look
sideways or down, like Mr. Murray the bookseller. He was a young fellow
of sense, humour, and courage. He once had a quarrel with a waterman at
Hungerford Stairs, and, they say, served him out in great style. In a
word, there are hundreds at this day who cannot mention his name without
admiration, as the best fives-player that perhaps ever lived (the
greatest excellence of which they have any notion); and the noisy
shout of the ring happily stood him in stead of the unheard voice
of posterity!--The only person who seems to have excelled as much
in another way as Cavanagh did in his was the late John Davies, the
racket-player. It was remarked of him that he did not seem to follow the
ball, but the ball seemed to follow him. Give him a foot of wall, and he
was sure to make the ball. The four best racket-players of that day were
Jack Spines, Jem Harding, Armitage, and Church. Davies could give any
one of these two hands a time, that is, half the game, and each of
these, at their best, could give the best player now in London the same
odds. Such are the gradations in all exertions of human skill and art.
He once played four capital players together, and beat them. He was also
a first-rate tennis-player and an excellent fives-player. In the Fleet
or King's Bench he would have stood against Powell, who was reckoned the
best open-ground player of his time. This last-mentioned player is at
present the keeper of the Fives-court, and we might recommend to him for
a motto over his door, "Who enters here, forgets himself, his country,
and his friends." And the best of it is, that by the calculation of the
odds, none of the three are worth remembering!--Cavanagh died from the
bursting of a blood-vessel, which prevented him from playing for the
last two or three years. This, he was often heard to say, he thought
hard upon him. He was fast recovering, however, when he was suddenly
carried off, to the regret of all who knew him. As Mr. Peel made it a
qualification of the present Speaker, Mr. Manners Sutton, that he was an
excellent moral character, so Jack Cavanagh was a zealous Catholic,
and could not be persuaded to eat meat on a Friday, the day on which he
died. We have paid this willing tribute to his memory.

 Let no rude hand deface it,
 And his forlorn "_Hic Jacet_."'


(1) The celebrated Peter Pindar (Dr. Wolcot) first discovered and
brought out the talents of the late Mr. Opie the painter. He was a poor
Cornish boy, and was out at work in the fields when the poet went in
search of him. 'Well, my lad, can you go and bring me your very best
picture?' The other flew like lightning, and soon came back with what he
considered as his masterpiece. The stranger looked at it, and the young
artist, after waiting for some time without his giving any opinion, at
length exclaimed eagerly, 'Well, what do you think of it?' 'Think of
it?' said Wolcot; 'Why, I think you ought to be ashamed of it--that you,
who might do so well, do no better!' The same answer would have applied
to this artist's latest performances, that had been suggested by one of
his earliest efforts.

(2) If two persons play against each other at any game, one of them
necessarily fails.


 Remote, unfriended, melancholy, slow,
 Or by the lazy Scheldt or wandering Po.

I never was in a better place or humour than I am at present for writing
on this subject. I have a partridge getting ready for my supper, my fire
is blazing on the hearth, the air is mild for the season of the year,
I have had but a slight fit of indigestion to-day (the only thing that
makes me abhor myself), I have three hours good before me, and therefore
I will attempt it. It is as well to do it at once as to have it to do
for a week to come.

If the writing on this subject is no easy task, the thing itself is a
harder one. It asks a troublesome effort to ensure the admiration
of others: it is a still greater one to be satisfied with one's own
thoughts. As I look from the window at the wide bare heath before me,
and through the misty moonlight air see the woods that wave over the top
of Winterslow,

 While Heav'n's chancel-vault is blind with sleet,

my mind takes its flight through too long a series of years, supported
only by the patience of thought and secret yearnings after truth and
good, for me to be at a loss to understand the feeling I intend to write
about; but I do not know that this will enable me to convey it more
agreeably to the reader.

Lady Grandison, in a letter to Miss Harriet Byron, assures her that
'her brother Sir Charles lived to-himself'; and Lady L. soon after
(for Richardson was never tired of a good thing) repeats the same
observation; to which Miss Byron frequently returns in her answers
to both sisters, 'For you know Sir Charles lives to himself,' till at
length it passes into a proverb among the fair correspondents. This is
not, however, an example of what I understand by _living to one's-self_,
for Sir Charles Grandison was indeed always thinking of himself; but by
this phrase I mean never thinking at all about one's-self, any more than
if there was no such person in existence. The character I speak of is
as little of an egotist as possible: Richardson's great favourite was
as much of one as possible. Some satirical critic has represented him
in Elysium 'bowing over the _faded_ hand of Lady Grandison' (Miss Byron
that was)--he ought to have been represented bowing over his own hand,
for he never admired any one but himself, and was the God of his own
idolatry.--Neither do I call it living to one's-self to retire into
a desert (like the saints and martyrs of old) to be devoured by wild
beasts nor to descend into a cave to be considered as a hermit, nor to
got to the top of a pillar or rock to do fanatic penance and be seen of
all men. What I mean by living to one's-self is living in the world, as
in it, not of it: it is as if no one know there was such a person, and
you wished no one to know it: it is to be a silent spectator of the
mighty scene of things, not an object of attention or curiosity in it;
to take a thoughtful, anxious interest in what is passing in the world,
but not to feel the slightest inclination to make or meddle with it. It
is such a life as a pure spirit might be supposed to lead, and such an
interest as it might take in the affairs of men, calm, contemplative,
passive, distant, touched with pity for their sorrows, smiling at their
follies without bitterness, sharing their affections, but not troubled
by their passions, not seeking their notice, nor once dreamt of by them.
He who lives wisely to himself and to his own heart looks at the busy
world through the loop-holes of retreat, and does not want to mingle in
the fray. 'He hears the tumult, and is still.' He is not able to mend
it, nor willing to mar it. He sees enough in the universe to interest
him without putting himself forward to try what he can do to fix the
eyes of the universe upon him. Vain the attempt! He reads the clouds,
he looks at the stars, he watches the return of the seasons, the falling
leaves of autumn, the perfumed breath of spring, starts with delight at
the note of a thrush in a copse near him, sits by the fire, listens to
the moaning of the wind, pores upon a book, or discourses the freezing
hours away, or melts down hours to minutes in pleasing thought. All this
while he is taken up with other things, forgetting himself. He relishes
an author's style without thinking of turning author. He is fond of
looking at a print from an old picture in the room, without teasing
himself to copy it. He does not fret himself to death with trying to
be what he is not, or to do what he cannot. He hardly knows what he is
capable of, and is not in the least concerned whether he shall ever make
a figure in the world. He feels the truth of the lines--

 The man whose eye is ever on himself,
 Doth look one, the least of nature's works;
 One who might move the wise man to that scorn
 Which wisdom holds unlawful ever.

He looks out of himself at the wide, extended prospect of nature, and
takes an interest beyond his narrow pretensions in general humanity. He
is free as air, and independent as the wind. Woe be to him when he first
begins to think what others say of him. While a man is contented with
himself and his own resources, all is well. When he undertakes to play
a part on the stage, and to persuade the world to think more about him
than they do about themselves, he is got into a track where he will find
nothing but briars and thorns, vexation and disappointment. I can speak
a little to this point. For many years of my life I did nothing but
think. I had nothing else to do but solve some knotty point, or dip
in some abstruse author, or look at the sky, or wander by the pebbled

 To see the children sporting on the shore,
 And hear the mighty waters rolling evermore

I cared for nothing, I wanted nothing. I took my time to consider
whatever occurred to me, and was in no hurry to give a sophistical
answer to a question--there was no printer's devil waiting for me.
I used to write a page or two perhaps in half a year; and remember
laughing heartily at the celebrated experimentalist Nicholson, who
told me that in twenty years he had written as much as would make three
hundred octavo volumes. If I was not a great author, I could read with
ever fresh delight, 'never ending, still beginning,' and had no occasion
to write a criticism when I had done. If I could not paint like Claude,
I could admire 'the witchery of the soft blue sky' as I walked out, and
was satisfied with the pleasure it gave me. If I was dull, it gave me
little concern: if I was lively, I indulged my spirits. I wished well
to the world, and believed as favourably of it as I could. I was like
a stranger in a foreign land, at which I looked with wonder, curiosity,
and delight, without expecting to be an object of attention in return. I
had no relations to the state, no duty to perform, no ties to bind me to
others: I had neither friend nor mistress, wife nor child. I lived in a
world of contemplation, and not of action.

This sort of dreaming existence is the best. He who quits it to go
in search of realities generally barters repose for repeated
disappointments and vain regrets. His time, thoughts, and feelings are
no longer at his own disposal. From that instant he does not survey the
objects of nature as they are in themselves, but looks asquint at them
to see whether he cannot make them the instruments of his ambition,
interest, or pleasure; for a candid, undesigning, undisguised simplicity
of character, his views become jaundiced, sinister, and double: he takes
no farther interest in the great changes of the world but as he has
a paltry share in producing them: instead of opening his senses, his
understanding, and his heart to the resplendent fabric of the universe,
he holds a crooked mirror before his face, in which he may admire his
own person and pretensions, and just glance his eye aside to see whether
others are not admiring him too. He no more exists in the impression
which 'the fair variety of things' makes upon him, softened and subdued
by habitual contemplation, but in the feverish sense of his own upstart
self-importance. By aiming to fix, he is become the slave of opinion. He
is a tool, a part of a machine that never stands still, and is sick
and giddy with the ceaseless motion. He has no satisfaction but in the
reflection of his own image in the public gaze--but in the repetition of
his own name in the public ear. He himself is mixed up with and spoils
everything. I wonder Buonaparte was not tired of the N. N.'s stuck all
over the Louvre and throughout France. Goldsmith (as we all know) when
in Holland went out into a balcony with some handsome Englishwomen,
and on their being applauded by the spectators, turned round and said
peevishly, 'There are places where I also am admired.' He could not give
the craving appetite of an author's vanity one day's respite. I have
seen a celebrated talker of our own time turn pale and go out of the
room when a showy-looking girl has come into it who for a moment divided
the attention of his hearers.--Infinite are the mortifications of the
bare attempt to emerge from obscurity; numberless the failures;
and greater and more galling still the vicissitudes and tormenting
accompaniments of success--

  Whose top to climb
 Is certain falling, or so slippery, that
 The fear's as bad as falling.

'Would to God,' exclaimed Oliver Cromwell, when he was at any time
thwarted by the Parliament, 'that I had remained by my woodside to tend
a flock of sheep, rather than have been thrust on such a government as
this!' When Buonaparte got into his carriage to proceed on his Russian
expedition, carelessly twirling his glove, and singing the air,
'Malbrook to the war is going,' he did not think of the tumble he has
got since, the shock of which no one could have stood but himself. We
see and hear chiefly of the favourites of Fortune and the Muse, of great
generals, of first-rate actors, of celebrated poets. These are at the
head; we are struck with the glittering eminence on which they stand,
and long to set out on the same tempting career,--not thinking how many
discontented half-pay lieutenants are in vain seeking promotion all
their lives, and obliged to put up with 'the insolence of office,
and the spurns which patient merit of the unworthy takes'; how many
half-starved strolling players are doomed to penury and tattered robes
in country places, dreaming to the last of a London engagement; how many
wretched daubers shiver and shake in the ague-fit of alternate hopes
and fears, waste and pine away in the atrophy of genius, or else turn
drawing-masters, picture-cleaners, or newspaper-critics; how many
hapless poets have sighed out their souls to the Muse in vain, without
ever getting their effusions farther known than the Poet's Corner of a
country newspaper, and looked and looked with grudging, wistful eyes
at the envious horizon that bounded their provincial fame!--Suppose an
actor, for instance, 'after the heart-aches and the thousand natural
pangs that flesh is heir to,' _does_ get at the top of his profession,
he can no longer bear a rival near the throne; to be second or only
equal to another is to be nothing: he starts at the prospect of a
successor, and retains the mimic sceptre with a convulsive grasp:
perhaps as he is about to seize the first place which he has long had in
his eye, an unsuspected competitor steps in before him, and carries off
the prize, leaving him to commence his irksome toil again. He is in a
state of alarm at every appearance or rumour of the appearance of a
new actor: 'a mouse that takes up its lodgings in a cat's ear'(2) has a
mansion of peace to him: he dreads every hint of an objection, and least
of all, can forgive praise mingled with censure: to doubt is to insult;
to discriminate is to degrade: he dare hardly look into a criticism
unless some one has tasted it for him, to see that there is no offence
in it: if he does not draw crowded houses every night, he can neither
eat nor sleep; or if all these terrible inflections are removed, and he
can 'eat his meal in peace,' he then becomes surfeited with applause and
dissatisfied with his profession: he wants to be something else, to be
distinguished as an author, a collector, a classical scholar, a man
of sense and information, and weighs every word he utters, and half
retracts it before he utters it, lest if he were to make the smallest
slip of the tongue it should get buzzed abroad that _Mr. ---- was only
clever as an actor!_ If ever there was a man who did not derive more
pain than pleasure from his vanity, that man, says Rousseau, was no
other than a fool. A country gentleman near Taunton spent his whole
life in making some hundreds of wretched copies of second-rate pictures,
which were bought up at his death by a neighbouring baronet, to whom

 Some Demon whisper'd, L----, have a taste!

A little Wilson in an obscure corner escaped the man of _virtu_, and
was carried off by a Bristol picture-dealer for three guineas, while
the muddled copies of the owner of the mansion (with the frames) fetched
thirty, forty, sixty, a hundred ducats a piece. A friend of mine found a
very fine Canaletti in a state of strange disfigurement, with the upper
part of the sky smeared over and fantastically variegated with English
clouds; and on inquiring of the person to whom it belonged whether
something had not been done to it, received for answer 'that a
gentleman, a great artist in the neighbourhood, had retouched some parts
of it.' What infatuation! Yet this candidate for the honours of the
pencil might probably have made a jovial fox-hunter or respectable
justice of the peace it he could only have stuck to what nature and
fortune intended him for. Miss ---- can by no means be persuaded to quit
the boards of the theatre at ----, a little country town in the West of
England. Her salary has been abridged, her person ridiculed, her acting
laughed at; nothing will serve--she is determined to be an actress, and
scorns to return to her former business as a milliner. Shall I go on? An
actor in the same company was visited by the apothecary of the place in
an ague-fit, who, on asking his landlady as to his way of life, was told
that the poor gentleman was very quiet and gave little trouble, that he
generally had a plate of mashed potatoes for his dinner, and lay in bed
most of his time, repeating his part. A young couple, every way amiable
and deserving, were to have been married, and a benefit-play was bespoke
by the officers of the regiment quartered there, to defray the expense
of a license and of the wedding-ring, but the profits of the night did
not amount to the necessary sum, and they have, I fear, 'virgined it
e'er since'! Oh, for the pencil of Hogarth or Wilkie to give a view of
the comic strength of the company at ----, drawn up in battle-array in
the _Clandestine Marriage,_ with a _coup d'oeil_ of the pit, boxes, and
gallery, to cure for ever the love of the _ideal_, and the desire to
shine and make holiday in the eyes of others, instead of retiring within
ourselves and keeping our wishes and our thoughts at home!--Even in the
common affairs of life, in love, friendship, and marriage, how little
security have we when we trust our happiness in the hands of others!
Most of the friends I have seen have turned out the bitterest enemies,
or cold, uncomfortable acquaintance. Old companions are like meats
served up too often, that lose their relish and their wholesomeness. He
who looks at beauty to admire, to adore it, who reads of its wondrous
power in novels, in poems, or in plays, is not unwise; but let no man
fall in love, for from that moment he is 'the baby of a girl.' I like
very well to repeat such lines as these in the play of _Mirandola_--

  With what a waving air she goes
 Along the corridor!  How like a fawn!
 Yet statelier.  Hark!  No sound, however soft,
 Nor gentlest echo telleth when she treads,
 But every motion of her shape doth seem
 Hallowed by silence.

But however beautiful the description, defend me from meeting with the

 The fly that sips treacle
  Is lost in the sweets;
 So he that tastes woman
  Ruin meets.

The song is Gay's, not mine, and a bitter-sweet it is. How few out of
the infinite number of those that marry and are given in marriage wed
with those they would prefer to all the world! nay, how far the greater
proportion are joined together by mere motives of convenience, accident,
recommendation of friends, or indeed not unfrequently by the very fear
of the event, by repugnance and a sort of fatal fascination! yet the tie
is for life, not to be shaken off but with disgrace or death: a man
no longer lives to himself, but is a body (as well as mind) chained to
another, in spite of himself--

 Like life and death in disproportion met.

So Milton (perhaps from his own experience) makes Adam exclaim in the
vehemence of his despair,

 For either
 He never shall find out fit mate, but such
 As some misfortune brings him or mistake
 Or whom he wishes most shall seldom gain
 Through her perverseness, but shall sea her gain'd
 By a far worse; or it she love, withheld
 By parents; or his happiest choice too late
 Shall meet, already link'd and wedlock-bound
 To a fell adversary, his hate and shame;
 Which infinite calamity shall cause
 To human life, and household peace confound.

If love at first sight were mutual, or to be conciliated by kind
offices; if the fondest affection were not so often repaid and chilled
by indifference and scorn; if so many lovers both before and since the
madman in Don Quixote had not 'worshipped a statue, hunted the wind,
cried aloud to the desert'; if friendship were lasting; if merit were
renown, and renown were health, riches, and long life; or if the homage
of the world were paid to conscious worth and the true aspirations
after excellence, instead of its gaudy signs and outward trappings, then
indeed I might be of opinion that it is better to live to others than
one's-self; but as the case stands, I incline to the negative side of
the question.(3)

 I have not loved the world, nor the world me;
 I have not flattered its rank breath, nor bow'd
 To its idolatries a patient knee--
 Nor coin'd my cheek to smiles--nor cried aloud
 In worship of an echo; in the crowd
 They could not deem me one of such; I stood
 Among them, but not of them; in a shroud
 Of thoughts which were not their thoughts, and still could,
 Had I not filled my mind which thus itself subdued.

 I have not loved the world,  nor the world me--
 But let us part fair foes; I do believe,
 Though I have found them not, that there may be
 Words which are things--hopes which will not deceive,
 And virtues which are merciful nor weave
 Snares for the failing: I would also deem
 O'er others' griefs that some sincerely grieve;
 That two, or one, are almost what they seem--
 That goodness is no name, and happiness no dream.

Sweet verse embalms the spirit of sour misanthropy; but woe betide the
ignoble prose-writer who should thus dare to compare notes with the
world, or tax it roundly with imposture.

If I had sufficient provocation to rail at the public, as Ben Jonson did
at the audience in the Prologues to his plays, I think I should do it
in good set terms, nearly as follows:--There is not a more mean, stupid,
dastardly, pitiful, selfish, spiteful, envious, ungrateful animal than
the Public. It is the greatest of cowards, for it is afraid of itself.
From its unwieldy, overgrown dimensions, it dreads the least opposition
to it, and shakes like isinglass at the touch of a finger. It starts at
its own shadow, like the man in the Hartz mountains, and trembles at
the mention of its own name. It has a lion's mouth, the heart of a hare,
with ears erect and sleepless eyes. It stands 'listening its fears.'
It is so in awe of its own opinion that it never dares to form any, but
catches up the first idle rumour, lest it should be behindhand in its
judgment, and echoes it till it is deafened with the sound of its own
voice. The idea of what the public will think prevents the public from
ever thinking at all, and acts as a spell on the exercise of private
judgment, so that, in short, the public ear is at the mercy of the first
impudent pretender who chooses to fill it with noisy assertions, or
false surmises, or secret whispers. What is said by one is heard by all;
the supposition that a thing is known to all the world makes all the
world believe it, and the hollow repetition of a vague report drowns the
'still, small voice' of reason. We may believe or know that what is said
is not true; but we know or fancy that others believe it,--we dare not
contradict or are too indolent to dispute with them, and therefore give
up our internal, and, as we think, our solitary conviction to a sound
without substance, without proof, and often without meaning. Nay more,
we may believe and know not only that a thing is false, but that others
believe and know it to be so, that they are quite as much in the secret
of the imposture as we are, that they see the puppets at work, the
nature of the machinery, and yet if any one has the art or power to
get the management of it, he shall keep possession of the public ear
by virtue of a cant phrase or nickname, and by dint of effrontery and
perseverance make all the world believe and repeat what all the world
know to be false. The ear is quicker than the judgment. We know that
certain things are said; by that circumstance alone, we know that they
produce a certain effect on the imagination of others, and we conform
to their prejudices by mechanical sympathy, and for want of sufficient
spirit to differ with them. So far then is public opinion from resting
on a broad and solid basis, as the aggregate of thought and feeling in
a community, that it is slight and shallow and variable to the last
degree--the bubble of the moment; so that we may safely say the
public is the dupe of public opinion, not its parent. The public is
pusillanimous and cowardly, because it is weak. It knows itself to be a
great dunce, and that it has no opinions but upon suggestion. Yet it is
unwilling to appear in leading-strings, and would have it thought that
its decisions are as wise as they are weighty. It is hasty in taking
up its favourites, more hasty in laying them aside, lest it should be
supposed deficient in sagacity in either case. It is generally divided
into two strong parties, each of which will allow neither common sense
nor common honesty to the other side. It reads the _Edinburgh_ and
_Quarterly Reviews_, and believes them both--or if there is a doubt,
malice turns the scale. Taylor and Hessey told me that they had sold
nearly two editions of the _Characters of Shakespear's Plays_ in about
three months, but that after the _Quarterly Review_ of them came out
they never sold another copy. The public, enlightened as they are, must
have known the meaning of that attack as well as those who made it. It
was not ignorance then, but cowardice, that led them to give up their
own opinion. A crew of mischievous critics at Edinburgh having affixed
the epithet of the _Cockney School_ to one or two writers born in the
metropolis, all the people in London became afraid of looking into
their works, lest they too should be convicted of cockneyism. Oh, brave
public! This epithet proved too much for one of the writers in question,
and stuck like a barbed arrow in his heart. Poor Keats! What was sport
to the town was death to him. Young, sensitive, delicate, he was like

 A bud bit by an envious worm,
 Ere he could spread his sweet leaves to the air
 Or dedicate his beauty to the sun;

and unable to endure the miscreant cry and idiot laugh, withdrew to
sigh his last breath in foreign climes. The public is as envious and
ungrateful as it is ignorant, stupid, and pigeon-livered--

 A huge-sized monster of ingratitudes.

It reads, it admires, it extols, only because it is the fashion, not
from any love of the subject or the man. It cries you up or runs you
down out of mere caprice and levity. If you have pleased it, it is
jealous of its own involuntary acknowledgment of merit, and seizes the
first opportunity, the first shabby pretext, to pick a quarrel with you
and be quits once more. Every petty caviller is erected into a judge,
every tale-bearer is implicitly believed. Every little, low, paltry
creature that gaped and wondered, only because others did so, is glad to
find you (as he thinks) on a level with himself. An author is not then,
after all, a being of another order. Public admiration is forced, and
goes against the grain. Public obloquy is cordial and sincere: every
individual feels his own importance in it. They give you up bound hand
and foot into the power of your accusers. To attempt to defend yourself
is a high crime and misdemeanor, a contempt of court, an extreme piece
of impertinence. Or if you prove every charge unfounded, they never
think of retracing their error or making you amends. It would be a
compromise of their dignity; they consider themselves as the party
injured, and resent your innocence as an imputation on their judgment.
The celebrated Bub Doddington, when out of favour at court, said 'he
would not _justify_ before his sovereign: it was for Majesty to be
displeased, and for him to believe himself in the wrong!' The public are
not quite so modest. People already begin to talk of the Scotch Novels
as overrated. How then can common authors be supposed to keep their
heads long above water? As a general rule, all those who live by the
public starve, and are made a by-word and a standing jest into the
bargain. Posterity is no better (not a bit more enlightened or more
liberal), except that you are no longer in their power, and that the
voice of common fame saves them the trouble of deciding on your claims.
The public now are the posterity of Milton and Shakespear. Our posterity
will be the living public of a future generation. When a man is dead,
they put money in his coffin, erect monuments to his memory, and
celebrate the anniversary of his birthday in set speeches. Would they
take any notice of him if he were living? No!--I was complaining of this
to a Scotchman who had been attending a dinner and a subscription to
raise a monument to Burns. He replied he would sooner subscribe twenty
pounds to his monument than have given it him while living; so that if
the poet were to come to life again, he would treat him just as he was
treated in fact. This was an honest Scotchman. What _he_ said, the rest
would do.

Enough: my soul, turn from them, and let me try to regain the
obscurity and quiet that I love, 'far from the madding strife,' in some
sequestered corner of my own, or in some far-distant land! In the latter
case, I might carry with me as a consolation the passage in Bolinbroke's
_Reflections on Exile,_ in which he describes in glowing colours the
resources which a man may always find within himself, and of which the
world cannot deprive him:--

'Believe me, the providence of God has established such an order in
the world, that of all which belongs to us the least valuable parts can
alone fall under the will of others. Whatever is best is safest; lies
out of the reach of human power; can neither be given nor taken away.
Such is this great and beautiful work of nature, the world. Such is the
mind of man, which contemplates and admires the world, whereof it makes
the noblest part. These are inseparably ours, and as long as we remain
in one we shall enjoy the other. Let us march therefore intrepidly
wherever we are led by the course of human accidents. Wherever they
lead us, on what coast soever we are thrown by them, we shall not find
ourselves absolutely strangers. We shall feel the same revolution of
seasons, and the same sun and moon(4) will guide the course of our year.
The same azure vault, bespangled with stars, will be everywhere spread
over our heads. There is no part of the world from whence we may not
admire those planets which roll, like ours, in different orbits round
the same central sun; from whence we may not discover an object still
more stupendous, that army of fixed stars hung up in the immense space
of the universe, innumerable suns whose beams enlighten and cherish the
unknown worlds which roll around them: and whilst I am ravished by such
contemplations as these, whilst my soul is thus raised up to heaven, it
imports me little what ground I tread-upon.'


(1) Written at Winterslow Hut, January 18-19, 1821.

(2) Webster's _Duchess of Malfy._

(3) Shenstone and Gray were two men, one of whom pretended live to
himself, and the other really did so. Gray shrunk from the public gaze
(he did not even like his portrait to be prefixed to his works) into his
own thoughts and indolent musings; Shenstone affected privacy that he
might be sought out by the world; the one courted retirement in order
to enjoy leisure and repose, as the other coquetted with it merely to
be interrupted with the importunity of visitors and the flatteries of
absent friends.

(4) Plut. of Banishment. He compares those who cannot live out of their
own country to the simple people who fancied the moon of Athens was a
finer moon than that of Corinth,

 Labentem coelo quae ducitis annum.
 --VIRG. _Georg._


Those persons who are much accustomed to abstract contemplation are
generally unfitted for active pursuits, and _vice versa_. I myself am
sufficiently decided and dogmatical in my opinions, and yet in action
I am as imbecile as a woman or a child. I cannot set about the most
indifferent thing without twenty efforts, and had rather write one of
these Essays than have to seal a letter. In trying to throw a hat or a
book upon a table, I miss it; it just reaches the edge and falls back
again, and instead of doing what I mean to perform, I do what I intend
to avoid. Thought depends on the habitual exercise of the speculative
faculties; action, on the determination of the will. The one assigns
reasons for things, the other puts causes into act. Abraham Tucker
relates of a friend of his, an old special pleader, that once coming out
of his chambers in the Temple with him to take a walk, he hesitated at
the bottom of the stairs which way to go--proposed different directions,
to Charing Cross, to St. Paul's--found some objection to them all, and
at last turned back for want of a casting motive to incline the scale.
Tucker gives this as an instance of professional indecision, or of that
temper of mind which having been long used to weigh the reasons for
things with scrupulous exactness, could not come to any conclusion at
all on the spur of the occasion, or without some grave distinction to
justify its choice. Louvet in his Narrative tells us, that when several
of the Brisotin party were collected at the house of Barbaroux (I think
it was) ready to effect their escape from the power of Robespierre,
one of them going to the window and finding a shower of rain coming on,
seriously advised their stopping till the next morning, for that the
emissaries of government would not think of coming in search of them in
such bad weather. Some of them deliberated on this wise proposal,
and were nearly taken. Such is the effeminacy of the speculative and
philosophical temperament, compared with the promptness and vigour of
the practical! It is on such unequal terms that the refined and romantic
speculators on possible good and evil contend with their strong-nerved,
remorseless adversaries, and we see the result. Reasoners in general
are undecided, wavering, and sceptical, or yield at last to the weakest
motive as most congenial to their feeble habit of soul.(1)

Some men are mere machines. They are put in a go-cart of business, and
are harnessed to a profession--yoked to Fortune's wheels. They plod on,
and succeed. Their affairs conduct them, not they their affairs. All
they have to do is to let things take their course, and not go out of
the beaten road. A man may carry on the business of farming on the same
spot and principle that his ancestors have done for many generations
before him without any extraordinary share of capacity: the proof is, it
is done every day, in every county and parish in the kingdom. All
that is necessary is that he should not pretend to be wiser than his
neighbours. If he has a grain more wit or penetration than they, if his
vanity gets the start of his avarice only half a neck, if he has ever
thought or read anything upon the subject, it will most probably be the
ruin of him. He will turn theoretical or experimental farmer, and
no more need be said. Mr. Cobbett, who is a sufficiently shrewd and
practical man, with an eye also to the main chance, had got some
notions in his head (from Tull's _Husbandry_) about the method of
sowing turnips, to which he would have sacrificed not only his estate at
Botley, but his native county of Hampshire itself, sooner than give up
an inch of his argument. 'Tut! will you baulk a man in the career of
his humour?' Therefore, that a man may not be ruined by his humours, he
should be too dull and phlegmatic to have any: he must have 'no figures
nor no fantasies which busy thought draws in the brains of men.' The
fact is, that the ingenuity or judgment of no one man is equal to that
of the world at large, which is the fruit of the experience and ability
of all mankind. Even where a man is right in a particular notion,
he will be apt to overrate the importance of his discovery, to the
detriment of his affairs. Action requires co-operation, but in general
if you set your face against custom, people will set their faces against
you. They cannot tell whether you are right or wrong, but they know
that you are guilty of a pragmatical assumption of superiority over them
which they do not like. There is no doubt that if a person two hundred
years ago had foreseen and attempted to put in practice the most
approved and successful methods of cultivation now in use, it would
have been a death-blow to his credit and fortune. So that though the
experiments and improvements of private individuals from time to time
gradually go to enrich the public stock of information and reform the
general practice, they are mostly the ruin of the person who makes them,
because he takes a part for the whole, and lays more stress upon the
single point in which he has found others in the wrong than on all the
rest in which they are substantially and prescriptively in the right.
The great requisite, it should appear, then, for the prosperous
management of ordinary business is the want of imagination, or of any
ideas but those of custom and interest on the narrowest scale; and as
the affairs of the world are necessarily carried on by the common run
of its inhabitants, it seems a wise dispensation of Providence that
it should be so. If no one could rent a piece of glebe-land without a
genius for mechanical inventions, or stand behind a counter without
a large benevolence of soul, what would become of the commercial and
agricultural interests of this great (and once flourishing) country?--I
would not be understood as saying that there is not what may be called
a genius for business, an extraordinary capacity for affairs, quickness
and comprehension united, an insight into character, an acquaintance
with a number of particular circumstances, a variety of expedients, a
tact for finding out what will do: I grant all this (in Liverpool and
Manchester they would persuade you that your merchant and manufacturer
is your only gentleman and scholar)--but still, making every allowance
for the difference between the liberal trader and the sneaking
shopkeeper, I doubt whether the most surprising success is to be
accounted for from any such unusual attainments, or whether a man's
making half a million of money is a proof of his capacity for thought
in general. It is much oftener owing to views and wishes bounded but
constantly directed to one particular object. To succeed, a man should
aim only at success. The child of Fortune should resign himself into the
hands of Fortune. A plotting head frequently overreaches itself: a mind
confident of its resources and calculating powers enters on critical
speculations, which in a game depending so much on chance and unforeseen
events, and not entirely on intellectual skill, turn the odds greatly
against any one in the long run. The rule of business is to take what
you can get, and keep what you have got; or an eagerness in seizing
every opportunity that offers for promoting your own interest, and a
plodding, persevering industry in making the most of the advantages
you have already obtained, are the most effectual as well as the safest
ingredients in the composition of the mercantile character. The world
is a book in which the _Chapter of Accidents_ is none of the least
considerable; or it is a machine that must be left, in a great measure,
to turn itself. The most that a worldly-minded man can do is to stand at
the receipt of custom, and be constantly on the lookout for windfalls.
The true devotee in this way waits for the revelations of Fortune as
the poet waits for the inspiration of the Muse, and does not rashly
anticipate her favours. He must be neither capricious nor wilful. I have
known people untrammelled in the ways of business, but with so intense
an apprehension of their own interest, that they would grasp at the
slightest possibility of gain as a certainty, and were led into as many
mistakes by an overgriping, usurious disposition as they could have been
by the most thoughtless extravagance.--We hear a great outcry about the
want of judgment in men of genius. It is not a want of judgment, but an
excess of other things. They err knowingly, and are wilfully blind.
The understanding is out of the question. The profound judgment which
soberer people pique themselves upon is in truth a want of passion and
imagination. Give them an interest in anything, a sudden fancy, a bait
for their favourite foible, and who so besotted as they? Stir their
feelings, and farewell to their prudence! The understanding operates
as a motive to action only in the silence of the passions. I have heard
people of a sanguine temperament reproached with betting according to
their wishes, instead of their opinion who should win; and I have seen
those who reproached them do the very same thing the instant their own
vanity or prejudices are concerned. The most mechanical people, once
thrown off their balance, are the most extravagant and fantastical.
What passion is there so unmeaning and irrational as avarice itself? The
Dutch went mad for tulips, and ---- ---- for love! To return to what was
said a little way back, a question might be started, whether as thought
relates to the whole circumference of things and interests, and business
is confined to a very small part of them, viz. to a knowledge of a man's
own affairs and the making of his own fortune, whether a talent for
the latter will not generally exist in proportion to the narrowness and
grossness of his ideas, nothing drawing his attention out of his own
sphere, or giving him an interest except in those things which he can
realise and bring home to himself in the most undoubted shape? To the
man of business all the world is a fable but the Stock Exchange: to the
money-getter nothing has a real existence that he cannot convert into a
tangible feeling, that he does not recognise as property, that he cannot
'measure with a two-foot rule or count upon ten fingers.' The want
of thought, of imagination, drives the practical man upon immediate
realities: to the poet or philosopher all is real and interesting that
is true or possible, that can reach in its consequences to others, or be
made a subject of curious speculation to himself!

But is it right, then, to judge of action by the quantity of thought
implied in it, any more than it would be to condemn a life of
contemplation for being inactive? Or has not everything a source and
principle of its own, to which we should refer it, and not to the
principles of other things? He who succeeds in any pursuit in which
others fail may be presumed to have qualities of some sort or other
which they are without. If he has not brilliant wit, he may have solid
sense; if he has not subtlety of understanding, he may have energy
and firmness of purpose; if he has only a few advantages, he may have
modesty and prudence to make the most of what he possesses. Propriety is
one great matter in the conduct of life; which, though, like a graceful
carriage of the body, it is neither definable nor striking at first
sight, is the result of finely balanced feelings, and lends a secret
strength and charm to the whole character.

  Quicquid agit, quoquo vestigia vertit,
 Componit furtim, subsequiturque decor.

There are more ways than one in which the various faculties of the
mind may unfold themselves. Neither words nor ideas reducible to words
constitute the utmost limit of human capacity. Man is not a merely
talking nor a merely reasoning animal. Let us then take him as he is,
instead of 'curtailing him of nature's fair proportions' to suit our
previous notions. Doubtless, there are great characters both in active
and contemplative life. There have been heroes as well as sages,
legislators and founders of religion, historians and able statesmen
and generals, inventors of useful arts and instruments and explorers of
undiscovered countries, as well as writers and readers of books. It
will not do to set all these aside under any fastidious or pedantic
distinction. Comparisons are odious, because they are impertinent, and
lead only to the discovery of defects by making one thing the standard
of another which has no relation to it. If, as some one proposed, we
were to institute an inquiry, 'Which was the greatest man, Milton or
Cromwell, Buonaparte or Rubens?' we should have all the authors and
artists on one side, and all the military men and the whole diplomatic
body on the other, who would set to work with all their might to pull
in pieces the idol of the other party, and the longer the dispute
continued, the more would each grow dissatisfied with his favourite,
though determined to allow no merit to any one else. The mind is not
well competent to take in the full impression of more than one style of
excellence or one extraordinary character at once; contradictory claims
puzzle and stupefy it; and however admirable any individual may be
in himself and unrivalled in his particular way, yet if we try him by
others in a totally opposite class, that is, if we consider not what
he was but what he was not, he will be found to be nothing. We do not
reckon up the excellences on either side, for then these would satisfy
the mind and put an end to the comparison: we have no way of exclusively
setting up our favourite but by running down his supposed rival; and for
the gorgeous hues of Rubens, the lofty conceptions of Milton, the deep
policy and cautious daring of Cromwell, or the dazzling exploits and
fatal ambition of the modern chieftain, the poet is transformed into a
pedant, the artist sinks into a mechanic, the politician turns out no
better than a knave, and the hero is exalted into a madman. It is as
easy to get the start of our antagonist in argument by frivolous and
vexatious objections to one side of the question as it is difficult
to do full and heaped justice to the other. If I am asked which is
the greatest of those who have been the greatest in different ways, I
answer, the one that we happen to be thinking of at the time; for while
that is the case, we can conceive of nothing higher. If there is a
propensity in the vulgar to admire the achievements of personal prowess
or instances of fortunate enterprise too much, it cannot be denied that
those who have to weigh out and dispense the meed of fame in books have
been too much disposed, by a natural bias, to confine all merit and
talent to the productions of the pen, or at least to those works which,
being artificial or abstract representations of things, are transmitted
to posterity, and cried up as models in their kind. This, though
unavoidable, is hardly just. Actions pass away and are forgotten, or are
only discernible in their effects; conquerors, statesmen, and kings live
but by their names stamped on the page of history. Hume says rightly
that more people think about Virgil and Homer (and that continually)
than ever trouble their heads about Caesar or Alexander. In fact, poets
are a longer-lived race than heroes: they breathe more of the air of
immortality. They survive more entire in their thoughts and acts. We
have all that Virgil or Homer did, as much as if we had lived at the
same time with them: we can hold their works in our hands, or lay them
on our pillows, or put them to our lips. Scarcely a trace of what the
others did is left upon the earth, so as to be visible to common eyes.
The one, the dead authors, are living men, still breathing and moving
in their writings. The others, the conquerors of the world, are but the
ashes in an urn. The sympathy (so to speak) between thought and thought
is more intimate and vital than that between thought and action. Though
of admiration to the manes of departed heroism is like burning incense
in a marble monument. Words, ideas, feelings, with the progress of time
harden into substances: things, bodies, actions, moulder away, or melt
into a sound, into thin air!--Yet though the Schoolmen in the Middle
Ages disputed more about the texts of Aristotle than the battle of
Arbela, perhaps Alexander's Generals in his lifetime admired his pupil
as much and liked him better. For not only a man's actions are effaced
and vanish with him; his virtues and generous qualities die with him
also: his intellect only is immortal and bequeathed unimpaired to
posterity. Words are the only things that last for ever.

If, however, the empire of words and general knowledge is more durable
in proportion as it is abstracted and attenuated, it is less immediate
and dazzling: if authors are as good after they are dead as when they
were living, while living they might as well be dead: and moreover with
respect to actual ability, to write a book is not the only proof
of taste, sense, or spirit, as pedants would have us suppose. To do
anything well, to paint a picture, to fight a battle, to make a plough
or a threshing-machine, requires, one would think, as much skill and
judgment as to talk about or write a description of it when done. Words
are universal, intelligible signs, but they are not the only real,
existing things. Did not Julius Caesar show himself as much of a man in
conducting his campaigns as in composing his Commentaries? Or was the
Retreat of the Ten Thousand under Xenophon, or his work of that name,
the most consummate performance? Or would not Lovelace, supposing him to
have existed and to have conceived and executed all his fine stratagems
on the spur of the occasion, have been as clever a fellow as Richardson,
who invented them in cold blood? If to conceive and describe an heroic
character is the height of a literary ambition, we can hardly make it
out that to be and to do all that the wit of man can feign is nothing.
To use means to ends; to set causes in motion; to wield the machine of
society; to subject the wills of others to your own; to manage abler
men than yourself by means of that which is stronger in them than their
wisdom, viz. their weakness and their folly; to calculate the resistance
of ignorance and prejudice to your designs, and by obviating, to turn
them to account; to foresee a long, obscure, and complicated train of
events, of chances and openings of success; to unwind the web of others'
policy and weave your own out of it; to judge of the effects of
things, not in the abstract, but with reference to all their bearings,
ramifications, and impediments; to understand character thoroughly; to
see latent talent or lurking treachery; to know mankind for what they
are, and use them as they deserve; to have a purpose steadily in view,
and to effect it after removing every obstacle; to master others and be
true to yourself,--asks power and knowledge, both nerves and brain.

Such is the sort of talent that that may be shown and that has been
possessed by the great leaders on the stage of the world. To accomplish
great things argues, I imagine, great resolution: to design great things
implies no common mind. Ambition is in some sort genius. Though I would
rather wear out my life in arguing a broad speculative question than in
caballing for the election to a wardmote, or canvassing for votes in
a rotten borough, yet I should think that the loftiest Epicurean
philosopher might descend from his punctilio to identify himself with
the support of a great principle, or to prop a falling state. This
is what the legislators and founders of empire did of old; and the
permanence of their institutions showed the depth of the principles from
which they emanated. A tragic poem is not the worse for acting well:
if it will not bear this test it savours of effeminacy. Well-digested
schemes will stand the touchstone of experience. Great thoughts reduced
to practice become great acts. Again, great acts grow out of great
occasions, and great occasions spring from great principles, working
changes in society, and tearing it up by the roots. But I still conceive
that a genius for actions depends essentially on the strength of the
will rather than on that of the understanding; that the long-headed
calculation of causes and consequences arises from the energy of the
first cause, which is the will setting others in motion and prepared
to anticipate the results; that its sagacity is activity delighting in
meeting difficulties and adventures more than half-way, and its wisdom
courage not to shrink from danger, but to redouble its efforts with
opposition. Its humanity, if it has much, is magnanimity to spare the
vanquished, exulting in power but not prone to mischief, with good sense
enough to be aware of the instability of fortune, and with some regard
to reputation. What may serve as a criterion to try this question by
is the following consideration, that we sometimes find as remarkable
a deficiency of the speculative faculty coupled with great strength of
will and consequent success in active life as we do a want of voluntary
power and total incapacity for business frequently joined to the highest
mental qualifications. In some cases it will happen that 'to be wise
is to be obstinate.' If you are deaf to reason but stick to your own
purposes, you will tire others out, and bring them over to your way of
thinking. Self-will and blind prejudice are the best defence of actual
power and exclusive advantages. The forehead of the late king was not
remarkable for the character of intellect, but the lower part of his
face was expressive of strong passions and fixed resolution. Charles Fox
had an animated, intelligent eye, and brilliant, elastic forehead
(with a nose indicating fine taste), but the lower features were weak,
unsettled, fluctuating, and without _purchase_--it was in them the Whigs
were defeated. What a fine iron binding Buonaparte had round his face,
as if it bad been cased in steel! What sensibility about the mouth! What
watchful penetration in the eye! What a smooth, unruffled forehead! Mr.
Pitt, with little sunken eyes, had a high, retreating forehead, and a
nose expressing pride and aspiring self-opinion: it was on that (with
submission) that he suspended the decisions of the House of Commons and
dangled the Opposition as he pleased. Lord Castlereagh is a man rather
deficient than redundant in words and topics. He is not (any more than
St. Augustine was, in the opinion of La Fontaine) so great a wit as
Rabelais, nor is he so great a philosopher as Aristotle; but he has that
in him which is not to be trifled with. He has a noble mask of a face
(not well filled up in the expression, which is relaxed and dormant)
with a fine person and manner. On the strength of these he hazards his
speeches in the House.  He has also a knowledge of mankind, and of the
composition of the House. He takes a thrust which he cannot parry on his
shield--is 'all tranquillity and smiles' under a volley of abuse, sees
when to pay a compliment to a wavering antagonist, soothes the melting
mood of his hearers, or gets up a speech full of indignation, and knows
how to bestow his attentions on that great public body, whether he
wheedles or bullies, so as to bring it to compliance. With a long reach
of undefined purposes (the result of a temper too indolent for thought,
too violent for repose) he has equal perseverance and pliancy in
bringing his objects to pass. I would rather be Lord Castlereagh, as far
as a sense of power is concerned (principle is out of the question),
than such a man as Mr. Canning, who is a mere fluent sophist, and never
knows the limit of discretion, or the effect which will be produced by
what he says, except as far as florid common-places may be depended on.
Buonaparte is referred by Mr. Coleridge to the class of active rather
than of intellectual characters; and Cowley has left an invidious but
splendid eulogy on Oliver Cromwell, which sets out on much the same
principle. 'What,' he says, 'can be more extraordinary than that a
person of mean birth, no fortune, no eminent qualities of body, which
have sometimes, or of mind, which have often, raised men to the highest
dignities, should have the courage to attempt, and the happiness to
succeed in, so improbable a design as the destruction of one of the most
ancient and most solidly-founded monarchies upon the earth? That he
should have the power or boldness to put his prince and master to an
open and infamous death; to banish that numerous and strongly-allied
family; to do all this under the name and wages of a Parliament; to
trample upon them too as he pleased, and spurn them out of doors when he
grow weary of them; to raise up a new and unheard-of monster out of
their ashes; to stifle that in the very infancy, and set up himself
above all things that ever were called sovereign in England; to oppress
all his enemies by arms, and all his friends afterwards by artifice; to
serve all parties patiently for a while, and to command them
victoriously at last; to overrun each corner of the three nations, and
overcome with equal facility both the riches of the south and the
poverty of the north; to be feared and courted by all foreign princes,
and adopted a brother to the Gods of the earth; to call together
Parliaments with a word of his pen, and scatter them again with the
breath of his mouth; to be humbly and daily petitioned that he would
please to be hired, at the rate of two millions a year, to be the master
of those who had hired him before to be their servant; to have the
estates and lives of three kingdoms as much at his disposal as was the
little inheritance of his father, and to be as noble and liberal in the
spending of them; and lastly (for there is no end of all the particulars
of his glory), to bequeath all this with one word to his posterity; to
die with peace at home, and triumph abroad; to be buried among kings,
and with more than regal solemnity; and to leave a name behind him, not
to be extinguished but with the whole world; which as it is now too
little for his praises, so might have been too for his conquests, if the
short line of his human life could have been stretched out to the extent
of his immortal designs!'

Cromwell was a bad speaker and a worse writer. Milton wrote his
despatches for him in elegant and erudite Latin; and the pen of the one,
like the sword of the other, was 'sharp and sweet.' We have not that
union in modern times of the heroic and literary character which was
common among the ancients. Julius Caesar and Xenophon recorded their own
acts with equal clearness of style and modesty of temper. The Duke of
Wellington (worse off than Cromwell) is obliged to get Mr. Mudford to
write the History of his Life. Sophocles, AEschylus, and Socrates were
distinguished for their military prowess among their contemporaries,
though now only remembered for what they did in poetry and philosophy.
Cicero and Demosthenes, the two greatest orators of antiquity, appear
to have been cowards: nor does Horace seem to give a very favourable
picture of his martial achievements. But in general there was not that
division in the labours of the mind and body among the Greeks and Romans
that has been introduced among us either by the progress of civilisation
or by a greater slowness and inaptitude of parts. The French, for
instance, appear to unite a number of accomplishments, the literary
character and the man of the world, better than we do. Among us, a
scholar is almost another name for a pedant or a clown: it is not so
with them. Their philosophers and wits went into the world and mingled
in the society of the fair. Of this there needs no other proof than the
spirited print of most of the great names in French literature, to whom
Moliere is reading a comedy in the presence of the celebrated Ninon de
l'Enclos. D'Alembert, one of the first mathematicians of his age, was a
wit, a man of gallantry and letters. With us a learned man is absorbed
in himself and some particular study, and minds nothing else. There is
something ascetic and impracticable in his very constitution, and he
answers to the description of the Monk in Spenser--

 From every work he challenged essoin
 For contemplation's sake.

Perhaps the superior importance attached to the institutions of
religion, as well as the more abstracted and visionary nature of its
objects, has led (as a general result) to a wider separation between
thought and action in modern times.

Ambition is of a higher and more heroic strain than avarice. Its objects
are nobler, and the means by which it attains its ends less mechanical.

 Better be lord of them that riches have,
 Than riches have myself, and be their servile slave.

The incentive to ambition is the love of power; the spur to avarice is
either the fear of poverty or a strong desire of self-indulgence. The
amassers of fortunes seem divided into two opposite classes--lean,
penurious-looking mortals, or jolly fellows who are determined to get
possession of, because they want to enjoy, the good things of the wo
others, in the fulness of their persons and the robustness of their
constitutions, seem to bespeak the reversion of a landed estate, rich
acres, fat beeves, a substantial mansion, costly clothing, a chine and
curkey, choice wines, and all other good things consonant to the wants
and full-fed desires of their bodies. Such men charm fortune by the
sleekness of their aspects and the goodly rotundity of their honest
faces, as the others scare away poverty by their wan, meagre looks. The
last starve themselves into riches by care and carking; the first
eat, drink, and sleep their way into the good things of this life. The
greatest number of _warm_ men in the city are good, jolly follows. Look
at Sir William -----. Callipash and callipee are written in his face: he
rolls about his unwieldy bulk in a sea of turtle-soup. How many haunches
of venison does he carry on his back! He is larded with jobs and
contracts: he is stuffed and swelled out with layers of bank-notes
and invitations to dinner! His face hangs out a flag of defiance to
mischance: the roguish twinkle in his eye with which he lures half the
city and beats Alderman ----- hollow, is a smile reflected from heaps
of unsunned gold! Nature and Fortune are not so much at variance as to
differ about this fellow. To enjoy the good the Gods provide us is to
deserve it. Nature meant him for a Knight, Alderman, and City Member;
and Fortune laughed to see the goodly person and prospects of the
man!(2) I am not, from certain early prejudices, much to admire the
ostentatious marks of wealth (there are persons enough to admire them
without me)--but I confess, there is something in the look of the old
banking-houses in Lombard Street, the posterns covered with mud, the
doors opening sullenly and silently, the absence of all pretence, the
darkness and the gloom within, the gleaming of lamps in the day-time,

 Like a faint shadow of uncertain light,

that almost realises the poetical conception of the cave of Mammon in
Spenser, where dust and cobwebs concealed the roofs and pillars of solid
gold, and lifts the mind quite off its ordinary hinges. The account
of the manner in which the founder of Guy's Hospital accumulated his
immense wealth has always to me something romantic in it, from the same
force of contrast. He was a little shop-keeper, and out of his savings
bought Bibles and purchased seamen's tickets in Queen Anne's wars,
by which he left a fortune of two hundred thousand pounds. The story
suggests the idea of a magician; nor is there anything in the _Arabian
Nights_ that looks more like a fiction.


(1) When Buonaparte left the Chamber of Deputies to go and fight his
last fatal battle, he advised them not to be debating the forms of
Constitutions when the enemy was at their gates. Benjamin Constant
thought otherwise. He wanted to play a game at _cat's-cradle_ between
the Republicans and Royalists, and lost his match. He did not care, so
that he hampered a more efficient man than himself.

(2) A thorough fitness for any end implies the means. Where there is a
will, there is a way. A real passion, an entire devotion to any object,
always succeeds. The strong sympathy with what we wish and imagine
realises it, dissipates all obstacles, and removes all scruples. The
disappointed lover may complain as much as he pleases. He was himself to
blame. He was a half-witted, _wishy-washy_ fellow. His love might be as
great as he makes it out; but it was not his ruling passion. His fear,
his pride, his vanity was greater. Let any one's whole soul be steeped
in this passion; let him think and care for nothing else; let nothing
divert, cool, or intimidate him; let the _ideal_ feeling become an
actual one and take possession of his whole faculties, looks, and
manner; let the same voluptuous hopes and wishes govern his actions in
the presence of his mistress that haunt his fancy in her absence, and I
will answer for his success. But I will not answer for the success of 'a
dish of skimmed milk' in such a case.--I could always get to see a fine
collection of pictures myself. The fact is, I was set upon it. Neither
the surliness of porters nor the impertinence of footmen could keep me
back. I had a portrait of Titian in my eye, and nothing could put me out
in my determination. If that had not (as it were) been looking on me
all the time I was battling my way, I should have been irritated or
disconcerted, and gone away. But my liking to the end conquered my
scruples or aversion to the means. I never understood the Scotch
character but on these occasions. I would not take 'No' for an answer.
If I had wanted a place under government or a writership to India, I
could have got it from the same importunity, and on the same terms.


Few things show the human character in a more ridiculous light than the
circumstance of will-making. It is the latest opportunity we have of
exercising the natural perversity of the disposition, and we take care
to make a good use of it. We husband it with jealousy, put it off as
long as we can, and then use every precaution that the world shall be
no gainer by our deaths. This last act of our lives seldom belies the
former tenor of them for stupidity, caprice, and unmeaning spite. All
that we seem to think of is to manage matters so (in settling accounts
with those who are so unmannerly as to survive us) as to do as little
good, and to plague and disappoint as many people, as possible.

Many persons have a superstition on the subject of making their last
will and testament, and think that when everything is ready signed and
sealed, there is nothing further left to delay their departure. I have
heard of an instance of one person who, having a feeling of this kind
on his mind, and being teased into making his will by those about him,
actually fell ill with pure apprehension, and thought he was going to
die in good earnest, but having executed the deed over-night, awoke, to
his great surprise, the next morning, and found himself as well as ever
he was.(1)

An elderly gentleman possessed of a good estate and the same idle
notion, and who found himself in a dangerous way, was anxious to do this
piece of justice to those who remained behind him, but when it came to
the point, his heart failed him, and his nervous fancies returned in
full force. Even on his death-bed he still held back and was averse to
sign what he looked upon as his own death-warrant, and just at the last
gasp, amidst the anxious looks and silent upbraidings of friends and
relatives that surrounded him, he summoned resolution to hold out his
feeble hand, which was guided by others, to trace his name, and he fell
back--a corpse! If there is any pressing reason for it, that is, if
any particular person would be relieved from a state of harassing
uncertainty or materially benefited by their making a will, the old and
infirm (who do not like to be put out of their way) generally make this
an excuse to themselves for putting it off to the very last moment,
probably till it is too late; or where this is sure to make the greatest
number of blank faces, contrive to give their friends the slip, without
signifying their final determination in their favour. Where some
unfortunate individual has been kept long in suspense, who has been
perhaps sought out for that very purpose, and who may be in a great
measure dependent on this as a last resource, it is nearly a certainty
that there will be no will to be found; no trace, no sign to discover
whether the person dying thus intestate ever had any intention of the
sort, or why they relinquished it. This is to bespeak the thoughts and
imaginations of others for victims after we are dead, as well as
their persons and expectations for hangers-on while we are living. A
celebrated beauty of the middle of the last century, towards its close,
sought out a female relative, the friend and companion of her youth,
who had lived during the forty years of their separation in rather
straitened circumstances, and in a situation which admitted of some
alleviations. Twice they met after that long lapse of time--once her
relation visited her in the splendour of a rich old family mansion, and
once she crossed the country to become an inmate of the humble dwelling
of her early and only remaining friend. What was this for? Was it to
revive the image of her youth in the pale and careworn face of her
friend? Or was it to display the decay of her charms and recall her
long-forgotten triumphs to the memory of the only person who could bear
witness to them? Was it to show the proud remains of herself to those
who remembered or had often heard what she was--her skin like shrivelled
alabaster, her emaciated features chiselled by Nature's finest hand, her
eyes that, when a smile lighted them up, still shone like diamonds,
the vermilion hues that still bloomed among wrinkles? Was it to talk
of bone-lace, of the flounces and brocades of the last century, of
race-balls in the year '62, and of the scores of lovers that had died at
her feet, and to set whole counties in a flame again, only with a dream
of faded beauty? Whether it was for this, or whether she meant to leave
her friend anything (as was indeed expected, all things considered, not
without reason), nobody knows--for she never breathed a syllable on the
subject herself, and died without a will. The accomplished coquette
of twenty, who had pampered hopes only to kill them, who had kindled
rapture with a look and extinguished it with a breath, could find no
better employment at seventy than to revive the fond recollections and
raise up the drooping hopes of her kinswoman only to let them fall--to
rise no more. Such is the delight we have in trifling with and
tantalising the feelings of others by the exquisite refinements, the
studied sleights of love or friendship!

Where a property is actually bequeathed, supposing the circumstances of
the case and the usages of society to leave a practical discretion to
the testator, it is most frequently in such portions as can be of the
least service. Where there is much already, much is given; where much is
wanted, little or nothing. Poverty invites a sort of pity, a miserable
dole of assistance; necessity, neglect and scorn; wealth attracts and
allures to itself more wealth by natural association of ideas or by that
innate love of inequality and injustice which is the favourite principle
of the imagination. Men like to collect money into large heaps in their
lifetime; they like to leave it in large heaps after they are dead. They
grasp it into their own hands, not to use it for their own good, but to
hoard, to lock it up, to make an object, an idol, and a wonder of it. Do
you expect them to distribute it so as to do others good; that they will
like those who come after them better than themselves; that if they
were willing to pinch and starve themselves, they will not deliberately
defraud their sworn friends and nearest kindred of what would be of the
utmost use to them? No, they will thrust their heaps of gold and silver
into the hands of others (as their proxies) to keep for them untouched,
still increasing, still of no use to any one, but to pamper pride and
avarice, to glitter in the huge, watchful, insatiable eye of fancy, to
be deposited as a new offering at the shrine of Mammon, their God,--this
is with them to put it to its intelligible and proper use; this is
fulfilling a sacred, indispensable duty; this cheers them in the
solitude of the grave, and throws a gleam of satisfaction across the
stony eye of death. But to think of frittering it down, of sinking it
in charity, of throwing it away on the idle claims of humanity, where
it would no longer peer in monumental pomp over their heads,--and that,
too, when on the point of death themselves, _in articulo mortis,_ oh!
it would be madness, waste, extravagance, impiety!--Thus worldlings feel
and argue without knowing it; and while they fancy they are studying
their own interest or that of some booby successor, their _alter
idem,_ are but the dupes and puppets of a favourite idea, a phantom, a
prejudice, that must be kept up somewhere (no matter where), if it still
plays before and haunts their imagination, while they have sense or
understanding left to cling to their darling follies.

There was a remarkable instance of this tendency _to the heap,_ this
desire to cultivate an abstract passion for wealth, in a will of one of
the Thelussons some time back. This will went to keep the greater part
of a large property from the use of the natural heirs and next-of-kin
for a length of time, and to let it accumulate at compound interest in
such a way and so long, that it would at last mount up in value to the
purchase-money of a whole county. The interest accruing from the funded
property or the rent of the lands at certain periods was to be employed
to purchase other estates, other parks and manors in the neighbourhood
or farther off, so that the prospect of the future demesne that was to
devolve at some distant time to the unborn lord of acres swelled and
enlarged itself, like a sea, circle without circle, vista beyond vista,
till the imagination was staggered and the mind exhausted. Now here was
a scheme for the accumulation of wealth and for laying the foundation of
family aggrandisement purely imaginary, romantic--one might almost
say, disinterested. The vagueness, the magnitude, the remoteness of the
object, the resolute sacrifice of all immediate and gross advantages,
clothe it with the privileges of an abstract idea, so that the project
has the air of a fiction or of a story in a novel. It was an instance
of what might be called posthumous avarice, like the love of posthumous
fame. It had little more to do with selfishness than if the testator
had appropriated the same sums in the same way to build a pyramid,
to construct an aqueduct, to endow a hospital, or effect any other
patriotic or merely fantastic purpose. He wished to heap up a pile of
wealth (millions of acres) in the dim horizon of future years, that
could be of no use to him or to those with whom he was connected by
positive and personal ties, but as a crotchet of the brain, a gewgaw of
the fancy.(2) Yet to enable himself to put this scheme in execution, he
had perhaps toiled and watched all his life, denied himself rest,
food, pleasure, liberty, society, and persevered with the patience and
self-denial of a martyr. I have insisted on this point the more, to show
how much of the imaginary and speculative there is interfused even in
those passions and purposes which have not the good of others for their
object, and how little reason this honest citizen and builder of castles
in the air would have had to treat those who devoted themselves to the
pursuit of fame, to obloquy and persecution for the sake of truth and
liberty, or who sacrificed their lives for their country in a just
cause, as visionaries and enthusiasts, who did not understand what was
properly due to their own interest and the securing of the main chance.
Man is not the creature of sense and selfishness, even in those pursuits
which grow out of that origin, so much as of imagination, custom,
passion, whim, and humour.

I have heard of a singular instance of a will made by a person who was
addicted to a habit of lying. He was so notorious for this propensity
(not out of spite or cunning, but as a gratuitous exercise of invention)
that from a child no one could ever believe a syllable he uttered. From
the want of any dependence to be placed on him, he became the jest and
by-word of the school where he was brought up. The last act of his
life did not disgrace him; for, having gone abroad, and falling into a
dangerous decline, he was advised to return home. He paid all that
he was worth for his passage, went on ship-board, and employed a few
remaining days he had to live in making and executing his will; in which
he bequeathed large estates in different parts of England, money in the
funds, rich jewels, rings, and all kinds of valuables to his old friends
and acquaintance, who, not knowing how far the force of nature could go,
were not for some time convinced that all this fairy wealth had never
had an existence anywhere but in the idle coinage of his brain, whose
whims and projects were no more!--The extreme keeping in this character
is only to be accounted for by supposing such an original constitutional
levity as made truth entirely indifferent to him, and the serious
importance attached to it by others an object of perpetual sport and

The art of will-making chiefly consists in baffling the importunity of
expectation. I do not so much find fault with this when it is done as
a punishment and oblique satire on servility and selfishness. It is
in that case _Diamond cut Diamond_--a trial of skill between the
legacy-hunter and the legacy-maker, which shall fool the other. The
cringing toad-eater, the officious tale-bearer, is perhaps well paid for
years of obsequious attendance with a bare mention and a mourning-ring;
nor can I think that Gil Blas' library was not quite as much as the
coxcombry of his pretensions deserved. There are some admirable scenes
in Ben Jonson's _Volpone,_ showing the humours of a legacy-hunter, and
the different ways of fobbing him off with excuses and assurances of not
being forgotten. Yet it is hardly right, after all, to encourage this
kind of pitiful, barefaced intercourse without meaning to pay for it,
as the coquette has no right to jilt the lovers she has trifled with.
Flattery and submission are marketable commodities like any other, have
their price, and ought scarcely to be obtained under false pretences. If
we see through and despise the wretched creature that attempts to impose
on our credulity, we can at any time dispense with his services: if we
are soothed by this mockery of respect and friendship, why not pay him
like any other drudge, or as we satisfy the actor who performs a part
in a play by our particular desire? But often these premeditated
disappointments are as unjust as they are cruel, and are marked with
circumstances of indignity, in proportion to the worth of the object.
The suspecting, the taking it for granted that your name is down in the
will, is sufficient provocation to have it struck out: the hinting at
an obligation, the consciousness of it on the part of the testator,
will make him determined to avoid the formal acknowledgment of it at any
expense. The disinheriting of relations is mostly for venial offences,
not for base actions: we punish out of pique, to revenge some case in
which we been disappointed of our wills, some act of disobedience
to what had no reasonable ground to go upon; and we are obstinate in
adhering to our resolution, as it was sudden and rash, and doubly bent
on asserting our authority in what we have least right to interfere in.
It is the wound inflicted upon our self-love, not the stain upon
the character of the thoughtless offender, that calls for condign
punishment. Crimes, vices may go unchecked or unnoticed; but it is the
laughing at our weaknesses, or thwarting our humours, that is never
to be forgotten. It is not the errors of others, but our own
miscalculations, on which we wreak our lasting vengeance. It is
ourselves that we cannot forgive. In the will of Nicholas Gimcrack the
virtuoso, recorded in the _Tatler,_ we learn, among other items, that
his eldest son is cut off with a single cockleshell for his undutiful
behaviour in laughing at his little sister whom his father kept
preserved in spirits of wine. Another of his relations has a collection
of grasshoppers bequeathed him, as in the testator's opinion an adequate
reward and acknowledgment due to his merit. The whole will of the said
Nicholas Gimcrack, Esq., is a curious document and exact picture of
the mind of the worthy virtuoso defunct, where his various follies,
littlenesses, and quaint humours are set forth as orderly and distinct
as his butterflies' wings and cockle-shells and skeletons of fleas in
glass cases.(3) We often successfully try, in this way, to give the
finishing stroke to our pictures, hang up our weaknesses in perpetuity,
and embalm our mistakes in the memories of others.

 Even from the tomb the voice of nature cries,
 Even in our ashes live their wonted fires.

I shall not speak here of unwarrantable commands imposed upon survivors,
by which they were to carry into effect the sullen and revengeful
purposes of unprincipled men, after they had breathed their last; but we
meet with continual examples of the desire to keep up the farce (if not
the tragedy) of life after we, the performers in it, have quitted the
stage, and to have our parts rehearsed by proxy. We thus make a caprice
immortal, a peculiarity proverbial. Hence we see the number of legacies
and fortunes left on condition that the legatee shall take the name and
style of the testator, by which device we provide for the continuance
of the sounds that formed our names, and endow them with an estate, that
they may be repeated with proper respect. In the _Memoirs of an Heiress_
all the difficulties of the plot turn on the necessity imposed by a
clause in her uncle's will that her future husband should take the
family name of Beverley. Poor Cecilia! What delicate perplexities she
was thrown into by this improvident provision; and with what minute,
endless, intricate distresses has the fair authoress been enabled to
harrow up the reader on this account! There was a Sir Thomas Dyot in the
reign of Charles II. who left the whole range of property which forms
Dyot Street, in St. Giles's, and the neighbourhood, on the sole and
express condition that it should be appropriated entirely to that sort
of buildings, and to the reception of that sort of population, which
still keeps undisputed, undivided possession of it. The name was changed
the other day to George Street as a more genteel appellation, which, I
should think, is an indirect forfeiture of the estate. This Sir
Thomas Dyot I should be disposed to put upon the list of old English
worthies--as humane, liberal, and no flincher from what he took in
his head. He was no common-place man in his line. He was the best
commentator on that old-fashioned text--'The foxes have holes, and the
birds of the air have nests, but the Son of man hath not where to lay
his head.' We find some that are curious in the mode in which they
shall be buried, and others in the place. Lord Camelford had his
remains buried under an ash tree that grew on one of the mountains in
Switzerland; and Sir Francis Bourgeois had a little mausoleum built for
him in the college at Dulwich, where he once spent a pleasant, jovial
day with the masters and wardens.(4) It is, no doubt, proper to attend,
except for strong reasons to the contrary, to these sort of requests;
for by breaking faith with the dead we loosen the confidence of the
living. Besides, there is a stronger argument: we sympathise with the
dead as well as with the living, and are bound to them by the most
sacred of all ties, our own involuntary follow-feeling with others!

Thieves, as a last donation, leave advice to their friends, physicians a
nostrum, authors a manuscript work, rakes a confession of their faith
in the virtue of the sex--all, the last drivellings of their egotism and
impertinence. One might suppose that if anything could, the approach
and contemplation of death might bring men to a sense of reason and
self-knowledge. On the contrary, it seems only to deprive them of the
little wit they had, and to make them even more the sport of their
wilfulness and shortsightedness. Some men think that because they are
going to be hanged, they are fully authorised to declare a future state
of rewards and punishments. All either indulge their caprices or cling
to their prejudices. They make a desperate attempt to escape from
reflection by taking hold of any whim or fancy that crosses their minds,
or by throwing themselves implicitly on old habits and attachments.

An old man is twice a child: the dying man becomes the property of his
family. He has no choice left, and his voluntary power is merged in
old saws and prescriptive usages. The property we have derived from our
kindred reverts tacitly to them; and not to let it take its course is a
sort of violence done to nature as well as custom. The idea of property,
of something in common, does not mix cordially with friendship, but is
inseparable from near relationship. We owe a return in kind, where we
feel no obligation for a favour; and consign our possessions to our
next-of-kin as mechanically as we lean our heads on the pillow, and go
out of the world in the same state of stupid amazement that we came into
it!..._Caetera desunt._


(1) A poor woman at Plymouth who did not like the formality, or could
not afford the expense of a will, thought to leave what little property
she had in wearing apparel and household moveables to her friends and
relations, _viva voce_, and before Death stopped her breath. She gave
and willed away (of her proper authority) her chair and table to one,
her bed to another, an old cloak to a third, a night-cap and petticoat
to a fourth, and so on. The old crones sat weeping round, and soon
after carried off all they could lay their hands upon, and left their
benefactress to her fate. They were no sooner gone than she unexpectedly
recovered, and sent to have her things back again; but not one of them
could she get, and she was left without a rag to her back, or a friend
to condole with her.

(2) The law of primogeniture has its origin in the principle here
stated, the desire of perpetuating some one palpable and prominent proof
of wealth and power.

(3) It is as follows:

'The Will of a Virtuoso.

I, Nicholas Gimcrack, being in sound Health of Mind, but in great
Weakness of Body, do by this my Last Will and Testament bequeath my
worldly Goods and Chattels in Manner following:--

Imprimis, To my dear Wife, One Box of Butterflies, One Drawer of Shells,
A Female Skeleton, A Dried Cockatrice.

Item, To my Daughter Elizabeth, My Receipt for preserving dead
Caterpillars, As also my Preparations of Winter May-Dew, and Embrio

Item, to my little Daughter Fanny, Three Crocodiles' Eggs.

And upon the Birth of her first Child, if she marries with her Mother's
Consent, The Nest of a Humming Bird.

Item, To my eldest Brother, as an acknowledgment for the Lands he
has vested in my Son Charles, I bequeath My last Year's Collection of

Item, To his Daughter Susanna, being his only Child, I bequeath my
English Weeds pasted on Royal Paper, With my large Folio of Indian

Having fully provided for my Nephew Isaac, by making over to him some
years since A horned Searaboeus, The Skin of a Rattle-Snake, and The
Mummy of an Egyptian King, I make no further Provision for him in this
my Will.

I My eldest Son John having spoken disrespectfully of his little Sister,
whom I keep by me in Spirits of Wine, and in many other Instances
behaved himself undutifully towards me, I do disinherit, and wholly cut
off from any Part of this my Personal Estate, by giving him a single

To my Second Son Charles, I give and bequeath all my Flowers, Plants,
Minerals, Mosses, Shells, Pebbles, Fossils, Beetles, Butterflies,
Caterpillars, Grasshoppers, and Vermin, not above specified: As also
my Monsters, both wet and dry, making the said Charles whole and sole
Executor of this my Last Will and Testament, he paying or causing to
be paid the aforesaid Legacies within the Space of Six Months after
my Decease. And I do hereby revoke all other Wills whatsoever by me
formerly made.'--_Tatler,_ vol. iv. No. 216.

(4) Kellerman lately left his heart to be buried in the field of Valmy,
where the first great battle was fought in the year 1792, in which the
Allies were repulsed. Oh! might that heart prove the root from which the
tree of Liberty may spring up and flourish once more, as the basil tree
grew and grew from the cherished head of Isabella's lover!


The two chief points which Sir Joshua aims at in his _Discourses_ are to
show that excellence in the Fine Arts is the result of pains and study
rather than of genius, and that all beauty, grace, and grandeur are to
be found, not in actual nature, but in an idea existing in the mind.
On both these points he appears to have fallen into considerable
inconsistencies or very great latitude of expression, so as to make it
difficult to know what conclusion to draw from his various reasonings.
I shall attempt little more in this Essay than to bring together several
passages that, from their contradictory import, seem to imply some
radical defect in Sir Joshua's theory, and a doubt as to the possibility
of placing an implicit reliance on his authority.

To begin with the first of these subjects, the question of original
genius. In the Second Discourse, 'On the Method of Study,' Sir Joshua
observes towards the end:

'There is one precept, however, in which I shall only be opposed by the
vain, the ignorant, and the idle. I am not afraid that I shall repeat it
too often. You must have no dependence on your own genius. If you have
great talents, industry will improve them: if you have but moderate
abilities, industry will supply their deficiency. Nothing is denied to
well-directed labour; nothing is to be obtained without it. Not to enter
into metaphysical discussions on the nature or essence of genius, I
will venture to assert that assiduity unabated by difficulty, and a
disposition eagerly directed to the object of its pursuit, will
produce effects similar to those which some call the result of _natural

The only tendency of the maxim here laid down seems to be to lure
those students on with the hopes of excellence who have no chance of
succeeding, and to deter those who have from relying on the only prop
and source of real excellence--the strong bent and impulse of their
natural powers. Industry alone can only produce mediocrity; but
mediocrity in art is not worth the trouble of industry. Genius, great
natural powers, will give industry and ardour in the pursuit of their
proper object, but not if you divert them from that object into
the trammels of common-place mechanical labour. By this method you
neutralise all distinction of character--make a pedant of the blockhead
and a drudge of the man of genius. What, for instance, would have been
the effect of persuading Hogarth or Rembrandt to place no dependence on
their own genius, and to apply themselves to the general study of the
different branches of the art and of every sort of excellence, with a
confidence of success proportioned to their misguided efforts, but to
destroy both those great artists? 'You take my house when you do take
the prop that doth sustain my house!' You undermine the superstructure
of art when you strike at its main pillar and support, confidence and
faith in nature. We might as well advise a person who had discovered a
silver or a lead mine on his estate to close it up, or the common farmer
to plough up every acre he rents in the hope of discovering hidden
treasure, as advise the man of original genius to neglect his particular
vein for the study of rules and the imitation of others, or try to
persuade the man of no strong natural powers that he can supply their
deficiency by laborious application. Sir Joshua soon after, in the Third
Discourse, alluding to the terms, _inspiration, genius, gusto,_ applied
by critics and orators to painting, proceeds:

'Such is the warmth with which both the Ancients and Moderns speak of
this divine principle of the art; but, as I have formerly observed,
enthusiastic admiration seldom promotes knowledge. Though a student
by such praise may have his attention roused and a desire excited of
running in this great career, yet it is possible that what has been said
to excite may only serve to deter him. He examines his own mind, and
perceives there nothing of that divine inspiration with which, he is
told, so many others have been favoured. He never travelled to heaven
to gather new ideas; and he finds himself possessed of no other
qualifications than what mere common observation and a plain
understanding can confer. Thus he becomes gloomy amidst the splendour of
figurative declamation, and thinks it hopeless to pursue an object which
he supposes out of the reach of human industry.'

Yet presently after he adds:

'It is not easy to define in what this great style consists; nor to
describe by words the proper means of acquiring it, _if the mind of the
student should be at all capable of such an acquisition._ Could we teach
taste or genius by rules, they would be no longer taste and genius.'

Here, then, Sir Joshua admits that it is a question whether the student
is likely _to be at all capable of such an acquisition_ as the higher
excellencies of art, though he had said in the passage just quoted above
that it is within the reach of constant assiduity and of a disposition
eagerly directed to the object of its pursuit to effect all that is
usually considered as the result of natural powers. Is the theory
which our author means to inculcate a mere delusion, a mere arbitrary
assumption? At one moment Sir Joshua attributes the hopelessness of the
student to attain perfection to the discouraging influence of certain
figurative and overstrained expressions, and in the next doubts his
capacity for such an acquisition under any circumstances. Would he have
him hope against hope, then? If he 'examines his own mind and finds
nothing there of that divine inspiration with which he is told so many
others have been favoured,' but which he has never felt himself; if
'he finds himself possessed of no other qualifications' for the highest
efforts of genius and imagination 'than what mere common observation and
a plain understanding can confer,' he may as well desist at once from
'ascending the brightest heaven of invention':--if the very idea of the
divinity of art deters instead of animating him, if the enthusiasm
with which others speak of it damps the flame in his own breast, he had
better not enter into a competition where he wants the first principle
of success, the daring to aspire and the hope to excel. He may be
assured he is not the man. Sir Joshua himself was not struck at first
by the sight of the masterpieces of the great style of art, and he seems
unconsciously to have adopted this theory to show that he might still
have succeeded in it but for want of due application. His hypothesis
goes to this--to make the common run of his readers fancy they can do
all that can be done by genius, and to make the mail of genius believe
he can only do what is to be done by mechanical rules and systematic
industry. This is not a very feasible scheme; nor is Sir Joshua
sufficiently clear and explicit in his reasoning in support of it.

In speaking of Carlo Maratti, he confesses the inefficiency of this
doctrine in a very remarkable manner:--

'Carlo Maratti succeeded better than those I have first named, and I
think owes his superiority to the extension of his views: besides his
master Andrea Sacchi, he imitated Raffaelle, Guido, and the Caraccis.
It is true, there is nothing very captivating in Carlo Maratti; but this
proceeded from a want which cannot be completely supplied; that is, want
of strength of parts. _In this certainly men are not equal;_ and a man
can bring home wares only in proportion with the capital with which he
goes to market. Carlo, by diligence, made the most of what he had;
but there was undoubtedly a heaviness about him, which extended itself
uniformly to his invention, expression, his drawing, colouring, and the
general effect of his pictures. The truth is, he never equalled any of
his patterns in any one thing, and he added little of his own.'

Here, then, Reynolds, we see, fairly gives up the argument. Carlo, after
all, was a heavy hand; nor could all his diligence and his making
the most of what he had make up for the want of 'natural powers.' Sir
Joshua's good sense pointed out to him the truth in the individual
instance, though he might be led astray by a vague general theory. Such,
however, is the effect of a false principle that there is an evident
bias in the artist's mind to make genius lean upon others for support,
instead of trusting to itself and developing its own incommunicable
resources. So in treating in the Twelfth Discourse of the way in which
great artists are formed, Sir Joshua reverts very nearly to his first

'The daily food and nourishment of the mind of an Artist is found in the
great works of his predecessors. There is no other way for him to become
great himself. _Serpens, nigi serpentem comederit, non fit draco._
Raffaelle, as appears from what has been said, had carefully studied the
works of Masaccio, and indeed there was no other, if we except Michael
Angelo (whom he likewise imitated),(1) so worthy of his attention; and
though his manner was dry and hard, his compositions formal, and not
enough diversified, according to the custom of Painters in that early
period, yet his works possess that grandeur and simplicity which
accompany, and even sometimes proceed from, regularity and hardness
of manner. We must consider the barbarous state of the arts before his
time, when skill in drawing was so little understood, that the best
of the painters could not even foreshorten the foot, but every figure
appeared to stand upon his toes, and what served for drapery had, from
the hardness and smallness of the folds, too much the appearance of
cords clinging round the body. He first introduced large drapery,
flowing in an easy and natural manner; indeed, he appears to be the
first who discovered the path that leads to every excellence to which
the art afterwards arrived, and may therefore be justly considered as
one of the Great Fathers of Modern Art.

'Though I have been led on to a longer digression respecting this
great painter than I intended, yet I cannot avoid mentioning another
excellence which he possessed in a very eminent degree: he was as much
distinguished among his contemporaries for his diligence and industry
_as he was for the natural faculties of his mind._ We are told that
his whole attention was absorbed in the pursuit of his art, and that he
acquired the name of Masaccio from his total disregard to his dress,
his person, and all the common concerns of life. He is indeed _a signal
instance of what well-directed diligence_ will do in a short time: he
lived but twenty-seven years, yet in that short space carried the art so
far beyond what it had before reached, that he appears to stand alone
as a model for his successors. Vasari gives a long catalogue of painters
and sculptors who formed their taste and learned their art by studying
his works; among those, he names Michael Angelo, Leonardo da Vinci,
Pietro Perugino, Raffaelle, Bartholomeo, Andrea del Sarto, Il Rosso, and
Pierino del Vaga.'

Sir Joshua here again halts between two opinions. He tells us the names
of the painters who formed themselves upon Masaccio's style: he does not
tell us on whom he formed himself. At one time the natural faculties of
his mind were as remarkable as his industry; at another he was only a
signal instance of what well-directed diligence will do in a short t
that leads to every excellence to which the Art afterwards arrived,'
though he is introduced in an argument to show that 'the daily food and
nourishment of the mind of the Artist must be found in the works of
his predecessors.' There is something surely very wavering and
unsatisfactory in all this.

Sir Joshua, in another part of his work, endeavours to reconcile and
prop up these contradictions by a paradoxical sophism which I think
turns upon himself. He says: 'I am on the contrary persuaded, that by
imitation only' (by which he has just explained himself to mean the
study of other masters), 'variety, and even originality of invention is
produced. I will go further: even genius, at least, what is so called,
is the child of imitation. But as this appears to be contrary to the
general opinion, I must explain my position before I enforce it.

'Genius is supposed to be a power of producing excellencies which are
out of the reach of the rules of art: a power which no precepts can
teach, and which no industry can acquire.

'This opinion of the impossibility of acquiring those beauties which
stamp the work with the character of genius, supposes that it is
something more fixed than in reality it is, and that we always do and
ever did agree in opinion with respect to what should be considered as
the characteristic of genius. But the truth is, that the _degree_ of
excellence which proclaims _Genius_ is different in different times and
different places; and what shows it to be so is, that mankind have often
changed their opinion upon this matter.

'When the Arts were in their infancy, the power of merely drawing the
likeness of any object was considered as one of its greatest efforts.
The common people, ignorant of the principles of art, talk the same
language even to this day. But when it was found that every man could
be taught to do this, and a great deal more, merely by the observance of
certain precepts, the name of Genius then shifted its application, and
was given only to him who added the peculiar character of the object he
represented--to him who had invention, expression, grace, or dignity;
in short, those qualities or excellencies, the power of producing which
could not _then_ be taught by any known and promulgated rules.

'We are very sure that the beauty of form, the expression of the
passions, the art of composition, even the power of giving a general
air of grandeur to a work, is at present very much under the dominion
of rules. These excellencies were heretofore considered merely as the
effects of genius; and justly, if genius is not taken for inspiration,
but as the effect of close observation and experience.'

Sir Joshua began with undertaking to show that 'genius was the child
of the imitation of others, and now it turns out not to be inspiration
indeed, but the effect of close observation and experience.' The
whole drift of this argument appears to be contrary to what the writer
intended, for the obvious inference is that the essence of genius
consists entirely, both in kind and degree, in the single circumstance
of originality. The very same things are or are not genius, according as
they proceed from invention or from mere imitation. In so far as a
thing is original, as it has never been done before, it acquires and it
deserves the appellation of genius: in so far as it is not original,
and is borrowed from others or taught by rule, it is not, neither is it
called, genius. This does not make much for the supposition that genius
is a traditional and second-hand quality. Because, for example, a man
without much genius can copy a picture of Michael Angelo's, does it
follow that there was no genius in the original design, or that the
inventor and copyist are equal? If indeed, as Sir Joshua labours to
prove, mere imitation of existing models and attention to established
rules could produce results exactly similar to those of natural powers,
if the progress of art as a learned profession were a gradual but
continual accumulation of individual excellence, instead of being a
sudden and almost miraculous start to the highest beauty and grandeur
nearly at first, and a regular declension to mediocrity ever after,
then indeed the distinction between genius and imitation would be little
worth contending for; the causes might be different, the effects would
be the same, or rather skill to avail ourselves of external advantages
would be of more importance and efficacy than the most powerful internal
resources. But as the case stands, all the great works of art have been
the offspring of individual genius, either projecting itself before the
general advances of society or striking out a separate path for itself;
all the rest is but labour in vain. For every purpose of emulation
or instruction we go back to the original inventors, not to those who
imitated, and, as it is falsely pretended, improved upon their models:
or if those who followed have at any time attained as high a rank
or surpassed their predecessors, it was not from borrowing their
excellencies, but by unfolding new and exquisite powers of their own,
of which the moving principle lay in the individual mind, and not in
the stimulus afforded by previous example and general knowledge. Great
faults, it is true, may be avoided, but great excellencies can never
be attained in this way. If Sir Joshua's hypothesis of progressive
refinement in art was anything more than a verbal fallacy, why does he
go back to Michael Angelo as the God of his idolatry? Why does he find
fault with Carlo Maratti for being heavy? Or why does he declare as
explicitly as truly, that 'the judgment, after it has been long
passive, by degrees loses its power of becoming active when exertion
is necessary'?--Once more to point out the fluctuation in Sir Joshua's
notions on this subject of the advantages of natural genius and
artificial study, he says, when recommending the proper objects of
ambition to the young artist:

'My advice in a word is this: keep your principal attention fixed upon
the higher excellencies. If you compass them, and compass nothing more,
you are still in the first class. We may regret the innumerable beauties
which you may want; you may be very imperfect, but still you are an
imperfect artist of the highest order.'

This is the Fifth Discourse. In the Seventh our artist seems to waver,
and flings a doubt on his former decision, whereby 'it loses some

'Indeed perfection in an inferior style may be reasonably preferred to
mediocrity in the highest walks of art. A landscape of Claude Lorraine
_may_(2) be preferred to a history by Luca Giordano: but hence appears
the necessity of the connoisseur's knowing in what consists the
excellency of each class, in order to judge how near it approaches to

As he advances, however, he grows bolder, and altogether discards his
theory of judging of the artist by the class to which he belongs--'But
we have the sanction of all mankind,' he says, 'in preferring genius in
a lower rank of art to feebleness and insipidity in the highest.' This
is in speaking of Gainsborough. The whole passage is excellent, and, I
should think, conclusive against the general and factitious style of art
on which he insists so much at other times.

'On this ground, however unsafe, I will venture to prophesy, that two of
the last distinguished painters of that country, I mean Pompeio Battoni
and Rafaelle Mengs, however great their names may at present sound in
our ears,(3) will very soon fall into the rank of Imperiale, Sebastian
Concha, Placido Constanza, Musaccio, and the rest of their immediate
predecessors; whose names, though equally renowned in their lifetime,
are now fallen into what is little short of total oblivion. I do not say
that those painters were not superior to the artist I allude to,(4) and
whose loss we lament, in a certain routine of practice, which, to the
eyes of common observers, has the air of a learned composition, and
bears a sort of superficial resemblance to the manner of the great men
who went before them. I know this perfectly well; but I know likewise,
that a man looking for real and lasting reputation must unlearn much of
the common-place method so observable in the works of the artists whom
I have named. For my own part, I confess, I take more interest in and
am more captivated with the powerful impression of nature, which
Gainsborough exhibited in his portraits and in his landscapes, and
the interesting simplicity and elegance of his little ordinary
beggar-children, than with any of the works of that school, since the
time of Andrea Sacchi, or perhaps we may say Carlo Maratti: two painters
who may truly be said to be ULTIMI ROMANORUM.

'I am well aware how much I lay myself open to the censure and ridicule
of the academical professors of other nations in preferring the humble
attempts of Gainsborough to the works of those regular graduates in
the great historical style. _But we have the sanction of all mankind in
preferring genius in a lower rank of art to feebleness and insipidity in
the highest.'_

Yet this excellent artist and critic had said but a few pages before
when working upon his theory--'For this reason I shall beg leave to lay
before you a few thoughts on the subject; to throw out some hints that
may lead your minds to an opinion (which I take to be the true one) that
Painting is not only not to be considered as an imitation operating by
deception, but that it is, and ought to be, in many points of view and
strictly speaking, no imitation at all of external nature. Perhaps it
ought to be as far removed from the vulgar idea of imitation as the
refined, civilised state in which we live is removed from a gross state
of nature; and those who have not cultivated their imaginations, which
the majority of mankind certainly have not, may be said, in regard to
arts, to continue in this state of nature. Such men will always prefer
imitation' (the imitation of nature) 'to that excellence which is
addressed to another faculty that they do not possess; but these are
not the persons to whom a painter is to look, any more than a judge
of morals and manners ought to refer controverted points upon those
subjects to the opinions of people taken from the banks of the Ohio or
from New Holland.'

In opposition to the sentiment here expressed that 'Painting is and
ought to be, in many points of view and strictly speaking, no imitation
at all of external nature,' it is emphatically said in another place:
'Nature is and must be the fountain which alone is inexhaustible, and
from which all excellences must originally flow.'

I cannot undertake to reconcile so many contradictions, nor do I think
it an easy task for the student to derive any simple or intelligible
clue from these conflicting authorities and broken hints in the
prosecution of his art. Sir Joshua appears to have imbibed from others
(Burke or Johnson) a spurious metaphysical notion that art was to be
preferred to nature, and learning to genius, with which his own good
sense and practical observation were continually at war, but from which
he only emancipates himself for a moment to relapse into the same error
again shortly after.(5) The conclusion of the Twelfth Discourse is, I
think, however, a triumphant and unanswerable denunciation of his own
favourite paradox on the objects and study of art.

'Those artists' (he says with a strain of eloquent truth) 'who have
quitted the service of nature (whose service, when well understood, is
perfect freedom) and have put themselves under the direction of I know
not what capricious fantastical mistress, who fascinates and overpowers
their whole mind, and from whose dominion there are no hopes of their
being ever reclaimed (since they appear perfectly satisfied, and not
at all conscious of their forlorn situation), like the transformed
followers of Comus,

 Not once perceive their foul disfigurement;
 But boast themselves more comely than before.

'Methinks such men who have found out so short a path have no reason to
complain of the shortness of life and the extent of art; since life
is so much longer than is wanted for their improvement, or is indeed
necessary for the accomplishment of their idea of perfection.(6) On
the contrary, he who recurs to nature, at every recurrence renews his
strength. The rules of art he is never likely to forget; they are few
and simple: but Nature is refined, subtle, and infinitely various,
beyond the power and retention of memory; it is necessary therefore to
have continual recourse to her. In this intercourse there is no end of
his improvement: the longer he lives, the nearer he approaches to the
true and perfect idea of Art.'


(1) How careful is Sir Joshua, even in a parenthesis, to insinuate the
obligations of this great genius to others, as if he would have been
nothing without them.

(2) If Sir Joshua had an offer to exchange a Luca Giordano in his
collection for a Claude Lorraine, he would not have hesitated long about
the preference.

(3) Written in 1788.

(4) Gainsborough.

(5) Sir Joshua himself wanted academic skill and patience In the details
of his profession. From these defects he seems to have been alternately
repelled by each theory and style of art, the simply natural and
elaborately scientific, as it came before him; and in his impatience of
each, to have been betrayed into a tissue of inconsistencies somewhat
difficult to unravel.

(6) He had been before speaking of Boucher, Director of the French
Academy, who told him that 'when he was young, studying his art, he
found it necessary to use models, but that he had left them off for many


The first inquiry which runs through Sir Joshua Reynolds's Discourses
is whether the student ought to look at nature with his own eyes or
with the eyes of others, and on the whole, he apparently inclines to
the latter. The second question is what is to be understood by
nature; whether it is a general and abstract idea, or an aggregate of
particulars; and he strenuously maintains the former of these positions.
Yet it is not easy always to determine how far or with what precise
limitations he does so.

The first germ of his speculations on this subject is to be found in two
papers in the _Idler._ In the last paragraph of the second of these, he

'If it has been proved that the painter, by attending to the invariable
and general ideas of nature, produces beauty, he must, by regarding
minute particularities and accidental discrimination, deviate from the
universal rule, and pollute his canvas with deformity.'

In answer to this, I would say that deformity is not the being varied in
the particulars, in which all things differ (for on this principle all
nature, which is made up of individuals, would be a heap of deformity),
but in violating general rules, in which they all or almost all agree.
Thus there are no two noses in the world exactly alike, or without a
great variety of subordinate parts, which may still be handsome, but a
face without any nose at all, or a nose (like that of a mask) without
any particularity in the details, would be a great deformity in art
or nature. Sir Joshua seems to have been led into his notions on this
subject either by an ambiguity of terms, or by taking only one view of
nature. He supposes grandeur, or the general effect of the whole, to
consist in leaving out the particular details, because these details
are sometimes found without any grandeur of effect, and he therefore
conceives the two things to be irreconcilable and the alternatives of
each other. This is very imperfect reasoning. If the mere leaving out
the detail constituted grandeur, any one could do this: the greatest
dauber would at that rate be the greatest artist. A house or sign
painter might instantly enter the lists with Michael Angelo, and might
look down on the little, dry, hard manner of Raphael. But grandeur
depends on a distinct principle of its own, not on a negation of the
parts; and as it does not arise from their omission, so neither is it
incompatible with their insertion or the highest finishing. In fact, an
artist may give the minute particulars of any object one by one and with
the utmost care, and totally neglect the proportions, arrangement,
and general masses, on which the effect of the whole more immediately
depends; or he may give the latter, viz. the proportions and arrangement
of the larger parts and the general masses of light and shade, and leave
all the minuter parts of which those parts are composed a mere blotch,
one general smear, like the first crude and hasty getting in of the
groundwork of a picture: he may do either of these, or he may combine
both, that is, finish the parts, but put them in their right places, and
keep them in due subordination to the general effect and massing of the
whole. If the exclusion of the parts were necessary to the grandeur of
the whole composition, if the more entire this exclusion, if the
more like a _tabula rasa,_ a vague, undefined, shadowy and abstracted
representation the picture was, the greater the grandeur, there could be
no danger of pushing this principle too far, and going the full length
of Sir Joshua's theory without any restrictions or mental reservations.
But neither of these suppositions is true. The greatest grandeur may
coexist with the most perfect, nay with a microscopic accuracy of
detail, as we see it does often in nature: the greatest looseness and
slovenliness of execution may be displayed without any grandeur at
all either in the outline or distribution of the masses of colour. To
explain more particularly what I mean. I have seen and copied portraits
by Titian, in which the eyebrows were marked with a number of small
strokes, like hairlines (indeed, the hairs of which they were composed
were in a great measure given)--but did this destroy the grandeur of
expression, the truth of outline, arising from the arrangement of these
hair-lines in a given form? The grandeur, the character, the expression
remained, for the general form or arched and expanded outline remained,
just as much as if it had been daubed in with a blacking-brush: the
introduction of the internal parts and texture only added delicacy and
truth to the general and striking effect of the whole. Surely a number
of small dots or lines may be arranged into the form of a square or
a circle indiscriminately; the square or circle, that is, the larger
figure, remains the same, whether the line of which it consists is
broken or continuous; as we may see in prints where the outlines,
features, and masses remain the same in all the varieties of mezzotinto,
dotted and lined engraving. If Titian in marking the appearance of the
hairs had deranged the general shape and contour of the eyebrows, he
would have destroyed the look of nature; but as he did not, but kept
both in view, he proportionably improved his copy of it. So, in what
regards the masses of light and shade, the variety, the delicate
transparency and broken transitions of the tints is not inconsistent
with the greatest breadth or boldest contrasts. If the light, for
instance, is thrown strongly on one side of a face, and the other
is cast into deep shade, let the individual and various parts of the
surface be finished with the most scrupulous exactness both in the
drawing and in the colours, provided nature is not exceeded, this will
not nor cannot destroy the force and harmony of the composition. One
side of the face will still have that great and leading distinction of
being seen in shadow, and the other of being seen in the light, let the
subordinate differences be as many and as precise as they will. Suppose
a panther is painted in the sun: will it be necessary to leave out the
spots to produce breadth and the great style, or will not this be done
more effectually by painting the spots of one side of his shaggy coat as
they are seen in the light, and those of the other as they really appear
in natural shadow? The two masses are thus preserved completely, and
no offence is done to truth and nature. Otherwise we resolve the
distribution of light and shade into _local colouring._ The masses, the
grandeur exist equally in external nature with the local differences of
different colours. Yet Sir Joshua seems to argue that the grandeur, the
effect of the whole object, is confined to the general idea in the mind,
and that all the littleness and individuality is in nature. This is
an essentially false view of the subject. This grandeur, this general
effect, is indeed always combined with the details, or what our
theoretical reasoner would designate as _littleness_ in nature: and so
it ought to be in art, as far as art can follow nature with prudence and
profit. What is the fault of Denner's style?--It is, that he does _not_
give this combination of properties: that he gives only one view of
nature; that he abstracts the details, the finishing, the curiosities of
natural appearances from the general result, truth, and character of the
whole, and in finishing every part with elaborate care, totally loses
sight of the more important and striking appearance of the object as it
presents itself to us in nature. He gives every part of a face; but the
shape, the expression, the light and shade of the whole is wrong, and
as far as can be from what is natural. He gives an infinite variety
of tints of the human face, nor are they subjected to any principle of
light and shade. He is different from Rembrandt or Titian. The English
schools, formed on Sir Joshua's theory, give neither the finishing of
the parts nor the effect of the whole, but an inexplicable dumb mass
without distinction or meaning. They do not do as Denner did, and think
that not to do as he did is to do as Titian and Rembrandt did; I do
not know whether they would take it as a compliment to be supposed
to imitate nature. Some few artists, it must be said, have 'of
late reformed this indifferently among us! Oh! let them reform it
altogether!' I have no doubt they would if they could; but I have
some doubts whether they can or not.--Before I proceed to consider the
question of beauty and grandeur as it relates to the selection of form,
I will quote a few passages from Sir Joshua with reference to what has
been said on the imitation of particular objects. In the Third Discourse
he observes: 'I will now add that nature herself is not to be too
closely copied.... A mere copier of nature _can never produce anything
great; can never raise and enlarge the conceptions, or warm the heart of
the spectator._ The wish of the genuine painter must be more extensive:
instead of endeavouring to amuse mankind with the minute neatness of
his imitations, he must endeavour to improve them by the grandeur of his
ideas; instead of seeking praise by deceiving the superficial sense of
the spectator, he must strive for fame by captivating the imagination.'

From this passage it would surely seem that there was nothing in nature
but minute neatness and superficial effect: nothing great in _her_
style, for an imitator of it can produce nothing great; nothing 'to
enlarge the conceptions or warm the heart of the spectator.'

 What word hath passed thy lips, Adam severe!

All that is truly grand or excellent is a figment of the imagination, a
vapid creation out of nothing, a pure effect of overlooking and scorning
the minute neatness of natural objects. This will not do. Again, Sir
Joshua lays it down without any qualification that--

'The whole beauty and grandeur of the art consists in being able to get
above all singular forms, local customs, peculiarities, and _details_ of
every kind.'

Yet we find him acknowledging a different opinion.

'I am very ready to allow' (he says, in speaking of history-painting)
'that _some_ circumstances of minuteness and particularity _frequently_
tend to give an air of truth to a piece, and _to interest the spectator
in an extraordinary manner._ Such circumstances therefore cannot wholly
be rejected; but if there be anything in the Art which requires
peculiar nicety of discernment, it is the disposition of these minute,
circumstantial parts, which, according to the judgment employed in the
choice, become so useful to truth or so injurious to grandeur.'

That's true; but the sweeping clause against 'all particularities and
details of every kind' is clearly got rid of. The undecided state of
Sir Joshua's feelings on this subject of the incompatibility between
the whole and the details is strikingly manifested in two short passages
which follow each other in the space of two pages. Speaking of some
pictures of Paul Veronese and Rubens as distinguished by the dexterity
and the unity of style displayed in them, he adds:

'It is by this, and this alone, that the mechanical power is ennobled,
and raised much above its natural rank. And it appears to me that with
propriety it acquires this character, as an instance of that superiority
with which mind predominates over matter, by contracting into one whole
what nature has made multifarious.'

This would imply that the principle of unity and integrity is only
in the mind, and that nature is a heap of disjointed, disconnected
particulars, a chaos of points and atoms. In the very next page the
following sentence occurs:

'As painting is an art, they' (the ignorant) 'think they ought to be
pleased in proportion as they see that art ostentatiously displayed;
they will from this supposition prefer neatness, high finishing, and
gaudy corlouring, to the truth, simplicity, and unity of nature.'

Before, neatness and high finishing were supposed to belong exclusively
to the littleness of nature, but here truth, simplicity, and unity are
her characteristics. Soon after, Sir Joshua says: 'I should be sorry
if what has been said should be understood to have any tendency to
encourage that carelessness which leaves work in an unfinished state. I
commend nothing for the want of exactness; I mean to point out that
kind of exactness which is the best, and which is alone truly to be so
esteemed.' This Sir Joshua has already told us consists in getting above
'all particularities and details of every kind.' Once more we find it
stated that--

'It is in vain to attend to the variation of tints, if in that attention
the general hue of flesh is lost; or to finish ever so minutely the
parts, if the masses are not observed, or the whole not well put

Nothing can be truer; but why always suppose the two things at variance
with each other?

'Titian's manner was then new to the world, but that unshaken truth on
which it is founded has fixed it as a model to all succeeding painters;
and those who will examine into the artifice will find it to consist in
the power of generalising, and in the shortness and simplicity of the
means employed.'

Titian's real excellence consisted in the power of generalising and of
_individualising_ at the same time: if it wore merely the former, it
would be difficult to account for the error immediately after pointed
out by Sir Joshua. He says in the very next paragraph:

'Many artists, as Vasari likewise observes, have ignorantly imagined
they are imitating the manner of Titian when they leave their colours
rough and neglect the detail; but not possessing the principles on which
he wrought, they have produced what he calls _goffe pitture_--absurd,
foolish pictures.'

Many artists have also imagined they were following the directions of
Sir Joshua when they did the same thing, that is, neglected the detail,
and produced the same results--vapid generalities, absurd, foolish

I will only give two short passages more, and have done with this
part of the subject. I am anxious to confront Sir Joshua with his own

'The advantage of this method of considering objects (as a whole) is
what I wish now more particularly to enforce. At the same time I do
not forget that a painter must have the power of contracting as well as
dilating his sight; because he that does not at all express particulars
expresses nothing; yet it is certain that a nice discrimination of
minute circumstances and a punctilious delineation of them, whatever
excellence it may have (and I do not mean to detract from it), never did
confer on the artist the character of Genius.'

At page 53 we find the following words:

'Whether it is the human figure, an animal, or even inanimate objects,
there is nothing, however unpromising in appearance, but may be raised
into dignity, convey sentiment, and produce emotion, in the hands of a
Painter of genius. What was said of Virgil, that he threw even the
dung about the ground with an air of dignity, may be applied to Titian;
whatever he touched, however naturally mean, and habitually familiar, by
a kind of magic he invested with grandeur and importance.'--No, not by
magic, but by seeking and finding in individual nature, and combined
with details of every kind, that grace and grandeur and unity of effect
which Sir Joshua supposes to be a mere creation of the artist's brain!
Titian's practice was, I conceive, to give general appearances with
individual forms and circumstances: Sir Joshua's theory goes too often,
and in its prevailing bias, to separate the two things as inconsistent
with each other, and thereby to destroy or bring into question that
union of striking effect with accuracy of resemblance in which the
essence of sound art (as far as relates to imitation) consists.

Farther, as Sir Joshua is inclined to merge the details of individual
objects in general effect, so he is resolved to reduce all beauty or
grandeur in natural objects to a central form or abstract idea of a
certain class, so as to exclude all peculiarities or deviations from
this ideal standard as unfit subjects for the artist's pencil, and as
polluting his canvas with deformity. As the former principle went to
destroy all exactness and solidity in particular things, this goes to
confound all variety, distinctness, and characteristic force in the
broader scale of nature. There is a principle of conformity in nature
or of something in common between a number of individuals of the same
class, but there is also a principle of contrast, of discrimination and
identity, which is equally essential in the system of the universe and
in the structure of our ideas both of art and nature. Sir Joshua would
hardly neutralise the tints of the rainbow to produce a dingy grey, as a
medium or central colour; why, then, should he neutralise all features,
forms, etc., to produce an insipid monotony? He does not indeed consider
his theory of beauty as applicable to colour, which he well understood,
but insists upon and literally enforces it as to form and ideal
conceptions, of which he knew comparatively little, and where his
authority is more questionable. I will not in this place undertake to
show that his theory of a middle form (as the standard of taste and
beauty) is not true of the outline of the human face and figure or other
organic bodies, though I think that even there it is only one principle
or condition of beauty; but I do say that it has little or nothing to
do with those other capital parts of painting, colour, character,
expression, and grandeur of conception. Sir Joshua himself contends that
'beauty in creatures of the same species is the medium or centre of
all its various forms'; and he maintains that grandeur is the same
abstraction of the species in the individual. Therefore beauty and
grandeur must be the same thing, which they are not; so that this
definition must be faulty. Grandeur I should suppose to imply something
that elevates and expands the mind, which is chiefly power or magnitude.
Beauty is that which soothes and melts it; and its source, I apprehend,
is a certain harmony, softness, and gradation of form, within the limits
of our customary associations, no doubt, or of what we expect of certain
species, but not independent of every other consideration. Our critic
himself confesses of Michael Angelo, whom he regards as the pattern of
the great or sublime style, that 'his people are a superior order of
beings: there is nothing about them, nothing in the air of their actions
or their attitudes, or the style or cast of their limbs or features,
that reminds us of their belonging to our own species. Raffaelle's
imagination is not so elevated; his figures are not so much disjoined
from our own diminutive race of beings, though his ideas are chaste,
noble, and of great conformity to their subjects. Michael Angelo's works
have a strong, peculiar, and marked character: they seem to proceed from
his own mind entirely, and that mind so rich and abundant that he
never needed, or seemed to disdain to look abroad for foreign help.
Raffaelle's materials are generally borrowed, though the noble structure
is his own.(1) How does all this accord with the same writer's
favourite theory that all beauty, all grandeur, and all excellence
consist in an approximation to that central form or habitual idea
of mediocrity, from which every deviation is so much deformity and
littleness? Michael Angelo's figures are raised above our diminutive
race of beings, yet they are confessedly the standard of sublimity in
what regards the human form. Grandeur, then, admits of an exaggeration
of our habitual impressions; and 'the strong, marked, and peculiar
character which Michael Angelo has at the same time given to his works'
does not take away from it. This is fact against argument. I would
take Sir Joshua's word for the goodness of a picture, and for its
distinguishing properties, sooner than I would for an abstract
metaphysical theory. Our artist also speaks continually of high and low
subjects. There can be no distinction of this kind upon his principle,
that the standard of taste is the adhering to the central form of each
species, and that every species is in itself equally beautiful. The
painter of flowers, of shells, or of anything else, is equally elevated
with Raphael or Michael, if he adheres to the generic or established
form of what he paints: the rest, according to this definition, is a
matter of indifference. There must therefore be something besides the
central or customary form to account for the difference of dignity, for
the high and low style in nature or in art. Michael Angelo's figures, we
are told, are more than ordinarily grand; why, by the same rule, may
not Raphael's be more than ordinarily beautiful, have more than ordinary
softness, symmetry, and grace?--Character and expression are still less
included in the present theory. All character is a departure from the
common-place form; and Sir Joshua makes no scruple to declare that
expression destroys beauty. Thus he says:

'If you mean to preserve the most perfect beauty _in its most perfect
state,_ you cannot express the passions, all of which produce distortion
and deformity, more or less, in the most beautiful faces.'

He goes on: 'Guido, from want of choice in adapting his subject to his
ideas and his powers, or from attempting to preserve beauty where it
could not be preserved, has in this respect succeeded very ill. His
figures are often engaged in subjects that required great expression;
yet his Judith and Holofernes, the daughter of Herodias with the
Baptist's head, the Andromeda, and some even of the Mothers of the
Innocents, have little more expression than his Venus attired by the

What a censure is this passed upon Guido, and what a condemnation of
his own theory, which would reduce and level all that is truly great
and praiseworthy in art to this insipid, tasteless standard, by setting
aside as illegitimate all that does riot come within the middle,
central form! Yet Sir Joshua judges of Hogarth as he deviates from this
standard, not as he excels in individual character, which he says is
only good or tolerable as it partakes of general nature; and he might
accuse Michael Angelo and Raphael, the one for his grandeur of style,
the other for his expression; for neither are what he sets up as the
goal of perfection--I will just stop to remark here that Sir Joshua
has committed himself very strangely in speaking of the character and
expression to be found in the Greek statues. He says in one place:

'I cannot quit the Apollo without making one observation on the
character of this figure. He is supposed to have just discharged his
arrow at the Python; and by the head retreating a little towards the
right shoulder, he appears attentive to its effect. What I would remark
is the difference of this attention from that of the Discobolus, who
is engaged in the same purpose, watching the effect of his Discus. The
graceful, negligent, though animated air of the one, and the vulgar
eagerness of the other, furnish an instance of the judgment of the
ancient Sculptors _in their nice discrimination of character._ They
are both equally true to nature, and equally admirable.' After a few
observations on the limited means of the art of sculpture, and the
inattention of the ancients to almost everything but form, we meet with
the following passage:--

'Those who think Sculpture can express more than we have allowed may
ask, by what means we discover, at the first glance, the character that
is represented in a Bust, a Cameo, or Intaglio? I suspect it will be
found, on close examination, by him who is resolved not to see more
than he really does see, that the figures are distinguished by their
_insignia_ more than by any variety of form or beauty. Take from Apollo
his Lyre, from Bacchus his Thyrsus and Vine-leaves, and Meleager the
Boar's Head, and there will remain little or no difference in their
characters. In a Juno, Minerva, or Flora, the idea of the artist seems
to have gone no further than representing perfect beauty, and afterwards
adding the proper attributes, with a total indifference to which they
gave them.'

(What, then, becomes of that 'nice discrimination of character' for
which our author has just before celebrated them?)

'Thus John De Bologna, after he had finished a group of a young man
holding up a young woman in his arms, with an old man at his feet,
called his friends together, to tell him what name he should give it,
and it was agreed to call it The Rape of the Sabines; and this is the
celebrated group which now stands before the old Palace at Florence. The
figures have the same general expression which is to be found in most of
the antique Sculpture; and yet it would be no wonder if future critics
should find out delicacy of expression which was never intended, and go
so far as to see, in the old man's countenance, the exact relation which
he bore to the woman who appears to be taken from him.'

So it is that Sir Joshua's theory seems to rest on an inclined plane,
and is always glad of an excuse to slide, from the severity of truth
and nature, into the milder and more equable regions of insipidity and
inanity; I am sorry to say so, but so it appears to me.

I confess, it strikes me as a self-evident truth that variety or
contrast is as essential a principle in art and nature as uniformity,
and as necessary to make up the harmony of the universe and the
contentment of the mind. Who would destroy the shifting effects of light
and shade, the sharp, lively opposition of colours in the same or in
different objects, the streaks in a flower, the stains in a piece of
marble, to reduce all to the same neutral, dead colouring, the same
middle tint? Yet it is on this principle that Sir Joshua would get rid
of all variety, character, expression, and picturesque effect in forms,
or at least measure the worth or the spuriousness of all these according
to their reference to or departure from a given or average standard.
Surely, nature is more liberal, art is wider than Sir Joshua's theory.
Allow (for the sake of argument) that all forms are in themselves
indifferent, and that beauty or the sense of pleasure in forms can
therefore only arise from customary association, or from that middle
impression to which they all tend: yet this cannot by the same rule
apply to other things. Suppose there is no capacity in form to affect
the mind except from its corresponding to previous expectation, the same
thing cannot be said of the idea of power or grandeur. No one can say
that the idea of power does not affect the mind with the sense of awe
and sublimity. That is, power and weakness, grandeur and littleness,
are not indifferent things, the perfection of which consists in a medium
between both. Again, expression is not a thing indifferent in itself,
which derives its value or its interest solely from its conformity to
a neutral standard. Who would neutralise the expression of pleasure
and pain? or say that the passions of the human mind--pity, love, joy,
sorrow, etc.--are only interesting to the imagination and worth the
attention of the artist, as he can reduce them to an equivocal state
which is neither pleasant nor painful, neither one thing nor the other?
Or who would stop short of the utmost refinement, precision, and force
in the delineation of each? Ideal expression is not neutral expression,
but extreme expression. Again, character is a thing of peculiarity,
of striking contrast, of distinction, and not of uniformity. It is
necessarily opposed to Sir Joshua's exclusive theory, and yet it is
surely a curious and interesting field of speculation for the human
mind. Lively, spirited discrimination of character is one source of
gratification to the lover of nature and art, which it could not be if
all truth and excellence consisted in rejecting individual traits.
Ideal character is not common-place, but consistent character marked
throughout, which may take place in history or portrait. Historical
truth in a picture is the putting the different features of the face or
muscles of the body into consistent action. The picturesque altogether
depends on particular points or qualities of an object, projecting as
it were beyond the middle line of beauty, and catching the eye of the
spectator. It was less, however, my intention to hazard any speculations
of my own than to confirm the common-sense feelings on the subject by
Sir Joshua's own admissions in different places. In the Tenth Discourse,
speaking of some objections to the Apollo, he has these remarkable

'In regard to the last objection (viz. that the lower half of the figure
is longer than just proportion allows) it must be remembered that
Apollo is here in the exertion of _one of his peculiar powers,_ which
is swiftness; he has therefore that proportion which is best adapted to
that character. This is no more incorrectness than when there is given
to a Hercules an extraordinary swelling and strength of muscles.'

Strength and activity then do not depend on the middle form; and the
middle form is to be sacrificed to the representation of these positive
qualities. Character is thus allowed not only to be an integrant part of
the antique and classical style of art, but even to take precedence of
and set aside the abstract idea of beauty. Little more would be required
to justify Hogarth in his Gothic resolution, that if he were to make
a figure of Charon, he would give him bandy legs, because watermen are
generally bandy-legged. It is very well to talk of the abstract idea
of a man or of a God, but if you come to anything like an intelligible
proposition, you must either individualise and define, or destroy
the very idea you contemplate. Sir Joshua goes into this question at
considerable length in the Third Discourse:

'To the principle I have laid down, that the idea of beauty in each
species of beings is an invariable one, it may be objected,' he says,
'that in every particular species there are various central forms,
which are separate and distinct from each other, and yet are undeniably
beautiful; that in the human figure, for instance the beauty of
Hercules is one, of the Gladiator another, of the Apollo another, which
makes so many different ideas of beauty. It is true, indeed, that these
figures are each perfect in their kind, though of different characters
and proportions; but still none of them is the representation of an
individual, but of a class. And as there is one general form, which,
as I have said, belongs to the human kind at large, so in each of these
classes there is one common idea which is the abstract of the various
individual forms belonging to that class. Thus, though the forms
of childhood and age differ exceedingly, there is a common form in
childhood, and a common form in age, which is the more perfect as it is
remote from all peculiarities. But I must add further, that though the
most perfect forms of each of the general divisions of the human figure
are ideal, and superior to any individual form of that class, yet the
highest perfection of the human figure is not to be found in any of
them. It is not in the Hercules, nor in the Gladiator, nor in the
Apollo; but in that form which is taken from all, and which partakes
equally of the activity of the Gladiator, of the delicacy of the Apollo,
and of the muscular strength of the Hercules. For perfect beauty in
any species must combine all the characters which are beautiful in that
species. It cannot consist in any one to the exclusion of the rest: no
one, therefore, must be predominant, that no one may be deficient.'

Sir Joshua here supposes the distinctions of classes and character to
be necessarily combined with the general leading idea of a middle form.
This middle form is not to confound age, sex, circumstance, under one
sweeping abstraction; but we must limit the general ideas by certain
specific differences and characteristic marks, belonging to the several
subordinate divisions and ramifications of each class. This is enough
to show that there is a principle of individuality as well as of
abstraction inseparable from works of art as well as nature. We are to
keep the human form distinct from that of other living beings, that of
men from that of women; we are to distinguish between age and infancy,
between thoughtfulness and gaiety, between strength and softness. Where
is this to stop? But Sir Joshua turns round upon himself in this very
passage, and says: 'No: we are to unite the strength of the Hercules
with the delicacy of the Apollo; for perfect beauty in any species must
combine all the characters which are beautiful in that species.' Now
if these different characters are beautiful in themselves, why not give
them for their own sakes and in their most striking appearances, instead
of qualifying and softening them down in a neutral form; which must
produce a compromise, not a union of different excellences. If all
excess of beauty, if all character is deformity, then we must try to
lose it as fast as possible in other qualities. But if strength is an
excellence, if activity is an excellence, if delicacy is an excellence,
then the perfection, i.e. the highest degree of each of these qualities,
cannot be attained but by remaining satisfied with a less degree of the
rest. But let us hear what Sir Joshua himself advances on this subject
in another part of the _Discourses:_

'Some excellences bear to be united, and are improved by union: others
are of a discordant nature, and the attempt to unite them only produces
a harsh jarring of incongruent principles. The attempt to unite contrary
excellences (of form, for instance(2)) in a single figure can never
escape degenerating into the monstrous but by sinking into the insipid;
by taking away its marked character, and weakening its expression.

'Obvious as these remarks appear, there are many writers on our art who,
not being of the profession and consequently not knowing what can
or cannot be done, have been very liberal of absurd praises in their
description of favourite works. They always find in them what they
are resolved to find. They praise excellences that can hardly exist
together; and, above all things, are fond of describing with great
exactness the expression of a mixed passion, which more particularly
appears to me out of the reach of our art.(3)

'Such are many disquisitions which I have read on some of the Cartoons
and other pictures of Raffaelle, where the critics have described their
own imaginations; or indeed where the excellent master himself may have
attempted this expression of passions above the powers of the art, and
has, therefore, by an indistinct and imperfect marking, left room for
every imagination with equal probability to find a passion of his
own. What has been, and what can be done in the art, is sufficiently
difficult: we need not be mortified or discouraged at not being able
to execute the conceptions of a romantic imagination. Art has its
boundaries, though imagination has none. We can easily, like the
ancients, suppose a Jupiter to be possessed of all those powers and
perfections which the subordinate Deities were endowed with separately.
Yet when they employed their art to represent him, they confined his
character to majesty alone. Pliny, therefore, though we are under great
obligations to him for the information he has given us in relation
to the works of the ancient artists, is very frequently wrong when he
speaks of them, which he does very often, in the style of many of
our modern connoisseurs. He observes that in a statue of Paris,
by Euphranor, you might discover at the same time three different
characters: the dignity of a Judge of the Goddesses, the Lover of Helen,
and the Conqueror of Achilles. A statue in which you endeavour to
unite stately dignity, youthful elegance, and stern valour, must surely
possess none of these to any eminent degree.

'From hence it appears that there is much difficulty as well as danger
in an endeavour to concentrate in a single subject those various
powers which, rising from various points, naturally move in different

What real clue to the art or sound principles of judging the student
can derive from these contradictory statements, or in what manner it is
possible to reconcile them one to the other, I confess I am at a loss
to discover. As it appears to me, all the varieties of nature in the
infinite number of its qualities, combinations, characters, expressions,
incidents, etc., rise from distinct points or centres and must move
in distinct directions, as the forms of different species are to be
referred to a separate standard. It is the object of art to bring them
out in all their force, clearness, and precision, and not to blend them
into a vague, vapid, nondescript _ideal_ conception, which pretends to
unite, but in reality destroys. Sir Joshua's theory limits nature and
paralyses art. According to him, the middle form or the average of
our various impressions is the source from which all beauty, pleasure,
interest, imagination springs. I contend, on the contrary, that this
very variety is good in itself, nor do I agree with him that the whole
of nature as it exists in fact is stark naught, and that there is
nothing worthy of the contemplation of a wise man but that _ideal
perfection_ which never existed in the world nor even on canvas. There
is something fastidious and sickly in Sir Joshua's system. His code
of taste consists too much of negations, and not enough of positive,
prominent qualities. It accounts for nothing but the beauty of the
common Antique, and hardly for that. The merit of Hogarth, I grant, is
different from that of the Greek statues; but I deny that Hogarth is
to be measured by this standard or by Sir Joshua's middle forms: he
has powers of instruction and amusement that, 'rising from a different
point, naturally move in a different direction,' and completely attain
their end. It would be just as reasonable to condemn a comedy for not
having the pathos of a tragedy or the stateliness of an epic poem. If
Sir Joshua Reynolds's theory were true, Dr. Johnson's _Irene_ would be a
better tragedy than any of Shakespear's.

The reasoning of the _Discourses_ is, I think, then, deficient in the
following particulars:

1. It seems to imply that general effect in a picture is produced by
leaving out the details, whereas the largest masses and the grandest
outline are consistent with the utmost delicacy of finishing in the

2. It makes no distinction between beauty and grandeur, but refers both
to an _ideal_ or middle form, as the centre of the various forms of
the species, and yet inconsistently attributes the grandeur of Michael
Angelo's style to the superhuman appearance of his prophets and

3. It does not at any time make mention of power or magnitude in an
object as a distinct source of the sublime (though this is acknowledged
unintentionally in the case of Michael Angelo, etc.), nor of softness
or symmetry of form as a distinct source of beauty, independently of,
though still in connection with another source arising from what we are
accustomed to expect from each individual species.

4. Sir Joshua's theory does not leave room for character, but rejects it
as an anomaly.

5. It does not point out the source of expression, but considers it
as hostile to beauty; and yet, lastly, he allows that the middle form,
carried to the utmost theoretical extent, neither defined by character,
nor impregnated by passion, would produce nothing but vague, insipid,
unmeaning generality.

In a word, I cannot think that the theory here laid down is clear and
satisfactory, that it is consistent with itself, that it accounts for
the various excellences of art from a few simple principles, or that the
method which Sir Joshua has pursued in treating the subject is, as he
himself expresses it, 'a plain and honest method.' It is, I fear, more
calculated to baffle and perplex the student in his progress than to
give him clear lights as to the object he should have in view, or to
furnish him with strong motives of emulation to attain it.


(1) The Fifth Discourse.

(2) These are Sir Joshua's words.

(3) I do not know that; but I do not think the two passions could be
expressed by expressing neither or something between both.


I have been sometimes accused of a fondness for paradoxes, but I cannot
in my own mind plead guilty to the charge. I do not indeed swear by
an opinion because it is old; but neither do I fall in love with every
extravagance at first sight because it is new. I conceive that a
thing may have been repeated a thousand times without being a bit more
reasonable than it was the first time: and I also conceive that an
argument or an observation may be very just, though it may so happen
that it was never stated before: but I do not take it for granted that
every prejudice is ill-founded; nor that every paradox is self-evident,
merely because it contradicts the vulgar opinion. Sheridan once said of
some speech in his acute, sarcastic way, that 'it contained a great deal
both of what was new and what was true: but that unfortunately what was
new was not true, and what was true was not new.' This appears to me
to express the whole sense of the question. I do not see much use in
dwelling on a common-place, however fashionable or well established:
nor am I very ambitious of starting the most specious novelty, unless
I imagine I have reason on my side. Originality implies independence of
opinion; but differs as widely from mere singularity as from the tritest
truism. It consists in seeing and thinking for one's-self: whereas
singularity is only the affectation of saying something to contradict
other people, without having any real opinion of one's own upon the
matter. Mr. Burke was an original, though an extravagant writer: Mr.
Windham was a regular manufacturer of paradoxes.

The greatest number of minds seem utterly incapable of fixing on any
conclusion, except from the pressure of custom and authority: opposed to
these there is another class less numerous but pretty formidable, who
in all their opinions are equally under the influence of novelty and
restless vanity. The prejudices of the one are counterbalanced by the
paradoxes of the other; and folly, 'putting in one scale a weight of
ignorance, in that of pride,' might be said to 'smile delighted with the
eternal poise.' A sincere and manly spirit of inquiry is neither blinded
by example nor dazzled by sudden flashes of light. Nature is always the
same, the storehouse of lasting truth, and teeming with inexhaustible
variety; and he who looks at her with steady and well-practised eyes
will find enough to employ all his sagacity, whether it has or has not
been seen by others before him. Strange as it may seem, to learn what an
object is, the true philosopher looks at the object itself, instead of
turning to others to know what they think or say or have heard of it,
or instead of consulting the dictates of his vanity, petulance, and
ingenuity to see what can be said against their opinion, and to prove
himself wiser than all the rest of the world. For want of this the real
powers and resources of the mind are lost and dissipated in a conflict
of opinions and passions, of obstinacy against levity, of bigotry
against self-conceit, of notorious abuses against rash innovations, of
dull, plodding, old-fashioned stupidity against new-fangled folly,
of worldly interest against headstrong egotism, of the incorrigible
prejudices of the old and the unmanageable humours of the young; while
truth lies in the middle, and is overlooked by both parties. Or as
Luther complained long ago, 'human reason is like a drunken man
on horseback: set it up on one side, and it tumbles over on the
other.'--With one sort, example, authority, fashion, ease, interest,
rule all: with the other, singularity, the love of distinction, mere
whim, the throwing off all restraint and showing an heroic disregard
of consequences, an impatient and unsettled turn of mind, the want
of sudden and strong excitement, of some new play-thing for the
imagination, are equally 'lords of the ascendant,' and are at every step
getting the start of reason, truth, nature, common sense, and feeling.
With one party, whatever is, is right: with their antagonists, whatever
is, is wrong. These swallow every antiquated absurdity: those catch
at every new, unfledged project--and are alike enchanted with
the velocipedes or the French Revolution. One set, wrapped up in
impenetrable forms and technical traditions, are deaf to everything that
has not been dinned in their ears, and in those of their forefathers,
from time immemorial: their hearing is _thick_ with the same old saws,
the same unmeaning form of words, everlastingly repeated: the others
pique themselves on a jargon of their own, a Babylonish dialect, crude,
unconcocted, harsh, discordant, to which it is impossible for any one
else to attach either meaning or respect. These last turn away at
the mention of all usages, creeds, institutions of more than a day's
standing as a mass of bigotry, superstition, and barbarous ignorance,
whose leaden touch would petrify and benumb their quick, mercurial,
'apprehensive, forgetive' faculties. The opinion of to-day supersedes
that of yesterday: that of to-morrow supersedes, by anticipation, that
of to-day. The wisdom of the ancients, the doctrines of the learned, the
laws of nations, the common sentiments of morality, are to them like a
bundle of old almanacs. As the modern politician always asks for this
day's paper, the modern sciolist always inquires after the latest
paradox. With him instinct is a dotard, nature a changeling, and common
sense a discarded by-word. As with the man of the world, what everybody
says must be true, the citizen of the world has quite a different notion
of the matter. With the one, the majority; 'the powers that be' have
always been in the right in all ages and places, though they have been
cutting one another's throats and turning the world upside down with
their quarrels and disputes from the beginning of time: with the other,
what any two people have ever agreed in is an error on the face of
it. The credulous bigot shudders at the idea of altering anything in
'time-hallowed' institutions; and under this cant phrase can bring
himself to tolerate any knavery or any folly, the Inquisition, Holy Oil,
the Right Divine, etc.;--the more refined sceptic will laugh in your
face at the idea of retaining anything which has the damning stamp of
custom upon it, and is for abating all former precedents, 'all trivial,
fond records,' the whole frame and fabric of society as a nuisance in
the lump. Is not this a pair of wiseacres well matched? The one stickles
through thick and thin for his own religion and government: the other
scouts all religions and all governments with a smile of ineffable
disdain. The one will not move for any consideration out of the broad
and beaten path: the other is continually turning off at right
angles, and losing himself in the labyrinths of his own ignorance and
presumption. The one will not go along with any party: the other
always joins the strongest side. The one will not conform to any common
practice: the other will subscribe to any thriving system. The one is
the slave of habit: the other is the sport of caprice. The first is like
a man obstinately bed-rid: the last is troubled with St. Vitus's dance.
He cannot stand still, he cannot rest upon any conclusion. 'He never
is--but always to be _right.'_

The author of the Prometheus Unbound (to take an individual instance
of the last character) has a fire in his eye, a fever in his blood, a
maggot in his brain, a hectic flutter in his speech, which mark out the
philosophic fanatic. He is sanguine-complexioned and shrill-voiced. As
is often observable in the case of religious enthusiasts, there is a
slenderness of constitutional stamina, which renders the flesh no match
for the spirit. His bending, flexible form appears to take no strong
hold of things, does not grapple with the world about him, but slides
from it like a river--

 And in its liquid texture mortal wound
 Receives no more than can the fluid air.

The shock of accident, the weight of authority make no impression on his
opinions, which retire like a feather, or rise from the encounter
unhurt through their own buoyancy. He is clogged by no dull system of
realities, no earth-bound feelings, no rooted prejudices, by nothing
that belongs to the mighty trunk and hard husk of nature and habit, but
is drawn up by irresistible levity to the regions of mere speculation
and fancy, to the sphere of air and fire, where his delighted spirit
floats in 'seas of pearl and clouds of amber.' There is no _caput
mortuum_ of worn-out, threadbare experience to serve as ballast to his
mind; it is all volatile intellectual salt of tartar, that refuses
to combine its evanescent, inflammable essence with anything solid or
anything lasting. Bubbles are to him the only realities:--touch them,
and they vanish. Curiosity is the only proper category of his mind,
and though a man in knowledge, he is a child in feeling. Hence he puts
everything into a metaphysical crucible to judge of it himself and
exhibit it to others as a subject of interesting experiment, without
first making it over to the ordeal of his common sense or trying it on
his heart. This faculty of speculating at random on all questions may
in its overgrown and uninformed state do much mischief without intending
it, like an overgrown child with the power of a man. Mr. Shelley has
been accused of vanity--I think he is chargeable with extreme levity;
but this levity is so great that I do not believe he is sensible of its
consequences. He strives to overturn all established creeds and systems;
but this is in him an effect of constitution. He runs before the most
extravagant opinions; but this is because he is held back by none of
the merely mechanical checks of sympathy and habit. He tampers with all
sorts of obnoxious subjects; but it is less because he is gratified
with the rankness of the taint than captivated with the intellectual
phosphoric light they emit. It would seem that he wished not so much
to convince or inform as to shock the public by the tenor of his
productions; but I suspect he is more intent upon startling himself with
his electrical experiments in morals and philosophy; and though they
may scorch other people, they are to him harmless amusements, the
coruscations of an Aurora Borealis, that 'play round the head, but do
not reach the heart.' Still I could wish that he would put a stop to
the incessant, alarming whirl of his voltaic battery. With his zeal, his
talent, and his fancy, he would do more good and less harm if he were
to give, up his wilder theories, and if he took less pleasure in feeling
his heart flutter in unison with the panic-struck apprehensions of his
readers. Persons of this class, instead of consolidating useful and
acknowledged truths, and thus advancing the cause of science and virtue,
are never easy but in raising doubtful and disagreeable questions, which
bring the former into disgrace and discredit. They are not contented to
lead the minds of men to an eminence overlooking the prospect of social
amelioration, unless, by forcing them up slippery paths and to the
utmost verge of possibility, they can dash them down the precipice the
instant they reach the promised Pisgah. They think it nothing to hang up
a beacon to guide or warn, if they do not at the same time frighten the
community like a comet. They do not mind making their principles odious,
provided they can make themselves notorious. To win over the public
opinion by fair means is to them an insipid, common-place mode of
popularity: they would either force it by harsh methods, or seduce it
by intoxicating potions. Egotism, petulance, licentiousness, levity of
principle (whatever be the source) is a bad thing in any one, and most
of all in a philosophical reformer. Their humanity, their wisdom,
is always 'at the horizon.' Anything new, anything remote, anything
questionable, comes to them in a shape that is sure of a cordial
welcome--a welcome cordial in proportion as the object is new, as it
is apparently impracticable, as it is a doubt whether it is at all
desirable. Just after the final failure, the completion of the last act
of the French Revolution, when the legitimate wits were crying out, 'The
farce is over, now let us go to supper,' these provoking reasoners got
up a lively hypothesis about introducing the domestic government of the
Nayrs into this country as a feasible set-off against the success of the
Borough-mongers. The practical is with them always the antipodes of the
ideal; and like other visionaries of a different stamp, they date the
Millennium or New Order of Things from the Restoration of the Bourbons.
'Fine words butter no parsnips,' says the proverb. 'While you are
talking of marrying, I am thinking of hanging,' says Captain Macheath.
Of all people the most tormenting are those who bid you hope in the
midst of despair, who, by never caring about anything but their own
sanguine, hair-brained Utopian schemes, have at no time any particular
cause for embarrassment and despondency because they have never the
least chance of success, and who by including whatever does not hit
their idle fancy, kings, priests, religion, government, public abuses or
private morals, in the same sweeping clause of ban and anathema, do all
they can to combine all parties in a common cause against them, and to
prevent every one else from advancing one step farther in the career of
practical improvement than they do in that of imaginary and unattainable

Besides, all this untoward heat and precocity often argues rottenness
and a falling-off. I myself remember several instances of this sort of
unrestrained license of opinion and violent effervescence of sentiment
in the first period of the French Revolution. Extremes meet: and the
most furious anarchists have since become the most barefaced apostates.
Among the foremost of these I might mention the present poet-laureate
and some of his friends. The prose-writers on that side of the
question--Mr. Godwin, Mr. Bentham, etc.--have not turned round in this
extraordinary manner: they seem to have felt their ground (however
mistaken in some points), and have in general adhered to their first
principles. But 'poets (as it has been said) have _such seething
brains,_ that they are disposed to meddle with everything, and mar all.
They make bad philosophers and worse politicians.(1) They live, for the
most part, in an ideal world of their own; and it would perhaps be
as well if they were confined to it. Their flights and fancies are
delightful to themselves and to everybody else: but they make strange
work with matter of fact; and if they were allowed to act in public
affairs, would soon turn the world the wrong side out. They indulge only
their own flattering dreams or superstitious prejudices, and make idols
or bugbears of whatever they please, caring as little for history or
particular facts as for general reasoning. They are dangerous leaders
and treacherous followers. Their inordinate vanity runs them into all
sorts of extravagances; and their habitual effeminacy gets them out of
them at any price. Always pampering their own appetite for excitement,
and wishing to astonish others, their whole aim is to produce a dramatic
effect, one way or other--to shock or delight the observers; and they
are apparently as indifferent to the consequences of what they write as
if the world were merely a stage for them to play their fantastic
tricks on, and to make their admirers weep. Not less romantic in their
servility than their independence, and equally importunate candidates
for fame or infamy, they require only to be distinguished, and are
not scrupulous as to the means of distinction. Jacobins or
Anti-Jacobins--outrageous advocates for anarchy and licentiousness, or
flaming apostles of political persecution--always violent and vulgar in
their opinions, they oscillate, with a giddy and sickening motion,
from one absurdity to another, and expiate the follies of youth by the
heartless vices of advancing age. None so ready as they to carry every
paradox to its most revolting and ridiculous excess--none so sure
to caricature, in their own persons, every feature of the prevailing
philosophy! In their days of blissful innovation, indeed, the
philosophers crept at their heels like hounds, while they darted on
their distant quarry like hawks; stooping always to the lowest game;
eagerly snuffing up the most tainted and rankest scents; feeding their
vanity with a notion of the strength of their digestion of poisons, and
most ostentatiously avowing whatever would most effectually startle
the prejudices of others.(2) Preposterously seeking for the stimulus
of novelty in abstract truth, and the eclat of theatrical exhibition in
pure reason, it is no wonder that these persons at last became disgusted
with their own pursuits, and that, in consequence of the violence of the
change, the most inveterate prejudices and uncharitable sentiments have
rushed in to fill up the void produced by the previous annihilation of
common sense, wisdom, and humanity!'

I have so far been a little hard on poets and reformers. Lest I should
be thought to have taken a particular spite to them, I will try to make
them the _amende honorable_ by turning to a passage in the writings of
one who neither is nor ever pretended to be a poet or a reformer, but
the antithesis of both, an accomplished man of the world, a courtier,
and a wit, and who has endeavoured to move the previous question on all
schemes of fanciful improvement, and all plans of practical reform, by
the following declaration. It is in itself a finished _common-place;_
and may serve as a test whether that sort of smooth, verbal reasoning
which passes current because it excites no one idea in the mind, is much
freer from inherent absurdity than the wildest paradox.

'My lot,' says Mr. Canning in the conclusion of his Liverpool speech,
'is cast under the British Monarchy. Under that I have lived; under that
I have seen my country flourish;(3) under that I have seen it enjoy as
great a share of prosperity, of happiness, and of glory as I believe any
modification of human society to be capable of bestowing; and I am not
prepared to sacrifice or to hazard the fruit of centuries of experience,
of centuries of struggles, and of more than one century of liberty,
as perfect as ever blessed any country upon the earth, for visionary
schemes of ideal perfectibility, for doubtful experiments even of
possible improvement.'(4)

Such is Mr. Canning's common-place; and in giving the following answer
to it, I do not think I can be accused of falling into that extravagant
and unmitigated strain of paradoxical reasoning with which I have
already found so much fault.

The passage, then, which the gentleman here throws down as an effectual
bar to all change, to all innovation, to all improvement, contains at
every step a refutation of his favourite creed. He is not 'prepared
to sacrifice or to hazard the fruit of centuries of experience, of
centuries of struggles, and of one century of liberty, for visionary
schemes of ideal perfectibility.' So here are centuries of experience
and centuries of struggles to arrive at one century of liberty; and
yet, according to Mr. Canning's general advice, we are never to make any
experiments or to engage in any struggles either with a view to future
improvement, or to recover benefits which we have lost. Man (they repeat
in our cars, line upon line, precept upon precept) is always to turn his
back upon the future, and his face to the past. He is to believe that
nothing is possible or desirable but what he finds already established
to his hands in time-worn institutions or inveterate abuses. His unde
to be made into a political automaton, a go-cart of superstition and
prejudice, never stirring hand or foot but as he is pulled by the
wires and strings of the state-conjurers, the legitimate managers and
proprietors of the show. His powers of will, of thought, and action
are to be paralysed in him, and he is to be told and to believe that
whatever is, must be. Perhaps Mr. Canning will say that men were to make
experiments and to resolve upon struggles formerly, but that now they
are to surrender their understandings and their rights into his keeping.
But at what period of the world was the system of political wisdom
_stereotyped,_ like Mr. Cobbett's _Gold against Paper,_ so as to admit
of no farther alterations or improvements, or correction of errors
of the press? When did the experience of mankind become stationary or
retrograde, so that we must act from the obsolete inferences of past
periods, not from the living impulse of existing circumstances, and the
consolidated force of the knowledge and reflection of ages up to the
present instant, naturally projecting us forward into the future, and
not driving us back upon the past? Did Mr. Canning never hear, did he
never think, of Lord Bacon's axiom, 'That those times are the ancient
times in which we live, and not those which, counting backwards from
ourselves, _ordine retrogrado,_ we call ancient'? The latest periods
must necessarily have the advantage of the sum-total of the experience
that has gone before them, and of the sum-total of human reason exerted
upon that experience, or upon the solid foundation of nature and
history, moving on in its majestic course, not fluttering in the empty
air of fanciful speculation, nor leaving a gap of centuries between us
and the long-mouldered grounds on which we are to think and act. Mr.
Canning cannot plead with Mr. Burke that no discoveries, no improvements
have been made in political science and institutions; for he says we
have arrived through centuries of experience and of struggles at one
century of liberty. Is the world, then, at a stand? Mr. Canning knows
well enough that it is in ceaseless progress and everlasting change, but
he would have it to be the change from liberty to slavery, the progress
of corruption, not of regeneration and reform. Why, no longer ago than
the present year, the two epochs of November and January last presented
(he tells us in this very speech) as great a contrast in the state of
the country as any two periods of its history the most opposite or most
remote. Well then, are our experience and our struggles at an end?
No, he says, 'the crisis is at hand for every man to take part for or
against the institutions of the British Monarchy.' His part is taken:
'but of this be sure, to do aught good will never be his task!' He will
guard carefully against all possible improvements, and maintain all
possible abuses sacred, impassive, immortal. He will not give up the
fruit of centuries of experience, of struggles, and of one century
at least of liberty, since the Revolution of 1688, for any doubtful
experiments whatever. We are arrived at the end of our experience, our
struggles, and our liberty--and are to anchor through time and eternity
in the harbour of passive obedience and non-resistance. We (the
people of England) will tell Mr. Canning frankly what we think of his
magnanimous and ulterior resolution. It is our own; and it has been the
resolution of mankind in all ages of the world. No people, no age,
ever threw away the fruits of past wisdom, or the enjoyment of present
blessings, for visionary schemes of ideal perfection. It is the
knowledge of the past, the actual infliction of the present, that has
produced all changes, all innovations, and all improvements--not (as is
pretended) the chimerical anticipation of possible advantages, but the
intolerable pressure of long-established, notorious, aggravated, and
growing abuses. It was the experience of the enormous and disgusting
abuses and corruptions of the Papal power that produced the Reformation.
It was the experience of the vexations and oppressions of the feudal
system that produced its abolition after centuries of sufferings and
of struggles. It was the experience of the caprice and tyranny of the
Monarch that extorted _Magna Charta_ at Runnymede. It was the experience
of the arbitrary and insolent abuse of the prerogative in the reigns of
the Tudors and the first Stuarts that produced the resistance to it in
the reign of Charles I. and the Grand Rebellion. It was the experience
of the incorrigible attachment of the same Stuarts to Popery and
Slavery, with their many acts of cruelty, treachery, and bigotry, that
produced the Revolution, and set the House of Brunswick on the Throne.
It was the conviction of the incurable nature of the abuse, increasing
with time and patience, and overcoming the obstinate attachment to old
habits and prejudices,--an attachment not to be rooted out by fancy
or theory, but only by repeated, lasting, and incontrovertible
proofs,--that has abated every nuisance that ever was abated, and
introduced every innovation and every example of revolution and reform.
It was the experience of the abuses, licentiousness, and innumerable
oppressions of the old Government in France that produced the French
Revolution. It was the experience of the determination of the British
Ministry to harass, insult, and plunder them, that produced the
Revolution of the United States. Away then with this miserable cant
against fanciful theories, and appeal to acknowledged experience! Men
never act against their prejudices but from the spur of their feelings,
the necessity of their situations--their theories are adapted to their
practical convictions and their varying circumstances. Nature has
ordered it so, and Mr. Canning, by showing off his rhetorical paces, by
his 'ambling and lisping and nicknaming God's creatures,' cannot invert
that order, efface the history of the past, or arrest the progress of
the future.--Public opinion is the result of public events and public
feelings; and government must be moulded by that opinion, or maintain
itself in opposition to it by the sword. Mr. Canning indeed will not
consent that the social machine should in any case receive a different
direction from what it has had, 'lest it should be hurried over the
precipice and dashed to pieces.' These warnings of national ruin and
terrific accounts of political precipices put one in mind of Edgar's
exaggerations to Gloster; they make one's hair stand on end in the
perusal but the poor old man, like poor old England, could fall no lower
than he was. Mr. Montgomery, the ingenious and amiable poet, after
he had been shut up in solitary confinement for a year and a half for
printing the Duke of Richmond's Letter on Reform, when he first walked
out into the narrow path of the adjoining field, was seized with an
apprehension that he should fall over it, as if he had trod on the brink
of an abrupt declivity. The author of the loyal Speech at the Liverpool
Dinner has been so long kept in the solitary confinement of his
prejudices, and the dark cells of his interest and vanity, that he is
afraid of being dashed to pieces if he makes a single false step, to the
right or the left, from his dangerous and crooked policy. As to himself,
his ears are no doubt closed to any advice that might here be offered
him; and as to his country, he seems bent on its destruction. If,
however, an example of the futility of all his projects and all his
reasonings on a broader scale, 'to warn and scare, be wanting,' let him
look at Spain, and take leisure to recover from his incredulity and
his surprise. Spain, as Ferdinand, as the Monarchy, has fallen from its
pernicious height, never to rise again: Spain, as Spain, as the Spanish
people, has risen from the tomb of liberty, never (it is to be hoped) to
sink again under the yoke of the bigot and the oppressor!


(1) As for politics, I think poets are _tories_ by nature, supposing
them to be by nature poets. The love of an individual person or family,
that has worn a crown for many successions, is an inclination greatly
adapted to the fanciful tribe. On the other hand, mathematicians,
abstract reasoners of no manner of attachment to persons, at least
to the visible part of them, but prodigiously devoted to the ideas
of virtue, liberty, and so forth, are generally _whigs._ It happens
agreeably enough to this maxim, that the whigs are friends to that wise,
plodding, unpoetical people, the Dutch.'--_Shenstone's Letters,_ p. 105.

(2) To give the modern reader _un petit apercu_ of the tone of literary
conversation about five or six and twenty years ago, I remember being
present in a large party composed of men, women, and children, in which
two persons of remarkable candour and ingenuity were labouring (as hard
as if they had been paid for it) to prove that all prayer was a mode of
dictating to the Almighty, and an arrogant assumption of superiority. A
gentleman present said, with great simplicity and _naivete,_ that there
was one prayer which did not strike him as coming exactly under
this description, and being asked what that was made answer, 'The
Samaritan's--"Lord, be merciful to me, a sinner!"' This appeal by no
means settled the sceptical dogmatism of the two disputants, and soon
after the proposer of the objection went away; on which one of them
observed with great marks of satisfaction and triumph--'I am afraid we
have shocked that gentleman's prejudices.' This did not appear to me at
that time quite the thing and this happened in the year 1794.--Twice has
the iron entered my soul. Twice have the dastard, vaunting, venal Crew
gone over it: once as they went forth, conquering and to conquer,
with reason by their side, glittering like a falchion, trampling on
prejudices and marching fearlessly on in the work of regeneration;
once again when they returned with retrograde steps, like Cacus's oxen
dragged backward by the heels, to the den of Legitimacy, 'rout on rout,
confusion worse confounded,' with places and pensions and the _Quarterly
Review_ dangling from their pockets, and shouting, 'Deliverance for
mankind,' for 'the worst, the second fall of man.' Yet I have endured
all this marching and countermarching of poets, philosophers, and
politicians over my head as well as I could, like 'the camomile that
thrives, the more 'tis trod upon.' By Heavens, I think, I'll endure it
no longer!

(3) _Troja fuit._

(4) _Mr. Canning's Speech at the Liverpool Dinner, given in celebration
of his Re-election,_ March 18, 1820. Fourth edition, revised and


Few subjects are more nearly allied than these two--vulgarity and
affectation. It may be said of them truly that 'thin partitions do their
bounds divide.' There cannot be a surer proof of a low origin or of an
innate meanness of disposition than to be always talking and thinking
of being genteel. One must feel a strong tendency to that which one is
always trying to avoid: whenever we pretend, on all occasions, a mighty
contempt for anything, it is a pretty clear sign that we feel ourselves
very nearly on a level with it. Of the two classes of people, I hardly
know which is to be regarded with most distaste, the vulgar aping the
genteel, or the genteel constantly sneering at and endeavouring to
distinguish themselves from the vulgar. These two sets of persons are
always thinking of one another; the lower of the higher with envy, the
more fortunate of their less happy neighbours with contempt. They
are habitually placed in opposition to each other; jostle in their
pretensions at every turn; and the same objects and train of thought
(only reversed by the relative situation of either party) occupy
their whole time and attention. The one are straining every nerve, and
outraging common sense, to be thought genteel; the others have no other
object or idea in their heads than not to be thought vulgar. This is
but poor spite; a very pitiful style of ambition. To be merely not that
which one heartily despises is a very humble claim to superiority: to
despise what one really is, is still worse. Most of the characters in
Miss Burney's novels--the Branghtons, the Smiths, the Dubsters, the
Cecilias, the Delvilles, etc.--are well met in this respect, and much of
a piece: the one half are trying not to be taken for themselves, and the
other half not to be taken for the first. They neither of them have any
pretensions of their own, or real standard of worth. 'A feather will
turn the scale of their avoirdupois'; though the fair authoress was
not aware of the metaphysical identity of her principal and subordinate
characters. Affectation is the master-key to both.

Gentility is only a more select and artificial kind of vulgarity. It
cannot exist but by a sort of borrowed distinction. It plumes itself up
and revels in the homely pretensions of the mass of mankind. It judges
of the worth of everything by name, fashion, and opinion; and hence,
from the conscious absence of real qualities or sincere satisfaction
in itself, it builds its supercilious and fantastic conceit on the
wretchedness and wants of others. Violent antipathies are always
suspicious, and betray a secret affinity. The difference between the
'Great Vulgar and the Small' is mostly in outward circumstances. The
coxcomb criticises the dress of the clown, as the pedant cavils at
the bad grammar of the illiterate, or the prude is shocked at the
backslidings of her frail acquaintance. Those who have the fewest
resources in themselves naturally seek the food of their self-love
elsewhere. The most ignorant people find most to laugh at in strangers:
scandal and satire prevail most in country-places; and a propensity to
ridicule every the slightest or most palpable deviation from what
we happen to approve, ceases with the progress of common sense and
decency.(1) True worth does not exult in the faults and deficiencies
of others; as true refinement turns away from grossness and deformity,
instead of being tempted to indulge in an unmanly triumph over it.
Raphael would not faint away at the daubing of a signpost, nor Homer
hold his head the higher for being in the company of a Grub Street bard.
Real power, real excellence, does not seek for a foil in inferiority;
nor fear contamination from coming in contact with that which is coarse
and homely. It reposes on itself, and is equally free from spleen and
affectation. But the spirit of gentility is the mere essence of spleen
and affectation; of affected delight in its own would-be qualifications,
and of ineffable disdain poured out upon the involuntary blunders
or accidental disadvantages of those whom it chooses to treat as its
inferiors. Thus a fashionable Miss titters till she is ready to burst
her sides at the uncouth shape of a bonnet or the abrupt drop of a
curtsey (such as Jeanie Deans would make) in a country-girl who comes
to be hired by her Mamma as a servant; yet to show how little foundation
there is for this hysterical expression of her extreme good opinion of
herself and contempt for the untutored rustic, she would herself the
next day be delighted with the very same shaped bonnet if brought her by
a French milliner and told it was all the fashion, and in a week's time
will become quite familiar with the maid, and chatter with her (upon
equal terms) about caps and ribbons and lace by the hour together. There
is no difference between them but that of situation in the kitchen or
in the parlour: let circumstances bring them together, and they fit
like hand and glove. It is like mistress, like maid. Their talk, their
thoughts, their dreams, their likings and dislikes are the same. The
mistress's head runs continually on dress and finery, so does the
maid's: the young lady longs to ride in a coach and six, so does the
maid, if she could; Miss forms a _beau-ideal_ of a lover with black eyes
and rosy cheeks, which does not differ from that of her attendant; both
like a smart man, the one the footman and the other his master, for the
same reason; both like handsome furniture and fine houses; both apply
the terms shocking and disagreeable to the same things and persons; both
have a great notion of balls, plays, treats, song-books, and love-tales;
both like a wedding or a christening, and both would give their little
fingers to see a coronation--with this difference, that the one has a
chance of getting a seat at it, and the other is dying with envy that
she has not. Indeed, this last is a ceremony that delights equally the
greatest monarch and the meanest of his subjects--the vilest of the
rabble. Yet this which is the height of gentility and consummation of
external distinction and splendour, is, I should say, a vulgar ceremony.
For what degree of refinement, of capacity, of virtue is required in
the individual who is so distinguished, or is necessary to his enjoying
this idle and imposing parade of his person? Is he delighted with the
stage-coach and gilded panels? So is the poorest wretch that gazes at
it. Is he struck with the spirit, the beauty, and symmetry of the eight
cream-coloured horses? There is not one of the immense multitude who
flock to see the sight from town or country, St. Giles's or Whitechapel,
young or old, rich or poor, gentle or simple, who does not agree to
admire the same object. Is he delighted with the yeomen of the guard,
the military escort, the groups of ladies, the badges of sovereign
power, the kingly crown, the marshal's truncheon and the judge's robe,
the array that precedes and follows him, the crowded streets, the
windows hung with eager looks? So are the mob, for they 'have eyes and
see them!' There is no one faculty of mind or body, natural or acquired,
essential to the principal figure in this procession more than is common
to the meanest and most despised attendant on it. A waxwork figure would
answer the same purpose: a Lord Mayor of London has as much tinsel to be
proud of. I would rather have a king do something that no one else has
the power or magnanimity to do, or say something that no one else has
the wisdom to say, or look more handsome, more thoughtful, or benign
than any one else in his dominions. But I see nothing to raise one's
idea of him in his being made a show of: if the pageant would do as well
without the man, the man would do as well without the pageant! Kings
have been declared to be 'lovers of low company'; and this maxim,
besides the reason sometimes assigned for it, viz. that they meet with
less opposition to their wills from such persons, will I suspect be
found to turn at last on the consideration I am here stating, that they
also meet with more sympathy in their tastes. The most ignorant and
thoughtless have the greatest admiration of the baubles, the outward
symbols of pomp and power, the sound and show, which are the habitual
delight and mighty prerogative of kings. The stupidest slave worships
the gaudiest tyrant. The same gross motives appeal to the same gross
capacities, flatter the pride of the superior and excite the servility
of the dependant; whereas a higher reach of moral and intellectual
refinement might seek in vain for higher proofs of internal worth and
inherent majesty in the object of its idolatry, and not finding the
divinity lodged within, the unreasonable expectation raised would
probably end in mortification on both sides!--There is little to
distinguish a king from his subjects but the rabble's shout--if he loses
that and is reduced to the forlorn hope of gaining the suffrages of the
wise and good, he is of all men the most miserable.--But enough of this.

'I like it,' says Miss Branghton(2) in _Evelina_ (meaning the opera),
'because it is not vulgar.' That is, she likes it, not because there
is anything to like in it, but because other people are prevented from
liking or knowing anything about it. Janus Weathercock, Esq., laugheth
to scorn and spitefully entreateth and hugely condemneth my dramatic
criticisms in the _London,_ for a like exquisite reason. I must
therefore make an example of him _in terrorem_ to all such hypercritics.
He finds fault with me and calls my taste vulgar, because I go to
Sadler's Wells ('a place he has heard of'--0 Lord, sir!)--because
I notice the Miss Dennetts, 'great favourites with the Whitechapel
orders'--praise Miss Valancy, 'a bouncing Columbine at Ashley's and them
there places, as his barber informs him' (has he no way of establishing
himself in his own good opinion but by triumphing over his barber's bad
English?)--and finally, because I recognised the existence of the Coburg
and the Surrey theatres, at the names of which he cries 'Faugh' with
great significance, as if he had some personal disgust at them, and yet
he would be supposed never to have entered them. It is not his cue as a
well-bred critic. _C'est beau ca._ Now this appears to me a very crude,
unmeaning, indiscriminate, wholesale, and vulgar way of thinking.
It is prejudicing things in the lump, by names and places and classes,
instead of judging of them by what they are in themselves, by their real
qualities and shades of distinction. There is no selection, truth, or
delicacy in such a mode of proceeding. It is affecting ignorance, and
making it a title to wisdom. It is a vapid assumption of superiority.
It is exceeding impertinence. It is rank coxcombry. It is nothing in the
world else. To condemn because the multitude admire is as essentially
vulgar as to admire because they admire. There is no exercise of taste
or judgment in either case: both are equally repugnant to good sense,
and of the two I should prefer the good-natured side. I would as soon
agree with my barber as differ from him; and why should I make a point
of reversing the sentence of the Whitechapel orders? Or how can it
affect my opinion of the merits of an actor at the Coburg or the Surrey
theatres, that these theatres are in or out of the Bills of Mortality?
This is an easy, short-hand way of judging, as gross as it is
mechanical. It is not a difficult matter to settle questions of taste
by consulting the map of London, or to prove your liberality by
geographical distinctions. Janus jumbles things together strangely. If
he had seen Mr. Kean in a provincial theatre, at Exeter or Taunton, he
would have thought it vulgar to admire him; but when he had been stamped
in London, Janus would no doubt show his discernment and the subtlety
of his tact for the display of character and passion by not being behind
the fashion. The Miss Dennetts are 'little unformed girls,' for no other
reason than because they danced at one of the minor theatres: let them
but come out on the opera boards, and let the beauty and fashion of the
season greet them with a fairy shower of delighted applause, and they
would outshine Milanie 'with the foot of fire.' His gorge rises at the
mention of a certain quarter of the town: whatever passes current in
another, he 'swallows total grist unsifted, husks and all.' This is not
taste, but folly. At this rate, the hackney-coachman who drives him, or
his horse Contributor whom he has introduced as a select personage to
the vulgar reader, knows as much of the matter as he does.--In a word,
the answer to all this in the first instance is to say what vulgarity
is. Now its essence, I imagine, consists in taking manners, actions,
words, opinions on trust from others, without examining one's own
feelings or weighing the merits of the case. It is coarseness or
shallowness of taste arising from want of individual refinement,
together with the confidence and presumption inspired by example and
numbers. It may be defined to be a prostitution of the mind or body to
ape the more or less obvious defects of others, because by so doing
we shall secure the suffrages of those we associate with. To affect
a gesture, an opinion, a phrase, because it is the rage with a large
number of persons, or to hold it in abhorrence because another set
of persons very little, if at all, better informed cry it down to
distinguish themselves from the former, is in either case equal
vulgarity and absurdity. A thing is not vulgar merely because it is
common. 'Tis common to breathe, to see, to feel, to live. Nothing is
vulgar that is natural, spontaneous, unavoidable. Grossness is not
vulgarity, ignorance is not vulgarity, awkwardness is not vulgarity;
but all these become vulgar when they are affected and shown off on the
authority of others, or to fall in with _the fashion_ or the company we
keep. Caliban is coarse enough, but surely he is not vulgar. We might as
well spurn the clod under our feet and call it vulgar. Cobbett is coarse
enough, but he is not vulgar. He does not belong to the herd. Nothing
real, nothing original, can be vulgar; but I should think an imitator
of Cobbett a vulgar man. Emery's Yorkshireman is vulgar, because he is a
Yorkshireman. It is the cant and gibberish, the cunning and low life
of a particular district; it has 'a stamp exclusive and provincial.' He
might 'gabble most brutishly' and yet not fall under the letter of the
definition; but 'his speech bewrayeth him,' his dialect (like the jargon
of a Bond Street lounger) is the damning circumstance. If he were a mere
blockhead, it would not signify; but he thinks himself a _knowing hand,_
according to the notions and practices of those with whom he was brought
up, and which he thinks _the go_ everywhere. In a word, this character
is not the offspring of untutored nature but of bad habits; it is made
up of ignorance and conceit. It has a mixture of _slang_ in it. All
slang phrases are for the same reason vulgar; but there is nothing
vulgar in the common English idiom. Simplicity is not vulgarity; but the
looking to affectation of any sort for distinction is. A cockney is a
vulgar character, whose imagination cannot wander beyond the suburbs
of the metropolis; so is a fellow who is always thinking of the High
Street, Edinburgh. We want a name for this last character. An opinion is
vulgar that is stewed in the rank breath of the rabble; nor is it a bit
purer or more refined for having passed through the well-cleansed teeth
of a whole court. The inherent vulgarity is in having no other feeling
on any subject than the crude, blind, headling, gregarious notion
acquired by sympathy with the mixed multitude or with a fastidious
minority, who are just as insensible to the real truth, and as
indifferent to everything but their own frivolous and vexatious
pretensions. The upper are not wiser than the lower orders because they
resolve to differ from them. The fashionable have the advantage of
the unfashionable in nothing but the fashion. The true vulgar are the
_servum pecus imitatorum_--the herd of pretenders to what they do not
feel and to what is not natural to them, whether in high or low life.
To belong to any class, to move in any rank or sphere of life, is not a
very exclusive distinction or test of refinement. Refinement will in all
classes be the exception, not the rule; and the exception may fall out
in one class as well as another. A king is but an hereditary title. A
nobleman is only one of the House of Peers. To be a knight or alderman
is confessedly a vulgar thing. The king the other day made Sir Walter
Scott a baronet, but not all the power of the Three Estates could make
another Author of _Waverley_. Princes, heroes, are often commonplace
people: Hamlet was not a vulgar character, neither was Don Quixote. To
be an author, to be a painter, is nothing. It is a trick, it is a trade.

 An author! 'tis a venerable name:
 How few deserve it, yet what numbers claim!

Nay, to be a Member of the Royal Academy or a Fellow of the Royal
Society is but a vulgar distinction; but to be a Virgil, a Milton, a
Raphael, a Claude, is what fell to the lot of humanity but once! I do
not think they were vulgar people; though, for anything I know to the
contrary, the first Lord of the Bedchamber may be a very vulgar man; for
anything I know to the contrary, he may not be so.--Such are pretty much
my notions of gentility and vulgarity.

There is a well-dressed and an ill-dressed mob, both which I hate. _Odi
profanum vulgus, et arceo._ The vapid affectation of the one to me is
even more intolerable than the gross insolence and brutality of the
other. If a set of low-lived fellows are noisy, rude, and boisterous to
show their disregard of the company, a set of fashionable coxcombs are,
to a nauseous degree, finical and effeminate to show their thorough
breeding. The one are governed by their feelings, however coarse and
misguided, which is something; the others consult only appearances,
which are nothing, either as a test of happiness or virtue. Hogarth in
his prints has trimmed the balance of pretension between the downright
blackguard and the _soi-disant_ fine gentleman unanswerably. It does not
appear in his moral demonstrations (whatever it may do in the genteel
letter-writing of Lord Chesterfield or the chivalrous rhapsodies of
Burke) that vice by losing all its grossness loses half its evil. It
becomes more contemptible, not less disgusting. What is there in common,
for instance, between his beaux and belles, his rakes and his coquettes,
and the men and women, the true heroic and ideal characters in Raphael?
But his people of fashion and quality are just upon a par with the low,
the selfish, the _unideal_ characters in the contrasted view of human
life, and are often the very same characters, only changing places. If
the lower ranks are actuated by envy and uncharitableness towards the
upper, the latter have scarcely any feelings but of pride, contempt, and
aversion to the lower. If the poor would pull down the rich to get
at their good things, the rich would tread down the poor as in a
wine-press, and squeeze the last shilling out of their pockets and the
last drop of blood out of their veins. If the headstrong self-will and
unruly turbulence of a common alehouse are shocking, what shall we
say to the studied insincerity, the insipid want of common sense, the
callous insensibility of the drawing-room and boudoir? I would rather
see the feelings of our common nature (for they are the same at bottom)
expressed in the most naked and unqualified way, than see every feeling
of our nature suppressed, stifled, hermetically sealed under the smooth,
cold, glittering varnish of pretended refinement and conventional
politeness. The one may be corrected by being better informed; the other
is incorrigible, wilful, heartless depravity. I cannot describe the
contempt and disgust I have felt at the tone of what would be thought
good company, when I have witnessed the sleek, smiling, glossy,
gratuitous assumption of superiority to every feeling of humanity,
honesty, or principle, as a part of the etiquette, the mental and moral
_costume_ of the table, and every profession of toleration or favour for
the lower orders, that is, for the great mass of our fellow-creatures,
treated as an indecorum and breach of the harmony of well-regulated
society. In short, I prefer a bear-garden to the adder's den; or, to put
this case in its extremest point of view, I have more patience with men
in a rude state of nature outraging the human form than I have with apes
'making mops and mows' at the extravagances they have first provoked.
I can endure the brutality (as it is termed) of mobs better than the
inhumanity of courts. The violence of the one rages like a fire; the
insidious policy of the other strikes like a pestilence, and is more
fatal and inevitable. The slow poison of despotism is worse than the
convulsive struggles of anarchy. 'Of all evils,' says Hume, 'anarchy is
the shortest lived.' The one may 'break out like a wild overthrow'; but
the other from its secret, sacred stand, operates unseen, and undermines
the happiness of kingdoms for ages, lurks in the hollow cheek, and
stares you in the face in the ghastly eye of want and agony and woe.
It is dreadful to hear the noise and uproar of an infuriated multitude
stung by the sense of wrong and maddened by sympathy; it is more
appalling to think of the smile answered by other gracious smiles, of
the whisper echoed by other assenting whispers, which doom them first to
despair and then to destruction. Popular fury finds its counterpart in
courtly servility. If every outrage is to be apprehended from the one,
every iniquity is deliberately sanctioned by the other, without regard
to justice or decency. The word of a king, 'Go thou and do likewise,'
makes the stoutest heart dumb: truth and honesty shrink before it.(3) If
there are watchwords for the rabble, have not the polite and fashionable
their hackneyed phrases, their fulsome, unmeaning jargon as well? Both
are to me anathema!

To return to the first question, as it regards individual and private
manners. There is a fine illustration of the effects of preposterous and
affected gentility in the character of Gertrude, in the old comedy
of _Eastward Hoe,_ written by Ben Jonson, Marston, and Chapman in
conjunction. This play is supposed to have given rise to Hogarth's
series of prints of the Idle and Industrious Apprentice; and there
is something exceedingly Hogarthian in the view both of vulgar and of
genteel life here displayed. The character of Gertrude, in particular,
the heroine of the piece, is inimitably drawn. The mixture of vanity and
meanness, the internal worthlessness and external pretence, the rustic
ignorance and fine lady-like airs, the intoxication of novelty and
infatuation of pride, appear like a dream or romance, rather than
anything in real life. Cinderella and her glass slipper are common-place
to it. She is not, like Millamant (a century afterwards), the
accomplished fine lady, but a pretender to all the foppery and finery of
the character. It is the honeymoon with her ladyship, and her folly
is at the full. To be a wife, and the wife of a knight, are to her
pleasures 'worn in their newest gloss,' and nothing can exceed her
raptures in the contemplation of both parts of the dilemma. It is not
familiarity, but novelty, that weds her to the court. She rises into
the air of gentility from the ground of a city life, and flutters
about there with all the fantastic delight of a butterfly that has just
changed its caterpillar state. The sound of My Lady intoxicates her
with delight, makes her giddy, and almost turns her brain. On the bare
strength of it she is ready to turn her father and mother out of doors,
and treats her brother and sister with infinite disdain and judicial
hardness of heart. With some speculators the modern philosophy has
deadened and distorted all the natural affections; and before abstract
ideas and the mischievous refinements of literature were introduced,
nothing was to be met with in the primeval state of society but
simplicity and pastoral innocence of manners--

 And all was conscience and tender heart

This historical play gives the lie to the above theory pretty broadly,
yet delicately. Our heroine is as vain as she is ignorant, and as
unprincipled as she is both, and without an idea or wish of any kind but
that of adorning her person in the glass, and being called and thought
a lady, something superior to a citizen's wife.(4) She is so bent on
finery that she believes in miracles to obtain it, and expects the
fairies to bring it her.(5) She is quite above thinking of a settlement,
jointure, or pin-money. She takes the will for the deed all through the
piece, and is so besotted with this ignorant, vulgar notion of rank and
title as a real thing that cannot be counterfeited that she is the
dupe of her own fine stratagems, and marries a gull, a dolt, a broken
adventurer for an accomplished and brave gentleman. Her meanness is
equal to her folly and her pride (and nothing can be greater), yet she
holds out on the strength of her original pretensions for a long time,
and plays the upstart with decency and imposing consistency. Indeed,
her infatuation and caprices are akin to the flighty perversity of a
disordered imagination; and another turn of the wheel of good or
evil fortune would have sent her to keep company with Hogarth's
_Merveilleuses_ in Bedlam, or with Decker's group of coquettes in the
same place.--The other parts of the play are a dreary lee-shore, like
Cuckold's Point on the coast of Essex, where the preconcerted shipwreck
takes place that winds up the catastrophe of the piece. But this is
also characteristic of the age, and serves as a contrast to the airy and
factitious character which is the principal figure in the plot. We had
made but little progress from that point till Hogarth's time, if Hogarth
is to be believed in his description of city manners. How wonderfully we
have distanced it since!

Without going into this at length, there is one circumstance 1 would
mention in which I think there has been a striking improvement in
the family economy of modern times--and that is in the relation of
mistresses and servants. After visits and finery, a married woman of the
old school had nothing to do but to attend to her housewifery. She had
no other resource, no other sense of power, but to harangue and lord
it over her domestics. Modern book-education supplies the place of the
old-fashioned system of kitchen persecution and eloquence. A
well-bred woman now seldom goes into the kitchen to look after the
servants:--formerly what was called a good manager, an exemplary
mistress of a family, did nothing but hunt them from morning to night,
from one year's end to another, without leaving them a moment's rest,
peace, or comfort. Now a servant is left to do her work without this
suspicious and tormenting interference and fault-finding at every step,
and she does it all the better. The proverbs about the mistress's eye,
etc., are no longer held for current. A woman from this habit, which at
last became an uncontrollable passion, would scold her maids for fifty
years together, and nothing could stop her: now the temptation to read
the last new poem or novel, and the necessity of talking of it in the
next company she goes into, prevent her--and the benefit to all parties
is incalculable.


(1) If a European, when he has cut off his beard and put false hair on
his head, or bound up his own natural hair in regular hard knots, as
unlike nature as he could possibly make it; and after having rendered
them immovable by the help of the fat of hogs, has covered the whole
with flour, laid on by a machine with the utmost regularity; if when
thus attired he issues forth, and meets with a Cherokee Indian, who has
bestowed as much time at his toilet, and laid on with equal care and
attention his yellow and red oker on particular parts of his forehead
or cheeks, as he judges most becoming; whoever of these two despises the
other for this attention to the fashion of his country, whichever
first feels himself provoked to laugh, is the barbarian.'--Sir Joshua
Reynolds's _Discourses,_ vol. i. pp. 231, 232.

(2) This name was originally spelt Braughton in the manuscript, and was
altered to Branghton by a mistake of the printer. Branghton, however,
was thought a good name for the occasion and was suffered to stand. 'Dip
it in the ocean,' as Sterne's barber says of the buckle, 'and it will

(3) A lady of quality, in allusion to the gallantries of a reigning
prince, being told, 'I suppose it will be your turn next?' said, 'No, I
hope not; for you know it is impossible to refuse!'

(4) '_Gertrude._ For the passion of patience, look if Sir Petronel
approach. That sweet, that fine, that delicate, that--for love's sake,
tell me if he come. Oh, sister Mill, though my father be a low-capt
tradesman, yet I must be a lady, and I praise God my mother must call me
madam. Does he come? Off with this gown for shame's sake, off with this
gown! Let not my knight take me in the city cut, in any hand! Tear't!
Pox on't (does he come?), tear't off! _Thus while she sleeps, I sorrow
for her sake._ (Sings.)

_Mildred._ Lord, sister, with what an immodest impatiency and
disgraceful scorn do you put off your city-tire! I am sorry to think you
imagine to right yourself in wronging that which hath made both you and

_Ger._ I tell you, I cannot endure it: I must be a lady: do you wear
your quoiff with a London licket! your stamel petticoat with two guards!
the buffin gown with the tuftafitty cap and the velvet lace! I must be a
lady, and I will be a lady. I like some humours of the city dames well;
to eat cherries only at an angel a pound; good: to dye rich scarlet
black; pretty: to line a grogram gown clean through with velvet;
tolerable: their pure linen, their smocks of three pound a smock, are
to be borne withal: but your mincing niceries, taffity pipkins, durance
petticoats, and silver bodkins--God's my life! as I shall be a lady, I
cannot endure it.

_Mil._ Well, sister, those that scorn their nest oft fly with a sick

_Ger._ Bow-bell! Alas! poor Mill, when I am a lady, I'll pray for thee
yet i'faith; nay, and I'll vouchsafe to call thee sister Mill still; for
thou art not like to be a lady as I am, yet surely thou art a creature
of God's making, and may'st peradventure be saved as soon as I (does he
come?). _And ever and anon she doubled in her song._

_Mil._ Now (lady's my comfort), what a profane ape's here!


_Ger._ Is my knight come? 0 the lord, my band! Sister, do my cheeks look
well? Give me a little box o' the ear, that I may seem to blush. Now,
now! so, there, there! here he is! 0 my dearest delight! Lord, lord! and
how does my knight?

_Touchstone._ Fie, with more modesty.

_Ger._ Modesty! why, I am no citizen now. Modesty! am I not to be
married? You're best to keep me modest, now I am to be a lady.

_Sir Petronel._ Boldness is a good fashion and court-like.

_Ger._ Aye, in, a country lady I hope it is, as I shall be. And how
chance ye came no sooner, knight?

_Sir Pet._ Faith, I was so entertained in the progress with one Count
Epernoun, a Welch knight: we had a match at baloon too with my Lord
Whackum for four crowns.

_Ger._ And when shall's be married, my knight?

_Sir Pet._ I am come now to consummate: and your father may call a poor
knight son-in-law.

_Mrs. Touchstone._ Yes, that he is a knight: I know where he had money
to pay the gentlemen ushers and heralds their fees. Aye, that he is a
knight: and so might you have been too, if you had been aught else but
an ass, as well as some of your neighbours. An I thought you would
not ha' been knighted, as I am an honest woman, I would ha' dubbed you
myself. I praise God, I have wherewithal. But as for you, daughter--

_Ger._ Aye, mother, I must be a lady to-morrow; and by your leave,
mother (I speak it not without my duty, but only in the right of my
husband), I must take place of you, mother.

_Mrs. Touch._ That you shall, lady-daughter; and have a coach as well as

_Ger._ Yes, mother; but my coach-horses must take the wall of your

_Touch._ Come, come, the day grows low; 'tis supper time: and, sir,
respect my daughter; she has refused for you wealthy and honest matches,
known good men.

_Ger._ Body o' truth, citizen, citizens! Sweet knight, as soon as
ever we are married, take me to thy mercy, out of this miserable city.
Presently: carry me out of the scent of Newcastle coal and the hearing
of Bow-bell, I beseech thee; down with me, for God's sake.'-Act I. Scene

This dotage on sound and show seemed characteristic of that age (see
_New Way to Pay Old Debts,_ etc.)--as if in the grossness of sense,
and the absence of all intellectual and abstract topics of thought and
discourse (the thin, circulating medium of the present day) the mind was
attracted without the power of resistance to the tinkling sound of
its own name with a title added to it, and the image of its own person
tricked out in old-fashioned finery. The effect, no doubt, was also more
marked and striking from the contrast between the ordinary penury and
poverty of the age and the first and more extravagant demonstrations of
luxury and artificial refinement.

(5) _'Gertrude._ Good lord, that there are no fairies nowadays, Syn.

_Syndefy._ Why, Madam?

_Ger._ To do miracles, and bring ladies money. Sure, if we lay in a
cleanly house, they would haunt it, Synne? I'll sweep the chamber soon
at night, and set a dish of water o' the hearth. A fairy may come and
bring a pearl or a diamond. We do not know, Synne: or there may be a pot
of gold hid in the yard, if we had tools to dig for't. Why may not we
two rise early i' the morning, Synne, afore anybody is up, and find
a jewel i' the streets worth a hundred pounds? May not some great
court-lady, as she comes from revels at midnight, look out of her coach,
as 'tis running, and lose such a jewel, and we find it? ha!

_Syn._ They are pretty waking dreams, these.

_Ger._ Or may not some old usurer be drunk overnight with a bag of
money, and leave it behind him on a stall? For God's sake, Syn, let's
rise to-morrow by break of day, and see. I protest, la, if I had as much
money as an alderman, I would scatter some on't i' the streets for poor
ladies to find when their knights were laid up. And now I remember my
song of the Golden Shower, why may not I have such a fortune? I'll sing
it, and try what luck I shall have after it.'--Act V. Scene i.'



 And blind Orion hungry for the morn.

Orion, the subject of this landscape, was the classical Nimrod; and is
called by Homer, 'a hunter of shadows, himself a shade.' He was the son
of Neptune; and having lost an eve in some affray between the Gods
and men, was told that if he would go to meet the rising sun he would
recover his sight. He is represented setting out on his journey, with
men on his shoulders to guide him, a bow in his hand, and Diana in the
clouds greeting him. He stalks along, a giant upon earth, and reels and
falters in his gait, as if just awakened out of sleep, or uncertain of
his way;--you see his blindness, though his back is turned. Mists rise
around him, and veil the sides of the green forests; earth is dank and
fresh with dews, the 'gray dawn and the Pleiades before him dance,' and
in the distance are seen the blue hills and sullen ocean. Nothing
was ever more finely conceived or done. It breathes the spirit of the
morning; its moisture, its repose, its obscurity, waiting the miracle of
light to kindle it into smiles; the whole is, like the principal figure
in it, 'a forerunner of the dawn.' The same atmosphere tinges and imbues
every object, the same dull light 'shadowy sets off' the face of nature:
one feeling of vastness, of strangeness, and of primeval forms pervades
the painter's canvas, and we are thrown back upon the first integrity of
things. This great and learned man might be said to see nature through
the glass of time; he alone has a right to be considered as the painter
of classical antiquity. Sir Joshua has done him justice in this respect.
He could give to the scenery of his heroic fables that unimpaired look
of original nature, full, solid, large, luxuriant, teeming with life and
power; or deck it with all the pomp of art, with tempyles and towers,
and mythologic groves. His pictures 'denote a foregone conclusion.' He
applies Nature to his purposes, works out her images according to
the standard of his thoughts, embodies high fictions; and the first
conception being given, all the rest seems to grow out of and be
assimilated to it, by the unfailing process of a studious imagination.
Like his own Orion, he overlooks the surrounding scene, appears to 'take
up the isles as a very little thing, and to lay the earth in a balance.'
With a laborious and mighty grasp, he puts nature into the mould of the
ideal and antique; and was among painters (more than any one else) what
Milton was among poets. There is in both something of the same pedantry,
the same stiffness, the same elevation, the same grandeur, the same
mixture of art and nature, the same richness of borrowed materials, the
same unity of character. Neither the poet nor the painter lowered the
subjects they treated, but filled up the outline in the fancy, and added
strength and reality to it; and thus not only satisfied, but surpassed
the expectations of the spectator and the reader. This is held for the
triumph and the perfection of works of art. To give us nature, such as
we see it, is well and deserving of praise; to give us nature, such
as we have never seen, but have often wished to see it, is better, and
deserving of higher praise. He who can show the world in its first naked
glory, with the hues of fancy spread over it, or in its high and palmy
state, with the gravity of history stamped on the proud monuments of
vanished empire,--who, by his 'so potent art,' can recall time past,
transport us to distant places, and join the regions of imagination (a
new conquest) to those of reality,--who shows us not only what Nature
is, but what she has been, and is capable of,--he who does this, and
does it with simplicity, with truth, and grandeur, is lord of Nature and
her powers; and his mind is universal, and his art the master-art!

There is nothing in this 'more than natural,' if criticism could
be persuaded to think so. The historic painter does not neglect or
contravene Nature, but follows her more closely up into her fantastic
heights or hidden recesses. He demonstrates what she would be in
conceivable circumstances and under implied conditions. He 'gives to
airy nothing a local habitation,' not 'a name.' At his touch, words
start up into images, thoughts become things. He clothes a dream, a
phantom, with form and colour, and the wholesome attributes of reality.
_His_ art is a second nature; not a different one. There are those,
indeed, who think that not to copy nature is the rule for attaining
perfection. Because they cannot paint the objects which they have they
have, they fancy themselves qualified to paint the ideas which they have
not seen. But it is possible to fail in this latter and more difficult
style of imitation, as well as in the former humbler one. The detection,
it is true, is not so easy, because the objects are not so nigh at hand
to compare, and therefore there is more room both for false pretension
and for self-deceit. They take an epic motto or subject, and conclude
that the spirit is implied as a thing of course. They paint inferior
portraits, maudlin lifeless faces, without ordinary expression, or one
look, feature, or particle of nature in them, and think that this is
to rise to the truth of history. They vulgarise and degrade whatever is
interesting or sacred to the mind, and suppose that they thus add to the
dignity of their profession. They represent a face that seems as if no
thought or feeling of any kind had ever passed through it, and would
have you believe that this is the very sublime of expression, such as
it would appear in heroes, or demigods of old, when rapture or agony was
raised to its height. They show you a landscape that looks as if the sun
never shone upon it, and tell you that it is not modern--that so earth
looked when Titan first kissed it with his rays. This is not the true
ideal. It is not to fill the moulds of the imagination, but to deface
and injure them; it is not to come up to, but to fall short of the
poorest conception in the public mind. Such pictures should not be hung
in the same room with that of Orion.(1)

Poussin was, of all painters, the most poetical. He was the painter of
ideas. No one ever told a story half so well, nor so well knew what was
capable of being told by the pencil. He seized on, and struck off with
grace and precision, just that point of view which would be likely to
catch the reader's fancy. There is a significance, a consciousness in
whatever he does (sometimes a vice, but oftener a virtue) beyond any
other painter. His Giants sitting on the tops of craggy mountains, as
huge themselves, and playing idly on their Pan's-pipes, seem to have
been seated there these three thousand years, and to know the beginning
and the end of their own story. An infant Bacchus or Jupiter is big with
his future destiny. Even inanimate and dumb things speak a language of
their own. His snakes, the messengers of fate, are inspired with human
intellect. His trees grow and expand their leaves in the air, glad of
the rain, proud of the sun, awake to the winds of heaven. In his Plague
of Athens, the very buildings seem stiff with horror. His picture of the
Deluge is, perhaps, the finest historical landscape in the world. You
see a waste of waters, wide, interminable the sun is labouring, wan and
weary, up the sky the clouds, dull and leaden, lie like a load upon the
eye, and heaven and earth seem commingling into one confused mass! His
human figures are sometimes 'o'erinformed' with this kind of feeling.
Their actions have too much gesticulation, and the set expression of the
features borders too much on the mechanical and caricatured style. In
this respect they form a contrast to Raphael's, whose figures never
appear to be sitting for their pictures, or to be conscious of a
spectator, or to have come from the painter's hand. In Nicolas Poussin,
on the contrary, everything seems to have a distinct understanding with
the artist; 'the very stones prate of their whereabout'; each object has
its part and place assigned, and is in a sort of compact with the
rest of the picture. It is this conscious keeping, and, as it were,
_internal_ design, that gives their peculiar character to the works of
this artist. There was a picture of Aurora in the British Gallery a year
or two ago. It was a suffusion of golden light. The Goddess wore her
saffron-coloured robes, and appeared just risen from the gloomy bed of
old Tithonus. Her very steeds, milk-white, were tinged with the yellow
dawn. It was a personification of the morning. Poussin succeeded better
in classic than in sacred subjects. The latter are comparatively heavy,
forced, full of violent contrasts of colour, of red, blue, and black,
and without the true prophetic inspiration of the characters. But in his
pagan allegories and fables he was quite at home. The native gravity and
native levity of the Frenchman were combined with Italian scenery and
an antique gusto, and gave even to his colouring an air of learned
indifference. He wants, in one respect, grace, form, expression; but
he has everywhere sense and meaning, perfect costume and propriety.
His personages always belong to the class and time represented, and are
strictly versed in the business in hand. His grotesque compositions
in particular, his Nymphs and Fauns, are superior (at least, as far
as style is concerned) even to those of Rubens. They are taken more
immediately out of fabulous history. Rubens' Satyrs and Bacchantes have
a more jovial and voluptuous aspect, are more drunk with pleasure,
more full of animal spirits and riotous impulses; they laugh and bound

 Leaping like wanton kids in pleasant spring:

but those of Poussin have more of the intellectual part of the
character, and seem vicious on reflection, and of set purpose. Rubens'
are noble specimens of a class; Poussin's are allegorical abstractions
of the same class, with bodies less pampered, but with minds more
secretly depraved. The Bacchanalian groups of the Flemish painter were,
however, his masterpieces in composition. Witness those prodigies of
colour, character, and expression at Blenheim. In the more chaste and
refined delineation of classic fable, Poussin was without a rival.
Rubens, who was a match for him in the wild and picturesque, could not
pretend to vie with the elegance and purity of thought in his picture of
Apollo giving a poet a cup of water to drink, nor with the gracefulness
of design in the figure of a nymph squeezing the juice of a bunch of
grapes from her fingers (a rosy wine-press) which falls into the mouth
of a chubby infant below. But, above all, who shall celebrate, in terms
of fit praise, his picture of the shepherds in the Vale of Tempe going
out in a fine morning of the spring, and coming to a tomb with this
inscription: ET EGO IN ARCADIA VIXI! The eager curiosity of some, the
expression of others who start back with fear and surprise, the clear
breeze playing with the branches of the shadowing trees, 'the valleys
low, where the mild zephyrs use,' the distant, uninterrupted, sunny
prospect speak (and for ever will speak on) of ages past to ages yet to

Pictures are a set of chosen images, a stream of pleasant thoughts
passing through the mind. It is a luxury to have the walls of our rooms
hung round with them, and no less so to have such a gallery in the mind,
to con over the relies of ancient art bound up 'within the book and
volume of the brain, unmixed (if it were possible) with baser matter!' A
life passed among pictures, in the study and the love of art, is a happy
noiseless dream: or rather, it is to dream and to be awake at the same
time; for it has all 'the sober certainty of waking bliss,' with the
romantic voluptuousness of a visionary and abstracted being. They are
the bright consummate essences of things, and 'he who knows of these
delights to taste and interpose them oft, is not unwise!'--The Orion,
which I have here taken occasion to descant upon, is one of a collection
of excellent pictures, as this collection is itself one of a series from
the old masters, which have for some years back embrowned the walls of
the British Gallery, and enriched the public eye. What hues (those of
nature mellowed by time) breathe around as we enter! What forms are
there, woven into the memory! What looks, which only the answering looks
of the spectator can express! What intellectual stores have been yearly
poured forth from the shrine of ancient art! The works are various,
but the names the same--heaps of Rembrandts frowning from the darkened
walls, Rubens' glad gorgeous groups, Titians more rich and rare, Claudes
always exquisite, sometimes beyond compare, Guido's endless cloying
sweetness, the learning of Poussin and the Caracci, and Raphael's
princely magnificence crowning all. We read certain letters and
syllables in the Catalogue, and at the well-known magic sound a miracle
of skill and beauty starts to view. One might think that one year's
prodigal display of such perfection would exhaust the labours of one
man's life; but the next year, and the next to that, we find another
harvest reaped and gathered in to the great garner of art, by the same
immortal hands--

 Old GENIUS the porter of them was;
 He letteth in, he letteth out to wend.--

Their works seem endless as their reputation--to be many as they are
complete--to multiply with the desire of the mind to see more and more
of them; as if there were a living power in the breath of Fame, and in
the very names of the great heirs of glory 'there were propagation to
year; to have one last, lingering look yet to come. Pictures are
scattered like stray gifts through the world; and while they remain,
earth has yet a little gilding left, not quite rubbed off, dishonoured,
and defaced. There are plenty of standard works still to be found in
this country, in the collections at Blenheim, at Burleigh, and in those
belonging to Mr. Angerstein, Lord Grosvenor, the Marquis of Stafford,
and others, to keep up this treat to the lovers of art for many years;
and it is the more desirable to reserve a privileged sanctuary of
this sort, where the eye may dote, and the heart take its fill of
such pictures as Poussin's Orion, since the Louvre is stripped of its
triumphant spoils, and since he who collected it, and wore it as a
rich jewel in his Iron Crown, the hunter of greatness and of glory, is
himself a shade!


(1) Everything tends to show the manner in which a great artist
is formed. If any person could claim an exemption from the careful
imitation of individual objects, it was Nicolas Poussin. He studied
the antique, but he also studied nature. 'I have often admired,' says
Vignuel do Marville, who knew him at a late period of his life, 'the
love he had for his art. Old as he was, I frequently saw him among the
ruins of ancient Rome, out in the Campagna, or along the banks of the
Tyber, sketching a scene that had pleased him; and I often met him with
his handkerchief full of stones, moss, or flowers, which he carried
home, that he might copy them exactly from nature. One day I asked him
how he had attained to such a degree of perfection as to have gained
so high a rank among the great painters of Italy? He answered, "I HAVE
NEGLECTED NOTHING."'--_See his Life lately published._ It appears from
this account that he had not fallen Into a recent error, that Nature
puts the man of genius out. As a contrast to the foregoing description,
I might mention, that I remember an old gentleman once asking Mr. West
In the British Gallery if he had ever been at Athens? To which the
President made answer, No; nor did he feel any great desire to go; for
that he thought he had as good an idea of the place from the Catalogue
as he could get by living there for any number of years. What would he
have said, if any one had told him he could get as good an idea of the
subject of one of his great works from reading the Catalogue of it, as
from seeing the picture itself? Yet the answer was characteristic of the
genius of the painter.

(2) Poussin has repeated this subject more than once, and appears to
have revelled in its witcheries. I have before alluded to it, and may
again. It is hard that we should not be allowed to dwell as often as we
please on what delights us, when things that are disagreeable recur so
often against our will.


The great object of the Sonnet seems to be, to express in musical
numbers, and as it were with undivided breath, some occasional thought
or personal feeling, 'some fee-grief due to the poet's breast.' It is
a sigh uttered from the fulness of the heart, an involuntary aspiration
born and dying in the same moment. I have always been fond of Milton's
Sonnets for this reason, that they have more of this personal and
internal character than any others; and they acquire a double value when
we consider that they come from the pen of the loftiest of our poets.
Compared with _Paradise_ Lost, they are like tender flowers that adorn
the base of some proud column or stately temple. The author in the one
could work himself up with unabated fortitude 'to the height of his
great argument'; but in the other he has shown that he could condescend
to men of low estate, and after the lightning and the thunderbolt of
his pen, lets fall some drops of natural pity over hapless infirmity,
mingling strains with the nightingale's, 'most musical, most
melancholy.' The immortal poet pours his mortal sorrows into our
breasts, and a tear falls from his sightless orbs on the friendly
hand he presses. The Sonnets are a kind of pensive record of past
achievements, loves, and friendships, and a noble exhortation to himself
to bear up with cheerful hope and confidence to the last. Some of them
are of a more quaint and humorous character; but I speak of those only
which are intended to be serious and pathetical.--I do not know indeed
but they may be said to be almost the first effusions of this sort of
natural and personal sentiment in the language. Drummond's ought
perhaps to be excepted, were they formed less closely on the model
of Petrarch's, so as to be often little more than translations of
the Italian poet. But Milton's Sonnets are truly his own in allusion,
thought, and versification. Those of Sir Philip Sydney, who was a
great transgressor in his way, turn sufficiently on himself and his own
adventures; but they are elaborately quaint and intricate, and more like
riddles than sonnets. They are 'very tolerable and not to be endured.'
Shakespear's, which some persons better informed in such matters than I
can pretend to be, profess to cry up as 'the divine, the matchless, what
you will,'--to say nothing of the want of point or a leading, prominent
idea in most of them, are I think overcharged and monotonous, and as to
their ultimate drift, as for myself, I can make neither head nor tail
of it. Yet some of them, I own, are sweet even to a sense of faintness,
luscious as the woodbine, and graceful and luxuriant like it. Here is

 From you have I been absent in the spring,
 When proud-pied April, dress'd in all his trim,
 Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing;
 That heavy Saturn laugh'd and leap'd with him.
 Yet nor the lays of birds, nor the sweet smell
 Of different flowers in odour and in hue,
 Could make me any summer's story tell,
 Or from their proud lap pluck them where they grew:
 Nor did I wonder at the lilies white,
 Nor praise the deep vermilion in the rose;
 They were but sweet, but figures of delight,
 Drawn after you, you pattern of all those.
 Yet seem'd it winter still, and you away,
 As with your shadow, I with these did play.

I am not aware of any writer of Sonnets worth mentioning here till long
after Milton, that is, till the time of Warton and the revival of a
taste for Italian and for our own early literature. During the rage
for French models the Sonnet had not been much studied. It is a mode of
composition that depends entirely on _expression,_ and this the French
and artificial style gladly dispenses with, as it lays no particular
stress on anything--except vague, general common-places. Warton's
Sonnets are undoubtedly exquisite, both in style and matter; they are
poetical and philosophical effusions of very delightful sentiment;
but the thoughts, though fine and deeply felt, are not, like Milton's
subjects, identified completely with the writer, and so far want a more
individual interest. Mr. Wordsworth's are also finely conceived and
high-sounding Sonnets. They mouth it well, and are said to be sacred to
Liberty. Brutus's exclamation, 'Oh Virtue, I thought thee a substance,
but I find thee a shadow,' was not considered as a compliment, but as a
bitter sarcasm. The beauty of Milton's Sonnets is their sincerity, the
spirit of poetical patriotism which they breathe. Either Milton's or
the living bard's are defective in this respect. There is no Sonnet of
Milton's on the Restoration of Charles II. There is no Sonnet of Mr.
Wordsworth's corresponding to that of 'the poet blind and bold' 'On
the late Massacre in Piedmont.' It would be no niggard praise to Mr.
Wordsworth to grant that he was either half the man or half the poet
that Milton was. He has not his high and various imagination, nor his
deep and fixed principle. Milton did not worship the rising sun, nor
turn his back on a losing and fallen cause.

 Such recantation had no charms for him!

Mr. Southey has thought proper to put the author of _Paradise Lost_ into
his late Heaven, on the understood condition that he is 'no longer to
kings and to hierarchs hostile.' In his lifetime he gave no sign of such
an alteration; and it is rather presumptuous in the poet-laureate to
pursue the deceased antagonist of Salmasius into the other world to
compliment him with his own infirmity of purpose. It is a wonder he did
not add in a note that Milton called him aside to whisper in his ear
that he preferred the new English hexameters to his own blank verse!

Our first of poets was one of our first of men. He was an eminent
instance to prove that a poet is not another name for the slave of power
and fashion, as is the case with painters and musicians--things without
an opinion--and who merely aspire to make up the pageant and show of the
day. There are persons in common life who have that eager curiosity and
restless admiration of bustle and splendour, that sooner than not be
admitted on great occasions of feasting and luxurious display, they will
go in the character of livery-servants to stand behind the chairs of the
great. There are others who can so little bear to be left for any length
of time out of the grand carnival and masquerade of pride and folly,
that they will gain admittance to it at the expense of their characters
as well as of a change of dress. Milton was not one of these. He had too
much of the _ideal_ faculty in his composition, a lofty contemplative
principle, and consciousness of inward power and worth, to be tempted
by such idle baits. We have plenty of chanting and chiming in among some
modern writers with the triumphs over their own views and principles;
but none of a patient resignation to defeat, sustaining and nourishing
itself with the thought of the justice of their cause, and with
firm-fixed rectitude. I do not pretend to defend the tone of Milton's
political writings (which was borrowed from the style of controversial
divinity), or to say that he was right in the part he took,--I say that
he was consistent in it, and did not convict himself of error: he was
consistent in it in spite of danger and obloquy, 'on evil days though
fallen, and evil tongues,' and therefore his character has the salt of
honesty about it. It does not offend in the nostrils of posterity. He
had taken his part boldly and stood to it manfully, and submitted to the
change of times with pious fortitude, building his consolations on the
resources of his own mind and the recollection of the past, instead
of endeavouring to make himself a retreat for the time to come. As an
instance of this we may take one of the best and most admired of these
Sonnets, that addressed to Cyriac Skinner, on his own blindness:--

 Cyriac, this three years' day, these eyes, though clear,
 To outward view, of blemish or of spot,
 Bereft of light their seeing have forgot,
 Nor to their idle orbs doth sight appear
 Of sun or moon or stars throughout the year,
 Or man or woman.  Yet I argue not
 Against Heav'n's hand or will, nor bate a jot
 Of heart or hope; but still bear up and steer
 Right onward.  What supports me, dost thou ask?
 The conscience, Friend, to have lost them overply'd
 In liberty's defence, my noble task,
 Of which all Europe talks from side to side.
 This thought might lead me through the world's vain mask,
 Content though blind, had I no better guide.

Nothing can exceed the mild, subdued tone of this Sonnet, nor the
striking grandeur of the concluding thought. It is curious to remark
what seems to be a trait of character in the two first lines. From
Milton's care to inform the reader that 'his eyes wore still clear, to
outward view, of spot or blemish,' it would be thought that he had not
yet given up all regard to personal appearance; a feeling to which his
singular beauty at an earlier age might be supposed naturally enough
to lead. Of the political or (what may be called) his _State-Sonnets,_
those to Cromwell, to Fairfax, and to the younger Vane are full of
exalted praise and dignified advice. They are neither familiar nor
servile. The writer knows what is due to power and to fame. He feels
the true, unassumed equality of greatness. He pays the full tribute of
admiration for great acts achieved, and suggests becoming occasion to
deserve higher praise. That to Cromwell is a proof how completely our
poet maintained the erectness of his understanding and spirit in his
intercourse with men in power. It is such a compliment as a poet might
pay to a conqueror and head of the state without the possibility of

 Cromwell, our chief of men, who through a cloud,
 Not of war only, but detractions rude,
 Guided by faith and matchless fortitude,
 To peace and truth thy glorious way hast plough'd,
 And on the neck of crowned fortune proud
 Hast rear'd God's trophies and his work pursued
 While Darwen stream with blood of Scots imbrued,
 And Dunbar field resounds thy praises loud,
 And Worcester's laureat wreath.  Yet much remains
 To conquer still; peace hath her victories
 No less renown'd than war: new foes arise
 Threatening to bind our souls with secular chains;
 Help us to save free conscience from the paw
 Of hireling wolves, whose gospel is their maw.

The most spirited and impassioned of them all, and the most inspired
with a sort of prophetic fury, is the one entitled, 'On the late
Massacre in Piedmont.'

 Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughter'd saints, whose bones
 Lie scatter'd on the Alpine mountains cold;
 Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
 When all our fathers worshipp'd stocks and stones,
 Forgot not: in thy book record their groans
 Who were thy sheep, and in their ancient fold
 Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that roll'd
 Mother with infant down the rocks.  Their moans
 The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
 To Heav'n.  Their martyr'd blood and ashes sow
 O'er all the Italian fields, where still doth sway
 The triple Tyrant; that from these may grow
 A hundred fold, who having learn'd thy way
 Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

In the Nineteenth Sonnet, which is also 'On his blindness,' we see the
jealous watchfulness of his mind over the use of his high gifts, and the
beautiful manner in which he satisfies himself that virtuous thoughts
and intentions are not the least acceptable offering to the Almighty:

 When I consider how my light is spent
 Ere half my days, in this dark world and wide,
 And that one talent which is death to hide,
 Lodged with me useless, though my soul more bent,
 To serve therewith my Maker, and present
 My true account, lest he returning chide;
 Doth God exact day-labour, light denied,
 I fondly ask: But patience to prevent
 That murmur, soon replies, God doth not need
 Either man's work or his own gifts; who best
 Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best; his state
 Is kingly; thousands at his bidding speed,
 And post o'er land and ocean without rest;
 They also serve who only stand and wait.

Those to Mr. Henry Lawes _on his Airs,_ and to Mr. Lawrence, can never
be enough admired. They breathe the very soul of music and friendship.
Both have a tender, thoughtful grace; and for their lightness, with a
certain melancholy complaining intermixed, might be stolen from the harp
of Aeolus. The last is the picture of a day spent in social retirement
and elegant relaxation from severer studies. We sit with the poet at
table and hear his familiar sentiments from his own lips afterwards:--

 Lawrence, of virtuous father virtuous son,
 Now that the fields are dank and ways are mire,
 Where shall we sometimes meet, and by the fire
 Help waste a sullen day, what may be won
 From the hard season gaining? Time will run
 On smoother, till Favonius re-inspire
 The frozen earth, and clothe in fresh attire
 The lily and rose, that neither sow'd nor spun.
 What neat repast shall feast us, light and choice,
 Of Attic taste, with wine, whence we may rise
 To hear the lute well-touched, or artful voice
 Warble immortal notes and Tuscan air?
 He who of these delights can judge, and spare
 To interpose them oft, is not unwise.

In the last, 'On his deceased Wife,' the allusion to Alcestis is
beautiful, and shows how the poet's mind raised and refined his thoughts
by exquisite classical conceptions, and how these again were enriched
by a passionate reference to actual feelings and images. It is this rare
union that gives such voluptuous dignity and touching purity to Milton's
delineation of the female character:--

 Methought I saw my late espoused saint
 Brought to me like Alcestis from the grave,
 Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
 Rescued from death by force, though pale and faint.
 Mine, as whom wash'd from spot of child-bed taint
 Purification in the old law did save,
 And such, as yet once more I trust to have
 Full sight of her in Heav'n without restraint,
 Came vested all in white, pure as her mind:
 Her face was veil'd, yet to my fancied sight
 Love, sweetness, goodness in her person shined
 So clear, as in no face with more delight:
 But O as to embrace me she inclined,
 I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.

There could not have been a greater mistake or a more unjust piece of
criticism than to suppose that Milton only shone on great subjects, and
that on ordinary occasions and in familiar life his mind was unwieldy,
averse to the cultivation of grace and elegance, and unsusceptible
of harmless pleasures. The whole tenor of his smaller compositions
contradicts this opinion, which, however, they have been cited to
confirm. The notion first got abroad from the bitterness (or vehemence)
of his controversial writings, and has been kept up since with little
meaning and with less truth. His Letters to Donatus and others are not
more remarkable for the display of a scholastic enthusiasm than for that
of the most amiable dispositions. They are 'severe in youthful virtue
unreproved.' There is a passage in his prose-works (the Treatise on
Education) which shows, I think, his extreme openness and proneness to
pleasing outward impressions in a striking point of view. 'But to return
to our own institute,' he says, 'besides these constant exercises at
home, there is another opportunity of gaining experience to be won from
pleasure itself abroad. _In those vernal seasons of the year, when
the air is calm and pleasant, it were an injury and sullenness against
Nature not to go out and see her riches, and partake in her rejoicing
with Heaven and earth._ I should not therefore be a persuader to them
of studying much then, but to ride out in companies with prudent
and well-staid guides, to all quarters of the land,' etc. Many
other passages might be quoted, in which the poet breaks through the
groundwork of prose, as it were, by natural fecundity and a genial,
unrestrained sense of delight. To suppose that a poet is not easily
accessible to pleasure, or that he does not take an interest in
individual objects and feelings, is to suppose that he is no poet; and
proceeds on the false theory, which has been so often applied to poetry
and the Fine Arts, that the whole is not made up of the particulars. If
our author, according to Dr. Johnson s account of him, could only have
treated epic, high-sounding subjects, he would not have been what he
was, but another Sir Richard Blackmore.--I may conclude with observing,
that I have often wished that Milton had lived to see the Revolution of
1688. This would have been a triumph worthy of him, and which he would
have earned by faith and hope. He would then have been old, but would
not have lived in vain to see it, and might have celebrated the event in
one more undying strain!


No notes for this essay


One of the pleasantest things in the world is going a journey; but I
like to go by myself. I can enjoy society in a room; but out of doors,
nature is company enough for me. I am then never less alone than when

 The fields his study, nature was his book.

I cannot see the wit of walking and talking at the same time. When I
am in the country I wish to vegetate like the country. I am not for
criticising hedge-rows and black cattle. I go out of town in order to
forget the town and all that is in it. There are those who for this
purpose go to watering-places, and carry the metropolis with them. I
like more elbow-room and fewer encumbrances. I like solitude, when I
give myself up to it, for the sake of solitude; nor do I ask for

 A friend in my retreat,
 Whom I may whisper solitude is sweet.

The soul of a journey is liberty, perfect liberty, to think, feel,
do, just as one pleases. We go a journey chiefly to be free of all
impediments and of all inconveniences; to leave ourselves behind much
more to get rid of others. It is because I want a little breathing-space
to muse on indifferent matters, where Contemplation

 May plume her feathers and let grow her wings,
 That in the various bustle of resort
 Were all too ruffled, and sometimes impair'd,

that I absent myself from the town for a while, without feeling at a
loss the moment I am left by myself. Instead of a friend in a postchaise
or in a Tilbury, to exchange good things with, and vary the same stale
topics over again, for once let me have a truce with impertinence. Give
me the clear blue sky over my head, and the green turf beneath my feet,
a winding road before me, and a three hours' march to dinner--and
then to thinking! It is hard if I cannot start some game on these lone
heaths. I laugh, I run, I leap, I sing for joy. From the point of yonder
rolling cloud I plunge into my past being, and revel there, as the
sun-burnt Indian plunges headlong into the wave that wafts him to his
native shore. Then long-forgotten things, like 'sunken wrack and sumless
treasuries,' burst upon my eager sight, and I begin to feel, think, and
be myself again. Instead of an awkward silence, broken by attempts at
wit or dull common-places, mine is that undisturbed silence of the heart
which alone is perfect eloquence. No one likes puns, alliterations,
antitheses, argument, and analysis better than I do; but I sometimes had
rather be without them. 'Leave, oh, leave me to my repose!' I have just
now other business in hand, which would seem idle to you, but is with
me 'very stuff o' the conscience.' Is not this wild rose sweet without
a comment? Does not this daisy leap to my heart set in its coat of
emerald? Yet if I wore to explain to you the circumstance that has so
endeared it to me, you would only smile. Had I not better then keep it
to myself, and let it serve me to brood over, from here to yonder craggy
point, and from thence onward to the far-distant horizon? I should be
but bad company all that way, and therefore prefer being alone. I have
heard it said that you may, when the moody fit comes on, walk or ride on
by yourself, and indulge your reveries. But this looks like a breach of
manners, a neglect of others, and you are thinking all the time that you
ought to rejoin your party. 'Out upon such half-faced fellowship,' say
I. I like to be either entirely to myself, or entirely at the disposal
of others; to talk or be silent, to walk or sit still, to be sociable or
solitary. I was pleased with an observation of Mr. Cobbett's, that 'he
thought it a bad French custom to drink our wine with our meals, and
that an Englishman ought to do only one thing at a time.' So I cannot
talk and think, or indulge in melancholy musing and lively conversation
by fits and starts. 'Let me have a companion of my way,' says Sterne,
'were it but to remark how the shadows lengthen as the sun declines.'
It is beautifully said; but, in my opinion, this continual comparing
of notes interferes with the involuntary impression of things upon the
mind, and hurts the sentiment. If you only hint what you feel in a kind
of dumb show, it is insipid: if you have to explain it, it is making a
toil of a pleasure. You cannot read the book of nature without being
perpetually put to the trouble of translating it for the benefit of
others. I am for this synthetical method on a journey in preference to
the analytical. I am content to lay in a stock of ideas then, and to
examine and anatomise them afterwards. I want to see my vague notions
float like the down of the thistle before the breeze, and not to have
them entangled in the briars and thorns of controversy. For once, I like
to have it all my own way; and this is impossible unless you are alone,
or in such company as I do not covet. I have no objection to argue a
point with any one for twenty miles of measured road, but not for
pleasure. If you remark the scent of a bean-field crossing the road,
perhaps your fellow-traveller has no smell. If you point to a distant
object, perhaps he is short-sighted, and has to take out his glass to
look at it. There is a feeling in the air, a tone in the colour of a
cloud, which hits your fancy, but the effect of which you are unable to
account for. There is then no sympathy, but an uneasy craving after it,
and a dissatisfaction which pursues you on the way, and in the end
probably produces ill-humour. Now I never quarrel with myself, and take
all my own conclusions for granted till I find it necessary to defend
them against objections. It is not merely that you may not be of accord
on the objects and circumstances that present themselves before you--
these may recall a number of objects, and lead to associations too
delicate and refined to be possibly communicated to others. Yet these I
love to cherish, and sometimes still fondly clutch them, when I can
escape from the throng to do so. To give way to our feelings before
company seems extravagance or affectation; and, on the other hand, to
have to unravel this mystery of our being at every turn, and to make
others take an equal interest in it (otherwise the end is not answered),
is a task to which few are competent. We must 'give it an understanding,
but no tongue.' My old friend Coleridge, however, could do both. He
could go on in the most delightful explanatory way over hill and dale a
summer's day, and convert a landscape into a didactic poem or a Pindaric
ode. 'He talked far above singing.' If I could so clothe my ideas in
sounding and flowing words, I might perhaps wish to have some one with
me to admire the swelling theme; or I could be more content, were it
possible for me still to hear his echoing voice in the woods of
All-Foxden.(1) They had 'that fine madness in them which our first poets
had'; and if they could have been caught by some rare instrument, would
have breathed such strains as the following:--

 Here be woods as green
 As any, air likewise as fresh and sweet
 As when smooth Zephyrus plays on the fleet
 Face of the curled streams, with flow'rs as many
 As the young spring gives, and as choice as any;
 Here be all new delights, cool streams and wells,
 Arbours o'ergrown with woodbines, caves and dells;
 Choose where thou wilt, whilst I sit by and sing,
 Or gather rushes to make many a ring
 For thy long fingers; tell thee tales of love,
 How the pale Phoebe, hunting in a grove,
 First saw the boy Endymion, from whose eyes
 She took eternal fire that never dies;
 How she convey'd him softly in a sleep,
 His temples bound with poppy, to the steep
 Head of old Latmos, where she stoops each night,
 Gilding the mountain with her brother's light,
 To kiss her sweetest.(2)

Had I words and images at command like these, I would attempt to wake
the thoughts that lie slumbering on golden ridges in the evening clouds:
but at the sight of nature my fancy, poor as it is, droops and closes up
its leaves, like flowers at sunset. I can make nothing out on the spot:
I must have time to collect myself.

In general, a good thing spoils out-of-door prospects: it should be
reserved for Table-talk. Lamb is for this reason, I take it, the worst
company in the world out of doors; because he is the best within. I
grant there is one subject on which it is pleasant to talk on a journey,
and that is, what one shall have for supper when we get to our inn
at night. The open air improves this sort of conversation or friendly
altercation, by setting a keener edge on appetite. Every mile of the
road heightens the flavour of the viands we expect at the end of it. How
fine it is to enter some old town, walled and turreted, just at approach
of nightfall, or to come to some straggling village, with the lights
streaming through the surrounding gloom; and then, after inquiring for
the best entertainment that the place affords, to 'take one's ease
at one's inn'! These eventful moments in our lives' history are too
precious, too full of solid, heartfelt happiness to be frittered and
dribbled away in imperfect sympathy. I would have them all to myself,
and drain them to the last drop: they will do to talk of or to write
about afterwards. What a delicate speculation it is, after drinking
whole goblets of tea--

 The cups that cheer, but not inebriate--

and letting the fumes ascend into the brain, to sit considering what we
shall have for supper--eggs and a rasher, a rabbit smothered in onions,
or an excellent veal-cutlet! Sancho in such a situation once fixed on
cow-heel; and his choice, though he could not help it, is not to be
disparaged. Then, in the intervals of pictured scenery and Shandean
contemplation, to catch the preparation and the stir in the kitchen
(getting ready for the gentleman in the parlour). _Procul, O procul
este profani!_ These hours are sacred to silence and to musing, to be
treasured up in the memory, and to feed the source of smiling thoughts
hereafter. I would not waste them in idle talk; or if I must have the
integrity of fancy broken in upon, I would rather it were by a stranger
than a friend. A stranger takes his hue and character from the time and
place; he is a part of the furniture and costume of an inn. If he is a
Quaker, or from the West Riding of Yorkshire, so much the better. I do
not even try to sympathise with him, and he breaks no squares. (How I
love to see the camps of the gypsies, and to sigh my soul into that sort
of life. If I express this feeling to another, he may qualify and
spoil it with some objection.) I associate nothing with my travelling
companion but present objects and passing events. In his ignorance of me
and my affairs, I in a manner forget myself. But a friend reminds one
of other things, rips up old grievances, and destroys the abstraction
of the scene. He comes in ungraciously between us and our imaginary
character. Something is dropped in the course of conversation that gives
a hint of your profession and pursuits; or from having some one with
you that knows the less sublime portions of your history, it seems that
other people do. You are no longer a citizen of the world; but your
'unhoused free condition is put into circumspection and confine.' The
incognito of an inn is one of its striking privileges--'lord of one's
self, uncumbered with a name.' Oh! it is great to shake off the trammels
of the world and of public opinion--to lose our importunate, tormenting,
everlasting personal identity in the elements of nature, and become the
creature of the moment, clear of all ties--to hold to the universe
only by a dish of sweetbreads, and to owe nothing but the score of the
evening--and no longer seeking for applause and meeting with contempt,
to be known by no other title than _the Gentleman in the parlour!_
One may take one's choice of all characters in this romantic state
of uncertainty as to one's real pretensions, and become indefinitely
respectable and negatively right-worshipful. We baffle prejudice and
disappoint conjecture; and from being so to others, begin to be
objects of curiosity and wonder even to ourselves. We are no more those
hackneyed common-places that we appear in the world; an inn restores us
to the level of nature, and quits scores with society! I have certainly
spent some enviable hours at inns--sometimes when I have been left
entirely to myself, and have tried to solve some metaphysical problem,
as once at Witham Common, where I found out the proof that likeness is
not a case of the association of ideas--at other times, when there have
been pictures in the room, as at St. Neot's (I think it was), where
I first met with Gribelin's engravings of the Cartoons, into which I
entered at once, and at a little inn on the borders of Wales, where
there happened to be hanging some of Westall's drawings, which I
compared triumphantly (for a theory that I had, not for the admired
artist) with the figure of a girl who had ferried me over the Severn,
standing up in a boat between me and the twilight--at other times I
might mention luxuriating in books, with a peculiar interest in
this way, as I remember sitting up half the night to read _Paul and
Virginia,_ which I picked up at an inn at Bridgewater, after being
drenched in the rain all day; and at the same place I got through two
volumes of Madame D'Arblay's _Camilla._ It was on the 10th of April
1798 that I sat down to a volume of the _New Eloise,_ at the inn at
Llangollen, over a bottle of sherry and a cold chicken. The letter I
chose was that in which St. Preux describes his feelings as he first
caught a glimpse from the heights of the Jura of the Pays de Vaud, which
I had brought with me as a _bon bouche_ to crown the evening with. It
was my birthday, and I had for the first time come from a place in the
neighbourhood to visit this delightful spot. The road to Llangollen
turns off between Chirk and Wrexham; and on passing a certain point
you come all at once upon the valley, which opens like an amphitheatre,
broad, barren hills rising in majestic state on either side, with 'green
upland swells that echo to the bleat of flocks' below, and the river
Dee babbling over its stony bed in the midst of them. The valley at this
time 'glittered green with sunny showers,' and a budding ash-tree dipped
its tender branches in the chiding stream. How proud, how glad I was
to walk along the high road that overlooks the delicious prospect,
repeating the lines which I have just quoted from Mr. Coleridge's poems!
But besides the prospect which opened beneath my feet, another also
opened to my inward sight, a heavenly vision, on which were written,
in letters large as Hope could make them, these four words, LIBERTY,
GENIUS, LOVE, VIRTUE; which have since faded into the light of common
day, or mock my idle gaze.

The beautiful is vanished, and returns not.

Still I would return some time or other to this enchanted spot; but I
would return to it alone. What other self could I find to share that
influx of thoughts, of regret, and delight, the fragments of which I
could hardly conjure up to myself, so much have they been broken and
defaced. I could stand on some tall rock, and overlook the precipice of
years that separates me from what I then was. I was at that time going
shortly to visit the poet whom I have above named. Where is he now? Not
only I myself have changed; the world, which was then new to me, has
become old and incorrigible. Yet will I turn to thee in thought, O
sylvan Dee, in joy, in youth and gladness as thou then wert; and thou
shalt always be to me the river of Paradise, where I will drink of the
waters of life freely!

There is hardly anything that shows the short-sightedness or
capriciousness of the imagination more than travelling does. With change
of place we change our ideas; nay, our opinions and feelings. We can by
an effort indeed transport ourselves to old and long-forgotten scenes,
and then the picture of the mind revives again; but we forget those
that we have just left. It seems that we can think but of one place at
a time. The canvas of the fancy is but of a certain extent, and if we
paint one set of objects upon it, they immediately efface every other.
We cannot enlarge our conceptions, we only shift our point of view. The
landscape bares its bosom to the enraptured eye, we take our fill of it,
and seem as if we could form no other image of beauty or grandeur. We
pass on, and think no more of it: the horizon that shuts it from our
sight also blots it from our memory like a dream. In travelling through
a wild barren country I can form no idea of a woody and cultivated one.
It appears to me that all the world must be barren, like what I see
of it. In the country we forget the town, and in town we despise
the country. 'Beyond Hyde Park,' says Sir Topling Flutter, 'all is a
desert.' All that part of the map that we do not see before us is blank.
The world in our conceit of it is not much bigger than a nutshell. It is
not one prospect expanded into another, county joined to county, kingdom
to kingdom, land to seas, making an image voluminous and vast; the mind
can form no larger idea of space than the eye can take in at a
single glance. The rest is a name written in a map, a calculation of
arithmetic. For instance, what is the true signification of that immense
mass of territory and population known by the name of China to us? An
inch of pasteboard on a wooden globe, of no more account than a China
orange! Things near us are seen of the size of life: things at a
distance are diminished to the size of the understanding. We measure the
universe by ourselves, and even comprehend the texture of our being only
piecemeal. In this way, however, we remember an infinity of things and
places. The mind is like a mechanical instrument that plays a great
variety of tunes, but it must play them in succession. One idea recalls
another, but it at the same time excludes all others. In trying to renew
old recollections, we cannot as it were unfold the whole web of our
existence; we must pick out the single threads. So in coming to a
place where we have formerly lived, and with which we have intimate
associations, every one must have found that the feeling grows more
vivid the nearer we approach the spot, from the mere anticipation of the
actual impression: we remember circumstances, feelings, persons, faces,
names that we had not thought of for years; but for the time all the
rest of the world is forgotten!--To return to the question I have
quitted above:

I have no objection to go to see ruins, aqueducts, pictures, in company
with a friend or a party, but rather the contrary, for the former reason
reversed. They are intelligible matters, and will bear talking about.
The sentiment here is not tacit, but communicable and overt. Salisbury
Plain is barren of criticism, but Stonehenge will bear a discussion
antiquarian, picturesque, and philosophical. In setting out on a party
of pleasure, the first consideration always is where we shall go to: in
taking a solitary ramble, the question is what we shall meet with by the
way. 'The mind is its own place'; nor are we anxious to arrive at the
end of our journey. I can myself do the honours indifferently well to
works of art and curiosity. I once took a party to Oxford with no mean
eclat--showed them that seat of the Muses at a distance,

 With glistering spires and pinnacles adorn'd--

descanted on the learned air that breathes from the grassy quadrangles
and stone walls of halls and colleges--was at home in the Bodleian; and
at Blenheim quite superseded the powdered Cicerone that attended us, and
that pointed in vain with his wand to commonplace beauties in matchless
pictures. As another exception to the above reasoning, I should not
feel confident in venturing on a journey in a foreign country without
a companion. I should want at intervals to hear the sound of my own
language. There is an involuntary antipathy in the mind of an Englishman
to foreign manners and notions that requires the assistance of social
sympathy to carry it off. As the distance from home increases, this
relief, which was at first a luxury, becomes a passion and an appetite.
A person would almost feel stifled to find himself in the deserts of
Arabia without friends and countrymen: there must be allowed to be
something in the view of Athens or old Rome that claims the utterance
of speech; and I own that the Pyramids are too mighty for any single
contemplation. In such situations, so opposite to all one's ordinary
train of ideas, one seems a species by one's-self, a limb torn off from
society, unless one can meet with instant fellowship and support. Yet I
did not feel this want or craving very pressing once, when I first
set my foot on the laughing shores of France. Calais was peopled with
novelty and delight. The confused, busy murmur of the place was like oil
and wine poured into my ears; nor did the mariners' hymn, which was
sung from the top of an old crazy vessel in the harbour, as the sun
went down, send an alien sound into my soul. I only breathed the air of
general humanity. I walked over 'the vine-covered hills and gay regions
of France,' erect and satisfied; for the image of man was not cast
down and chained to the foot of arbitrary thrones: I was at no loss for
language, for that of all the great schools of painting was open to me.
The whole is vanished like a shade. Pictures, heroes, glory, freedom,
all are fled: nothing remains but the Bourbons and the French
people!--There is undoubtedly a sensation in travelling into foreign
parts that is to be had nowhere else; but it is more pleasing at the
time than lasting. It is too remote from our habitual associations to be
a common topic of discourse or reference, and, like a dream or another
state of existence, does not piece into our daily modes of life.
It is an animated but a momentary hallucination.  It demands an effort
to exchange our actual for our ideal identity; and to feel the pulse of
our old transports revive very keenly, we must 'jump' all our present
comforts and connections. Our romantic and itinerant character is not to
be domesticated. Dr. Johnson remarked how little foreign travel added
to the facilities of conversation in those who had been abroad. In
fact, the time we have spent there is both delightful, and in one sense
instructive; but it appears to be cut out of our substantial, downright
existence, and never to join kindly on to it. We are not the same, but
another, and perhaps more enviable individual, all the time we are out
of our own country. We are lost to ourselves, as well as our friends. So
the poet somewhat quaintly sings:

 Out of my country and myself I go.

Those who wish to forget painful thoughts, do well to absent themselves
for a while from the ties and objects that recall them; but we can
be said only to fulfil our destiny in the place that gave us birth. I
should on this account like well enough to spend the whole of my life
in travelling abroad, if I could anywhere borrow another life to spend
afterwards at home!


(1) Near Nether-Stowey, Somersetshire, where the author of this Essay
visited Coleridge in 1798. He was there again in 1803.

(2) Fletcher's 'Faithful Shepherdess,' i. 3 (Dyce's _Beaumont and
Fletcher,_ ii. 38, 39).


There is a set of people who fairly come under this denomination. They
spend their time and their breath in coffee-houses and other places
of public resort, hearing or repeating some new thing. They sit with a
paper in their hands in the morning, and with a pipe in their mouths in
the evening, discussing the contents of it. The _Times,_ the _Morning
Chronicle,_ and the _Herald_ are necessary to their existence: in
them 'they live and move and have their being.' The Evening Paper is
impatiently expected and called for at a certain critical minute:
the news of the morning becomes stale and vapid by the dinner-hour.
A fresher interest is required, an appetite for the latest-stirring
information is excited with the return of their meals; and a glass of
old port or humming ale hardly relishes as it ought without the infusion
of some lively topic that had its birth with the day, and perishes
before night. 'Then come in the sweets of the evening':--the Queen, the
coronation, the last new play, the next fight, the insurrection of the
Greeks or Neapolitans, the price of stocks, or death of kings, keep them
on the alert till bedtime. No question comes amiss to them that is quite
new--none is ever heard of that is at all old.

 That of an hour's age doth hiss the speaker.

The World before the Flood or the Intermediate State of the Soul are
never once thought of--such is the quick succession of subjects, the
suddenness and fugitiveness of the interest taken in them, that the
_Twopenny Post Bag_ would be at present looked upon as an old-fashioned
publication; and the Battle of Waterloo, like the proverb, is somewhat
musty. It is strange that people should take so much interest at one
time in what they so soon forget;--the truth is, they feel no interest
in it at any time, but it does for something to talk about. Their ideas
are served up to them, like their bill of fare, for the day; and the
whole creation, history, war, politics, morals, poetry, metaphysics,
is to them like a file of antedated newspapers, of no use, not even for
reference, except the one which lies on the table! You cannot take any
of these persons at a greater disadvantage than before they are provided
with their cue for the day. They ask with a face of dreary vacuity,
'Have you anything new?'--and on receiving an answer in the negative,
have nothing further to say. (They are like an oyster at the ebb of the
tide, gaping for fresh _tidings._) Talk of the Westminster Election, the
Bridge Street Association, or Mr. Cobbett's Letter to John Cropper of
Liverpool, and they are alive again. Beyond the last twenty-four hours,
or the narrow round in which they move, they are utterly to seek,
without ideas, feelings, interests, apprehensions of any sort; so that
if you betray any knowledge beyond the vulgar routine of SECOND EDITIONS
and first-hand private intelligence, you pass with them for a dull
fellow, not acquainted with what is going forward in the world, or
with the practical value of things. I have known a person of this stamp
censure John Cam Hobhouse for referring so often as he does to the
affairs of the Greeks and Romans, as if the affairs of the nation were
not sufficient for his hands: another asks you if a general in modern
times cannot throw a bridge over a river without having studied Caesar's
_Commentaries;_ and a third cannot see the use of the learned languages,
as he has observed that the greatest proficients in them are rather
taciturn than otherwise, and hesitate in their speech more than other
people. A dearth of general information is almost necessary to the
thorough-paced coffee-house politician; in the absence of thought,
imagination, sentiment, he is attracted immediately to the nearest
commonplace, and floats through the chosen regions of noise and empty
rumours without difficulty and without distraction. Meet 'any six of
these men in buckram,' and they will accost you with the same question
and the same answer: they have seen it somewhere in print, or had it
from some city oracle, that morning; and the sooner they vent their
opinions the better, for they will not keep. Like tickets of admission
to the theatre for a particular evening, they must be used immediately,
or they will be worth nothing: and the object is to find auditors for
the one and customers for the other, neither of which is difficult;
since people who have no ideas of their own are glad to hear what any
one else has to say, as those who have not free admissions to the play
will very obligingly take up with an occasional order. It sometimes
gives one a melancholy but mixed sensation to see one of the better sort
of this class of politicians, not without talents or learning, absorbed
for fifty years together in the all-engrossing topic of the day:
mounting on it for exercise and recreation of his faculties, like the
great horse at a riding-school, and after his short, improgressive,
untired career, dismounting just where he got up; flying abroad in
continual consternation on the wings of all the newspapers; waving his
arm like a pump-handle in sign of constant change, and spouting out
torrents of puddled politics from his mouth; dead to all interests
but those of the state; seemingly neither older nor wiser for age;
unaccountably enthusiastic, stupidly romantic, and actuated by no other
motive than the mechanical operations of the spirit of newsmongering.(1)

'What things,' exclaims Beaumont in his verses to Ben Jonson, 'have we
not seen done at the Mermaid!

 'Then when there hath been thrown
 Wit able enough to justify the town
 For three days past, wit that might warrant be
 For the whole city to talk foolishly!'

I cannot say the same of the Southampton, though it stands on classic
ground, and is connected by vocal tradition with the great names of
the Elizabethan age. What a falling off is here I Our ancestors of
that period seem not only to be older by two hundred years, and
proportionably wiser and wittier than we, but hardly a trace of them is
left, not even the memory of what has been. How should I make my friend
Mounsey stare, if I were to mention the name of my still better friend,
old honest Signor Friscobaldo, the father of Bellafront;--yet his name
was perhaps invented, and the scenes in which he figures unrivalled
might for the first time have been read aloud to thrilling ears on this
very spot! Who reads Decker now? Or if by chance any one awakes the
strings of that ancient lyre, and starts with delight as they yield
wild, broken music, is he not accused of envy to the living Muse? What
would a linen-draper from Holborn think, if I were to ask him after the
clerk of St. Andrew's, the immortal, the forgotten Webster? His name and
his works are no more heard of: though _these_ were written with a pen
of adamant, 'within the red-leaved tables of the heart,' his fame
was 'writ in water.' So perishable is genius, so swift is time, so
fluctuating is knowledge, and so far is it from being true that men
perpetually accumulate the means of improvement and refinement. On the
contrary, living knowledge is the tomb of the dead, and while light
and worthless materials float on the surface, the solid and sterling
as often sink to the bottom, and are swallowed up for ever in weeds and
quicksands!--A striking instance of the short-lived nature of popular
reputation occurred one evening at the Southampton, when we got into
a dispute, the most learned and recondite that over took place, on the
comparative merits of Lord Byron and Gray. A country gentleman happened
to drop in, and thinking to show off in London company, launched into
a lofty panegyric on _The Bard_ of Gray as the sublimest composition
in the English language. This assertion presently appeared to be an
anachronism, though it was probably the opinion in vogue thirty years
ago, when the gentleman was last in town. After a little floundering,
one of the party volunteered to express a more contemporary sentiment,
by asking in a tone of mingled confidence and doubt--'But you don't
think, sir, that Gray is to be mentioned as a poet in the same day with
my Lord Byron?' The disputants were now at issue: all that resulted was
that Gray was set aside as a poet who would not go down among readers of
the present day, and his patron treated the works of the Noble Bard
as mere ephemeral effusions, and spoke of poets that would be admired
thirty years hence, which was the farthest stretch of his critical
imagination. His antagonist's did not even reach so far. This was the
most romantic digression we over had; and the subject was not afterwards
resumed.--No one here (generally speaking) has the slightest notion of
anything that has happened, that has been said, thought, or done out
of his own recollection. It would be in vain to hearken after those
'wit-skirmishes,' those 'brave sublunary things' which were the
employment and delight of the Beaumonts and Bens of former times: but we
may happily repose on dulness, drift with the tide of nonsense, and gain
an agreeable vertigo by lending an ear to endless controversies. The
confusion, provided you do not mingle in the fray and try to disentangle
it, is amusing and edifying enough. Every species of false wit and
spurious argument may be learnt here by potent examples. Whatever
observations you hear dropt have been picked up in the same place or in
a kindred atmosphere. There is a kind of conversation made up entirely
of scraps and hearsay, as there are a kind of books made up entirely
of references to other books. This may account for the frequent
contradictions which abound in the discourse of persons educated
and disciplined wholly in coffee-houses. There is nothing stable or
well-grounded in it: it is 'nothing but vanity, chaotic vanity.' They
hear a remark at the Globe which they do not know what to make of;
another at the Rainbow in direct opposition to it; and not having time
to reconcile them, vent both at the Mitre. In the course of half an
hour, if they are not more than ordinarily dull, you are sure to find
them on opposite sides of the question. This is the sickening part
of it. People do not seem to talk for the sake of expressing their
opinions, but to maintain an opinion for the sake of talking. We meet
neither with modest ignorance nor studious acquirement. Their knowledge
has been taken in too much by snatches to digest properly. There is
neither sincerity nor system in what they say. They hazard the first
crude notion that comes to hand, and then defend it how they can; which
is for the most part but ill. 'Don't you think,' says Mounsey, 'that
Mr. ----- is a very sensible, well-informed man?' 'Why, no,' I say, 'he
seems to me to have no ideas of his own, and only to wait to see what
others will say in order to set himself against it. I should not think
that is the way to get at the truth. I do not desire to be driven out
of my conclusions (such as they are) merely to make way for his upstart
pretensions.'--'Then there is -----: what of him?' 'He might very well
express all he has to say in half the time, and with half the trouble.
Why should he beat about the bush as he does? He appears to be getting
up a little speech and practising on a smaller scale for a Debating
Society--the lowest ambition a man can have. Besides, by his manner of
drawling out his words, and interlarding his periods with innuendos and
formal reservations, he is evidently making up his mind all the time
which side he shall take. He puts his sentences together as printers
set up types, letter by letter. There is certainly no principle of
short-hand in his mode of elocution. He goes round for a meaning, and
the sense waits for him. It is not conversation, but rehearsing a part.
Men of education and men of the world order this matter better.  They
know what they have to say on a subject, and come to the point at once.
Your coffee-house politician balances between what he heard last and
what he shall say next; and not seeing his way clearly, puts you off
with circumstantial phrases, and tries to gain time for fear of making a
false step. This gentleman has heard some one admired for precision and
copiousness of language; and goes away, congratulating himself that he
has not made a blunder in grammar or in rhetoric the whole evening.
He is a theoretical _Quidnunc_--is tenacious in argument, though wary;
carries his point thus and thus, bandies objections and answers with
uneasy pleasantry, and when he has the worst of the dispute, puns very
emphatically on his adversary's name, if it admits of that kind of
misconstruction.' George Kirkpatrick is admired by the waiter, who is
a sleek hand,(2) for his temper in managing an argument. Any one
else would perceive that the latent cause is not patience with his
antagonist, but satisfaction with himself. I think this unmoved
self-complacency, this cavalier, smooth, simpering indifference is more
annoying than the extremest violence or irritability. The one shows that
your opponent does care something about you, and may be put out of his
way by your remarks; the other seems to announce that nothing you say
can shake his opinion a jot, that he has considered the whole of what
you have to offer beforehand, and that he is in all respects much wiser
and more accomplished than you. Such persons talk to grown people with
the same air of patronage and condescension that they do to children.
'They will explain'--is a familiar expression with them, thinking you
can only differ from them in consequence of misconceiving what they say.
Or if you detect them in any error in point of fact (as to acknowledged
deficiency in wit or argument, they would smile at the idea), they add
some correction to your correction, and thus have the whip-hand of you
again, being more correct than you who corrected them. If you hint some
obvious oversight, they know what you are going to say, and were aware
of the objection before you uttered it:--'So shall their
anticipation prevent your discovery.' By being in the right you gain
no advantage: by being in the wrong you are entitled to the benefit of
their pity or scorn. It is sometimes curious to see a select group of
our little Gotham getting about a knotty point that will bear a wager,
as whether Dr. Johnson's Dictionary was originally published in quarto
or folio. The confident assertions, the cautious overtures, the length
of time demanded to ascertain the fact, the precise terms of the
forfeit, the provisos for getting out of paying it at last, lead to a
long and inextricable discussion. George Kirkpatrick was, however,
so convinced in his own mind that the _Mourning Bride_ was written by
Shakespear, that he ran headlong into the snare: the bet was decided,
and the punch was drunk. He has skill in numbers, and seldom exceeds
his sevenpence.--He had a brother once, no Michael Cassio, no great
arithmetician. Roger Kirkpatrick was a rare fellow, of the driest
humour, and the nicest tact, of infinite sleights and evasions, of a
picked phraseology, and the very soul of mimicry. I fancy I have some
insight into physiognomy myself, but he could often expound to me at a
single glance the characters of those of my acquaintance that I had been
most at fault about. The account as it was cast up and balanced between
us was not always very favourable. How finely, how truly, how gaily he
took off the company at the Southampton! Poor and faint are my sketches
compared to his! It was like looking into a _camera obscura_--you saw
faces shining and speaking--the smoke curled, the lights dazzled, the
oak wainscotting took a higher polish--there was old Sarratt, tall and
gaunt, with his couplet from Pope and case at Nisi Prius, Mounsey eyeing
the ventilator and lying _perdu_ for a moral, and Hume and Ayrton taking
another friendly finishing glass!--These and many more windfalls of
character he gave us in thought, word, and action. I remember his once
describing three different persons together to myself and Martin Burney,
viz. the manager of a country theatre, a tragic and a comic performer,
till we were ready to tumble on the floor with laughing at the oddity
of their humours, and at Roger's extraordinary powers of ventriloquism,
bodily and mental; and Burney said (such was the vividness of the scene)
that when he awoke the next morning, he wondered what three amusing
characters he had been in company with the evening before. Oh! it was
a rich treat to see him describe Mudford, him of the _Courier,_ the
Contemplative Man, who wrote an answer to Coelebs, coming into a room,
folding up his greatcoat, taking out a little pocket volume, laying it
down to think, rubbing the calf of his leg with grave self-complacency,
and starting out of his reverie when spoken to with an inimitable vapid
exclamation of 'Eh!' Mudford is like a man made of fleecy hosiery: Roger
was lank and lean 'as is the ribbed sea-sand.' Yet he seemed the very
man he represented, as fat, pert, and dull as it was possible to be. I
have not seen him of late:--

 For Kais is fled, and our tents are forlorn.

But I thought of him the other day, when the news of the death of
Buonaparte came, whom we both loved for precisely contrary reasons, he
for putting down the rabble of the people, and I because he had put
down the rabble of kings. Perhaps this event may rouse him from his
lurking-place, where he lies like Reynard, 'with head declined, in
feigned slumbers!'(3)

I had almost forgotten the Southampton Tavern. We for some time took
C---- for a lawyer, from a certain arguteness of voice and slenderness
of neck, and from his having a quibble and a laugh at himself always
ready. On inquiry, however, he was found to be a patent-medicine seller,
and having leisure in his apprenticeship, and a forwardness of parts, he
had taken to study Blackstone and the _Statutes at Large._ On appealing
to Mounsey for his opinion on this matter, he observed pithily, 'I don't
like so much law: the gentlemen here seem fond of law, but I have law
enough at chambers.' One sees a great deal of the humours and tempers of
men in a place of this sort, and may almost gather their opinions
from their characters. There is C----, a fellow that is always in the
wrong--who puts might for right on all occasions--a Tory in grain--who
has no one idea but what has been instilled into him by custom
and authority--an everlasting babbler on the stronger side of the
question--querulous and dictatorial, and with a peevish whine in his
voice like a beaten schoolboy. He is a great advocate for the Bourbons
and for the National Debt. The former he affirms to be the choice of the
French people, and the latter he insists is necessary to the salvation
of these kingdoms. This last point a little inoffensive gentleman among
us, of a saturnine aspect but simple conceptions, cannot comprehend. 'I
will tell you, sir--I will make my propositions so clear that you will
be convinced of the truth of my observation in a moment. Consider, sir,
the number of trades that would be thrown out of employ if it were done
away with: what would become of the porcelain manufacture without it?'
Any stranger to overhear one of these debates would swear that the
English as a nation are bad logicians. Mood and figure are unknown to
them. They do not argue by the book. They arrive at conclusions through
the force of prejudice, and on the principles of contradiction. Mr.
C---- having thus triumphed in argument, offers a flower to the notice
of the company as a specimen of his flower-garden, a curious exotic,
nothing like it to be found in this kingdom; talks of his carnations, of
his country-house, and old English hospitality, but never invites any of
his friends to come down and take their Sunday's dinner with him. He is
mean and ostentatious at the same time, insolent and servile, does
not know whether to treat those he converses with as if they were his
porters or his customers: the prentice-boy is not yet wiped out of him,
and his imagination still hovers between his mansion at ----- and
the workhouse. Opposed to him and to every one else is B., a radical
reformer and logician, who makes clear work of the taxes and National
Debt, reconstructs the Government from the first principles of things,
shatters the Holy Alliance at a blow, grinds out the future prospects of
society with a machine, and is setting out afresh with the commencement
of the French Revolution five and twenty years ago, as if on an untried
experiment. He minds nothing but the formal agreement of his premises
and his conclusions, and does not stick at obstacles in the way, nor
consequences in the end. If there was but one side of a question, he
would be always in the right. He casts up one column of the account to
admiration, but totally forgets and rejects the other. His ideas lie
like square pieces of wood in his brain, and may be said to be piled
up on a stiff architectural principle, perpendicularly, and at
right angles. There is no inflection, no modification, no graceful
embellishment, no Corinthian capitals. I never heard him agree to two
propositions together, or to more than half a one at a time. His rigid
love of truth bends to nothing but his habitual love of disputation. He
puts one in mind of one of those long-headed politicians and frequenters
of coffee-houses mentioned in Berkeley's _Minute Philosopher,_ who would
make nothing of such old-fashioned fellows as Plato and Aristotle. He
has the new light strong upon him, and he knocks other people down with
its solid beams. He denies that he has got certain views out of Cobbett,
though he allows that there are excellent ideas occasionally to be met
with in that writer. It is a pity that this enthusiastic and unqualified
regard to truth should be accompanied with an equal exactness of
expenditure and unrelenting eye to the main chance. He brings a bunch
of radishes with him for cheapness, and gives a band of musicians at the
door a penny, observing that he likes their performance better than
all the Opera squalling. This brings the severity of his political
principles into question, if not into contempt. He would abolish the
National Debt from motives of personal economy, and objects to Mr.
Canning's pension because it perhaps takes a farthing a year out of his
own pocket. A great deal of radical reasoning has its source in this
feeling.--He bestows no small quantity of his tediousness upon Mounsey,
on whose mind all these formulas and diagrams fall like seed on stony
ground: 'while the manna is descending,' he shakes his ears, and, in the
intervals of the debate, insinuates an objection, and calls for another
half-pint. I have sometimes said to him, 'Any one to come in here
without knowing you, would take you for the most disputatious man alive,
for you are always engaged in an argument with somebody or other.'
The truth is, that Mounsey is a good-natured, gentlemanly man, who
notwithstanding, if appealed to, will not let an absurd or unjust
proposition pass without expressing his dissent; and therefore he is a
sort of mark for all those (and we have several of that stamp) who like
to tease other people's understandings as wool-combers tease wool. He
is certainly the flower of the flock. He is the oldest frequenter of the
place, the latest sitter-up, well-informed, inobtrusive, and that
sturdy old English character, a lover of truth and justice. I never knew
Mounsey approve of anything unfair or illiberal. There is a candour and
uprightness about his mind which can neither be wheedled nor browbeat
into unjustifiable complaisance. He looks straight forward as he sits
with his glass in his hand, turning neither to the right nor the left,
and I will venture to say that he has never had a sinister object in
view through life. Mrs. Battle (it is recorded in her Opinions on Whist)
could not make up her mind to use the word _'Go.'_ Mounsey, from long
practice, has got over this difficulty, and uses it incessantly. It
is no matter what adjunct follows in the train of this despised
monosyllable,--whatever liquid comes after this prefix is welcome.
Mounsey, without being the most communicative, is the most conversible
man I know. The social principle is inseparable from his person. If he
has nothing to say, he drinks your health; and when you cannot, from
the rapidity and carelessness of his utterance, catch what he says, you
assent to it with equal confidence: you know his meaning is good. His
favourite phrase is, 'We have all of us something of the coxcomb';
and yet he has none of it himself. Before I had exchanged half a
dozen sentences with Mounsey, I found that he knew several of my old
acquaintance (an immediate introduction of itself, for the discussing
the characters and foibles of common friends is a great sweetener and
cement of friendship)--and had been intimate with most of the wits and
men about town for the last twenty years. He knew Tobin, Wordsworth,
Porson, Wilson, Paley, Erskine, and many others. He speaks of Paley's
pleasantry and unassuming manners, and describes Porson's long potations
and long quotations formerly at the Cider Cellar in a very lively way.
He has doubts, however, as to that sort of learning. On my saying that
I had never seen the Greek Professor but once, at the Library of the
London Institution, when he was dressed in an old rusty black coat with
cobwebs hanging to the skirts of it, and with a large patch of coarse
brown paper covering the whole length of his nose, looking for all the
world like a drunken carpenter, and talking to one of the proprietors
with an air of suavity, approaching to condescension, Mounsey could
not help expressing some little uneasiness for the credit of classical
literature. 'I submit, sir, whether common sense is not the principal
thing? What is the advantage of genius and learning if they are of no
use in the conduct of life?'--Mounsey is one who loves the hours that
usher in the morn, when a select few are left in twos and threes like
stars before the break of day, and when the discourse and the ale are
'aye growing better and better.' Wells, Mounsey, and myself were all
that remained one evening. We had sat together several hours without
being tired of one another's company. The conversation turned on the
Beauties of Charles the Second's Court at Windsor, and from thence to
Count Grammont, their gallant and gay historian. We took our favourite
passages in turn--one preferring that of Killigrew's country cousin,
who, having been resolutely refused by Miss Warminster (one of the Maids
of Honour), when he found she had been unexpectedly brought to bed,
fell on his knees and thanked God that now she might take compassion on
him--another insisting that the Chevalier Hamilton's assignation with
Lady Chesterfield, when she kept him all night shivering in an old
out-house, was better. Jacob Hall's prowess was not forgotten, nor the
story of Miss Stuart's garters. I was getting on in my way with that
delicate _endroit_ in which Miss Churchill is first introduced at court
and is besieged (as a matter of course) by the Duke of York, who was
gallant as well as bigoted on system. His assiduities, however, soon
slackened, owing (it is said) to her having a pale, thin face: till one
day, as they were riding out hunting together, she fell from her horse,
and was taken up almost lifeless. The whole assembled court was thrown
by this event into admiration that such a body should belong to such a
face(4) (so transcendent a pattern was she of the female form), and the
Duke was fixed. This, I contended, was striking, affecting, and grand,
the sublime of amorous biography, and said I could conceive of nothing
finer than the idea of a young person in her situation, who was the
object of indifference or scorn from outward appearance, with the proud
suppressed consciousness of a Goddess-like symmetry, locked up by 'fear
and niceness, the handmaids of all women,' from the wonder and worship
of mankind. I said so then, and I think so now: my tongue grew wanton
in the praise of this passage, and I believe it bore the bell from its
competitors. Wells then spoke of Lucius Apuleius and his Golden Ass,
which contains the story of Cupid and Psyche, with other matter rich and
rare, and went on to the romance of Heliodorus, Theagenes and Chariclea
and in it the presiding deities of Love and Wine appear in all their
pristine strength, youth, and grace, crowned and worshipped as of yore.
The night waned, but our glasses brightened, enriched with the pearls
of Grecian story. Our cup-bearer slept in a corner of the room, like
another Endymion, in the pale ray of a half-extinguished lamp, and
starting up at a fresh summons for a further supply, he swore it was too
late, and was inexorable to entreaty. Mounsey sat with his hat on and
with a hectic flush in his face while any hope remained, but as soon
as we rose to go, he darted out of the room as quick as lightning,
determined not to be the last that went.--I said some time after to the
waiter, that 'Mr. Mounsey was no flincher.' 'Oh! sir,' says he, 'you
should have known him formerly, when Mr. Hume and Mr. Ayrton used to
be here. Now he is quite another man: he seldom stays later than one or
two.'--'Why, did they keep it up much then?' 'Oh! yes; and used to
sing catches and all sorts.'--'What, did Mr. Mounsey sing catches?' 'He
joined chorus, sir, and was as merry as the best of them. He was always
a pleasant gentleman!'--This Hume and Ayrton succumbed in the fight.
Ayrton was a dry Scotchman, Hume a good-natured, hearty Englishman. I
do not mean that the same character applies to all Scotchmen or to all
Englishmen. Hume was of the Pipe-Office (not unfitly appointed), and
in his cheerfuller cups would delight to speak of a widow and a
bowling-green, that ran in his head to the last. 'What is the good of
talking of those things now?' said the man of utility. 'I don't know,'
replied the other, quaffing another glass of sparkling ale, and with a
lambent fire playing in his eye and round his bald forehead--(he had a
head that Sir Joshua would have made something bland and genial of)--'I
don't know, but they were delightful to me at the time, and are still
pleasant to talk and think of.'--_Such a one,_ in Touchstone's phrase,
_is a natural philosopher;_ and in nine cases out of ten that sort of
philosophy is the best! I could enlarge this sketch, such as it is; but
to prose on to the end of the chapter might prove less profitable than

I like very well to sit in a room where there are people talking on
subjects I know nothing of, if I am only allowed to sit silent and as
a spectator; but I do not much like to join in the conversation, except
with people and on subjects to my taste. Sympathy is necessary to
society. To look on, a variety of faces, humours, and opinions is
sufficient; to mix with others, agreement as well as variety is
indispensable. What makes good society? I answer, in one word, real
fellowship. Without a similitude of tastes, acquirements, and pursuits
(whatever may be the difference of tempers and characters) there can be
no intimacy or even casual intercourse worth the having. What makes
the most agreeable party? A number of people with a number of ideas in
common, 'yet so as with a difference'; that is, who can put one or
more subjects which they have all studied in the greatest variety of
entertaining or useful lights. Or, in other words, a succession of good
things said with good-humour, and addressed to the understandings of
those who hear them, make the most desirable conversation. Ladies,
lovers, beaux, wits, philosophers, the fashionable or the vulgar, are
the fittest company for one another. The discourse at Randal's is the
best for boxers; that at Long's for lords and loungers. I prefer Hunt's
conversation almost to any other person's, because, with a familiar
range of subjects, he colours with a totally new and sparkling light,
reflected from his own character. Elia, the grave and witty, says things
not to be surpassed in essence; but the manner is more painful and
less a relief to my own thoughts. Some one conceived he could not be an
excellent companion, because he was seen walking down the side of the
Thames, _passibus iniquis,_ after dining at Richmond. The objection
was not valid. I will, however, admit that the said Elia is the worst
company in the world in bad company, if it be granted me that in good
company he is nearly the best that can be. He is one of those of whom it
may be said, Tell me your company, and I'll tell you your manners. He
is the creature of sympathy, and makes good whatever opinion you seem to
entertain of him. He cannot outgo the apprehensions of the circle, and
invariably acts up or down to the point of refinement or vulgarity at
which they pitch him. He appears to take a pleasure in exaggerating
the prejudice of strangers against him; a pride in confirming the
prepossessions of friends. In whatever scale of intellect he is placed,
he is as lively or as stupid as the rest can be for their lives. If you
think him odd and ridiculous, he becomes more and more so every minute,
_a la folie,_ till he is a wonder gazed (at) by all--set him against a
good wit and a ready apprehension, and he brightens more and more--

  Or like a gate of steel
 Fronting the sun, receives and renders back
 Its figure and its heat.

We had a pleasant party one evening at Procter's. A young literary
bookseller who was present went away delighted with the elegance of the
repast, and spoke in raptures of a servant in green livery and a patent
lamp. I thought myself that the charm of the evening consisted in some
talk about Beaumont and Fletcher and the old poets, in which every one
took part or interest, and in a consciousness that we could not pay our
host a better compliment than in thus alluding to studies in which he
excelled, and in praising authors whom he had imitated with feeling and
sweetness!--I should think it may also be laid down as a rule on this
subject, that to constitute good company a certain proportion of hearers
and speakers is requisite. Coleridge makes good company for this reason.
He immediately establishes the principle of the division of labour in
this respect wherever he comes. He takes his cue as speaker, and the
rest of the party theirs as listeners--a 'Circa herd'--without any
previous arrangement having been gone through. I will just add that
there can be no good society without perfect freedom from affectation
and constraint. If the unreserved communication of feeling or opinion
leads to offensive familiarity, it is not well; but it is no better
where the absence of offensive remarks arises only from formality and an
assumed respectfulness of manner.

I do not think there is anything deserving the name of society to be
found out of London; and that for the two following reasons. First,
there is _neighbourhood_ elsewhere, accidental or unavoidable
acquaintance: people are thrown together by chance or grow together like
trees; but you can pick your society nowhere but in London. The very
persons that of all others you would wish to associate with in almost
every line of life (or at least of intellectual pursuit) are to be met
with there. It is hard if out of a million of people you cannot find
half a dozen to your liking. Individuals may seem lost and hid in the
size of the place; but in fact, from this very circumstance, you are
within two or three miles' reach of persons that, without it, you would
be some hundreds apart from. Secondly, London is the only place in which
each individual in company is treated according to his value in company,
and to that only. In every other part of the kingdom he carries another
character about with him, which supersedes the intellectual or social
one. It is known in Manchester or Liverpool what every man in the room
is worth in land or money; what are his connections and prospects
in life--and this gives a character of servility or arrogance, of
mercenaries or impertinence to the whole of provincial intercourse.
You laugh not in proportion to a man's wit, but his wealth; you have to
consider not what, but whom you contradict. You speak by the pound,
and are heard by the rood. In the metropolis there is neither time nor
inclination for these remote calculations. Every man depends on the
quantity of sense, wit, or good manners he brings into society for the
reception he meets with in it. A Member of Parliament soon finds his
level as a commoner: the merchant and manufacturer cannot bring his
goods to market here: the great landed proprietor shrinks from being the
lord of acres into a pleasant companion or a dull fellow. When a visitor
enters or leaves a room, it is not inquired whether he is rich or poor,
whether he lives in a garret or a palace, or comes in his own or a
hackney coach, but whether he has a good expression of countenance,
with an unaffected manner, and whether he is a man of understanding or
a blockhead. These are the circumstances by which you make a favourable
impression on the company, and by which they estimate you in the
abstract. In the country, they consider whether you have a vote at
the next election or a place in your gift, and measure the capacity of
others to instruct or entertain them by the strength of their pockets
and their credit with their banker. Personal merit is at a prodigious
discount in the provinces. I like the country very well if I want to
enjoy my own company; but London is the only place for equal society,
or where a man can say a good thing or express an honest opinion without
subjecting himself to being insulted, unless he first lays his purse on
the table to back his pretensions to talent or independence of spirit. I
speak from experience.(5)


(1) It is not very long ago that I saw two Dissenting Ministers (the
_Ultima Thud_ of the sanguine, visionary temperament in politics)
stuffing their pipes with dried currant-leaves, calling it Radical
Tobacco, lighting it with a lens in the rays of the sun, and at every
puff fancying that they undermined the Boroughmongers, as Trim blew up
the army opposed to the Allies! They had _deceived the Senate._ Methinks
I see them now, smiling as in scorn of Corruption.

  Dream on, blest pair:
 Yet happier if you knew your happiness,
 And knew to know no more!

The world of Reform that you dote on, like Berkeley's material world,
lives only in your own brain, and long may it live there! Those same
Dissenting Ministers throughout the country (I mean the descendants of
the old Puritans) are to this hour a sort of Fifth-monarchy men: very
turbulent fellows, in my opinion altogether incorrigible, and according
to the suggestions of others, should be hanged out of the way without
judge or jury for the safety of church and state. Marry, hang them!
they may be left to die a natural death: the race is nearly extinct of
itself, and can do little more good or harm!

(2) William, our waiter, is dressed neatly in black, takes in the
TICKLER (which many of the gentlemen like to look into), wears, I am
told, a diamond pin in his shirt-collar, has a music-master to teach him
to play on the flageolet two hours before the maids are up, complains
of confinement and a delicate constitution, and is a complete Master
Stephen in his way.

(3) His account of Dr. Whittle was prodigious-of his occult sagacity,
of his eyes prominent and wild like a hare's, fugacious of followers,
of the arts by which he had left the City to lure the patients that he
wanted after him to the West End, of the ounce of tea that he purchased
by stratagem as an unusual treat to his guest, and of the narrow winding
staircase, from the height of which he contemplated in security the
imaginary approach of duns. He was a large, plain, fair-faced Moravian
preacher, turned physician. He was an honest man, but vain of he knew
not what. He was once sitting where Sarratt was playing a game at chess
without seeing the board; and after remaining for some time absorbed
in silent wonder, he turned suddenly to me and said, 'Do you know, Mr.
Hazlitt, that I think there is something I could do?' 'Well, what is
that?' 'Why, perhaps you would not guess, but I think I could dance, I'm
sure I could; ay, I could dance like Vestris!' Sarratt, who was a man
of various accomplishments (among others one of the Fancy), afterwards
bared his arm to convince us of his muscular strength, and Mrs. Sarratt
going out of the room with another lady said, 'Do you know, Madam, the
Doctor is a great jumper!' Moliere could not outdo this. Never shall I
forget his pulling off his coat to eat beef-steaks on equal terms with
Martin Burney. Life is short, but full of mirth and pastime, did we not
so soon forget what we have laughed at, perhaps that we may not remember
what we have cried at! Sarratt, the chess-player, was an extraordinary
man. He had the same tenacious, epileptic faculty in other things that
he had at chess, and could no more get any other ideas out of his mind
than he could those of the figures on the board. He was a great
reader, but had not the least taste. Indeed the violence of his memory
tyrannised over and destroyed all power of selection. He could repeat
(all) Ossian by heart, without knowing the best passage from the worst;
and did not perceive he was tiring you to death by giving an account of
the breed, education, and manners of fighting-dogs for hours together.
The sense of reality quite superseded the distinction between the
pleasurable and the painful. He was altogether a mechanical philosopher.

(4) Ils ne pouvoient croire qu'un corps de cette beaute fut de quelque
chose au visage de Mademoiselle Churchill.'--_Memoires de Grammont,_
vol. ii. p. 254.

(5) When I was young I spent a good deal of my time at Manchester and
Liverpool; and I confess I give the preference to the former. There you
were oppressed only by the aristocracy of wealth; in the latter by the
aristocracy of wealth and letters by turns. You could not help feeling
that some of their great men were authors among merchants and merchants
among authors. Their bread was buttered on both sides, and they had you
at a disadvantage either way. The Manchester cotton-spinners, on the
contrary, set up no pretensions beyond their looms, were hearty good
fellows, and took any information or display of ingenuity on
other subjects in good part. I remember well being introduced to a
distinguished patron of art and rising merit at a little distance from
Liverpool, and was received with every mark of attention and politeness;
till, the conversation turning on Italian literature, our host remarked
that there was nothing in the English language corresponding to the
severity of the Italian ode--except perhaps Dryden's _Alexander's Feast_
and Pope's _St. Cecilia!_ I could no longer contain my desire to display
my smattering in criticism, and began to maintain that Pope's Ode was,
as it appeared to me, far from an example of severity in writing. I
soon perceived what I had done, but here am I writing _Table-talks_ in
consequence. Alas! I knew as little of the world then as I do now. I
never could understand anything beyond an abstract definition.


 Ha! here's three of us are sophisticated:--off, you lendings.

There is such a thing as an aristocracy or privileged order in letters
which has sometimes excited my wonder, and sometimes my spleen. We
meet with authors who have never done anything, but who have a vast
reputation for what they could have done. Their names stand high, and
are in everybody's mouth, but their works are never heard of, or had
better remain undiscovered for the sake of their admirers.--_Stat
nominis umbra_--their pretensions are lofty and unlimited, as they have
nothing to rest upon, or because it is impossible to confront them with
the proofs of their deficiency. If you inquire farther, and insist
upon some act of authorship to establish the claims of these Epicurean
votaries of the Muses, you find that they had a great reputation
at Cambridge, that they were senior wranglers or successful
prize-essayists, that they visit at Holland House, and, to support that
honour, must be supposed, of course, to occupy the first rank in the
world of letters.(1) It is possible, however, that they have some
manuscript work in hand, which is of too much importance (and the writer
has too much at stake in publishing it) hastily to see the light: or
perhaps they once had an article in the Edinburgh Review, which was much
admired at the time, and is kept by them ever since as a kind of diploma
and unquestionable testimonial of merit. They are not like Grub Street
authors, who write for bread, and are paid by the sheet. Like misers who
hoard their wealth, they are supposed to be masters of all the wit and
sense they do not impart to the public. 'Continents have most of what
they contain,' says a considerable philosopher; and these persons, it
must be confessed, have a prodigious command over themselves in the
expenditure of light and learning. The Oriental curse, '0 that
mine enemy had written a book!' hangs suspended over them. By never
committing themselves, they neither give a handle to the malice of the
world, nor excite the jealousy of friends; and keep all the reputation
they have got, not by discreetly blotting, but by never writing a line.
Some one told Sheridan, who was always busy about some new work and
never advancing any farther in it, that he would not write because he
was afraid of the author of the _School for Scandal._ So these idle
pretenders are afraid of undergoing a comparison with themselves in
something they have never done, but have had credit for doing. They do
not acquire celebrity, they assume it; and escape detection by never
venturing out of their imposing and mysterious incognito. They do not
let themselves down by everyday work: for them to appear in print is a
work of supererogation as much as in lords and kings; and like gentlemen
with a large landed estate, they live on their established character,
and do nothing (or as little as possible) to increase or lose it. There
is not a more deliberate piece of grave imposture going. I know a person
of this description who has been employed many years (by implication)
in a translation of Thucydides, of which no one ever saw a word, but it
does not answer the purpose of bolstering up a factitious reputation the
less on that account. The longer it is delayed and kept sacred from the
vulgar gaze, the more it swells into imaginary consequence; the labour
and care required for a work of this kind being immense;--and then there
are no faults in an unexecuted translation. The only impeccable writers
are those that never wrote. Another is an oracle on subjects of taste
and classical erudition, because (he says at least) he reads Cicero
once a year to keep up the purity of his Latinity. A third makes the
indecency pass for the depth of his researches and for a high gusto in
_virtu,_ till, from his seeing nothing in the finest remains of ancient
art, the world by the merest accident find out that there is nothing in
him. There is scarcely anything that a grave face with an impenetrable
manner will not accomplish, and whoever is weak enough to impose upon
himself will have wit enough to impose upon the public--particularly if
he can make it their interest to be deceived by shallow boasting, and
contrives not to hurt their self-love by sterling acquirements. Do you
suppose that the understood translation of Thucydides costs its supposed
author nothing? A select party of friends and admirers dine with
him once a week at a magnificent town mansion, or a more elegant and
picturesque retreat in the country. They broach their Horace and their
old hock, and sometimes allude with a considerable degree of candour to
the defects of works which are brought out by contemporary writers--the
ephemeral offspring of haste and necessity!

Among other things, the learned languages are a ready passport to this
sort of unmeaning, unanalysed reputation. They presently lift a man up
among the celestial constellations, the signs of the zodiac (as it were)
and third heaven of inspiration, from whence he looks down on those
who are toiling on in this lower sphere, and earning their bread by the
sweat of their brain, at leisure and in scorn. If the graduates in this
way condescend to express their thoughts in English, it is understood to
be _infra dignitatem_--such light and unaccustomed essays do not fit
the ponderous gravity of their pen--they only draw to advantage and
with full justice to themselves in the bow of the ancients. Their native
tongue is to them strange, inelegant, unapt, and crude. They 'cannot
command it to any utterance of harmony. They have not the skill.' This
is true enough; but you must not say so, under a heavy penalty--the
displeasure of pedants and blockheads. It would be sacrilege against the
privileged classes, the Aristocracy of Letters. What! will you affirm
that a profound Latin scholar, a perfect Grecian, cannot write a page of
common sense or grammar? Is it not to be presumed, by all the charters
of the Universities and the foundations of grammar-schools, that he who
can speak a dead language must be _a fortiori_ conversant with his own?
Surely the greater implies the less. He who knows every science and
every art cannot be ignorant of the most familiar forms of speech. Or
if this plea is found not to hold water, then our scholastic bungler is
said to be above this vulgar trial of skill, 'something must be excused
to want of practice--but did you not observe the elegance of the
Latinity, how well that period would become a classical and studied
dress?' Thus defects are 'monster'd' into excellences, and they screen
their idol, and require you, at your peril, to pay prescriptive homage
to false concords and inconsequential criticisms, because the writer of
them has the character of the first or second Greek or Latin scholar
in the kingdom. If you do not swear to the truth of these spurious
credentials, you are ignorant and malicious, a quack and a
scribbler--_flagranti delicto!_ Thus the man who can merely read and
construe some old author is of a class superior to any living one, and,
by parity of reasoning, to those old authors themselves: the poet or
prose-writer of true and original genius, by the courtesy of custom,
'ducks to the learned fool'; or, as the author of _Hudibras_ has so well
stated the same thing--

  He that is but able to express
 No sense at all in several languages,
 Will pass for learneder than he that's known
 To speak the strongest reason in his own.

These preposterous and unfounded claims of mere scholars to precedence
in the commonwealth of letters which they set up so formally themselves
and which others so readily bow to, are partly owing to traditional
prejudice: there was a time when learning was the only distinction
from ignorance, and when there was no such thing as popular English
literature. Again, there is something more palpable and positive in
this kind of acquired knowledge, like acquired wealth, which the vulgar
easily recognise. That others know the meaning of signs which they are
confessedly and altogether ignorant of is to them both a matter of fact
and a subject of endless wonder. The languages are worn like a dress by
a man, and distinguish him sooner than his natural figure; and we are,
from motives of self-love, inclined to give others credit for the ideas
they have borrowed or have come into indirect possession of, rather than
for those that originally belong to them and are exclusively their own.
The merit in them and the implied inferiority in ourselves is less.
Learning is a kind of external appendage or transferable property--

'Twas mine, 'tis his, and may be any man's.

Genius and understanding are a man's self, an integrant part of his
personal identity; and the title to these last, as it is the most
difficult to be ascertained, is also the most grudgingly acknowledged.
Few persons would pretend to deny that Porson had more Greek than they;
it was a question of fact which might be put to the immediate proof, and
could not be gainsaid; but the meanest frequenter of the Cider Cellar or
the Hole in the Wall would be inclined, in his own conceit, to dispute
the palm of wit or sense with him, and indemnify his self-complacency
for the admiration paid to living learning by significant hints to
friends and casual droppers-in, that the greatest men, when you came to
know them, were not without their weak sides as well as others. Pedants,
I will add here, talk to the vulgar as pedagogues talk to schoolboys, on
an understood principle of condescension and superiority, and therefore
make little progress in the knowledge of men or things. While they
fancy they are accommodating themselves to, or else assuming airs of
importance over, inferior capacities, these inferior capacities are
really laughing at them. There can be no true superiority but what
arises out of the presupposed ground of equality: there can be no
improvement but from the free communication and comparing of ideas.
Kings and nobles, for this reason, receive little benefit from
society--where all is submission on one side, and condescension on the
other. The mind strikes out truth by collision, as steel strikes fire
from the flint!

There are whole families who are born classical, and are entered in
the heralds' college of reputation by the right of consanguinity.
Literature, like nobility, runs in the blood. There is the Burney
family. There is no end of it or its pretensions. It produces wits,
scholars, novelists, musicians, artists in 'numbers numberless.' The
name is alone a passport to the Temple of Fame. Those who bear it
are free of Parnassus by birthright. The founder of it was himself an
historian and a musician, but more of a courtier and man of the world
than either. The secret of his success may perhaps be discovered in the
following passage, where, in alluding to three eminent performers on
different instruments, he says: 'These three illustrious personages were
introduced at the Emperor's court,' etc.; speaking of them as if they
were foreign ambassadors or princes of the blood, and thus magnifying
himself and his profession. This overshadowing manner carries nearly
everything before it, and mystifies a great many. There is nothing like
putting the best face upon things, and leaving others to find out the
difference. He who could call three musicians 'personages' would himself
play a personage through life, and succeed in his leading object. Sir
Joshua Reynolds, remarking on this passage, said: 'No one had a greater
respect than he had for his profession, but that he should never think
of applying to it epithets that were appropriated merely to external
rank and distinction.' Madame d'Arblay, it must be owned, had cleverness
enough to stock a whole family, and to set up her cousin-germans, male
and female, for wits and virtuosos to the third and fourth generation.
The rest have done nothing, that I know of, but keep up the name.

The most celebrated author in modern times has written without a name,
and has been knighted for anonymous productions. Lord Byron complains
that Horace Walpole was not properly appreciated, 'first, because he
was a gentleman; and secondly, because he was a nobleman.' His Lordship
stands in one, at least, of the predicaments here mentioned, and yet he
has had justice, or somewhat more, done him. He towers above his fellows
by all the height of the peerage. If the poet lends a grace to the
nobleman, the nobleman pays it back to the poet with interest. What
a fine addition is ten thousand a year and a title to the flaunting
pretensions of a modern rhapsodist! His name so accompanied becomes
the mouth well: it is repeated thousands of times, instead of hundreds,
because the reader in being familiar with the Poet's works seems to
claim acquaintance with the Lord.

 Let but a lord once own the happy lines:
 How the wit brightens, and the style refines!

He smiles at the high-flown praise or petty cavils of little men. Does
he make a slip in decorum, which Milton declares to be the principal
thing? His proud crest and armorial bearings support him: no
bend-sinister slurs his poetical escutcheon! Is he dull, or does he
put of some trashy production on the public? It is not charged to his
account, as a deficiency which he must make good at the peril of
his admirers. His Lordship is not answerable for the negligence or
extravagances of his Muse. He 'bears a charmed reputation, which must
not yield' like one of vulgar birth. The Noble Bard is for this
reason scarcely vulnerable to the critics. The double barrier of his
pretensions baffles their puny, timid efforts. Strip off some of his
tarnished laurels, and the coronet appears glittering beneath: restore
them, and it still shines through with keener lustre. In fact, his
Lordship's blaze of reputation culminates from his rank and place in
society. He sustains two lofty and imposing characters; and in order to
simplify the process of our admiration, and 'leave no rubs or botches in
the way,' we equalise his pretensions, and take it for granted that he
must be as superior to other men in genius as he is in birth. Or, to
give a more familiar solution of the enigma, the Poet and the Peer agree
to honour each other's acceptances on the bank of Fame, and sometimes
cozen the town to some tune between them. Really, however, and with all
his privileges, Lord Byron might as well not have written that strange
letter about Pope. I could not afford it, poor as I am. Why does he
pronounce, _ex cathedra_ and robed, that Cowper is no poet? Cowper was
a gentleman and of noble family like his critic. He was a teacher
of morality as well as a describer of nature, which is more than his
Lordship is. His _John Gilpin_ will last as long as _Beppo,_ and his
verses to Mary are not less touching than the _Farewell._ If I had
ventured upon such an assertion as this, it would have been worse for me
than finding out a borrowed line in the _Pleasures of Hope._

There is not a more helpless or more despised animal than a mere author,
without any extrinsic advantages of birth, breeding, or fortune to set
him off. The real ore of talents or learning must be stamped before it
will pass current. To be at all looked upon as an author, a man must
be something more or less than an author--a rich merchant, a banker, a
lord, or a ploughman. He is admired for something foreign to himself,
that acts as a bribe to the servility or a set-off to the envy of the
community. 'What should such fellows as we do, crawling betwixt heaven
and earth';--'coining our hearts for drachmas'; now scorched in the sun,
now shivering in the breeze, now coming out in our newest gloss and best
attire, like swallows in the spring, now 'sent back like hollowmas or
shortest day'? The best wits, like the handsomest faces _upon the town,_
lead a harassing, precarious life--are taken up for the bud and promise
of talent, which they no sooner fulfil than they are thrown aside
like an old fashion--are caressed without reason, and insulted with
impunity--are subject to all the caprice, the malice, and fulsome
advances of that great keeper, the Public--and in the end come to no
good, like all those who lavish their favours on mankind at large, and
look to the gratitude of the world for their reward. Instead of this set
of Grub Street authors, the mere _canaille_ of letters, this corporation
of Mendicity, this ragged regiment of genius suing at the corners of
streets in _forma pauperis,_ give me the gentleman and scholar, with a
good house over his head and a handsome table 'with wine of Attic taste'
to ask his friends to, and where want and sorrow never come. Fill up the
sparkling bowl; heap high the dessert with roses crowned; bring out the
hot-pressed poem, the vellum manuscripts, the medals, the portfolios,
the intaglios--this is the true model of the life of a man of taste and
_virtu_--the possessors, not the inventors of these things, are the true
benefactors of mankind and ornaments of letters. Look in, and there,
amidst silver services and shining chandeliers, you will see the man
of genius at his proper post, picking his teeth and mincing an opinion,
sheltered by rank, bowing to wealth--a poet framed, glazed, and hung
in a striking light; not a straggling weed, torn and trampled on; not
a poor _Kit-run-the-street,_ but a powdered beau, a sycophant plant, an
exotic reared in a glass case, hermetically sealed,

 Free from the Sirian star and the dread thunder-stroke

whose mealy coat no moth can corrupt nor blight can wither. The poet
Keats had not this sort of protection for his person--he lay bare to
weather--the serpent stung him, and the poison-tree dropped upon this
little western flower: when the mercenary servile crew approached him,
he had no pedigree to show them, no rent-roll to hold out in reversion
for their praise: he was not in any great man's train, nor the butt and
puppet of a lord--he could only offer them 'the fairest flowers of the
season, carnations and streaked gilliflowers,'--'rue for remembrance and
pansies for thoughts,'--they recked not of his gift, but tore him with
hideous shouts and laughter,

 Nor could the Muse protect her son!

Unless an author has all establishment of his own, or is entered on that
of some other person, he will hardly be allowed to write English or
to spell his own name. To be well spoken of, he must enlist under some
standard; he must belong to some _coterie._ He must get the _esprit de
corps_ on his side: he must have literary bail in readiness. Thus they
prop up one another's rickety heads at Murray's shop, and a spurious
reputation, like false argument, runs in a circle. Croker affirms that
Gifford is sprightly, and Gifford that Croker is genteel; Disraeli that
Jacob is wise, and Jacob that Disraeli is good-natured. A Member of
Parliament must be answerable that you are not dangerous or dull before
you can be of the _entree._ You must commence toad-eater to have your
observations attended to; if you are independent, unconnected, you will
be regarded as a poor creature. Your opinion is honest, you will say;
then ten to one it is not profitable. It is at any rate your own. So
much the worse; for then it is not the world's. Tom Hill is a very
tolerable barometer in this respect. He knows nothing, hears everything,
and repeats just what he hears; so that you may guess pretty well from
this round-faced echo what is said by others! Almost everything goes
by presumption and appearances. 'Did you not think Mr. B----'s language
very elegant?'--I thought he bowed very low. 'Did you not think him
remarkably well-behaved?'--He was unexceptionably dressed. 'But were
not Mr. C----'s manners quite insinuating?'--He said nothing.
"You will at least allow his friend to be a well-informed
man."--talked upon all subjects alike. Such would be a pretty faithful
interpretation of the tone of what is called _good society._ The
surface is everything; we do not pierce to the core. The setting is
more valuable than the jewel. Is it not so in other things as well
as letters? Is not an R. A. by the supposition a greater man in his
profession than any one who is not so blazoned? Compared with that
unrivalled list, Raphael had been illegitimate, Claude not classical,
and Michael Angelo admitted by special favour. What is a physician
without a diploma? An alderman without being knighted? An actor whose
name does not appear in great letters? All others are counterfeits--men
'of no mark or likelihood.' This was what made the Jackals of the North
so eager to prove that I had been turned out of the _Edinburgh Review._
It was not the merit of the articles which excited their spleen--but
their being there. Of the style they knew nothing; for the thought they
cared nothing: all that they knew was that I wrote in that powerful
journal, and therefore they asserted that I did not!

We find a class of persons who labour under an obvious natural
inaptitude for whatever they aspire to. Their manner of setting about
it is a virtual disqualification. The simple affirmation, 'What this
man has said, I will do,' is not always considered as the proper test of
capacity. On the contrary, there are people whose bare pretensions are
as good or better than the actual performance of others. What I myself
have done, for instance, I never find admitted as proof of what I shall
be able to do: whereas I observe others who bring as proof of their
competence to any task (and are taken at their word) what they have
never done, and who gravely assure those who are inclined to trust them
that their talents are exactly fitted for some post because they are
just the reverse of what they have ever shown them to be. One man has
the air of an Editor as much as another has that of a butler or porter
in a gentleman's family. ----- is the model of this character, with
a prodigious look of business, an air of suspicion which passes for
sagacity, and an air of deliberation which passes for judgment. If
his own talents are no ways prominent, it is inferred he will be more
impartial and in earnest in making use of those of others. There
is Britton, the responsible conductor of several works of taste and
erudition, yet (God knows) without an idea in his head relating to
any one of them. He is learned by proxy, and successful from sheer
imbecility. If he were to get the smallest smattering of the departments
which are under his control, he would betray himself from his desire to
shine; but as it is, he leaves others to do all the drudgery for him.
He signs his name in the title-page or at the bottom of a vignette, and
nobody suspects any mistake. This contractor for useful and ornamental
literature once offered me two guineas for a _Life and Character of
Shakespear,_ with an admission to his _converzationi._ I went
once. There was a collection of learned lumber, of antiquaries,
lexicographers, and other 'illustrious obscure,' and I had given up the
day for lost, when in dropped Jack Taylor of the _Sun_--(who would dare
to deny that he was 'the Sun of our table'?)--and I had nothing now to
do but hear and laugh. Mr. Taylor knows most of the good things that
have been said in the metropolis for the last thirty years, and is in
particular an excellent retailer of the humours and extravagances of his
old friend Peter Pindar. He had recounted a series of them, each rising
above the other in a sort of magnificent burlesque and want of literal
preciseness, to a medley of laughing and sour faces, when on his
proceeding to state a joke of a practical nature by the said Peter, a
Mr. ----- (I forget the name) objected to the moral of the story, and to
the whole texture of Mr. Taylor's facetiae--upon which our host, who had
till now supposed that all was going on swimmingly, thought it time
to interfere and give a turn to the conversation by saying, 'Why, yes,
gentlemen, what we have hitherto heard fall from the lips of our friend
has been no doubt entertaining and highly agreeable in its way; but
perhaps we have had enough of what is altogether delightful and pleasant
and light and laughable in conduct. Suppose, therefore, we were to shift
the subject, and talk of what is serious and moral and industrious and
laudable in character--Let us talk of Mr. Tomkins the Penman!'--This
staggered the gravest of us, broke up our dinner-party, and we went
upstairs to tea. So much for the didactic vein of one of our
principal guides in the embellished walks of modern taste, and
master manufacturers of letters. He had found that gravity had been
a never-failing resource when taken at a pinch--for once the joke
miscarried--and Mr. Tomkins the Penman figures to this day nowhere but
in Sir Joshua's picture of him!

To complete the natural Aristocracy of Letters, we only want a Royal
Society of Authors!


(1) Lord Holland had made a diary (in the manner of Boswell) of the
conversation held at his house, and read it at the end of a week _pro
bono publico._ Sir James Mackintosh made a considerable figure in it,
and a celebrated poet none at all, merely answering Yes and No. With
this result he was by no means satisfied, and talked incessantly from
that day forward. At the end of the week he asked, with some anxiety and
triumph, If his Lordship had continued his diary, expecting himself
to shine in 'the first row of the rubric.' To which his Noble Patron
answered in the negative, with an intimation that it had not appeared to
him worth while. Our poet was thus thrown again into the background, and
Sir James remained master of the field!


Criticism is an art that undergoes a great variety of changes, and aims
at different objects at different times.

At first, it is generally satisfied to give an opinion whether a work is
good or bad, and to quote a passage or two in support of this opinion:
afterwards, it is bound to assign the reasons of its decision and to
analyse supposed beauties or defects with microscopic minuteness.
A critic does nothing nowadays who does not try to torture the most
obvious expression into a thousand meanings, and enter into a circuitous
explanation of all that can be urged for or against its being in the
best or worst style possible. His object indeed is not to do justice to
his author, whom he treats with very little ceremony, but to do himself
homage, and to show his acquaintance with all the topics and resources
of criticism. If he recurs to the stipulated subject in the end, it is
not till after he has exhausted his budget of general knowledge; and he
establishes his own claims first in an elaborate inaugural dissertation
_de omni scibile et quibusdam aliis,_ before he deigns to bring forward
the pretensions of the original candidate for praise, who is only the
second figure in the piece. We may sometimes see articles of this sort,
in which no allusion whatever is made to the work under sentence of
death, after the first announcement of the title-page; and I apprehend
it would be a clear improvement on this species of nominal criticism to
give stated periodical accounts of works that had never appeared at all,
which would save the hapless author the mortification of writing, and
his reviewer the trouble of reading them. If the real author is made of
so little account by the modern critic, he is scarcely more an object of
regard to the modern reader; and it must be confessed that after a dozen
close-packed pages of subtle metaphysical distinction or solemn didactic
declamation, in which the disembodied principles of all arts and
sciences float before the imagination in undefined profusion, the eye
turns with impatience and indifference to the imperfect embryo specimens
of them, and the hopeless attempts to realise this splendid jargon in
one poor work by one poor author, which is given up to summary execution
with as little justice as pity. 'As when a well-graced actor leaves the
stage, men's eyes are idly bent on him that enters next'--so it is here.
Whether this state of the press is not a serious abuse and a violent
encroachment in the republic of letters, is more than I shall pretend to
determine. The truth is, that in the quantity of works that issue from
the press, it is utterly impossible they should all be read by all
sorts of people. There must be _tasters_ for the public, who must have
a discretionary power vested in them, for which it is difficult to make
them properly accountable. Authors in proportion to their numbers become
not formidable, but despicable. They would not be heard of or severed
from the crowd without the critic's aid, and all complaints of
ill-treatment are vain. He considers them as pensioners on his bounty
for any pittance or praise, and in general sets them up as butts for
his wit and spleen, or uses them as a stalking-horse to convey his own
favourite notions and opinions, which he can do by this means without
the possibility of censure or appeal. He looks upon his literary
_protege_ (much as Peter Pounce looked upon Parson Adams) as a kind of
humble companion or unnecessary interloper in the vehicle of fame, whom
he has taken up purely to oblige him, and whom he may treat with neglect
or insult, or set down in the common footpath, whenever it suits his
humour or convenience. He naturally grows arbitrary with the exercise of
power. He by degrees wants to have a clear stage to himself, and would
be thought to have purchased a monopoly of wit, learning, and wisdom--

 Assumes the rod, affects the God,
 And seems to shake the spheres.

Besides, something of this overbearing manner goes a great way with the
public. They cannot exactly tell whether you are right or wrong; and if
you state your difficulties or pay much deference to the sentiments of
others, they will think you a very silly fellow or a mere pretender. A
sweeping, unqualified assertion ends all controversy, and sets opinion
at rest. A sharp, sententious, cavalier, dogmatical tone is therefore
necessary, even in self-defence, to the office of a reviewer. If you
do not deliver your oracles without hesitation, how are the world to
receive them on trust and without inquiry? People read to have
something to talk about, and 'to seem to know that which they do not.'
Consequently, there cannot be too much dialectics and debatable matter,
too much pomp and paradox, in a review. _To elevate and surprise_ is
the great rule for producing a dramatic or critical effect. The more you
startle the reader, the more he will be able to startle others with a
succession of smart intellectual shocks. The most admired of our Reviews
is saturated with this sort of electrical matter, which is regularly
played off so as to produce a good deal of astonishment and a strong
sensation in the public mind. The intrinsic merits of an author are
a question of very subordinate consideration to the keeping up the
character of the work and supplying the town with a sufficient number of
grave or brilliant topics for the consumption of the next three months!

This decided and paramount tone in criticism is the growth of the
present century, and was not at all the fashion in that calm, peaceable
period when the _Monthly Review_ bore 'sole sovereign sway and
masterdom' over all literary productions. Though nothing can be said
against the respectability or usefulness of that publication during its
long and almost exclusive enjoyment of the public favour, yet the
style of criticism adopted in it is such as to appear slight and
unsatisfactory to a modern reader. The writers, instead of 'outdoing
termagant or out-Heroding Herod,' were somewhat precise and prudish,
gentle almost to a fault, full of candour and modesty,

And of their port as meek as is a maid!(1)

There was none of that Drawcansir work going on then that there is
now; no scalping of authors, no hacking and hewing of their Lives and
Opinions, except that they used those of Tristram Shandy, gent., rather
scurvily; which was to be expected. All, however, had a show of courtesy
and good manners. The satire was covert and artfully insinuated; the
praise was short and sweet. We meet with no oracular theories; no
profound analysis of principles; no unsparing exposure of the least
discernible deviation from them. It was deemed sufficient to recommend
the work in general terms, 'This is an agreeable volume,' or 'This is a
work of great learning and research,' to set forth the title and table
of contents, and proceed without farther preface to some appropriate
extracts, for the most part concurring in opinion with the author's
text, but now and then interposing an objection to maintain appearances
and assert the jurisdiction of the court. This cursory manner of hinting
approbation or dissent would make but a lame figure at present. We must
have not only an announcement that 'This is an agreeable or able work';
but we must have it explained at full length, and so as to silence all
cavillers, in what the agreeableness or ability of the work consists:
the author must be reduced to a class, all the living or defunct
examples of which must be characteristically and pointedly _differenced_
from one another; the value of this class of writing must be developed
and ascertained in comparison with others; the principles of taste, the
elements of our sensations, the structure of the human faculties, all
must undergo a strict scrutiny and revision. The modern or metaphysical
system of criticism, in short, supposes the question, _Why?_ to be
repeated at the end of every decision; and the answer gives birth to
interminable arguments and discussion. The former laconic mode was well
adapted to guide those who merely wanted to be informed of the character
and subject of a work in order to read it: the present is more useful
to those whose object is less to read the work than to dispute upon its
merits, and go into company clad in the whole defensive and offensive
armour of criticism.

Neither are we less removed at present from the dry and meagre mode of
dissecting the skeletons of works, instead of transfusing their
living principles, which prevailed in Dryden's Prefaces,(2) and in the
criticisms written on the model of the French school about a century
ago. A genuine criticism should, as I take it, reflect the colours, the
light and shade, the soul and body of a work: here we have nothing but
its superficial plan and elevation, as if a poem were a piece of formal
architecture. We are told something of the plot or fable, of the moral,
and of the observance or violation of the three unities of time, place,
and action; and perhaps a word or two is added on the dignity of the
persons or the baldness of the style; but we no more know, after reading
one of these complacent _tirades,_ what the essence of the work is, what
passion has been touched, or how skilfully, what tone and movement the
author's mind imparts to his subject or receives from it, than if we had
been reading a homily or a gazette. That is, we are left quite in the
dark as to the feelings of pleasure or pain to be derived from the
genius of the performance or the manner in which it appeals to the
imagination: we know to a nicety how it squares with the threadbare
rules of composition, not in the least how it affects the principles of
taste. We know everything about the work, and nothing of it. The critic
takes good care not to baulk the reader's fancy by anticipating the
effect which the author has aimed at producing. To be sure, the works
so handled were often worthy of their commentators; they had the form
of imagination without the life or power; and when any one had gone
regularly through the number of acts into which they were divided, the
measure in which they were written, or the story on which they were
founded, there was little else to be said about them. It is curious
to observe the effect which the _Paradise Lost_ had on this class of
critics, like throwing a tub to a whale: they could make nothing of it.
'It was out of all plumb--not one of the angles at the four corners was
a right angle!' They did not seek for, nor would they much relish,
the marrow of poetry it contained. Like polemics in religion, they had
discarded the essentials of fine writing for the outward form and points
of controversy. They were at issue with Genius and Nature by what route
and in what garb they should enter the Temple of the Muses. Accordingly
we find that Dryden had no other way of satisfying himself of the
pretensions of Milton in the epic style but by translating his anomalous
work into rhyme and dramatic dialogue.(3) So there are connoisseurs
who give you the subject, the grouping, the perspective, and all the
mechanical circumstances of a picture; but they never say a word about
the expression. The reason is, they see the former, but not the latte
taking an inventory of works of art (they want a faculty for higher
studies), as there are works of art, so called, which seemed to have
been composed expressly with an eye to such a class of connoisseurs. In
them are to be found no recondite nameless beauties thrown away upon
the stupid vulgar gaze; no 'graces snatched beyond the reach of art';
nothing but what the merest pretender may note down in good set terms
in his common-place book, just as it is before him. Place one of these
half-informed, imperfectly organised spectators before a tall canvas
with groups on groups of figures, of the size of life, and engaged in a
complicated action, of which they know the name and all the particulars,
and there are no bounds to their burst of involuntary enthusiasm. They
mount on the stilts of the subject and ascend the highest Heaven of
Invention, from whence they see sights and hear revelations which they
communicate with all the fervour of plenary explanation to those who may
be disposed to attend to their raptures. They float with wings expanded
in lofty circles, they stalk over the canvas at large strides, never
condescending to pause at anything of less magnitude than a group or a
colossal figure. The face forms no part of their collective inquiries;
or so that it occupies only a sixth or an eighth proportion to the whole
body, all is according to the received rules of composition. Point to a
divine portrait of Titian, to an angelic head of Guido, close by--they
see and heed it not. What are the 'looks commercing with the skies,' the
soul speaking in the face, to them? It asks another and an inner sense
to comprehend them; but for the trigonometry of painting, nature
has constituted them indifferently well. They take a stand on
the distinction between portrait and history, and there they are
spell-bound. Tell them that there can be no fine history without
portraiture, that the painter must proceed from that ground to the one
above it, and that a hundred bad heads cannot make one good historical
picture, and they will not believe you, though the thing is obvious to
any gross capacity. Their ideas always fly to the circumference, and
never fix at the centre. Art must be on a grand scale; according to
them, the whole is greater than a part, and the greater necessarily
implies the less. The outline is, in this view of the matter, the same
thing as the filling-up, and 'the limbs and flourishes of a discourse'
the substance. Again, the same persons make an absolute distinction,
without knowing why, between high and low subjects. Say that you would
as soon have Murillo's Two Beggar Boys at the Dulwich Gallery as almost
any picture in the world, that is, that it would be one you would choose
out of ten (had you the choice), and they reiterate upon you that surely
a low subject cannot be of equal value with a high one. It is in vain
that you turn to the picture: they keep to the class. They have eyes,
but see not; and, upon their principles of refined taste, would be just
as good judges of the merit of the picture without seeing it as with
that supposed advantage. They know what the subject is _from the
catalogue!_--Yet it is not true, as Lord Byron asserts, that execution
is everything, and the class or subject nothing. The highest subjects,
equally well executed (which, however, rarely happens), are the best.
But the power of execution, the manner of seeing nature, is one thing,
and may be so superlative (if you are only able to judge of it) as
to countervail every disadvantage of subject. Raphael's storks in the
Miraculous Draught of Fishes, exulting in the event, are finer than the
head of Christ would have been in almost any other hands. The cant
of criticism is on the other side of the question; because execution
depends on various degrees of power in the artist, and a knowledge of it
on various degrees of feeling and discrimination in you; but to
commence artist or connoisseur in the grand style at once, without any
distinction of qualifications whatever, it is only necessary for the
first to choose his subject and for the last to pin his faith on the
sublimity of the performance, for both to look down with ineffable
contempt on the painters and admirers of subjects of low life. I
remember a young Scotchman once trying to prove to me that Mrs. Dickons
was a superior singer to Miss Stephens, because the former excelled in
sacred music and the latter did not. At that rate, that is, if it is the
singing sacred music that gives the preference, Miss Stephens would only
have to sing sacred music to surpass herself and vie with her pretended
rival; for this theory implies that all sacred music is equally good,
and, therefore, better than any other. I grant that Madame Catalani's
singing of sacred music is superior to Miss Stephens's ballad-strains,
because her singing is better altogether, and an ocean of sound more
wonderful than a simple stream of dulcet harmonies. In singing the last
verse of 'God Save the King' not long ago her voice towered above the
whole confused noise of the orchestra like an eagle piercing the
clouds, and poured 'such sweet thunder' through the ear as excited equal
astonishment and rapture!

Some kinds of criticism are as much too insipid as others are too
pragmatical. It is not easy to combine point with solidity, spirit with
moderation and candour. Many persons see nothing but beauties in a work,
others nothing but defects. Those cloy you with sweets, and are 'the
very milk of human kindness,' flowing on in a stream of luscious
panegyrics; these take delight in poisoning the sources of your
satisfaction, and putting you out of conceit with nearly every author
that comes in their way. The first are frequently actuated by personal
friendship, the last by all the virulence of party spirit. Under the
latter head would fall what may be termed _political criticism._ The
basis of this style of writing is a _caput mortuum_ of impotent spite
and dulness, till it is varnished over with the slime of servility,
and thrown into a state of unnatural activity by the venom of the most
rancorous bigotry. The eminent professors in this grovelling department
are at first merely out of sorts with themselves, and vent their spleen
in little interjections and contortions of phrase--cry _Pish_ at a lucky
hit, and _Hem_ at a fault, are smart on personal defects, and sneer at
'Beauty out of favour and on crutches'--are thrown into an ague-fit by
hearing the name of a rival, start back with horror at any approach
to their morbid pretensions, like Justice Woodcock with his gouty
limbs--rifle the flowers of the Della Cruscan school, and give you
in their stead, as models of a pleasing pastoral style, Verses upon
Anna--which you may see in the notes to the _Baviad_ and _Maeviad._ All
this is like the fable of 'The Kitten and the Leaves.' But when they get
their brass collar on and shake their bells of office, they set up their
backs like the Great Cat Rodilardus, and pounce upon men and things. Woe
to any little heedess reptile of an author that ventures across their
path without a safe-conduct from the Board of Control. They snap him up
at a mouthful, and sit licking their lips, stroking their whiskers, and
rattling their bells over the imaginary fragments of their devoted
prey, to the alarm and astonishment of the whole breed of literary,
philosophical, and revolutionary vermin that were naturalised in this
country by a Prince of Orange and an Elector of Hanover a hundred
years ago.(4) When one of these pampered, sleek, 'demure-looking,
spring-nailed, velvet-pawed, green-eyed' critics makes his King and
Country parties to this sort of sport literary, you have not much chance
of escaping out of his clutches in a whole skin. Treachery becomes a
principle with them, and mischief a conscience, that is, a livelihood.
They not only _damn_ the work in the lump, but vilify and traduce the
author, and substitute lying abuse and sheer malignity for sense and
satire. To have written a popular work is as much as a man's character
is worth, and sometimes his life, if he does not happen to be on
the right side of the question. The way in which they set about
_stultifying_ an adversary is not to accuse you of faults, or to
exaggerate those which you may really have, but they deny that you have
any merits at all, least of all those that the world have given you
credit for; bless themselves from understanding a single sentence in
a whole volume; and unless you are ready to subscribe to all their
articles of peace, will not allow you to be qualified to write your
own name. It is not a question of literary discussion, but of political
proscription. It is a mark of loyalty and patriotism to extend no
quarter to those of the opposite party. Instead of replying to your
arguments, they call you names, put words and opinions into your mouth
which you have never uttered, and consider it a species of misprision
of treason to admit that a Whig author knows anything of common sense
or English. The only chance of putting a stop to this unfair mode of
dealing would perhaps be to make a few reprisals by way of example. The
Court party boast some writers who have a reputation to lose, and who
would not like to have their names dragged through the kennel of
dirty abuse and vulgar obloquy. What silenced the masked battery of
_Blackwood's Magazine_ was the implication of the name of Sir Walter
Scott in some remarks upon it--(an honour of which it seems that
extraordinary person was not ambitious)--to be 'pilloried on infamy's
high stage' was a distinction and an amusement to the other gentlemen
concerned in that praiseworthy publication. I was complaining not long
ago of this prostitution of literary criticism as peculiar to our own
times, when I was told that it was just as bad in the time of Pope and
Dryden, and indeed worse, inasmuch as we have no Popes or Drydens now on
the obnoxious side to be nicknamed, metamorphosed into scarecrows, and
impaled alive by bigots and dunces. I shall not pretend to say how far
this remark may be true. The English (it must be owned) are rather a
foul-mouthed nation.

Besides temporary or accidental biases of this kind, there seem to be
sects and parties in taste and criticism (with a set of appropriate
watchwords) coeval with the arts of composition, and that will last
as long as the difference with which men's minds are originally
constituted. There are some who are all for the elegance of an author's
style, and some who are equally delighted with simplicity. The last
refer you to Swift as a model of English prose, thinking all other
writers sophisticated and naught; the former prefer the more ornamented
and sparkling periods of Junius or Gibbon. It is to no purpose to think
of bringing about an understanding between these opposite factions. It
is a natural difference of temperament and constitution of mind. The one
will never relish the antithetical point and perpetual glitter of the
artificial prose style; as the plain, unperverted English idiom will
always appear trite and insipid to the others. A toleration, not an
uniformity of opinion, is as much as can be expected in this case;
and both sides may acknowledge, without imputation on their taste or
consistency, that these different writers excelled each in their way. I
might remark here that the epithet _elegant_ is very sparingly used
in modern criticism. It has probably gone out of fashion with the
appearance of the _Lake School,_ who, I apprehend, have no such phrase
in their vocabulary. Mr. Rogers was, I think, almost the last poet to
whom it was applied as a characteristic compliment. At present it would
be considered as a sort of diminutive of the title of poet, like the
terms _pretty_ or _fanciful_, and is banished from the _haut ton_ of
letters. It may perhaps come into request at some future period. Again,
the dispute between the admirers of Homer and Virgil has never been
settled and never will, for there will always be minds to whom the
excellences of Virgil will be more congenial, and therefore more objects
of admiration and delight than those of Homer, and _vice versa._
Both are right in preferring what suits them best, the delicacy and
selectness of the one, or the fulness and majestic flow of the other.
There is the same difference in their tastes that there was in the
genius of their two favourites. Neither can the disagreement between the
French and English school of tragedy ever be reconciled till the French
become English or the English French.(5) Both are right in what they
admire, both are wrong in condemning the others for what they admire. We
see the defects of Racine, they see the faults of Shakespear probably in
an exaggerated point of view. But we may be sure of this, that when we
see nothing but grossness and barbarism, or insipidity and verbiage, in
a writer that is the god of a nation's idolatry, it is we and not they
who want true taste and feeling. The controversy about Pope and the
opposite school in our own poetry comes to much the same thing. Pope's
correctness, smoothness, etc., are very good things and much to be
commended in him. But it is not to be expected or even desired that
others should have these qualities in the same paramount degree, to the
exclusion of everything else. If you like correctness and smoothness
of all things in the world, there they are for you in Pope. If you like
other things better, such as strength and sublimity, you know where to
go for them. Why trouble Pope or any other author for what they have
not, and do not profess to give? Those who seem to imply that Pope
possessed, besides his own peculiar, exquisite merits, all that is to
be found in Shakespear or Milton, are, I should hardly think, in good
earnest. But I do not therefore see that, because this was not the case,
Pope was no poet. We cannot by a little verbal sophistry confound the
qualities of different minds, nor force opposite excellences into a
union by all the intolerance in the world. We may pull Pope in pieces as
long as we please for not being Shakespear or Milton, as we may carp
at them for not being Pope, but this will not make a poet equal to all
three. If we have a taste for some one precise style or manner, we may
keep it to ourselves and let others have theirs. If we are more catho
and beauty, it is spread abroad for us to profusion in the variety
of books and in the several growth of men's minds, fettered by no
capricious or arbitrary rules. Those who would proscribe whatever falls
short of a given standard of imaginary perfection do so, not from a
higher capacity of taste or range of intellect than others, but to
destroy, to 'crib and cabin in' all enjoyments and opinions but their

We find people of a decided and original, and others of a more general
and versatile taste. I have sometimes thought that the most acute and
original-minded men made bad critics. They see everything too much
through a particular medium. What does not fall in with their own bias
and mode of composition strikes them as common-place and factitious.
What does not come into the direct line of their vision, they regard
idly, with vacant, 'lack-lustre eye.' The extreme force of their
original impressions, compared with the feebleness of those they receive
at second-hand from others, oversets the balance and just proportion
of their minds. Men who have fewer native resources, and are obliged to
apply oftener to the general stock, acquire by habit a greater aptitude
in appreciating what they owe to others. Their taste is not made a
sacrifice to their egotism and vanity, and they enrich the soil of their
minds with continual accessions of borrowed strength and beauty. I might
take this opportunity of observing, that the person of the most refined
and least contracted taste I ever knew was the late Joseph Fawcett, the
friend of my youth. He was almost the first literary acquaintance I ever
made, and I think the most candid and unsophisticated. He had a masterly
perception of all styles and of every kind and degree of excellence,
sublime or beautiful, from Milton's _Paradise Lost_ to Shenstone's
_Pastoral Ballad,_ from Butler's _Analogy_ down to _Humphrey Clinker._
If you had a favourite author, he had read him too, and knew all the
best morsels, the subtle traits, the capital touches. 'Do you like
Sterne?' 'Yes, to be sure,' he would say; 'I should deserve to be hanged
if I didn't!' His repeating some parts of _Comus_ with his fine, deep,
mellow-toned voice, particularly the lines, 'I have heard my mother
Circe with the Sirens three,' etc., and the enthusiastic comments he
made afterwards, were a feast to the ear and to the soul. He read the
poetry of Milton with the same fervour and spirit of devotion that I
have since heard others read their own. 'That is the most delicious
feeling of all,' I have heard him explain, 'to like what is excellent,
no matter whose it is.' In this respect he practised what he preached.
He was incapable of harbouring a sinister motive, and judged only from
what he felt. There was no flaw or mist in the clear mirror of his mind.
He was as open to impressions as he was strenuous in maintaining them.
He did not care a rush whether a writer was old or new, in prose or in
verse--'What he wanted,' he said, 'was something to make him think.'
Most men's minds are to me like musical instruments out of tune. Touch a
particular key, and it jars and makes harsh discord with your own. They
like _Gil Blas,_ but can see nothing to laugh at in _Don Quixote:_ they
adore Richardson, but are disgusted with Fielding. Fawcett had a taste
accommodated to all these. He was not exceptious. He gave a cordial
welcome to all sort, provided they were the best in their kind. He was
not fond of counterfeits or duplicates. His own style was laboured and
artificial to a fault, while his character was frank and ingenuous
in the extreme. He was not the only individual whom I have known to
counteract their natural disposition in coming before the public, and
by avoiding what they perhaps thought an inherent infirmity, debar
themselves of their real strength and advantages. A heartier friend or
honester critic I never coped withal. He has made me feel (by contrast)
the want of genuine sincerity and generous sentiment in some that I have
listened to since, and convinced me (if practical proof were wanting) of
the truth of that text of Scripture--'That had I all knowledge and could
speak with the tongues of angels, yet without charity I were nothing!' I
would rather be a man of disinterested taste and liberal feeling, to
see and acknowledge truth and beauty wherever I found it, than a man of
greater and more original genius, to hate, envy, and deny all excellence
but my own--but that poor scanty pittance of it (compared with the
whole) which I had myself produced!

There is another race of critics who might be designated as the _Occult
School_--_vere adepti._ They discern no beauties but what are concealed
from superficial eyes, and overlook all that are obvious to the vulgar
part of mankind. Their art is the transmutation of styles. By happy
alchemy of mind they convert dross into gold--and gold into tinsel. They
see farther into a millstone than most others. If an author is utterly
unreadable, they can read him for ever: his intricacies are their
delight, his mysteries are their study. They prefer Sir Thomas Browne
to the _Rambler_ by Dr. Johnson, and Burton's _Anatomy of Melancholy_
to all the writers of the Georgian Age. They judge of works of genius as
misers do of hid treasure--it is of no value unless they have it all
to themselves. They will no more share a book than a mistress with a
friend. If they suspected their favourite volumes of delighting any eyes
but their own, they would immediately discard them from the list. Theirs
are superannuated beauties that every one else has left off intriguing
with, bedridden hags, a 'stud of nightmares.' This is not envy or
affectation, but a natural proneness to singularity, a love of what
is odd and out of the way. They must come at their pleasures with
difficulty, and support admiration by an uneasy sense of ridicule and
opposition. They despise those qualities in a work which are cheap
and obvious. They like a monopoly of taste and are shocked at the
prostitution of intellect implied in popular productions. In like
manner, they would choose a friend or recommend a mistress for gross
defects; and tolerate the sweetness of an actress's voice only for the
ugliness of her face. Pure pleasures are in their judgment cloying and

 An ounce of sour is worth a pound of sweet!

Nothing goes down with them but what is _caviare_ to the multitude.
They are eaters of olives and readers of black-letter. Yet they smack of
genius, and would be worth any money, were it only for the rarity of the

The last sort I shall mention are _verbal critics_--mere word-catchers,
fellows that pick out a word in a sentence and a sentence in a volume,
and tell you it is wrong.(6) These erudite persons constantly find out
by anticipation that you are deficient in the smallest things--that
you cannot spell certain words or join the nominative case and the verb
together, because to do this is the height of their own ambition, and
of course they must set you down lower than their opinion of themselves.
They degrade by reducing you to their own standard of merit; for the
qualifications they deny you, or the faults they object, are so very
insignificant, that to prove yourself possessed of the one or free from
the other is to make yourself doubly ridiculous. Littleness is their
element, and they give a character of meanness to whatever they touch.
They creep, buzz, and fly-blow. It is much easier to crush than to
catch these troublesome insects; and when they are in your power your
self-respect spares them. The race is almost extinct:--one or two
of them are sometimes seen crawling over the pages of the _Quarterly


(1) A Mr. Rose and the Rev. Dr. Kippis were for many years its principal
support. Mrs. Rose (I have heard my father say) contributed the Monthly
Catalogue. There is sometimes a certain tartness and the woman's tongue
in it. It is said of Gray's _Elegy_, 'This little poem, however humble
its pretensions, is not without elegance or merit.' The characters of
prophet and critic are not always united.

(2) There are some splendid exceptions to this censure. His comparison
between Ovid and Virgil and his character of Shakespear are masterpieces
of their kind.

(3) We have critics In the present day (1821) who cannot tell what to
make of the tragic writers of Queen Elizabeth's age (except Shakespear,
who passes by prescriptive right), and are extremely puzzled to reduce
the efforts of their 'great and irregular' power to the standard of
their own slight and showy common-places. The truth is, they had better
give up the attempt to reconcile such contradictions as an artificial
taste and natural genius; and repose on the admiration of verses which
derive their odour from the scent of rose leaves inserted between the
pages, and their polish from the smoothness of the paper on which they
are printed. They, and such writers as Decker, and Webster, Beaumont
and Fletcher, Ford and Marlowe, move in different orbits of the human
intellect, and need never jostle.

(4) The intelligent reader will be pleased to understand that there is
here a tacit allusion to Squire Western's significant phrase of _Hanover

(5) Of the two the latter alternative is more likely to happen. We abuse
and imitate them. They laugh at, but do not imitate us.

(6) The title of _Ultra-Crepidarian critics_ has been given to a variety
of this species.


 These little things are great to little man.

The great and the little have, no doubt, a real existence in the nature
of things; but they both find pretty much the same level in the mind of
man. It is a common measure, which does not always accommodate itself to
the size and importance of the objects it represents. It has a certain
interest to spare for certain things (and no more) according to its
humour and capacity; and neither likes to be stinted in its allowance,
nor to muster up an unusual share of sympathy, just as the occasion may
require. Perhaps, if we could recollect distinctly, we should discover
that the two things that have affected us most in the course of our
lives have been, one of them of the greatest, and the other of
the smallest possible consequence. To let that pass as too fine a
speculation, we know well enough that very trifling circumstances do
give us great and daily annoyance, and as often prove too much for our
philosophy and forbearance, as matters of the highest moment. A lump of
soot spoiling a man's dinner, a plate of toast falling in the ashes, the
being disappointed of a ribbon to a cap or a ticket for a ball, have led
to serious and almost tragical consequences. Friends not unfrequently
fall out and never meet again for some idle misunderstanding, 'some
trick not worth an egg,' who have stood the shock of serious differences
of opinion and clashing interests in life; and there is an excellent
paper in the _Tatler,_ to prove that if a married couple do not quarrel
about some point in the first instance not worth contesting, they will
seldom find an opportunity afterwards to quarrel about a question of
real importance. Grave divines, great statesmen, and deep philosophers
are put out of their way by very little things: nay, discreet, worthy
people, without any pretensions but to good-nature and common sense,
readily surrender the happiness of their whole lives sooner than give
up an opinion to which they have committed themselves, though in all
likelihood it was the mere turn of a feather which side they should take
in the argument. It is the being baulked or thwarted in anything that
constitutes the grievance, the unpardonable affront, not the value
of the thing to which we had made up our minds. Is it that we despise
little things; that we are not prepared for them; that they take us
in our careless, unguarded moments, and tease us out of our ordinary
patience by their petty, incessant, insect warfare, buzzing about us and
stinging us like gnats, so that we can neither get rid of nor grapple
with them; whereas we collect all our fortitude and resolution to meet
evils of greater magnitude? Or is it that there is a certain stream of
irritability that is continually fretting upon the wheels of life, which
finds sufficient food to play with in straws and feathers, while great
objects are too much for it, either choke it up, or divert its course
into serious and thoughtful interest? Some attempt might be made to
explain this in the following manner.

One is always more vexed at losing a game of any sort by a single hole
or ace than if one has never had a chance of winning it. This is no
doubt in part or chiefly because the prospect of success irritates the
subsequent disappointment. But people have been known to pine and fall
sick from holding the next number to the twenty thousand pound prize in
the lottery. Now this could only arise from their being so near winning
in fancy, from there seeming to be so thin a partition between them and
success. When they were within one of the right number, why could they
not have taken the next--it was so easy: this haunts their minds and
will not let them rest, notwithstanding the absurdity of the reasoning.
It is that the will here has a slight imaginary obstacle to surmount
to attain its end; it should appear it had only an exceedingly trifling
effort to make for this purpose, that it was absolutely in its power
(had it known) to seize the envied prize, and it is continually
harassing itself by making the obvious transition from one number to the
other, when it is too late. That is to say, the will acts in proportion
to its fancied power, to its superiority over immediate obstacles. Now
in little or indifferent matters there seems no reason why it should not
have its own way, and therefore a disappointment vexes it the more. It
grows angry according to the insignificance of the occasion, and frets
itself to death about an object, merely because from its very futility
there can be supposed to be no real difficulty in the way of its
attainment, nor anything more required for this purpose than a
determination of the will. The being baulked of this throws the mind off
its balance, or puts it into what is called _a passion;_ and as nothing
but an act of voluntary power still seems necessary to get rid of every
impediment, we indulge our violence more and more, and heighten our
impatience by degrees into a sort of frenzy. The object is the same
as it was, but we are no longer as we were. The blood is heated, the
muscles are strained. The feelings are wound up to a pitch of agony with
the vain strife. The temper is tried to the utmost it will bear. The
more contemptible the object or the obstructions in the way to it,
the more are we provoked at being hindered by them. It looks like
witchcraft. We fancy there is a spell upon us, so that we are hampered
by straws and entangled in cobwebs. We believe that there is a fatality
about our affairs. It is evidently done on purpose to plague us. A demon
is at our elbow to torment and defeat us in everything, even in the
smallest things. We see him sitting and mocking us, and we rave and
gnash our teeth at him in return, It is particularly hard that we cannot
succeed in any one point, however trifling, that we set our hearts on.
We are the sport of imbecility and mischance. We make another desperate
effort, and fly out into all the extravagance of impotent rage once
more. Our anger runs away with our reason, because, as there is little
to give it birth, there is nothing to cheek it or recall us to our
senses in the prospect of consequences. We take up and rend in pieces
the mere toys of humour, as the gusts of wind take up and whirl about
chaff and stubble. Passion plays the tyrant, in a grand tragi-comic
style, over the Lilliputian difficulties and petty disappointments it
has to encounter, gives way to all the fretfulness of grief and all the
turbulence of resentment, makes a fuss about nothing because there
is nothing to make a fuss about--when an impending calamity, an
irretrievable loss, would instantly bring it to its recollection, and
tame it in its preposterous career. A man may be in a great passion and
give himself strange airs at so simple a thing as a game at ball, for
instance; may rage like a wild beast, and be ready to dash his head
against the wall about nothing, or about that which he will laugh at the
next minute, and think no more of ten minutes after, at the same time
that a good smart blow from the ball, the effects of which he might feel
as a serious inconvenience for a month, would calm him directly--

 Anon as patient as the female dove,
 His silence will sit drooping.

The truth is, we pamper little griefs into great ones, and bear great
ones as well as we can. We can afford to dally and play tricks with
the one, but the others we have enough to do with, without any of the
wantonness and bombast of passion--without the swaggering of Pistol
or the insolence of King Cambyses' vein. To great evils we submit; we
resent little provocations. I have before now been disappointed of a
hundred pound job and lost half a crown at rackets on the same day, and
been more mortified at the latter than the former. That which is lasting
we share with the future, we defer the consideration of till to-morrow:
that which belongs to the moment we drink up in all its bitterness,
before the spirit evaporates. We probe minute mischiefs to the quick;
we lacerate, tear, and mangle our bosoms with misfortune's finest,
brittlest point, and wreak our vengeance on ourselves and it for good
and all. Small pains are more manageable, ore within our reach; we can
fret and worry ourselves about them, can turn them into any shape, can
twist and torture them how we please:--a grain of sand in the eye, a
thorn in the flesh, only irritates the part, and leaves us strength
enough to quarrel and get out of all patience with it: a heavy blow
stuns and takes away all power of sense as well as of resistance. The
great and mighty reverses of fortune, like the revolutions of nature,
may be said to carry their own weight and reason along with them: they
seem unavoidable and remediless, and we submit to them without murmuring
as to a fatal necessity. The magnitude of the events in which we may
happen to be concerned fills the mind, and carries it out of itself, as
it were, into the page of history. Our thoughts are expanded with the
scene on which we have to act, and lend us strength to disregard our own
personal share in it. Some men are indifferent to the stroke of fate,
as before and after earthquakes there is a calm in the air. From the
commanding situation whence they have been accustomed to view things,
they look down at themselves as only a part of the whole, and can
abstract their minds from the pressure of misfortune, by the aid of its
very violence. They are projected, in the explosion of events, into
a different sphere, far from their former thoughts, purposes, and
passions. The greatness of the change anticipates the slow effects
of time and reflection:--they at once contemplate themselves from an
immense distance, and look up with speculative wonder at the height on
which they stood. Had the downfall been less complete, it would have
been more galling and borne with less resignation, because there
might still be a chance of remedying it by farther efforts and farther
endurance--but past cure, past hope. It is chiefly this cause (together
with something of constitutional character) which has enabled the
greatest man in modern history to bear his reverses of fortune with gay
magnanimity, and to submit to the loss of the empire of the world with
as little discomposure as if he had been playing a game at chess.(1)
This does not prove by our theory that he did not use to fly into
violent passions with Talleyrand for plaguing him with bad news when
things went wrong. He was mad at uncertain forebodings of disaster, but
resigned to its consummation. A man may dislike impertinence, yet have
no quarrel with necessity!

There is another consideration that may take off our wonder at the
firmness with which the principals in great vicissitudes of fortune bear
their fate, which is, that they are in the secret of its operations,
and know that what to others appears chance-medley was unavoidable.
The clearness of their perception of all the circumstances converts
the uneasiness of doubt into certainty: they have not the qualms of
conscience which their admirers have, who cannot tell how much of the
event is to be attributed to the leaders, and how much to unforeseen
accidents: they are aware either that the result was not to be helped,
or that they did all they could to prevent it.

  Si Pergarna dextra
 Defendi possent, etiam hac defensa fuissent.

It is the mist and obscurity through which we view objects that makes
us fancy they might have been or might still be otherwise, The precise
knowledge of antecedents and consequents makes men practical as well as
philosophical Necessarians.--It is the want of this knowledge which
is the principle and soul of gambling, and of all games of chance or
partial skill. The supposition is, that the issue is uncertain, and that
there is no positive means of ascertaining it. It is dependent on the
turn of a die, on the tossing up of a halfpenny: to be fair it must be
a lottery; there is no knowing but by the event; and it is this which
keeps the interest alive, and works up the passion little short of
madness. There is all the agitation of suspense, all the alternation
of hope and fear, of good and bad success, all the eagerness of desire,
without the possibility of reducing this to calculation, that is,
of subjecting the increased action of the will to a known rule, or
restraining the excesses of passion within the bounds of reason. We
see no cause beforehand why the run of the cards should not be in our
favour: we will hear of none afterwards why it should not have been so.
As in the absence of all data to judge by, we wantonly fill up the
blank with the most extravagant expectations, so, when all is over, we
obstinately recur to the chance we had previously. There is nothing to
tame us down to the event, nothing to reconcile us to our hard luck, for
so we think it. We see no reason why we failed (and there was none, any
more than why we should succeed)--we think that, reason apart, our will
is the next best thing; we still try to have it our own way, and fret,
torment, and harrow ourselves up with vain imaginations to effect
impossibilities.(2) We play the game over again: we wonder how it
was possible for us to fail. We turn our brain with straining at
contradictions, and striving to make things what they are not, or, in
other words, to subject the course of nature to our fastastical wishes.
_'If it had been so--if we had done such and such a thing'_--we try it
in a thousand different ways, and are just as far off the mark as
ever. We appealed to chance in the first instance, and yet, when it has
decided against us, we will not give in, and sit down contented with our
loss, but refuse to submit to anything but reason, which has nothing to
do with the matter. In drawing two straws, for example, to see which
is the longest, there was no apparent necessity we should fix upon the
wrong one, it was so easy to have fixed upon the other, nay, at one time
we were going to do it--if we had,--the mind thus runs back to what was
so possible and feasible at one time, while the thing was pending, and
would fain give a bias to causes so slender and insignificant, as the
skittle-player bends his body to give a bias to the bowl he has already
delivered from his hand, not considering that what is once determined,
be the causes ever so trivial or evanescent, is in the individual
instance unalterable. Indeed, to be a great philosopher, in the
practical and most important sense of the term, little more seems
necessary than to be convinced of the truth of the maxim which the wise
man repeated to the daughter of King Cophetua, _That if a thing is, it
is,_ and there is an end of it!

We often make life unhappy in wishing things to have turned out
otherwise than they did, merely because that is possible to the
imagination, which is impossible in fact. I remember, when Lamb's farce
was damned (for damned it was, that's certain), I used to dream every
night for a month after (and then I vowed I would plague myself no more
about it) that it was revived at one of the minor or provincial theatres
with great success, that such and such retrenchments and alterations
had been made in it, and that it was thought _it might do at the other
House._ I had heard indeed (this was told in confidence to Lamb) that
_Gentleman_ Lewis was present on the night of its performance, and
said that if he had had it he would have made it, by a few judicious
curtailments, 'the most popular little thing that had been brought out
for some time.' How often did I conjure up in recollection the full
diapason of applause at the end of the _Prologue,_ and hear my ingenious
friend in the first row of the pit roar with laughter at his own wit!
Then I dwelt with forced complacency on some part in which it had been
doing well: then we would consider (in concert) whether the long tedious
opera of the _Travellers,_ which preceded it, had not tired people
beforehand, so that they had not spirits left for the quaint and
sparkling 'wit skirmishes' of the dialogue; and we all agreed it might
have gone down after a tragedy, except Lamb himself, who swore he had
no hopes of it from the beginning, and that he knew the name of the hero
when it came to be discovered could not be got over. Mr. _H----,_ thou
wert damned! Bright shone the morning on the play-bills that announced
thy appearance, and the streets were filled with the buzz of persons
asking one another if they would go to see _Mr. H----,_ and answering
that they would certainly; but before night the gaiety, not of the
author, but of his friends and the town was eclipsed, for thou were
damned! Hadst thou been anonymous thou haply mightst have lived. But
thou didst come to an untimely end for thy tricks, and for want of a
better name to pass them off!

In this manner we go back to the critical minutes on which the turn of
our fate, or that of any one else in whom we are interested; depended;
try them over again with new knowledge and sharpened sensibility; and
thus think to alter what is irrevocable, and ease for a moment the pang
of lasting regret. So in a game at rackets(3) (to compare small things
with great), I think if at such a point I had followed up my success,
if I had not been too secure or over-anxious in another part, if I had
played for such an opening--in short, if I had done anything but what I
did and what has proved unfortunate in the result, the chances were all
in my favour. But it is merely because I do not know what would have
happened in the other case that I interpret it so readily to my own
advantage. I have sometimes lain awake a whole night, trying to serve
out the last ball of an interesting game in a particular corner of
the court, which I had missed from a nervous feeling. Rackets (I might
observe, for the sake of the uninformed reader) is, like any other
athletic game, very much a thing of skill and practice; but it is also
a thing of opinion, 'subject to all the skyey influences.' If you think
you can win, you can win. Faith is necessary to victory. If you hesitate
in striking at the ball, it is ten to one but you miss it. If you are
apprehensive of committing some particular error (such as striking the
ball _foul_) you will be nearly sure to do it. While thinking of that
which you are so earnestly bent upon avoiding, your hand mechanically
follows the strongest idea, and obeys the imagination rather than the
intention of the striker. A run of luck is a forerunner of success,
and courage is as much wanted as skill. No one is, however, free from
nervous sensations at times. A good player may not be able to strike a
single stroke if another comes into the court that he has a particular
dread of; and it frequently so happens that a player cannot beat
another, even though he can give half the game to an equal player,
because he has some associations of jealousy or personal pique against
the first which he has not towards the last. _Sed haec hactenus._ Chess
is a game I do not understand, and have not comprehension enough to
play at. But I believe, though it is so much less a thing of chance
than science or skill, eager players pass whole nights in marching
and countermarching their men and checkmating a successful adversary,
supposing that at a certain point of the game they had determined upon
making a particular move instead of the one which they actually did
make. I have heard a story of two persons playing at backgammon, one
of whom was so enraged at losing his match at a particular point of the
game that he took the board and threw it out of the window. It fell upon
the head of one of the passengers in the street, who came up to demand
instant satisfaction for the affront and injury he had sustained.
The losing gamester only asked him if he understood backgammon, and
finding that he did, said, that if upon seeing the state of the game he
did not excuse the extravagance of his conduct, he would give him any
other satisfaction he wished for. The tables were accordingly brought,
and the situation of the two contending parties being explained, the
gentleman put up his sword and went away perfectly satisfied. To return
from this, which to some will seem a digression, and to others will
serve as a confirmation of the doctrine I am insisting on.

It is not, then, the value of the object, but the time and pains
bestowed upon it, that determines the sense and degree of our loss. Many
men set their minds only on trifles, and have not a compass of soul to
take an interest in anything truly great and important beyond forms
and minutiae. Such persons are really men of little minds, or may be
complimented with the title of great children,

 Pleased with a feather, tickled with a straw.

Larger objects elude their grasp, while they fasten eagerly on the
light and insignificant. They fidget themselves and others to death
with incessant anxiety about nothing. A part of their dress that is awry
keeps them in a fever of restlessness and impatience; they sit picking
their teeth, or paring their nails, or stirring the fire, or brushing
a speck of dirt off their coats, while the house or the world tumbling
about their ears would not rouse them from their morbid insensibility.
They cannot sit still on their chairs for their lives, though if there
were anything for them to do they would become immovable. Their nerves
are as irritable as their imaginations are callous and inert. They are
addicted to an inveterate habit of littleness and perversity, which
rejects every other motive to action or object of contemplation but the
daily, teasing, contemptible, familiar, favourite sources of uneasiness
and dissatisfaction. When they are of a sanguine instead of a morbid
temperament, they become _quid-nuncs_ and virtuosos--collectors of
caterpillars and odd volumes, makers of fishing-rods and curious in
watch-chains. Will Wimble dabbled in this way, to his immortal honour.
But many others have been less successful. There are those who build
their fame on epigrams or epitaphs, and others who devote their lives to
writing the Lord's Prayer in little. Some poets compose and sing their
own verses. Which character would they have us think most highly of--the
poet or the musician? The Great is One. Some there are who feel more
pride in sealing a letter with a head of Homer than ever that old
blind bard did in reciting his _Iliad._ These raise a huge opinion of
themselves out of nothing, as there are those who shrink from their own
merits into the shade of unconquerable humility. I know one person at
least, who would rather be the author of an unsuccessful farce than of
a successful tragedy. Repeated mortification has produced an inverted
ambition in his mind, and made failure the bitter test of desert. He
cannot lift his drooping head to gaze on the gaudy crown of popularity
placed within his reach, but casts a pensive, riveted look downwards to
the modest flowers which the multitude trample under their feet. If he
had a piece likely to succeed, coming out under all advantages, he
would damn it by some ill-timed, wilful jest, and lose the favour of the
public, to preserve the sense of his personal identity. 'Misfortune,'
Shakespear says, 'brings a man acquainted with strange bedfellows';
and it makes our thoughts traitors to ourselves.--It is a maxim with
many--_'Take care of the pence, and the pounds will take care of
themselves.'_ Those only put it in practice successfully who think more
of the pence than of the pounds. To such, a large sum is less than a
small one. Great speculations, great returns are to them extravagant
or imaginary: a few hundreds a year are something snug and comfortable.
Persons who have been used to a petty, huckstering way of life cannot
enlarge their apprehensions to a notion of anything better. Instead
of launching out into greater expense and liberality with the tide of
fortune, they draw back with the fear of consequences, and think to
succeed on a broader scale by dint of meanness and parsimony. My uncle
Toby frequently caught Trim standing up behind his chair, when he had
told him to be seated. What the corporal did out of respect, others
would do out of servility. The menial character does not wear out
in three or four generations. You cannot keep some people out of the
kitchen, merely because their grandfathers or grandmothers came out
of it. A poor man and his wife walking along in the neighbourhood of
Portland Place, he said to her peevishly, 'What is the use of walking
along these fine streets and squares? Let us turn down some alley!' He
felt he should be more at home there. Lamb said of an old acquaintance
of his, that when he was young he wanted to be a tailor, but had not
spirit! This is the misery of unequal matches. The woman cannot easily
forget, or think that others forget, her origin; and, with perhaps
superior sense and beauty, keeps painfully in the background. It is
worse when she braves this conscious feeling, and displays all the
insolence of the upstart and affected fine lady. But shouldst thou ever,
my Infelice, grace my home with thy loved presence, as thou hast
cheered my hopes with thy smile, thou wilt conquer all hearts with thy
prevailing gentleness, and I will show the world what Shakespear's women
were!--Some gallants set their hearts on princesses; others descend in
imagination to women of quality; others are mad after opera-singers. For
my part, I am shy even of actresses, and should not think of leaving my
card with Madame Vestris. I am for none of these _bonnes fortunes;_ but
for a list of humble beauties, servant-maids and shepherd-girls, with
their red elbows, hard hands, black stockings and mob-caps, I could
furnish out a gallery equal to Cowley's, and paint them half as well.
Oh! might I but attempt a description of some of them in poetic prose,
Don Juan would forget his Julia, and Mr. Davison might both print
and publish this volume. I agree so far with Horace, and differ with
Montaigne. I admire the Clementinas and Clarissas at a distance: the
Pamelas and Fannys of Richardson and Fielding make my blood tingle. I
have written love-letters to such in my time, _d'un pathetique a faire
fendre les rochers,_ and with about as much effect as if they had been
addressed to stone. The simpletons only laughed, and said that 'those
were not the sort of things to gain the affections.' I wish I had kept
copies in my own justification. What is worse, I have an utter aversion
to blue-stockings. I do not care a fig for any woman that knows even
what an author means. If I know that she has read anything I have
written, I cut her acquaintance immediately. This sort of literary
intercourse with me passes for nothing. Her critical and scientific
acquirements are _carrying coals to Newcastle._ I do not want to be told
that I have published such or such a work. I knew all this before. It
makes no addition to my sense of power. I do not wish the affair to be
brought about in that way. I would have her read my soul: she should
understand the language of the heart: she should know what I am, as
if she were another self! She should love me for myself alone. I like
myself without any reason: I would have her do so too. This is not
very reasonable. I abstract from my temptations to admire all the
circumstances of dress, birth, breeding, fortune; and I would not
willingly put forward my own pretensions, whatever they may be. The
image of some fair creature is engraven on my inmost soul; it is on that
I build my claim to her regard, and expect her to see into my heart, as
I see her form always before me. Wherever she treads, pale primroses,
like her face, vernal hyacinths, like her brow, spring up beneath her
feet, and music hangs on every bough; but all is cold, barren, and
desolate without her. Thus I feel, and thus I think. But have I over
told her so? No. Or if I did, would she understand it? No. I 'hunt the
wind, I worship a statue, cry aloud to the desert.' To see beauty is not
to be beautiful, to pine in love is not to be loved again--I always
was inclined to raise and magnify the power of Love. I thought that his
sweet power should only be exerted to join together the loveliest
forms and fondest hearts; that none but those in whom his godhead shone
outwardly, and was inly felt, should ever partake of his triumphs; and
I stood and gazed at a distance, as unworthy to mingle in so bright a
throng, and did not (even for a moment) wish to tarnish the glory of so
fair a vision by being myself admitted into it. I say this was my notion
once, but God knows it was one of the errors of my youth. For coming
nearer to look, I saw the maimed, the blind, and the halt enter in,
the crooked and the dwarf, the ugly, the old and impotent, the man of
pleasure and the man of the world, the dapper and the pert, the vain and
shallow boaster, the fool and the pedant, the ignorant and brutal, and
all that is farthest removed from earth's fairest-born, and the pride of
human life. Seeing all these enter the courts of Love, and thinking that
I also might venture in under favour of the crowd, but finding myself
rejected, I fancied (I might be wrong) that it was not so much because
I was below, as above the common standard. I did feel, but I was ashamed
to feel, mortified at my repulse, when I saw the meanest of mankind, the
very scum and refuse, all creeping things and every obscene creature,
enter in before me. I seemed a species by myself, I took a pride even
in my disgrace; and concluded I had elsewhere my inheritance! The
only thing I ever piqued myself upon was the writing the _Essay on the
Principles of Human Action_--a work that no woman ever read, or would
ever comprehend the meaning of. But if I do not build my claim to regard
on the pretensions I have, how can I build it on those I am totally
without? Or why do I complain and expect to gather grapes of thorns, or
figs of thistles? Thought has in me cancelled pleasure; and this dark
forehead, bent upon truth, is the rock on which all affection has split.
And thus I waste my life in one long sigh; nor ever (till too late)
beheld a gentle face turned gently upon mine!... But no! not too late,
if that face, pure, modest, downcast, tender, with angel sweetness, not
only gladdens the prospect of the future, but sheds its radiance on the
past, smiling in tears. A purple light hovers round my head. The air of
love is in the room. As I look at my long-neglected copy of the Death
of Clorinda, golden gleams play upon the canvas, as they used when I
painted it. The flowers of Hope and Joy springing up in my mind, recall
the time when they first bloomed there. The years that are fled knock at
the door and enter. I am in the Louvre once more. The sun of Austerlitz
has not set. It still shines here--in my heart; and he, the son of
glory, is not dead, nor ever shall, to me. I am as when my life began.
The rainbow is in the sky again. I see the skirts of the departed years.
All that I have thought and felt has not been in vain. I am not utterly
worthless, unregarded; nor shall I die and wither of pure scorn. Now
could I sit on the tomb of Liberty, and write a Hymn to Love. Oh! if
I am deceived, let me be deceived still. Let me live in the Elysium of
those soft looks; poison me with kisses, kill me with smiles; but still
mock me with thy love!(4)

Poets choose mistresses who have the fewest charms, that they may make
something out of nothing. They succeed best in fiction, and they apply
this rule to love. They make a goddess of any dowdy. As Don Quixote
said, in answer to the matter-of-fact remonstrances of Sancho, that
Dulcinea del Toboso answered the purpose of signalising his valour just
as well as the 'fairest princess under sky,' so any of the fair sex
will serve them to write about just as well as another. They take some
awkward thing and dress her up in fine words, as children dress up a
wooden doll in fine clothes. Perhaps a fine head of hair, a taper waist,
or some other circumstance strikes them, and they make the rest out
according to their fancies. They have a wonderful knack of supplying
deficiencies in the subjects of their idolatry out of the storehouse
of their imaginations. They presently translate their favourites to the
skies, where they figure with Berenice's locks and Ariadne's crown. This
predilection for the unprepossessing and insignificant, I take to arise
not merely from a desire in poets to have some subject to exercise their
inventive talents upon, but from their jealousy of any pretensions
(even those of beauty in the other sex) that might interfere with the
continual incense offered to their personal vanity.

Cardinal Mazarine never thought anything of Cardinal de Retz after he
told him that he had written for the last thirty years of his life with
the same pen. Some Italian poet going to present a copy of verses to the
Pope, and finding, as he was looking them over in the coach as he
went, a mistake of a single letter in the printing, broke his heart
of vexation and chagrin. A still more remarkable case of literary
disappointment occurs in the history of a countryman of his, which I
cannot refrain from giving here, as I find it related. 'Anthony Codrus
Urceus, a most learned and unfortunate Italian, born near Modena, 1446,
was a striking instance,' says his biographer, 'of the miseries men
bring upon themselves by setting their affections unreasonably on
trifles. This learned man lived at Forli, and had an apartment in the
palace. His room was so very dark that he was forced to use a candle
in the daytime; and one day, going abroad without putting it out, his
library was set on fire, and some papers which he had prepared for the
press were burned. The instant he was informed of this ill news he was
affected even to madness. He ran furiously to the palace, and stopping
at the door of his apartment, he cried aloud, "Christ Jesus! what mighty
crime have I committed! whom of your followers have I ever injured, that
you thus rage with inexpiable hatred against me?" Then turning himself
to an image of the Virgin Mary near at hand, "Virgin (says he), hear
what I have to say, for I speak in earnest, and with a composed spirit:
if I shall happen to address you in my dying moments, I humbly entreat
you not to hear me, nor receive me into Heaven, for I am determined
to spend all eternity in Hell!" Those who heard these blasphemous
expressions endeavoured to comfort him; but all to no purpose: for, the
society of mankind being no longer supportable to him, he left the city,
and retired, like savage, to the deep solitude of a wood. Some say that
he was murdered there by ruffians: others, that he died at Bologna in
1500, after much contrition and penitence.'

Perhaps the censure passed at the outset of the anecdote on this
unfortunate person is unfounded and severe, when it is said that
he brought his miseries on himself 'by having set his affections
unreasonably on trifles.' To others it might appear so; but to himself
the labour of a whole life was hardly a trifle. His passion was not a
causeless one, though carried to such frantic excess. The story of Sir
Isaac Newton presents a strong contrast to the last-mentioned one, who,
on going into his study and finding that his dog Tray had thrown down
a candle on the table, and burnt some papers of great value, contented
himself with exclaiming, 'Ah! Tray, you don't know the mischief you have
done!' Many persons would not forgive the overturning a cup of chocolate
so soon.

I remember hearing an instance some years ago of a man of character and
property, who through unexpected losses had been condemned to a long and
heartbreaking imprisonment, which he bore with exemplary fortitude.
At the end of four years, by the interest and exertions of friends,
he obtained his discharge, with every prospect of beginning the world
afresh, and had made his arrangements for leaving his irksome abode,
and meeting his wife and family at a distance of two hundred miles by
a certain day. Owing to the miscarriage of a letter, some signature
necessary to the completion of the business did not arrive in time, and
on account of the informality which had thus arisen, he could not set
out home till the return of the post, which was four days longer. His
spirit could not brook the delay. He had wound himself up to the last
pitch of expectation; he had, as it were, calculated his patience to
hold out to a certain point, and then to throw down his load for ever,
and he could not find resolution to resume it for a few hours
beyond this. He put an end to the intolerable conflict of hope and
disappointment in a fit of excruciating anguish. Woes that we have time
to foresee and leisure to contemplate break their force by being spread
over a larger surface and borne at intervals; but those that come
upon us suddenly, for however short a time, seem to insult us by their
unnecessary and uncalled-for intrusion; and the very prospect of relief,
when held out and then withdrawn from us, to however small a distance,
only frets impatience into agony by tantalising our hopes and wishes;
and to rend asunder the thin partition that separates us from our
favourite object, we are ready to burst even the fetters of life itself!

I am not aware that any one has demonstrated how it is that a stronger
capacity is required for the conduct of great affairs than of small
ones. The organs of the mind, like the pupil of the eye, may be
contracted or dilated to view a broader or a narrower surface, and yet
find sufficient variety to occupy its attention in each. The material
universe is infinitely divisible, and so is the texture of human
affairs. We take things in the gross or in the detail, according to the
occasion. I think I could as soon get up the budget of Ways and Means
for the current year, as be sure of making both ends meet, and paying my
rent at quarter-day in a paltry huckster's shop. Great objects move
on by their own weight and impulse; great power turns aside
petty obstacles; and he who wields it is often but the puppet of
circumstances, like the fly on the wheel that said, 'What a dust we
raise!' It is easier to ruin a kingdom and aggrandise one's own pride
and prejudices than to set up a greengrocer's stall. An idiot or a
madman may do this at any time, whose word is law, and whose nod is
fate. Nay, he whose look is obedience, and who understands the silent
wishes of the great, may easily trample on the necks and tread out the
liberties of a mighty nation, deriding their strength, and hating it the
more from a consciousness of his own meanness. Power is not wisdom, it
is true; but it equally ensures its own objects. It does not exact, but
dispenses with talent. When a man creates this power, or new-moulds the
state by sage counsels and bold enterprises, it is a different thing
from overturning it with the levers that are put into his baby hands.
In general, however, it may be argued that great transactions and
complicated concerns ask more genius to conduct them than smaller ones,
for this reason, viz. that the mind must be able either to embrace a
greater variety of details in a more extensive range of objects, or must
have a greater faculty of generalising, or a greater depth of insight
into ruling principles, and so come at true results in that way.
Buonaparte knew everything, even to the names of our cadets in the East
India service; but he failed in this, that he did not calculate the
resistance which barbarism makes to refinement. He thought that the
Russians could not burn Moscow, because the Parisians could not burn
Paris. The French think everything must be French. The Cossacks, alas!
do not conform to etiquette: the rudeness of the seasons knows no rules
of politeness! Some artists think it a test of genius to paint a large
picture; and I grant the truth of this position, if the large picture
contains more than a small one. It is not the size of the canvas, but
the quantity of truth and nature put into it, that settles the point. It
is a mistake, common enough on this subject, to suppose that a miniature
is more finished than an oil-picture. The miniature is inferior to the
oil-picture only because it is less finished, because it cannot follow
nature into so many individual and exact particulars. The proof of which
is, that the copy of a good portrait will always make a highly finished
miniature (see for example Mr. Bone's enamels), whereas the copy of a
good miniature, if enlarged to the size of life, will make but a very
sorry portrait. Several of our best artists, who are fond of painting
large figures, invert this reasoning. They make the whole figure
gigantic, not that they may have room for nature, but for the motion of
their brush (as if they were painting the side of a house), regarding
the extent of canvas they have to cover as an excuse for their slovenly
and hasty manner of getting over it; and thus, in fact, leave their
pictures nothing at last but overgrown miniatures, but huge caricatures.
It is not necessary in any case (either in a larger or a smaller
compass) to go into the details, so as to lose sight of the effect, and
decompound the face into porous and transparent molecules, in the manner
of Denner, who painted what he saw through a magnifying-glass. The
painter's eye need not be a microscope, but I contend that it should be
a looking-glass, bright, clear, lucid. The _little_ in art begins with
insignificant parts, with what does not tell in connection with other
parts. The true artist will paint not material points, but _moral
qualities._ In a word, wherever there is feeling or expression in a
muscle or a vein, there is grandeur and refinement too.--I will conclude
these remarks with an account of the manner in which the ancient
sculptors combined great and little things in such matters. 'That the
name of Phidias,' says Pliny, 'is illustrious among all the nations that
have heard of the fame of the Olympian Jupiter, no one doubts; but in
order that those may know that he is deservedly praised who have not
even seen his works, we shall offer a few arguments, and those of his
genius only: nor to this purpose shall we insist on the beauty of the
Olympian Jupiter, nor on the magnitude of the Minerva at Athens, though
it is twenty-six cubits in height (about thirty-five feet), and is made
of ivory and gold; but we shall refer to the shield, on which the battle
of the Amazons is carved on the outer side; on the inside of the same is
the fight of the Gods and Giants; and on the sandals, that between the
Centaurs and Lapithae; so well did every part of that work display the
powers of the art. Again, the sculptures on the pedestal he called the
birth of Pandora: there are to be seen in number thirty gods, the figure
of Victory being particularly admirable: the learned also admire the
figures of the serpent and the brazen sphinx, writhing under the spear.
These things are mentioned, in passing, of an artist never enough to be
commended, that it may be seen that he showed the same magnificence even
in small things.(5)


(1) This Essay was written in January 1821.

(2) Losing gamesters thus become desperate, because the continued and
violent irritation of the will against a run of ill luck drives it
to extremity, and makes it bid defiance to common sense and every
consideration of prudence or self-interest.

(3) Some of the poets in the beginning of the last century would often
set out on a simile by observing, 'So in Arabia have I seen a Phoenix!'
I confess my illustrations are of a more homely and humble nature.

(4) I beg the reader to consider this passage merely as a specimen of
the mock-heroic style, and as having nothing to do with any real facts
or feelings.

(5) Pliny's _Natural History,_ Book 36.


It is not easy to write a familiar style. Many people mistake a familiar
for a vulgar style, and suppose that to write without affectation is to
write at random. On the contrary, there is nothing that requires more
precision, and, if I may so say, purity of expression, than the style I
am speaking of. It utterly rejects not only all unmeaning pomp, but all
low, cant phrases, and loose, unconnected, _slipshod_ allusions. It is
not to take the first word that offers, but the best word in common use;
it is not to throw words together in any combinations we please, but to
follow and avail ourselves of the true idiom of the language. To write
a genuine familiar or truly English style is to write as any one would
speak in common conversation who had a thorough command and choice of
words, or who could discourse with ease, force, and perspicuity, setting
aside all pedantic and oratorical flourishes. Or, to give another
illustration, to write naturally is the same thing in regard to common
conversation as to read naturally is in regard to common speech. It
does not follow that it is an easy thing to give the true accent and
inflection to the words you utter, because you do not attempt to rise
above the level of ordinary life and colloquial speaking. You do
not assume, indeed, the solemnity of the pulpit, or the tone of
stage-declamation; neither are you at liberty to gabble on at a venture,
without emphasis or discretion, or to resort to vulgar dialect or
clownish pronunciation. You must steer a middle course. You are tied
down to a given and appropriate articulation, which is determined by the
habitual associations between sense and sound, and which you can only
hit by entering into the author's meaning, as you must find the proper
words and style to express yourself by fixing your thoughts on the
subject you have to write about. Any one may mouth out a passage with
a theatrical cadence, or get upon stilts to tell his thoughts; but to
write or speak with propriety and simplicity is a more difficult task.
Thus it is easy to affect a pompous style, to use a word twice as big as
the thing you want to express: it is not so easy to pitch upon the very
word that exactly fits it. Out of eight or ten words equally common,
equally intelligible, with nearly equal pretensions, it is a matter
of some nicety and discrimination to pick out the very one the
preferableness of which is scarcely perceptible, but decisive.
The reason why I object to Dr. Johnson's style is that there is no
discrimination, no selection, no variety in it. He uses none but 'tall,
opaque words,' taken from the 'first row of the rubric'--words with
the greatest number of syllables, or Latin phrases with merely English
terminations. If a fine style depended on this sort of arbitrary
pretension, it would be fair to judge of an author's elegance by the
measurement of his words and the substitution of foreign circumlocutions
(with no precise associations) for the mother-tongue.(1) How simple is
it to be dignified without case, to be pompous without meaning! Surely
it is but a mechanical rule for avoiding what is low, to be always
pedantic and affected. It is clear you cannot use a vulgar English word
if you never use a common English word at all. A fine tact is shown in
adhering to those which are perfectly common, and yet never falling into
any expressions which are debased by disgusting circumstances, or
which owe their signification and point to technical or professional
allusions. A truly natural or familiar style can never be quaint
or vulgar, for this reason, that it is of universal force and
applicability, and that quaintness and vulgarity arise out of the
immediate connection of certain words with coarse and disagreeable
or with confined ideas. The last form what we understand by _cant_ or
_slang_ phrases.--To give an example of what is not very clear in the
general statement, I should say that the phrase _To cut with a knife,_
or _To cut a piece of wood,_ is perfectly free from vulgarity, because
it is perfectly common; but _to cut an acquaintance_ is not quite
unexceptionable, because it is not perfectly common or intelligible, and
has hardly yet escaped out of the limits of slang phraseology. I should
hardly, therefore, use the word in this sense without putting it in
italics as a license of expression, to be received _cum grano
salis._ All provincial or bye-phrases come under the same mark of
reprobation--all such as the writer transfers to the page from his
fireside or a particular _coterie,_ or that he invents for his own sole
use and convenience. I conceive that words are like money, not the worse
for being common, but that it is the stamp of custom alone that gives
them circulation or value. I am fastidious in this respect, and would
almost as soon coin the currency of the realm as counterfeit the King's
English. I never invented or gave a new and unauthorised meaning to any
word but one single one (the term _impersonal_ applied to feelings),
and that was in an abstruse metaphysical discussion to express a very
difficult distinction. I have been (I know) loudly accused of revelling
in vulgarisms and broken English. I cannot speak to that point; but
so far I plead guilty to the determined use of acknowledged idioms and
common elliptical expressions. I am not sure that the critics in
question know the one from the other, that is, can distinguish any
medium between formal pedantry and the most barbarous solecism. As an
author I endeavour to employ plain words and popular modes of
construction, as, were I a chapman and dealer, I should common weights
and measures.

The proper force of words lies not in the words themselves, but in their
application. A word may be a fine-sounding word, of an unusual length,
and very imposing from its learning and novelty, and yet in the
connection in which it is introduced may be quite pointless and
irrelevant. It is not pomp or pretension, but the adaptation of the
expression to the idea, that clenches a writer's meaning:--as it is not
the size or glossiness of the materials, but their being fitted each to
its place, that gives strength to the arch; or as the pegs and nails are
as necessary to the support of the building as the larger timbers, and
more so than the mere showy, unsubstantial ornaments. I hate anything
that occupies more space than it is worth. I hate to see a load of
bandboxes go along the street, and I hate to see a parcel of big words
without anything in them. A person who does not deliberately dispose of
all his thoughts alike in cumbrous draperies and flimsy disguises may
strike out twenty varieties of familiar everyday language, each coming
somewhat nearer to the feeling he wants to convey, and at last not hit
upon that particular and only one which may be said to be identical
with the exact impression in his mind. This would seem to show that Mr.
Cobbett is hardly right in saying that the first word that occurs is
always the best. It may be a very good one; and yet a better may present
itself on reflection or from time to time. It should be suggested
naturally, however, and spontaneously, from a fresh and lively
conception of the subject. We seldom succeed by trying at improvement,
or by merely substituting one word for another that we are not satisfied
with, as we cannot recollect the name of a place or person by merely
plaguing ourselves about it. We wander farther from the point by
persisting in a wrong scent; but it starts up accidentally in the
memory when we least expected it, by touching some link in the chain of
previous association.

There are those who hoard up and make a cautious display of nothing but
rich and rare phraseology--ancient medals, obscure coins, and Spanish
pieces of eight. They are very curious to inspect, but I myself would
neither offer nor take them in the course of exchange. A sprinkling of
archaisms is not amiss, but a tissue of obsolete expressions is more fit
_for keep than wear._ I do not say I would not use any phrase that
had been brought into fashion before the middle or the end of the last
century, but I should be shy of using any that had not been employed by
any approved author during the whole of that time. Words, like clothes,
get old-fashioned, or mean and ridiculous, when they have been for some
time laid aside. Mr. Lamb is the only imitator of old English style I
can read with pleasure; and he is so thoroughly imbued with the spirit
of his authors that the idea of imitation is almost done away. There is
an inward unction, a marrowy vein, both in the thought and feeling,
an intuition, deep and lively, of his subject, that carries off any
quaintness or awkwardness arising from an antiquated style and dress.
The matter is completely his own, though the manner is assumed. Perhaps
his ideas are altogether so marked and individual as to require their
point and pungency to be neutralised by the affectation of a singular
but traditional form of conveyance. Tricked out in the prevailing
costume, they would probably seem more startling and out of the way. The
old English authors, Burton, Fuller, Coryate, Sir Thomas Browne, are
a kind of mediators between us and the more eccentric and whimsical
modern, reconciling us to his peculiarities. I do not, however, know how
far this is the case or not, till he condescends to write like one
of us. I must confess that what I like best of his papers under the
signature of Elia (still I do not presume, amidst such excellence, to
decide what is most excellent) is the account of 'Mrs. Battle's Opinions
on Whist,' which is also the most free from obsolete allusions and turns
of expression--

 A well of native English undefiled.

To those acquainted with his admired prototypes, these _Essays_ of
the ingenious and highly gifted author have the same sort of charm and
relish that Erasmus's _Colloquies_ or a fine piece of modern Latin have
to the classical scholar. Certainly, I do not know any borrowed pencil
that has more power or felicity of execution than the one of which I
have here been speaking.

It is as easy to write a gaudy style without ideas as it is to spread a
pallet of showy colours or to smear in a flaunting transparency.
'What do you read?' 'Words, words, words.'--'What is the matter?'
'_Nothing_,' it might be answered. The florid style is the reverse of the
familiar. The last is employed as an unvarnished medium to convey ideas;
the first is resorted to as a spangled veil to conceal the want of them.
When there is nothing to be set down but words, it costs little to have
them fine. Look through the dictionary, and cull out a _florilegium_,
rival the _tulippomania_. _Rouge_ high enough, and never mind the
natural complexion. The vulgar, who are not in the secret, will admire
the look of preternatural health and vigour; and the fashionable, who
regard only appearances, will be delighted with the imposition. Keep to
your sounding generalities, your tinkling phrases, and all will be well.
Swell out an unmeaning truism to a perfect tympany of style. A thought,
a distinction is the rock on which all this brittle cargo of verbiage
splits at once. Such writers have merely _verbal_ imaginations, that
retain nothing but words. Or their puny thoughts have dragon-wings, all
green and gold. They soar far above the vulgar failing of the _Sermo
humi obrepens_--their most ordinary speech is never short of an
hyperbole, splendid, imposing, vague, incomprehensible, magniloquent, a
cento of sounding common-places. If some of us, whose 'ambition is more
lowly,' pry a little too narrowly into nooks and corners to pick up a
number of 'unconsidered trifles,' they never once direct their eyes
or lift their hands to seize on any but the most gorgeous, tarnished,
threadbare, patchwork set of phrases, the left-off finery of poetic
extravagance, transmitted down through successive generations of
barren pretenders. If they criticise actors and actresses, a huddled
phantasmagoria of feathers, spangles, floods of light, and oceans of
sound float before their morbid sense, which they paint in the style of
Ancient Pistol. Not a glimpse can you get of the merits or defects of
the performers: they are hidden in a profusion of barbarous epithets and
wilful rhodomontade. Our hypercritics are not thinking of these little
fantoccini beings--

 That strut and fret their hour upon the stage--

but of tall phantoms of words, abstractions, _genera_ and _species_,
sweeping clauses, periods that unite the Poles, forced alliterations,
astounding antitheses--

 And on their pens _Fustian_ sits plumed.

If they describe kings and queens, it is an Eastern pageant. The
Coronation at either House is nothing to it. We get at four repeated
images--a curtain, a throne, a sceptre, and a footstool. These are with
them the wardrobe of a lofty imagination; and they turn their servile
strains to servile uses. Do we read a description of pictures? It is
not a reflection of tones and hues which 'nature's own sweet and cunning
hand laid on,' but piles of precious stones, rubies, pearls, emeralds,
Golconda's mines, and all the blazonry of art. Such persons are in fact
besotted with words, and their brains are turned with the glittering but
empty and sterile phantoms of things. Personifications, capital letters,
seas of sunbeams, visions of glory, shining inscriptions, the figures of
a transparency, Britannia with her shield, or Hope leaning on an anchor,
make up their stock-in-trade. They may be considered as _hieroglyphical_
writers. Images stand out in their minds isolated and important merely
in themselves, without any groundwork of feeling--there is no context
in their imaginations. Words affect them in the same way, by the mere
sound, that is, by their possible, not by their actual application to
the subject in hand. They are fascinated by first appearances, and have
no sense of consequences. Nothing more is meant by them than meets the
ear: they understand or feel nothing more than meets their eye. The web
and texture of the universe, and of the heart of man, is a mystery to
them: they have no faculty that strikes a chord in unison with it.
They cannot get beyond the daubings of fancy, the varnish of sentiment.
Objects are not linked to feelings, words to things, but images revolve
in splendid mockery, words represent themselves in their strange
rhapsodies. The categories of such a mind are pride and ignorance--pride
in outside show, to which they sacrifice everything, and ignorance of
the true worth and hidden structure both of words and things. With a
sovereign contempt for what is familiar and natural, they are the slaves
of vulgar affectation--of a routine of high-flown phrases. Scorning to
imitate realities, they are unable to invent anything, to strike out one
original idea. They are not copyists of nature, it is true; but they
are the poorest of all plagiarists, the plagiarists of words. All is
far-fetched, dear bought, artificial, oriental in subject and allusion;
all is mechanical, conventional, vapid, formal, pedantic in style and
execution. They startle and confound the understanding of the reader by
the remoteness and obscurity of their illustrations; they soothe the ear
by the monotony of the same everlasting round of circuitous metaphors.
They are the mock-school in poetry and prose. They flounder about
between fustian in expression and bathos in sentiment. They tantalise
the fancy, but never reach the head nor touch the heart. Their Temple
of Fame is like a shadowy structure raised by Dulness to Vanity, or
like Cowper's description of the Empress of Russia's palace of ice, 'as
worthless as in show 'twas glittering'--

 It smiled, and it was cold!


(1) I have heard of such a thing as an author who makes it a rule
never to admit a monosyllable into his vapid verse. Yet the charm and
sweetness of Marlowe's lines depended often on their being made up
almost entirely of monosyllables.


Effeminacy of character arises from a prevalence of the sensibility
over the will; or it consists in a want of fortitude to bear pain or to
undergo fatigue, however urgent the occasion. We meet with instances of
people who cannot lift up a little finger to save themselves from ruin,
nor give up the smallest indulgence for the sake of any other person.
They cannot put themselves out of their way on any account. No one makes
a greater outcry when the day of reckoning comes, or affects greater
compassion for the mischiefs they have occasioned; but till the time
comes, they feel nothing, they care for nothing. They live in the
present moment, are the creatures of the present impulse (whatever it
may be)--and beyond that, the universe is nothing to them. The slightest
toy countervails the empire of the world; they will not forego the
smallest inclination they feel, for any object that can be proposed to
them, or any reasons that can be urged for it. You might as well ask of
the gossamer not to wanton in the idle summer air, or of the moth not to
play with the flame that scorches it, as ask of these persons to put
off any enjoyment for a single instant, or to gird themselves up to
any enterprise of pith or moment. They have been so used to a studied
succession of agreeable sensations that the shortest pause is a
privation which they can by no means endure--it is like tearing
them from their very existence--they have been so inured to ease and
indolence, that the most trifling effort is like one of the tasks of
Hercules, a thing of impossibility, at which they shudder. They lie on
beds of roses, and spread their gauze wings to the sun and summer gale,
and cannot bear to put their tender feet to the ground, much less to
encounter the thorns and briars of the world. Life for them

 Rolls o'er Elysian flowers its amber stream,

and they have no fancy for fishing in troubled waters. The ordinary
state of existence they regard as something importunate and vain,
and out of nature. What must they think of its trials and sharp
vicissitudes? Instead of voluntarily embracing pain, or labour, or
danger, or death, every sensation must be wound up to the highest pitch
of voluptuous refinement, every motion must be grace and elegance; they
live in a luxurious, endless dream, or

 Die of a rose in aromatic pain!

Siren sounds must float around them; smiling forms must everywhere
meet their sight; they must tread a soft measure on painted carpets or
smooth-shaven lawns; books, arts, jests, laughter occupy every thought
and hour--what have they to do with the drudgery, the struggles, the
poverty, the disease or anguish which are the common lot of humanity?
These things are intolerable to them, even in imagination. They disturb
the enchantment in which they are lapt. They cause a wrinkle in the
clear and polished surface of their existence. They exclaim with
impatience and in agony, 'Oh, leave me to my repose!' How 'they shall
discourse the freezing hours away, when wind and rain beat dark December
down,' or 'bide the pelting of the pitiless storm,' gives them no
concern, it never once enters their heads. They close the shutters, draw
the curtains, and enjoy or shut out the whistling of the approaching
tempest 'They take no thought for the morrow,' not they. They do not
anticipate evils. Let them come when they will come, they will not run
to meet them. Nay more, they will not move one step to prevent them,
nor let any one else. The mention of such things is shocking; the very
supposition is a nuisance that must not be tolerated. The idea of the
obviate disagreeable consequences oppresses them to death, is an
exertion too great for their enervated imaginations. They are not like
Master Barnardine in _Measure for Measure_, who would not 'get up to
be hanged'--they would not get up to avoid being hanged. They are
completely wrapped up in themselves; but then all their self-love is
concentrated in the present minute. They have worked up their effeminate
and fastidious appetite of enjoyment to such a pitch that the whole of
their existence, every moment of it, must be made up of these exquisite
indulgences; or they will fling it all away, with indifference and
scorn. They stake their entire welfare on the gratification of the
passing instant. Their senses, their vanity, their thoughtless gaiety
have been pampered till they ache at the smallest suspension of
their perpetual dose of excitement, and they will purchase the hollow
happiness of the next five minutes by a mortgage on the independence and
comfort of years. They must have their will in everything, or they grow
sullen and peevish like spoiled children. Whatever they set their eyes
on, or make up their minds to, they must have that instant. They may pay
for it hereafter. But that is no matter. They snatch a joy beyond
the reach of fate, and consider the present time sacred, inviolable,
unaccountable to that hard, churlish, niggard, inexorable taskmaster,
the future. _Now or never_ is their motto. They are madly devoted to the
plaything, the ruling passion of the moment. What is to happen to them
a week hence is as if it were to happen to them a thousand years hence.
They put off the consideration for another day, and their heedless
unconcern laughs at it as a fable. Their life is 'a cell of ignorance,
travelling a-bed'; their existence is ephemeral; their thoughts are
insect-winged; their identity expires with the whim, the folly, the
passion of the hour.

Nothing but a miracle can rouse such people from their lethargy. It is
not to be expected, nor is it even possible in the natural course of
things. Pope's striking exclamation,

 Oh! blindness to the future kindly given,
 That each may fill the circuit mark'd by Heaven!

hardly applies here; namely, to evils that stare us in the face, and
that might be averted with the least prudence or resolution. But nothing
can be done. How should it? A slight evil, a distant danger, will not
move them; and a more imminent one only makes them turn away from it in
greater precipitation and alarm. The more desperate their affairs grow,
the more averse they are to look into them; and the greater the effort
required to retrieve them, the more incapable they are of it. At first,
they will not do anything; and afterwards, it is too late. The very
motives that imperiously urge them to self-reflection and amendment,
combine with their natural disposition to prevent it. This amounts
pretty nearly to a mathematical demonstration. Ease, vanity,
pleasure are the ruling passions in such cases.  How will
you conquer these, or wean their infatuated votaries from them? By the
dread of hardship, disgrace, pain? They turn from them, and you who
point them out as the alternative, with sickly disgust; and instead of a
stronger effort of courage or self-denial to avert the crisis, hasten
it by a wilful determination to pamper the disease in every way, and arm
themselves, not with fortitude to bear or to repel the consequences, but
with judicial blindness to their approach. Will you rouse the indolent
procrastinator to an irksome but necessary effort, by showing him
how much he has to do? He will only draw back the more for all your
entreaties and representations. If of a sanguine turn, he will make
a slight attempt at a new plan of life, be satisfied with the first
appearance of reform, and relapse into indolence again. If timid and
undecided, the hopelessness of the undertaking will put him out of heart
with it, and he will stand still in despair. Will you save a vain man
from ruin, by pointing out the obloquy and ridicule that await him in
his present career? He smiles at your forebodings as fantastical; or the
more they are realised around him, the more he is impelled to keep out
the galling conviction, and the more fondly he clings to flattery and
death. He will not make a bold and resolute attempt to recover his
reputation, because that would imply that it was capable of being soiled
or injured; or he no sooner meditates some desultory project, than he
takes credit to himself for the execution, and is delighted to wear
his unearned laurels while the thing is barely talked of. The chance of
success relieves the uneasiness of his apprehensions; so that he makes
use of the interval only to flatter his favourite infirmity again. Would
you wean a man from sensual excesses by the inevitable consequences to
which they lead?--What holds more antipathy to pleasure than pain? The
mind given up to self-indulgence revolts at suffering, and throws it
from it as an unaccountable anomaly, as a piece of injustice when it
comes. Much less will it acknowledge any affinity with or subjection to
it as a mere threat. If the prediction does not immediately come true,
we laugh at the prophet of ill: if it is verified, we hate our adviser
proportionably, hug our vices the closer, and hold them dearer and
more precious the more they cost us. We resent wholesome counsel as an
impertinence, and consider those who warn us of impending mischief as
if they had brought it on our heads. We cry out with the poetical

 And let us nurse the fond deceit;
 And what if we must die in sorrow?
 Who would not cherish dreams so sweet,
 Though grief and pain should come to-morrow?

But oh thou! who didst lend me speech when I was dumb, to whom I owe
it that I have not crept on my belly all the days of my life like the
serpent, but sometimes lift my forked crest or tread the empyrean, wake
thou out of thy mid-day slumbers! Shake off the heavy honeydew of thy
soul, no longer lulled with that Circean cup, drinking thy own thoughts
with thy own ears, but start up in thy promised likeness, and shake the
pillared rottenness of the world! Leave not thy sounding words in air,
write them in marble, and teach the coming age heroic truths! Up, and
wake the echoes of Time! Rich in deepest lore, die not the bed-rid churl
of knowledge, leaving the survivors unblest! Set, set as thou didst rise
in pomp and gladness! Dart like the sunflower one broad, golden flash of
light; and ere thou ascendest thy native sky, show us the steps by which
thou didst scale the Heaven of philosophy, with Truth and Fancy for thy
equal guides, that we may catch thy mantle, rainbow-dipped, and still
read thy words dear to Memory, dearer to Fame!

There is another branch of this character, which is the trifling or
dilatory character. Such persons are always creating difficulties, and
unable or unwilling to remove them. They cannot brush aside a cobweb,
and are stopped by an insect's wing. Their character is imbecility,
rather than effeminacy. The want of energy and resolution in the persons
last described arises from the habitual and inveterate predominance of
other feelings and motives; in these it is a mere want of energy and
resolution, that is, an inherent natural defect of vigour of nerve and
voluntary power. There is a specific levity about such persons, so that
you cannot propel them to any object, or give them a decided _momentum_
in any direction or pursuit. They turn back, as it were, on the occasion
that should project them forward with manly force and vehemence. They
shrink from intrepidity of purpose, and are alarmed at the idea of
attaining their end too soon. They will not act with steadiness or
spirit, either for themselves or you. If you chalk out a line of conduct
for them, or commission them to execute a certain task, they are sure
to conjure up some insignificant objection or fanciful impediment in the
way, and are withheld from striking an effectual blow by mere feebleness
of character. They may be officious, good-natured, friendly, generous in
disposition, but they are of no use to any one. They will put themselves
to twice the trouble you desire, not to carry your point, but to defeat
it; and in obviating needless objections, neglect the main business. If
they do what you want, it is neither at the time nor in the manner that
you wish. This timidity amounts to treachery; for by always anticipating
some misfortune or disgrace, they realise their unmeaning apprehensions.
The little bears sway in their minds over the great: a small
inconvenience outweighs a solid and indispensable advantage; and their
strongest bias is uniformly derived from the weakest motive. They
hesitate about the best way of beginning a thing till the opportunity
for action is lost, and are less anxious about its being done than the
precise manner of doing it. They will destroy a passage sooner than let
an objectionable word pass; and are much less concerned about the truth
or the beauty of an image than about the reception it will meet with
from the critics. They alter what they write, not because it is, but
because it may possibly be wrong; and in their tremulous solicitude to
avoid imaginary blunders, run into real ones. What is curious enough is,
that with all this caution and delicacy, they are continually liable
to extraordinary oversights. They are, in fact, so full of all sorts of
idle apprehensions, that they do not know how to distinguish real
from imaginary grounds of apprehension; and they often give some
unaccountable offence, either from assuming a sudden boldness half in
sport, or while they are secretly pluming themselves on their dexterity
in avoiding everything exceptionable; and the same distraction of motive
and shortsightedness which gets them into scrapes hinders them from
seeing their way out of them. Such persons (often of ingenious and
susceptible minds) are constantly at cross-purposes with themselves and
others; will neither do things nor let others do them; and whether they
succeed or fail, never feel confident or at their case. They spoil the
freshness and originality of their own thoughts by asking contradictory
advice; and in befriending others, while they are _about it and about
it,_ you might have done the thing yourself a dozen times over.

There is nothing more to be esteemed than a manly firmness and decision
of character. I like a person who knows his own mind and sticks to it;
who sees at once what is to be done in given circumstances and does it.
He does not beat about the bush for difficulties or excuses, but goes
the shortest and most effectual way to work to attain his own ends or
to accomplish a useful object. If he can serve you, he will do so; if
he cannot, he will say so without keeping you in needless suspense,
or laying you under pretended obligations. The applying to him in any
laudable undertaking is not like stirring 'a dish of skimmed milk.'
There is stuff in him, and it is of the right practicable sort. He is
not all his life at hawk-and-buzzard whether he shall be a Whig or a
Tory, a friend or a foe, a knave or a fool; but thinks that life is
short, and that there is no time to play fantastic tricks in it, to
tamper with principles, or trifle with individual feelings. If he gives
you a character, he does not add a damning clause to it: he does not
pick holes in you lest others should, or anticipate objections lest he
should be thought to be blinded by a childish partiality. His object is
to serve you; and not to play the game into your enemies' hands.

 A generous friendship no cold medium knows,
 Burns with one love, with one resentment glows.

I should be sorry for any one to say what he did not think of me; but I
should not be pleased to see him slink out of his acknowledged opinion,
lest it should not be confirmed by malice or stupidity. He who is well
acquainted and well inclined to you ought to give the tone, not to
receive it from others, and may set it to what key he pleases in certain

There are those of whom it has been said, that to them an obligation is
a reason for not doing anything, and there are others who are invariably
led to do the reverse of what they should. The last are perverse, the
first impracticable people. Opposed to the effeminate in disposition
and manners are the coarse and brutal. As those were all softness and
smoothness, these affect or are naturally attracted to whatever is
vulgar and violent, harsh and repulsive in tone, in modes of speech, in
forms of address, in gesture and behaviour. Thus there are some who ape
the lisping of the fine lady, the drawling of the fine gentleman, and
others who all their life delight in and catch the uncouth dialect, the
manners and expressions of clowns and hoydens. The last are governed by
an instinct of the disagreeable, by an appetite and headlong rage for
violating decorum and hurting other people's feelings, their own being
excited and enlivened by the shock. They deal in home truths, unpleasant
reflections, and unwelcome matters of fact; as the others are all
compliment and complaisance, insincerity and insipidity.

We may observe an effeminacy of style, in some degree corresponding to
effeminacy of character. Writers of this stamp are great interliners
of what they indite, alterers of indifferent phrases, and the plague of
printers' devils. By an effeminate style I would be understood to mean
one that is all florid, all fine; that cloys by its sweetness, and tires
by its sameness. Such are what Dryden calls 'calm, peaceable writers.'
They only aim to please, and never offend by truth or disturb by
singularity. Every thought must be beautiful _per se_, every expression
equally fine. They do not delight in vulgarisms, but in common-places,
and dress out unmeaning forms in all the colours of the rainbow. They
do not go out of their way to think--that would startle the indolence
of the reader: they cannot express a trite thought in common words--that
would be a sacrifice of their own vanity. They are not sparing of
tinsel, for it costs nothing. Their works should be printed, as they
generally are, on hot-pressed paper, with vignette margins. The Della
Cruscan school comes under this description, which is now nearly
exploded. Lord Byron is a pampered and aristocratic writer, but he is
not effeminate, or we should not have his works with only the printer's
name to them! I cannot help thinking that the fault of Mr. Keats's
poems was a deficiency in masculine energy of style. He had beauty,
tenderness, delicacy, in an uncommon degree, but there was a want of
strength and substance. His _Endymion_ is a very delightful description
of the illusions of a youthful imagination given up to airy dreams--we
have flowers, clouds, rainbows, moonlight, all sweet sounds and smells,
and Oreads and Dryads flitting by--but there is nothing tangible in it,
nothing marked or palpable--we have none of the hardy spirit or rigid
forms of antiquity. He painted his own thoughts and character, and did
not transport himself into the fabulous and heroic ages. There is a
want of action, of character, and so far of imagination, but there is
exquisite fancy. All is soft and fleshy, without bone or muscle. We
see in him the youth without the manhood of poetry. His genius breathed
'vernal delight and joy.' 'Like Maia's son he stood and shook his
plumes,' with fragrance filled. His mind was redolent of spring. He had
not the fierceness of summer, nor the richness of autumn, and winter he
seemed not to have known till he felt the icy hand of death!


No notes for this essay.


Distant objects please, because, in the first place, they imply an idea
of space and magnitude, and because, not being obtruded too close upon
the eye, we clothe them with the indistinct and airy colours of fancy.
In looking at the misty mountain-tops that bound the horizon, the mind
is as it were conscious of all the conceivable objects and interests
that lie between; we imagine all sorts of adventures in the interim;
strain our hopes and wishes to reach the air-drawn circle, or to
'descry new lands, rivers, and mountains,' stretching far beyond it:
our feelings, carried out of themselves, lose their grossness and their
husk, are rarefied, expanded, melt into softness and brighten into
beauty, turning to ethereal mould, sky-tinctured. We drink the air
before us, and borrow a more refined existence from objects that hover
on the brink of nothing. Where the landscape fades from the dull sight,
we fill the thin, viewless space with shapes of unknown good, and tinge
the hazy prospect with hopes and wishes and more charming fears.

 But thou, oh Hope! with eyes so fair,
 What was thy delighted measure?
 Still it whisper'd promised pleasure,
 And bade the lovely scenes at distance hail!

Whatever is placed beyond the reach of sense and knowledge, whatever is
imperfectly discerned, the fancy pieces out at its leisure; and all but
the present moment, but the present spot, passion claims for its own,
and brooding over it with wings outspread, stamps it with an image of
itself. Passion is lord of infinite space, and distant objects please
because they border on its confines and are moulded by its touch. When
I was a boy, I lived within sight of a range of lofty hills, whose blue
tops blending with the setting sun had often tempted my longing eyes and
wandering feet. At last I put my project in execution, and on a nearer
approach, instead of glimmering air woven into fantastic shapes, found
them huge lumpish heaps of discoloured earth. I learnt from this (in
part) to leave 'Yarrow unvisited,' and not idly to disturb a dream of

Distance of time has much the same effect as distance of place. It
is not surprising that fancy colours the prospect of the future as it
thinks good, when it even effaces the forms of memory. Time takes out
the sting of pain; our sorrows after a certain period have been so often
steeped in a medium of thought and passion that they 'unmould their
essence'; and all that remains of our original impressions is what we
would wish them to have been. Not only the untried steep ascent before
us, but the rude, unsightly masses of our past experience presently
resume their power of deception over the eye: the golden cloud soon
rests upon their heads, and the purple light of fancy clothes their
barren sides! Thus we pass on, while both ends of our existence touch
upon Heaven! There is (so to speak) 'a mighty stream of tendency'
to good in the human mind, upon which all objects float and are
imperceptibly borne along; and though in the voyage of life we meet with
strong rebuffs, with rocks and quicksands, yet there is 'a tide in the
affairs of men,' a heaving and a restless aspiration of the soul, by
means of which, 'with sails and tackle torn,' the wreck and scattered
fragments of our entire being drift into the port and haven of our
desires! In all that relates to the affections, we put the will for the
deed; so that the instant the pressure of unwelcome circumstances is
removed, the mind recoils from their hold, recovers its elasticity,
and reunites itself to that image of good which is but a reflection
and configuration of its own nature. Seen in the distance, in the
long perspective of waning years, the meanest incidents, enlarged
and enriched by countless recollections, become interesting; the most
painful, broken and softened by time, soothe. How any object that
unexpectedly brings back to us old scenes and associations startles the
mind! What a yearning it creates within us; what a longing to leap
the intermediate space! How fondly we cling to, and try to revive the
impression of all that we then were!

 Such tricks hath strong imagination!

In truth we impose upon ourselves, and know not what we wish. It is a
cunning artifice, a quaint delusion, by which, in pretending to be what
we were at a particular moment of time, we would fain be all that we
have since been, and have our lives to come over again. It is not the
little, glimmering, almost annihilated speck in the distance that rivets
our attention and 'hangs upon the beatings of our hearts': it is the
interval that separates us from it, and of which it is the trembling
boundary, that excites all this coil and mighty pudder in the breast.
Into that great gap in our being 'come thronging soft desires' and
infinite regrets. It is the contrast, the change from what we then were,
that arms the half-extinguished recollection with its giant strength,
and lifts the fabric of the affections from its shadowy base. In
contemplating its utmost verge, we overlook the map of our existence,
and re-tread, in apprehension, the journey of life. So it is that in
early youth we strain our eager sight after the pursuits of manhood;
and, as we are sliding off the stage, strive to gather up the toys and
flowers that pleased our thoughtless childhood.

When I was quite a boy my father used to take me to the Montpelier Tea
Gardens at Walworth. Do I go there now? No; the place is deserted, and
its borders and its beds o'erturned. Is there, then, nothing that can

  Bring back the hour
 Of glory in the grass, of splendour in the flower?

Oh! yes. I unlock the casket of memory, and draw back the warders of the
brain; and there this scene of my infant wanderings still lives unfaded,
or with fresher dyes. A new sense comes upon me, as in a dream; a richer
perfume, brighter colours start out; my eyes dazzle; my heart heaves
with its new load of bliss, and I am a child again. My sensations are
all glossy, spruce, voluptuous, and fine: they wear a candied coat, and
are in holiday trim. I see the beds of larkspur with purple eyes; tall
hollyhocks, red or yellow; the broad sunflowers, caked in gold, with
bees buzzing round them; wildernesses of pinks, and hot glowing peonies;
poppies run to seed; the sugared lily, and faint mignonette, all ranged
in order, and as thick as they can grow; the box-tree borders, the
gravel-walks, the painted alcove, the confectionery, the clotted
cream:--I think I see them now with sparkling looks; or have they
vanished while I have been writing this description of them? No matter;
they will return again when I least think of them. All that I have
observed since, of flowers and plants, and grass-plots, and of
suburb delights, seems to me borrowed from 'that first garden of my
innocence'--to be slips and scions stolen from that bed of memory. In
this manner the darlings of our childhood burnish out in the eye of
after years, and derive their sweetest perfume from the first heartfelt
sigh of pleasure breathed upon them,

  Like the sweet south,
 That breathes upon a bank of violets,
 Stealing and giving odour!

If I have pleasure in a flower-garden, I have in a kitchen-garden too,
and for the same reason. If I see a row of cabbage-plants, or of peas or
beans coming up, I immediately think of those which I used so carefully
to water of an evening at Wem, when my day's tasks were done, and of
the pain with which I saw them droop and hang down their leaves in the
morning's sun. Again, I never see a child's kite in the air but it seems
to pull at my heart. It is to me 'a thing of life.' I feel the twinge at
my elbow, the flutter and palpitation, with which I used to let go the
string of my own, as it rose in the air, and towered among the clouds.
My little cargo of hopes and fears ascended with it; and as it made a
part of my own consciousness then, it does so still, and appears 'like
some gay creature of the element,' my playmate when life was young,
and twin-born with my earliest recollections. I could enlarge on this
subject of childish amusements, but Mr. Leigh Hunt has treated it so
well, in a paper in the _Indicator,_ on the productions of the toy-shops
of the metropolis, that if I were to insist more on it I should only
pass for an imitator of that ingenious and agreeable writer, _and for an
indifferent one into the bargain._

Sounds, smells, and sometimes tastes, are remembered longer than
visible objects, and serve, perhaps, better for links in the chain
of association. The reason seems to be this: they are in their nature
intermittent, and comparatively rare; whereas objects of sight are
always before us, and, by their continuous succession, drive one another
out. The eye is always open; and between any given impression and its
recurrence a second time, fifty thousand other impressions have, in
all likelihood, been stamped upon the sense and on the brain. The other
senses are not so active or vigilant. They are but seldom called into
play. The ear, for example, is oftener courted by silence than noise;
and the sounds that break that silence sink deeper and more durably
into the mind. I have a more present and lively recollection of certain
scents, tastes, and sounds, for this reason, than I have of mere visible
images, because they are more original, and less worn by frequent
repetition. Where there is nothing interposed between any two
impressions, whatever the distance of time that parts them, they
naturally seem to touch; and the renewed impression recalls the former
one in full force, without distraction or competitor. The taste of
barberries, which have hung out in the snow during the severity of a
North American winter, I have in my mouth still, after an interval of
thirty years; for I have met with no other taste in all that time at
all like it. It remains by itself, almost like the impression of a sixth
sense. But the colour is mixed up indiscriminately with the colours of
many other berries, nor should I be able to distinguish it among them.
The smell of a brick-kiln carries the evidence of its own identity with
it: neither is it to me (from peculiar associations) unpleasant.
The colour of brickdust, on the contrary, is more common, and easily
confounded with other colours. Raphael did not keep it quite distinct
from his flesh colour. I will not say that we have a more perfect
recollection of the human voice than of that complex picture the human
face, but I think the sudden hearing of a well-known voice has something
in it more affecting and striking than the sudden meeting with the face:
perhaps, indeed, this may be because we have a more familiar remembrance
of the one than the other, and the voice takes us more by surprise on
that account. I am by no means certain (generally speaking) that we have
the ideas of the other senses so accurate and well made out as those of
visible form: what I chiefly mean is, that the feelings belonging to
the sensations of our other organs, when accidentally recalled, are kept
more separate and pure. Musical sounds, probably, owe a good deal of
their interest and romantic effect to the principle here spoken of.
Were they constant, they would become indifferent, as we may find with
respect to disagreeable noises, which we do not hear after a time. I
know no situation more pitiable than that of a blind fiddler who has but
one sense left (if we except the sense of snuff-taking(1)) and who has
that stunned or deafened by his own villainous noises. Shakespear says.

 How silver-sweet sound lovers' tongues by night!

It has been observed in explanation of this passage, that it is because
in the day-time lovers are occupied with one another's faces, but that
at night they can only distinguish the sound of each other's voices. I
know not how this may be; but I have, ere now, heard a voice break so
upon the silence,

 To angels' 'twas most like,

and charm the moonlight air with its balmy essence, that the budding
leaves trembled to its accents. Would I might have heard it once more
whisper peace and hope (as erst when it was mingled with the breath of
spring), and with its soft pulsations lift winged fancy to heaven. But
it has ceased, or turned where I no more shall hear it!--Hence, also, we
see what is the charm of the shepherd's pastoral reed; and why we hear
him, as it were, piping to his flock, even in a picture. Our ears are
fancy stung! I remember once strolling along the margin of a stream,
skirted with willows and plashy sedges, in one of those low sheltered
valleys on Salisbury Plain, where the monks of former ages had planted
chapels and built hermits' cells. There was a little parish church near,
but tall elms and quivering alders hid it from my sight, when, all of
a sudden, I was startled by the sound of the full organ pealing on the
ear, accompanied by rustic voices and the willing choir of village maids
and children. It rose, indeed, 'like an exhalation of rich distilled
perfumes.' The dew from a thousand pastures was gathered in its
softness; the silence of a thousand years spoke in it. It came upon the
heart like the calm beauty of death; fancy caught the sound, and faith
mounted on it to the skies. It filled the valley like a mist, and still
poured out its endless chant, and still it swells upon the ear, and
wraps me in a golden trance, drowning the noisy tumult of the world!

There is a curious and interesting discussion on the comparative
distinctness of our visual and other external impressions, in Mr.
Fearn's _Essay on Consciousness_, with which I shall try to descend from
this rhapsody to the ground of common sense and plain reasoning again.
After observing, a little before, that 'nothing is more untrue than that
sensations of vision do necessarily leave more vivid and durable
ideas than those of grosser senses,' he proceeds to give a number of
illustrations in support of this position. 'Notwithstanding,' he says,
'the advantages here enumerated in favour of sight, I think there is
no doubt that a man will come to forget acquaintance, and many other
visible objects, noticed in mature age, before he will in the least
forget taste and smells, of only moderate interest, encountered either
in his childhood or at any time since.

'In the course of voyaging to various distant regions, it has several
times happened that I have eaten once or twice of different things that
never came in my way before nor since. Some of these have been pleasant,
and some scarce better than insipid; but I have no reason to think I
have forgot, or much altered the ideas left by those single impulses of
taste; though here the memory of them certainly has not been preserved
by repetition. It is clear I must have seen as well as tasted those
things; and I am decided that I remember the tastes with more precision
than I do the visual sensations.

'I remember having once, and only once, eat Kangaroo in New Holland; and
having once smelled a baker's shop having a peculiar odour in the city
of Bassorah. Now both these gross ideas remain with me quite as vivid as
any visual ideas of those places; and this could not be from repetition,
but really from interest in the sensation.

'Twenty-eight years ago, in the island of Jamaica, I partook (perhaps
twice) of a certain fruit, of the taste of which I have now a very fresh
idea; and I could add other instances of that period.

'I have had repeated proofs of having lost retention of visual objects,
at various distances of time, though they had once been familiar. I
have not, during thirty years, forgot the delicate, and in itself most
trifling sensation that the palm of my hand used to convey, when I was a
boy, trying the different effects of what boys call _light_ and _heavy_
tops; but I cannot remember within several shades of the brown coat
which I left off a week ago. If any man thinks he can do better, let him
take an ideal survey of his wardrobe, and then actually refer to it for

'After retention of such ideas, it certainly would be very difficult to
persuade me that feeling, taste, and smell can scarce be said to leave
ideas, unless indistinct and obscure ones....

'Show a Londoner correct models of twenty London churches, and, at
the same time, a model of each, which differs, in several considerable
features, from the truth, and I venture to say he shall not tell you, in
any instance, which is the correct one, except by mere chance.

'If he is an architect he may be much more correct than any ordinary
person: and this obviously is because he has felt an interest in viewing
these structures, which an ordinary person does not feel: and here
interest is the sole reason of his remembering more correctly than his

'I once heard a person quaintly ask another, How many trees there are
in St. Paul's churchyard? The question itself indicates that many cannot
answer it; and this is found to be the case with those who have passed
the church a hundred times: whilst the cause is, that every individual
in the busy stream which glides past St. Paul's is engrossed in various
other interests.

'How often does it happen that we enter a well-known apartment, or meet
a well-known friend, and receive some vague idea of visible difference,
but cannot possibly find out _what_ it is; until at length we come to
perceive (or perhaps must be told) that some ornament or furniture is
removed, altered, or added in the apartment; or that our friend has
cut his hair, taken a wig, or has made any of twenty considerable
alterations in his appearance. At other times we have no perception of
alteration whatever, though the like has taken place.

'It is, however, certain that sight, apposited with interest, can retain
tolerably exact copies of sensations, especially if not too complex,
such as of the human countenance and figure: yet the voice will convince
us when the countenance will not; and he is reckoned an excellent
painter, and no ordinary genius, who can make a tolerable likeness from
memory. Nay, more, it is a conspicuous proof of the inaccuracy of visual
ideas, that it is an effort of consummate art, attained by many years'
practice, to take a strict likeness of the human countenance, even when
the object is present; and among those cases where the wilful cheat of
flattery has been avoided, we still find in how very few instances the
best painters produce a likeness up to the life, though practice and
interest join in the attempt.

'I imagine an ordinary person would find it very difficult, supposing he
had some knowledge of drawing, to afford from memory a tolerable
sketch of such a familiar object as his curtain, his carpet, or his
dressing-gown, if the pattern of either be at all various or irregular;
yet he will instantly tell, with precision, either if his snuff or his
wine has not the same character it had yesterday, though both these are

'Beyond all this I may observe, that a draper who is in the daily habit
of such comparisons cannot carry in his mind the particular shade of
a colour during a second of time; and has no certainty of tolerably
matching two simple colours, except by placing the patterns in

I will conclude the subject of this Essay with observing that (as it
appears to me) a nearer and more familiar acquaintance with persons has
a different and more favourable effect than that with places or things.
The latter improve (as an almost universal rule) by being removed to a
distance: the former, generally at least, gain by being brought nearer
and more home to us. Report or imagination seldom raises any individual
so high in our estimation as to disappoint us greatly when we are
introduced to him: prejudice and malice constantly exaggerate defects
beyond the reality. Ignorance alone makes monsters or bugbears: our
actual acquaintances are all very commonplace people. The thing is, that
as a matter of hearsay or conjecture, we make abstractions of particular
vices, and irritate ourselves against some particular quality or action
of the person we dislike: whereas individuals are concrete existences,
not arbitrary denominations or nicknames; and have innumerable other
qualities, good, bad, and indifferent, besides the damning feature with
which we fill up the portrait or caricature in our previous fancies. We
can scarcely hate any one that we know. An acute observer complained,
that if there was any one to whom he had a particular spite, and a wish
to let him see it, the moment he came to sit down with him his enmity
was disarmed by some unforeseen circumstance. If it was a Quarterly
Reviewer, he was in other respects like any other man. Suppose, again,
your adversary turns out a very ugly man, or wants an eye, you are
baulked in that way: he is not what you expected, the object of your
abstract hatred and implacable disgust. He may be a very disagreeable
person, but he is no longer the same.  If you come into a room where a
man is, you find, in general, that he has a nose upon his face. 'There's
sympathy!' This alone is a diversion to your unqualified contempt. He is
stupid, and says nothing, but he seems to have something in him when he
laughs. You had conceived of him as a rank Whig or Tory--yet he talks
upon other subjects. You knew that he was a virulent party-writer; but
you find that the man himself is a tame sort of animal enough. He does
not bite. That's something. In short, you can make nothing of it. Even
opposite vices balance one another. A man may be pert in company, but he
is also dull; so that you cannot, though you try, hate him cordially,
merely for the wish to be offensive. He i did not know before--that he
is a fool as well; so you forgive him. On the other hand, he may be a
profligate public character, and may make no secret of it; but he gives
you a hearty shake by the hand, speaks kindly to servants, and supports
an aged father and mother. Politics apart, he is a very honest fellow.
You are told that a person has carbuncles on his face; but you have
ocular proofs that he is sallow, and pale as a ghost. This does not much
mend the matter; but it blunts the edge of the ridicule, and turns your
indignation against the inventor of the lie; but he is -----, the editor
of a Scotch magazine; so you are just where you were. I am not very fond
of anonymous criticism; I want to know who the author can be: but the
moment I learn this, I am satisfied. Even ----- would do well to come
out of his disguise.  It is the mask only that we dread and hate: the
man may have something human about hi from partial representations, or
from guess-work, are simple uncompounded ideas, which answer to nothing
in reality: those which we derive from experience are mixed modes, the
only true, and, in general, the most favourable ones. Instead of naked
deformity, or abstract perfection--

 Those faultless monsters which the world ne'er saw--

'the web of our lives is of mingled yarn, good and ill together: our
virtues would be proud, if our faults whipt them not; and our vices
would despair, if they were not encouraged by our virtues.' This was
truly and finely said long ago, by one who knew the strong and weak
points of human nature; but it is what sects, and parties, and those
philosophers whose pride and boast it is to classify by nicknames, have
yet to know the meaning of!


(1) See Wilkie's Blind Fiddler.

(2) _Essay on Consciousness_, p. 303.


 Corporate bodies have no soul.

Corporate bodies are more corrupt and profligate than individuals,
because they have more power to do mischief, and are less amenable to
disgrace or punishment. They feel neither shame, remorse, gratitude, nor
goodwill. The principle of private or natural conscience is extinguished
in each individual (we have no moral sense in the breasts of others),
and nothing is considered but how the united efforts of the whole
(released from idle scruples) may be best directed to the obtaining of
political advantages and privileges to be shared as common spoil. Each
member reaps the benefit, and lays the blame, if there is any, upon
the rest. The _esprit de corps_ becomes the ruling passion of every
corporate body, compared with which the motives of delicacy or decorum
towards others are looked upon as being both impertinent and improper.
If any person sets up a plea of this sort in opposition to the rest, he
is overruled, he gets ill-blood, and does no good: he is regarded as
an interloper, a _black sheep_ in the flock, and is either _sent to
Coventry_ or obliged to acquiesce in the notions and wishes of those
he associates and is expected to co-operate with. The refinements of
private judgment are referred to and negatived in a committee of the
whole body, while the projects and interests of the Corporation meet
with a secret but powerful support in the self-love of the different
members. Remonstrance, opposition, is fruitless, troublesome, invidious;
it answers no one end; and a conformity to the sense of the company is
found to be no less necessary to a reputation for good-fellowship than
to a quiet life. Self-love and social here look like the same; and in
consulting the interests of a particular class, which are also your
own, there is even a show of public virtue. He who is a captious,
impracticable, dissatisfied member of his little club or _coterie_ is
immediately set down as a bad member of the community in general, as no
friend to regularity and order, as 'a pestilent fellow,' and one who
is incapable of sympathy, attachment, or cordial co-operation in any
department or undertaking. Thus the most refractory novice in such
matters becomes weaned from his obligations to the larger society, which
only breed him inconvenience without any adequate recompense, and wedded
to a nearer and dearer one, where he finds every kind of comfort and
consolation. He contracts the vague and unmeaning character of Man
into the more emphatic title of Freeman and Alderman. The claims of an
undefined humanity sit looser and looser upon him, at the same time that
he draws the bands of his new engagements closer and tighter about him.
He loses sight, by degrees, of all common sense and feeling in the petty
squabbles, intrigues, feuds, and airs of affected importance to which he
has made himself an accessory. He is quite an altered man. 'Really
the society were under considerable obligations to him in that last
business'; that is to say, in some paltry job or underhand attempt
to encroach upon the rights or dictate to the understandings of the
neighbourhood. In the meantime they eat, drink, and carouse together.
They wash down all minor animosities and unavoidable differences of
opinion in pint bumpers; and the complaints of the multitude are lost
in the clatter of plates and the roaring of loyal catches at every
quarter's meeting or mayor's feast. The town-hall reels with an unwieldy
sense of self-importance; 'the very stones prate' of processions; the
common pump creaks in concert with the uncorking of bottles and tapping
of beer-barrels: the market-cross looks big with authority. Everything
has an ambiguous, upstart, repulsive air. Circle within circle is
formed, an _imperium in imperio_: and the business is to exclude from
the first circle all the notions, opinions, ideas, interests, and
pretensions of the second. Hence there arises not only an antipathy
to common sense and decency in those things where there is a real
opposition of interest or clashing of prejudice, but it becomes a habit
and a favourite amusement in those who are 'dressed in a little brief
authority,' to thwart, annoy, insult, and harass others on all occasions
where the least opportunity or pretext for it occurs. Spite, bickerings,
back-biting, insinuations, lies, jealousies, nicknames are the order of
the day, and nobody knows what it's all about. One would think that the
mayor, aldermen, and liverymen were a higher and more select species of
animals than their townsmen; though there is no difference whatever but
in their gowns and staff of office! This is the essence of the _esprit
de corps_. It is certainly not a very delectable source of contemplation
or subject to treat of.

Public bodies are so far worse than the individuals composing them,
because the _official_ takes place of the _moral sense._ The nerves that
in themselves were soft and pliable enough, and responded naturally
to the touch of pity, when fastened into a machine of that sort become
callous and rigid, and throw off every extraneous application that can
be made to them with perfect apathy. An appeal is made to the ties of
individual friendship: the body in general know nothing of them. A case
has occurred which strongly called forth the compassion of the person
who was witness of it; but the body (or any special deputation of
them) were not present when it happened. These little weaknesses and
'compunctious visitings of nature' are effectually guarded against,
indeed, by the very rules and regulations of the society, as well as by
its spirit. The individual is the creature of his feelings of all sorts,
the sport of his vices and his virtues--like the fool in Shakespear,
'motley's his proper wear':--corporate bodies are dressed in a moral
uniform; mixed motives do not operate there, frailty is made into a
system, 'diseases are turned into commodities.' Only so much of any
one's natural or genuine impulses can influence him in his artificial
capacity as formally comes home to the aggregate conscience of those
with whom he acts, or bears upon the interests (real or pretended), the
importance, respectability, and professed objects of the society. Beyond
that point the nerve is bound up, the conscience is seared, and the
torpedo-touch of so much inert matter operates to deaden the best
feelings and harden the heart. Laughter and tears are said to be the
characteristic signs of humanity. Laughter is common enough in such
places as a set-off to the mock-gravity; but who ever saw a public body
in tears? Nothing but a job or some knavery can keep them serious for
ten minutes together.(1)

Such are the qualifications and the apprenticeship necessary to make a
man tolerated, to enable him to pass as a cypher, or be admitted as a
mere numerical unit, in any corporate body: to be a leader and dictator
he must be diplomatic in impertinence, and officious in every dirty
work. He must not merely conform to established prejudices; he must
flatter them. He must not merely be insensible to the demands of
moderation and equity; he must be loud against them. He must not simply
fall in with all sorts of contemptible cabals and intrigues; he must be
indefatigable in fomenting them, and setting everybody together by the
ears. He must not only repeat, but invent lies. He must make speeches
and write handbills; he must be devoted to the wishes and objects of
the society, its creature, its jackal, its busybody, its mouthpiece,
its prompter; he must deal in law cases, in demurrers, in charters, in
traditions, in common-places, in logic and rhetoric--in everything but
common sense and honesty. He must (in Mr. Burke's phrase) 'disembowel
himself of his natural entrails, and be stuffed with paltry, blurred
sheets of parchment about the rights' of the privileged few. He must
be a concentrated essence, a varnished, powdered representative of the
vices, absurdities, hypocrisy, jealousy, pride, and pragmaticalness of
his party. Such a one, by bustle and self-importance and puffing, by
flattering one to his face and abusing another behind his back, by
lending himself to the weaknesses of some, and pampering the mischievous
propensities of others, will pass for a great man in a little society.

Age does not improve the morality of public bodies. They grow more and
more tenacious of their idle privileges and senseless self-consequence.
They get weak and obstinate at the same time. Those who belong to them
have all the upstart pride and pettifogging spirit of their present
character ingrafted on the venerableness and superstitious sanctity
of ancient institutions. They are naturally at issue, first with their
neighbours, and next with their contemporaries, on all matters of common
propriety and judgment. They become more attached to forms, the more
obsolete they are; and the defence of every absurd and invidious
distinction is a debt which (by implication) they owe to the dead as
well as the living. What might once have been of serious practical
utility they turn to farce, by retaining the letter when the spirit is
gone: and they do this the more, the more glaring the inconsistency and
want of sound reasoning; for they think they thus give proof of
their zeal and attachment to the abstract principle on which old
establishments exist, the ground of prescription and authority. _The
greater the wrong, the greater the right,_ in all such cases. The
_esprit de corps_ does not take much merit to itself for upholding what
is justifiable in any system, or the proceedings of any party, but for
adhering to what is palpably injurious. You may exact the first from an
enemy: the last is the province of a friend. It has been made a subject
of complaint, that the champions of the Church, for example, who are
advanced to dignities and honours, are hardly ever those who defend the
common principles of Christianity, but those who volunteer to man the
out-works, and set up ingenious excuses for the questionable points, the
ticklish places in the established form of worship, that is, for those
which are attacked from without, and are supposed in danger of being
undermined by stratagem, or carried by assault!

The great resorts and seats of learning often outlive in this way the
intention of the founders as the world outgrows them. They may be said
to resemble antiquated coquettes of the last age, who think everything
ridiculous and intolerable but what was in fashion when they were young,
and yet are standing proofs of the progress of taste and the vanity
of human pretensions. Our universities are, in a great measure, become
cisterns to hold, not conduits to disperse knowledge. The age has the
start of them; that is, other sources of knowledge have been opened
since their formation, to which the world have had access, and have
drunk plentifully at those living fountains, but from which they are
debarred by the tenor of their charter, and as a matter of dignity
and privilege. They have grown poor, like the old grandees in some
countries, by subsisting on the inheritance of learning, while the
people have grown rich by trade. They are too much in the nature of
_fixtures_ in intellect: they stop the way in the road to truth; or
at any rate (for they do not themselves advance) they can only be
of service as a check-weight on the too hasty and rapid career of
innovation. All that has been invented or thought in the last two
hundred years they take no cognizance of, or as little as possible; they
are above it; they stand upon the ancient landmarks, and will not budge;
whatever was not known when they were first endowed, they are still in
profound and lofty ignorance of. Yet in that period how much has been
done in literature, arts, and science, of which (with the exception
of mathematical knowledge, the hardest to gainsay or subject to the
trammels of prejudice and barbarous _ipse dixits_) scarce any trace is
to be found in the authentic modes of study and legitimate inquiry
which prevail at either of our Universities! The unavoidable aim of
all corporate bodies of learning is not to grow wise, or teach others
wisdom, but to prevent any one else from being or seeming wiser than
themselves; in other words, their infallible tendency is in the end to
suppress inquiry and darken knowledge, by setting limits to the mind of
man, and saying to his proud spirit, _Hitherto shalt thou come, and no
farther!_ It would not be an unedifying experiment to make a collection
of the titles of works published in the course of the year by Members
of the Universities. If any attempt is to be made to patch up an idle
system in policy or legislation, or church government, it is by a member
of the University: if any hashed-up speculation on an old exploded
argument is to be brought forward 'in spite of _shame,_ in erring
reason's spite,' it is by a Member of the University: if a paltry
project is ushered into the world for combining ancient prejudices with
modern time-serving, it is by a Member of the University. Thus we get at
a stated supply of the annual Defences of the Sinking Fund, Thoughts on
the Evils of Education, Treatises on Predestination, and Eulogies on Mr.
Malthus, all from the same source, and through the same vent. If they
came from any other quarter nobody would look at them; but they have
an _Imprimatur_ from dulness and authority: we know that there is no
offence in them; and they are stuck in the shop windows, and read (in
the intervals of Lord Byron's works, or the Scotch novels) in cathedral
towns and close boroughs!

It is, I understand and believe, pretty much the same in more modern
institutions for the encouragement of the Fine Arts. The end is lost in
the means: rules take place of nature and genius; cabal and bustle, and
struggle for rank and precedence, supersede the study and the love
of art. A Royal Academy is a kind of hospital and infirmary for the
obliquities of taste and ingenuity--a receptacle where enthusiasm and
originality stop and stagnate, and spread their influence no farther,
instead of being a school founded for genius, or a temple built to fame.
The generality of those who wriggle, or fawn, or beg their way to a
seat there, live on their certificate of merit to a good old age, and
are seldom heard of afterwards. If a man of sterling capacity gets among
them, and minds his own business he is nobody; he makes no figure in
council, in voting, in resolutions or speeches. If he comes forward with
plans and views for the good of the Academy and the advancement of
art, he is immediately set upon as a visionary, a fanatic, with notions
hostile to the interest and credit of the existing members of the
society. If he directs the ambition of the scholars to the study of
History, this strikes at once at the emoluments of the profession, who
are most of them (by God's will) portrait painters. If he eulogises
the Antique, and speaks highly of the Old Masters, he is supposed to
be actuated by envy to living painters and native talent. If, again, he
insists on a knowledge of anatomy as essential to correct drawing, this
would seem to imply a want of it in our most eminent designers. Every
plan, suggestion, argument, that has the general purposes and principles
of art for its object, is thwarted, scouted, ridiculed, slandered, as
having a malignant aspect towards the profits and pretensions of the
great mass of flourishing and respectable artists in the country. This
leads to irritation and ill-will on all sides. The obstinacy of the
constituted authorities keeps pace with the violence and extravagance
opposed to it; and they lay all the blame on the folly and mistakes they
have themselves occasioned or increased. It is considered as a personal
quarrel, not a public question; by which means the dignity of the body
is implicated in resenting the slips and inadvertencies of its members,
not in promoting their common and declared objects. In this sort of
wretched _tracasserie_ the Barrys and H----s stand no chance with the
Catons, the Tubbs, and F----s. Sir Joshua even was obliged to hold
himself aloof from them, and Fuseli passes as a kind of nondescript, or
one of his own grotesques. The air of an academy, in short, is not
the air of genius and immortality; it is too close and heated, and
impregnated with the notions of the common sort. A man steeped in a
corrupt atmosphere of this description is no longer open to the genial
impulses of nature and truth, nor sees visions of ideal beauty, nor
dreams of antique grace and grandeur, nor has the finest works of art
continually hovering and floating through his uplifted fancy; but the
images that haunt it are rules of the academy, charters, inaugural
speeches, resolutions passed or rescinded, cards of invitation to a
council-meeting, or the annual dinner, prize medals, and the king's
diploma, constituting him a gentleman and esquire. He 'wipes out all
trivial, fond records'; all romantic aspirations; 'the Raphael grace,
the Guido air'; and the commands of the academy alone 'must live within
the book and volume of his brain, unmixed with baser matter.' It may be
doubted whether any work of lasting reputation and universal interest
can spring up in this soil, or ever has done in that of any academy. The
last question is a matter of fact and history, not of mere opinion or
prejudice; and may be ascertained as such accordingly. The mighty names
of former times rose before the existence of academies; and the
three greatest painters, undoubtedly, that this country has produced,
Reynolds, Wilson, and Hogarth, were not 'dandled and swaddled' into
artists in any institution for the fine arts. I do not apprehend that
the names of Chantrey or Wilkie (great as one, and considerable as the
other of them is) can be made use of in any way to impugn the jet of
this argument. We may find a considerable improvement in some of our
artists, when they get out of the vortex for a time. Sir Thomas Lawrence
is all the better for having been abstracted for a year or two from
Somerset House; and Mr. Dawe, they say, has been doing wonders in the
North. When will he return, and once more 'bid Britannia rival Greece'?

Mr. Canning somewhere lays it down as a rule, that corporate bodies are
necessarily correct and pure in their conduct, from the knowledge which
the individuals composing them have of one another, and the jealous
vigilance they exercise over each other's motives and characters;
whereas people collected into mobs are disorderly and unprincipled from
being utterly unknown and unaccountable to each other. This is a curious
_pass_ of wit. I differ with him in both parts of the dilemma. To begin
with the first, and to handle it somewhat cavalierly, according to the
model before us; we know, for instance, there is said to be honour among
thieves, but very little honesty towards others. Their honour consists
in the division of the booty, not in the mode of acquiring it: they
do not (often) betray one another, but they will waylay a stranger, or
knock out a traveller's brains: they may be depended on in giving the
alarm when any of their posts are in danger of being surprised; and they
will stand together for their ill-gotten gains to the last drop of their
blood. Yet they form a distinct society, and are strictly responsible
for their behaviour to one another and to their leader. They are not a
mob, but a _gang,_ completely in one another's power and secrets. Their
familiarity, however, with the proceedings of the _corps_ does not
lead them to expect or to exact from it a very high standard of moral
honesty; that is out of the question; but they are sure to gain the good
opinion of their fellows by committing all sorts of depredations,
fraud, and violence against the community at large. So (not to speak it
profanely) some of Mr. Croker's friends may be very respectable people
in their way--'all honourable men'--but their respectability is confined
within party limits; every one does not sympathise in the integrity of
their views; the understanding between them and the public is not
well defined or reciprocal. Or, suppose a gang of pickpockets hustle
a passenger in the street, and the mob set upon them, and proceed to
execute summary justice upon such as they can lay hands on, am I to
conclude that the rogues are in the right, because theirs is a system
of well-organised knavery, which they settled in the morning, with their
eyes one upon the other, and which they regularly review at night, with
a due estimate of each other's motives, character, and conduct in the
business; and that the honest men are in the wrong, because they are a
casual collection of unprejudiced, disinterested individuals, taken at
a venture from the mass of the people, acting without concert or
responsibility, on the spur of the occasion, and giving way to their
instantaneous impulses and honest anger? Mobs, in fact, then, are almost
always right in their feelings, and often in their judgments, on this
very account--that being utterly unknown to and disconnected with each
other, they have no point of union or principle of co-operation between
them, but the natural sense of justice recognised by all persons in
common. They appeal, at the first meeting, not to certain symbols and
watchwords privately agreed upon, like Freemasons, but to the maxims and
instincts proper to all the world. They have no other clue to guide them
to their object but either the dictates of the heart or the universally
understood sentiments of society, neither of which are likely to be in
the wrong. The flame which bursts out and blazes from popular sympathy
is made of honest but homely materials. It is not kindled by sparks of
wit or sophistry, nor damped by the cold calculations of self-interest.
The multitude may be wantonly set on by others, as is too often the
case, or be carried too far in the impulse of rage and disappointment;
but their resentment, when they are left to themselves, is almost
uniformly, in the first instance, excited by some evident abuse and
wrong; and the excesses into which they run arise from that very want
of foresight and regular system which is a pledge of the uprightness and
heartiness of their intentions. In short, the only class of persons to
sinister and corrupt motives is not applicable is that body of
individuals which usually goes by the name of the _People!_


(1) We sometimes see a whole playhouse in tears. But the audience at a
theatre, though a public assembly, are not a public body. They are not
Incorporated into a framework of exclusive, narrow-minded interests
of their own. Each individual looks out of his own insignificance at
a scene, _ideal_ perhaps, and foreign to himself, but true to nature;
friends, strangers, meet on the common ground of humanity, and the
tears that spring from their breasts are those which 'sacred pity has
engendered.' They are a mixed multitude melted Into sympathy by remote,
imaginary events, not a combination cemented by petty views, and sordid,
selfish prejudices.


I think not; and that for the following reasons, as well as I can give

Actors belong to the public: their persons are not their own property.
They exhibit themselves on the stage: that is enough, without displaying
themselves in the boxes of the theatre. I conceive that an actor, on
account of the very circumstances of his profession, ought to keep
himself as much incognito as possible. He plays a number of parts
disguised, transformed into them as much as he can 'by his so potent
art,' and he should not disturb this borrowed impression by unmasking
before company more than he can help. Let him go into the pit, if he
pleases, to see--not into the first circle, to be seen. He is seen
enough without that: he is the centre of an illusion that he is bound
to support, both, as it appears to me, by a certain self-respect which
should repel idle curiosity, and by a certain deference to the public,
in whom he has inspired certain prejudices which he is covenanted not
to break. He represents the majesty of successive kings; he takes the
responsibility of heroes and lovers on himself; the mantle of genius
and nature falls on his shoulders; we 'pile millions' of associations
on him, under which he should be 'buried quick,' and not perk out an
inauspicious face upon us, with a plain-cut coat, to say, 'What fools
you all were!--I am not Hamlet the Dane!'

It is very well and in strict propriety for Mr. Mathews, in his AT HOME,
after he has been imitating his inimitable Scotchwoman, to slip out as
quick as lightning, and appear in the side-box shaking hands with our
old friend Jack Bannister. It adds to our surprise at the versatility
of his changes of place and appearance, and he had been before us in
his own person during a great part of the evening. There was no
harm done--no imaginary spell broken--no discontinuity of thought or
sentiment. Mr. Mathews is himself (without offence be it spoken) both
a cleverer and more respectable man than many of the characters he
represents. Not so when

  O'er the stage the Ghost of Hamlet stalks,
 Othello rages, Desdemona mourns,
 And poor Monimia pours her soul in love.

A different feeling then prevails:--close, close the scene upon them,
and never break that fine phantasmagoria of the brain. Or if it must be
done at all, let us choose some other time and place for it: let no one
wantonly dash the Cirecan cup from our lips, or dissolve the spirit of
enchantment in the very palace of enchantment. Go, Mr. -----, and sit
somewhere else! What a thing it is, for instance, for any part of an
actor's dress to come off unexpectedly while he is playing! What a _cut_
it is upon himself and the audience! What an effort he has to recover
himself, and struggle through this exposure of the naked truth! It has
been considered as one of the triumphs of Garrick's tragic power, that
once, when he was playing Lear, his crown of straw came off, and nobody
laughed or took the least notice, so much had he identified himself
with the character. Was he, after this, to pay so little respect to the
feelings he had inspired, as to tear off his tattered robes, and take
the old crazed king with him to play the fool in the boxes?

 No; let him pass.  Vex not his parting spirit,
 Nor on the rack of this rough world
 Stretch him out farther!

Some lady is said to have fallen in love with Garrick from being present
when he played the part of Romeo, on which he observed, that he would
undertake to cure her of her folly if she would only come and see him in
Abel Drugger. So the modern tragedian and fine gentleman, by appearing
to advantage, and conspicuously, _in propria persona,_ may easily cure
us of our predilection for all the principal characters he shines in.
'Sir! do you think Alexander looked o' this fashion in his lifetime, or
was perfumed so? Had Julius Caesar such a nose? or wore his frill as you
do? You have slain I don't know how many heroes "with a bare bodkin,"
the gold pin in your shirt, and spoiled all the fine love speeches you
will ever make by picking your teeth with that inimitable air!'

An actor, after having performed his part well, instead of courting
farther distinction, should affect obscurity, and 'steal most
guilty-like away,' conscious of admiration that he can support nowhere
but in his proper sphere, and jealous of his own and others' good
opinion of him, in proportion as he is a darling in the public eye. He
cannot avoid attracting disproportionate attention: why should he wish
to fix it on himself in a perfectly flat and insignificant part, viz.
his own character? It was a bad custom to bring authors on the stage to
crown them. _Omne Ignotum pro magnifico est._ Even professed critics,
I think, should be shy of putting themselves forward to applaud loudly:
any one in a crowd has 'a voice potential' as the press: it is either
committing their pretensions a little indiscreetly, or confirming their
own judgment by a clapping of hands. If you only go and give the cue
lustily, the house seems in wonderful accord with your opinions. An
actor, like a king, should only appear on state occasions. He loses
popularity by too much publicity; or, according to the proverb,
_familiarity breeds contempt._ Both characters personate a certain
abstract idea, are seen in a fictitious costume, and when they have
'shuffled off this more than mortal coil,' they had better keep out
of the way--the acts and sentiments emanating from themselves will not
carry on the illusion of our prepossessions. Ordinary transactions do
not give scope to grace and dignity like romantic situations or prepared
pageants, and the _little_ is apt to prevail over the _great,_ if we
come to count the instances.

The motto of a great actor should be _aut Caesar aut nihil._ I do not
see how with his crown, or plume of feathers, he can get through
those little box-doors without stooping and squeezing his artificial
importance to tatters. The entrance of the stage is arched so high 'that
_players_ may get through, and keep their gorgeous turbans on, without
good-morrow to the gods!'

The top-tragedian of the day has too large and splendid a train
following him to have room for them in one of the dress-boxes. When he
appears there, it should be enlarged expressly for the occasion; for at
his heels march the figures, in full costume, of Cato, and Brutus, and
Cassius, and of him with the falcon eye, and Othello, and Lear, and
crook-backed Richard, and Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, and numbers more,
and demand entrance along with him, shadows to which he alone lends
bodily substance! 'The graves yawn and render up their dead to push us
from our stools.' There is a mighty bustle at the door, a gibbering and
squeaking in the lobbies. An actor's retinue is imperial, it presses
upon the imagination too much, and he should therefore slide unnoticed
into the pit. Authors, who are in a manner his makers and masters, sit
there contented--why should not he? 'He is used to show himself.' That,
then, is the very reason he should conceal his person at other times. A
habit of ostentation should not be reduced to a principle. If I had
seen the late Gentleman Lewis fluttering in a prominent situation in the
boxes, I should have been puzzled whether to think of him as the Copper
Captain, or as Bobadil, or Ranger, or Young Rapid, or Lord Foppington,
or fifty other whimsical characters; then I should have got Munden and
Quick and a parcel more of them in my head, till 'my brain would have
been like a smoke-jack': I should not have known what to make of it;
but if I had seen him in the pit, I should merely have eyed him with
respectful curiosity, and have told every one that that was Gentleman
Lewis. We should have concluded from the circumstance that he was a
modest, sensible man: we all knew beforehand that he could show off
whenever he pleased!

There is one class of performers that I think is quite exempt from the
foregoing reasoning, I mean _retired actors._ Come when they will and
where they will, they are welcome to their old friends. They have as
good a right to sit in the boxes as children at the holidays. But they
do not, somehow, come often. It is but a melancholy recollection with

  Then sweet,
 Now sad to think on!

Mrs. Garrick still goes often, and hears the applause of her husband
over again in the shouts of the pit. Had Mrs. Pritchard or Mrs. Clive
been living, I am afraid we should have seen little of them-it would
have been too _home_ a feeling with them. Mrs. Siddons seldom if ever
goes, and yet she is almost the only thing left worth seeing there. She
need not stay away on account of any theory that I can form. She is out
of the pale of all theories, and annihilates all rules. Wherever she
sits there is grace and grandeur, there is tragedy personified. Her
seat is the undivided throne of the Tragic Muse. She had no need of the
robes, the sweeping train, the ornaments of the stage; in herself she is
as great as any being she ever represented in the ripeness and plenitude
of her power! I should not, I confess, have had the same paramount
abstracted feeling at seeing John Kemble there, whom I venerate at a
distance, and should not have known whether he was playing off the great
man or the great actor:--

 A little more than kin, and less than kind.

I know it may be said in answer to all this pretext of keeping the
character of the player inviolate, 'What is there more common, in fact,
than for the hero of a tragedy to speak the prologue, or than for the
heroine, who has been stabbed or poisoned, to revive, and come forward
laughing in the epilogue?' As to the epilogue, it is spoken to get rid
of the idea of the tragedy altogether, and to ward off the fury of the
pit, who may be bent on its damnation. The greatest incongruity you can
hit upon is, therefore, the most proper for this purpose. But I deny
that the hero of a tragedy, or the principal character in it, is ever
pitched upon to deliver the prologue. It is always, by prescription,
some walking shadow, some poor player, who cannot even spoil a part
of any consequence. Is there not Mr. Claremont always at hand for
this purpose, whom the late king pronounced three times to be 'a bad
actor'?(1) What is there in common between that accustomed wave of the
hand and the cocked hat under the arm, and any passion or person that
can be brought forward on the stage? It is not that we can be said to
acquire a prejudice against so harmless an actor as Mr. Claremont:
we are born with a prejudice against a speaker of prologues. It is an
innate idea: a natural instinct: there is a particular organ in the
brain provided for it. Do we not all hate a manager? It is not because
he is insolent or impertinent, or fond of making ridiculous speeches, or
a notorious puffer, or ignorant, or mean, or vain, but it is because we
see him in a coat, waistcoat, and breeches. The stage is the world of
fantasy: it is Queen Mab that has invited us to her revels there, and
all that have to do with it should wear motley!

Lastly, there are some actors by profession whose faces we like to see
in the boxes or anywhere else; but it is because they are no actors, but
rather gentlemen and scholars, and in their proper places in the boxes,
or wherever they are. Does not an actor himself, I would ask, feel
conscious and awkward in the boxes if he thinks that he is known? And
does he not sit there in spite of this uneasy feeling, and run the
gauntlet of impertinent looks and whispers, only to get a little
by-admiration, as he thinks? It is hardly to be supposed that he comes
to see the play--the show. He must have enough of plays and finery. But
he wants to see a favourite (perhaps a rival) actor in a striking part.
Then the place for him to do this is the pit. Painters, I know, always
get as close up to a picture they want to copy as they can; and I should
imagine actors would want to do the same, in order to look into the
texture and mechanism of their art. Even theatrical critics can make
nothing of a part that they see from the boxes. If you sit in the
stage-box, your attention is drawn off by the company and other
circumstances. If you get to a distance (so as to be out of the reach of
notice) you can neither hear nor see well. For myself, I would as soon
take a seat on the top of the Monument to give an account of a first
appearance, as go into the second or third tier of boxes to do it.
I went, but the other day, with a box-ticket to see Miss Fanny Brunton
come out in Juliet, and Mr. Macready make a first appearance in Romeo;
and though I was told (by a tolerable judge) that the new Juliet was
the most elegant figure on the stage, and that Mr. Macready's Romeo was
quite beautiful, I vow to God I knew nothing of it. So little could
I tell of the matter that at one time I mistook Mr. Horrebow for Mr.
Abbott. I have seen Mr. Kean play Sir Giles Overreach one night from the
front of the pit, and a few nights after from the front boxes facing the
stage. It was another thing altogether. That which had been so lately
nothing but flesh and blood, a living fibre, 'instinct with fire' and
spirit, was no better than a little fantoccini figure, darting backwards
and forwards on the stage, starting, screaming, and playing a number
of fantastic tricks before the audience. I could account, in the latter
instance, for the little approbation of the performance manifested
around me, and also for the general scepticism with respect to Mr.
Kean's acting, which has been said to prevail among those who
cannot condescend to go into the pit, and have not interest in the
orchestra--to see him act. They may, then, stay away altogether. His
face is the running comment on his acting, which reconciles the audience
to it. Without that index to his mind, you are not prepared for the
vehemence and suddenness of his gestures; his pauses are long, abrupt,
and unaccountable, if not filled up by the expression; it is in the
working of his face that you see the writhing and coiling up of the
passions before they make their serpent-spring; the lightning of his eye
precedes the hoarse burst of thunder from his voice.

One may go into the boxes, indeed, and criticise acting and actors with
Sterne's stop-watch, but not otherwise--'"And between the nominative
case and the verb (which, as your lordship knows, should agree together
in number, person, etc.) there was a full pause of a second and
two-thirds."--"But was the eye silent--did the look say nothing?" "I
looked only at the stop-watch, my lord."--"Excellent critic!"'--If any
other actor, indeed, goes to see Mr. Kean act, with a view _to avoid
imitation,_ this may be the place, or rather it is the way to run into
it, for you see only his extravagances and defects, which are the most
easily carried away. Mr. Mathews may translate him into an AT HOME even
from the _slips!_--Distinguished actors, then, ought, I conceive, to set
the example of going into the pit, were it only for their own sakes. I
remember a trifling circumstance, which I worked up at the time into
a confirmation of this theory of mine, engrafted on old prejudice and
tradition.(2) I had got into the middle of the pit, at considerable
risk of broken bones, to see Mr. Kean in one of his early parts, when I
perceived two young men seated a little behind me, with a certain space
left round them. They were dressed in the height of the fashion, in
light drab-coloured greatcoats, and with their shirt-sleeves drawn down
over their hands, at a time when this was not so common as it has since
become. I took them for younger sons of some old family at least. One of
them, that was very good-looking, I thought might be Lord Byron, and
his companion might be Mr. Hobhouse. They seemed to have wandered from
another sphere of this our planet to witness a masterly performance to
the utmost advantage. This stamped the thing. They were, undoubtedly,
young men of rank and fashion; but their taste was greater than their
regard for appearances. The pit was, after all, the true resort of
thoroughbred critics and amateurs. When there was anything worth seeing,
this was the place; and I began to feel a sort of reflected importance
in the consciousness that I also was a critic. Nobody sat near them--it
would have seemed like an intrusion. Not a syllable was uttered.--They
were two clerks in the Victualling Office!

What I would insist on, then, is this--that for Mr. Kean, or Mr. Young,
or Mr. Macready, or any of those that are 'cried out upon in the top of
the compass' to obtrude themselves voluntarily or ostentatiously
upon our notice, when they are out of character, is a solecism in
theatricals. For them to thrust themselves forward before the scenes, is
to drag us behind them against our will, than which nothing can be more
fatal to a true passion for the stage, and which is a privilege that
should be kept sacred for impertinent curiosity. Oh! while I live, let
me not be admitted (under special favour) to an actor's dressing-room.
Let me not see how Cato painted, or how Caesar combed! Let me not meet
the prompt-boys in the passage, nor see the half-lighted candles stuck
against the bare walls, nor hear the creaking of machines, or the
fiddlers laughing; nor see a Columbine practising a pirouette in sober
sadness, nor Mr. Grimaldi's face drop from mirth to sudden melancholy
as he passes the side-scene, as if a shadow crossed it, nor witness the
long-chinned generation of the pantomime sit twirling their thumbs,
nor overlook the fellow who holds the candle for the moon in the scene
between Lorenzo and Jessica! Spare me this insight into secrets I am not
bound to know. The stage is not a mistress that we are sworn to undress.
Why should we look behind the glass of fashion? Why should we prick the
bubble that reflects the world, and turn it to a little soap and water?
Trust a little to first appearances--leave something to fancy. I observe
that the great puppets of the real stage, who themselves play a grand
part, like to get into the boxes over the stage; where they see nothing
from the proper point of view, but peep and pry into what is going on
like a magpie looking into a marrow-bone. This is just like them. So
they look down upon human life, of which they are ignorant. They see the
exits and entrances of the players, something that they suspect is
meant to be kept from them (for they think they are always liable to be
imposed upon): the petty pageant of an hour ends with each scene long
before the catastrophe, and the tragedy of life is turned to farce under
their eyes. These people laugh loud at a pantomime, and are delighted
with clowns and pantaloons. They pay no attention to anything else. The
stage-boxes exist in contempt of the stage and common sense. The private
boxes, on the contrary, should be reserved as the receptacle for the
officers of state and great diplomatic characters, who wish to avoid,
rather than court popular notice!


(1) Mr. Munden and Mr. Claremont went one Sunday to Windsor to see the
king. They passed with other spectators once or twice: at last, his late
majesty distinguished Munden in the crowd and called him to him. After
treating him with much cordial familiarity, the king said, 'And, pray,
who is that with you?' Munden, with many congees, and contortions
of face, replied, 'An please your majesty, it's Mr. Claremont of the
Theatre Royal Drury Lane.' 'Oh! yes,' said the king, 'I know him well--a
bad actor, a bad actor, a bad actor!' Why kings should repeat what they
say three times is odd: their saying it once is quite enough. I have
always liked Mr. Claremont's face since I heard this anecdote, and
perhaps the telling it may have the same effect on other people.

(2) The trunk-maker, I grant, in the _Spectator's_ time, sat in the
two-shilling gallery. But that was in the _Spectator's_ time, and not in
the days of Mr. Smirke and Mr. Wyatt.


The chief disadvantage of knowing more and seeing farther than others,
is not to be generally understood. A man is, in consequence of this,
liable to start paradoxes, which immediately transport him beyond the
reach of the common-place reader. A person speaking once in a slighting
manner of a very original-minded man, received for answer, "He strides
on so far before you that he dwindles in the distance!"

Petrarch complains that 'Nature had made him different from other
people'--_singular' d' altri genti._ The great happiness of life is, to
be neither better nor worse than the general run of those you meet with,
you soon find a mortifying level in their difference to what you
particularly pique yourself upon. What is the use of being moral in a
night-cellar, or wise in Bedlam? 'To be honest, as this world goes, is
to be one man picked out of ten thousand.' So says Shakespear; and the
commentators have not added that, under these circumstances, a man is
more likely to become the butt of slander than the mark of admiration
for being so. 'How now, thou particular fellow?'(1) is the common answer
to all such out-of-the-way pretensions. By not doing as those at Rome
do, we cut ourselves off from good-fellowship and society. We speak
another language, have notions of our own, and are treated as of a
different species. Nothing can be more awkward than to intrude with any
such far-fetched ideas among the common herd, who will be sure to

  Stand all astonished, like a sort of steers,
 'Mongst whom some beast of strange and foreign race
 Unwares is chanced, far straying from his peers:
 So will their ghastly gaze betray their hidden fears.

Ignorance of another's meaning is a sufficient cause of fear, and fear
produces hatred: hence the suspicion and rancour entertained against
all those who set up for greater refinement and wisdom than their
neighbours. It is in vain to think of softening down this spirit of
hostility by simplicity of manners, or by condescending to persons of
low estate. The more you condescend, the more they will presume upon
it; they will fear you less, but hate you more; and will be the more
determined to take their revenge on you for a superiority as to which
they are entirely in the dark, and of which you yourself seem to
entertain considerable doubt. All the humility in the world will only
pass for weakness and folly. They have no notion of such a thing. They
always put their best foot forward; and argue that you would do the same
if you had any such wonderful talents as people say. You had better,
therefore, play off the great man at once--hector, swagger, talk big,
and ride the high horse over them: you may by this means extort outward
respect or common civility; but you will get nothing (with low people)
by forbearance and good-nature but open insult or silent contempt.
Coleridge always talks to people about what they don't understand: I,
for one, endeavour to talk to them about what they do understand, and
find I only get the more ill-will by it. They conceive I do not think
them capable of anything better; that I do not think it worth while, as
the vulgar saying is, to _throw a word to a dog._ I once complained of
this to Coleridge, thinking it hard I should be sent to Coventry for
not making a prodigious display. He said: 'As you assume a certain
character, you ought to produce your credentials. It is a tax upon
people's good-nature to admit superiority of any kind, even where there
is the most evident proof of it; but it is too hard a task for the
imagination to admit it without any apparent ground at all.'

There is not a greater error than to suppose that you avoid the envy,
malice, and uncharitableness, so common in the world, by going among
people without pretensions. There are no people who have no pretensions;
or the fewer their pretensions, the less they can afford to acknowledge
yours without some sort of value received. The more information
individuals possess, or the more they have refined upon any subject, the
more readily can they conceive and admit the same kind of superiority
to themselves that they feel over others. But from the low, dull, level
sink of ignorance and vulgarity, no idea or love of excellence can
arise. You think you are doing mighty well with them; that you are
laying aside the buckram of pedantry and pretence, and getting the
character of a plain, unassuming, good sort of fellow. It will not do.
All the while that you are making these familiar advances, and wanting
to be at your ease, they are trying to recover the wind of you. You
may forget that you are an author, an artist, or what not--they do not
forget that they are nothing, nor bate one jot of their desire to prove
you in the same predicament. They take hold of some circumstance in your
dress; your manner of entering a room is different from that of other
people; you do not eat vegetables--that's odd; you have a particular
phrase, which they repeat, and this becomes a sort of standing joke; you
look grave, or ill; you talk, or are more silent than usual; you are
in or out of pocket: all these petty, inconsiderable circumstances, in
which you resemble, or are unlike other people, form so many counts in
the indictment which is going on in their imaginations against you, and
are so many contradictions in your character. In any one else they would
pass unnoticed, but in a person of whom they had heard so much they
cannot make them out at all. Meanwhile, those things in which you may
really excel go for nothing, because they cannot judge of them. They
speak highly of some book which you do not like, and therefore you make
no answer. You recommend them to go and see some Picture in which they
do not find much to admire. How are you to convince them that you are
right? Can you make them perceive that the fault is in them, and not
in the picture, unless you could give them your knowledge? They hardly
distinguish the difference between a Correggio and a common daub. Does
this bring you any nearer to an understanding? The more you know of the
difference, the more deeply you feel it, or the more earnestly you
wish to convey it, the farther do you find yourself removed to an
immeasurable distance from the possibility of making them enter into
views and feelings of which they have not even the first rudiments. You
cannot make them see with your eyes, and they must judge for themselves.

Intellectual is not like bodily strength. You have no hold of the
understanding of others but by their sympathy. Your knowing, in fact,
so much more about a subject does not give you a superiority, that is, a
power over them, but only renders it the more impossible for you to make
the least impression on them. Is it, then, an advantage to you? It may
be, as it relates to your own private satisfaction, but it places a
greater gulf between you and society. It throws stumbling-blocks in your
way at every turn. All that you take most pride and pleasure in is
lost upon the vulgar eye. What they are pleased with is a matter of
indifference or of distaste to you. In seeing a number of persons turn
over a portfolio of prints from different masters, what a trial it is to
the patience, how it jars the nerves to hear them fall into raptures at
some common-place flimsy thing, and pass over some divine expression
of countenance without notice, or with a remark that it is very
singular-looking? How useless it is in such cases to fret or argue,
or remonstrate? Is it not quite as well to be without all this
hypercritical, fastidious knowledge, and to be pleased or displeased as
it happens, or struck with the first fault or beauty that is pointed
out by others? I would be glad almost to change my acquaintance with
pictures, with books, and, certainly, what I know of mankind, for
anybody's ignorance of them!

It is recorded in the life of some worthy (whose name I forget) that he
was one of those 'who loved hospitality and respect': and I profess
to belong to the same classification of mankind. Civility is with me a
jewel. I like a little comfortable cheer, and careless, indolent chat,
I hate to be always wise, or aiming at wisdom. I have enough to do with
literary cabals, questions, critics, actors, essay-writing, without
taking them out with me for recreation, and into all companies. I wish
at these times to pass for a good-humoured fellow; and good-will is
all I ask in return to make good company. I do not desire to be
always posing myself or others with the questions of fate, free-will,
foreknowledge absolute, etc. I must unbend sometimes. I must
occasionally lie fallow. The kind of conversation that I affect most is
what sort of a day it is, and whether it is likely to rain or hold
up fine for to-morrow. This I consider as enjoying the _otium cum
dignitate,_ as the end and privilege of a life of study. I would resign
myself to this state of easy indifference, but I find I cannot. I must
maintain a certain pretension, which is far enough from my wish. I must
he put on my defence, I must take up the gauntlet continually, or I find
I lose ground. 'I am nothing, if not critical.' While I am thinking what
o'clock it is, or how I came to blunder in quoting a well-known passage,
as if I had done it on purpose, others are thinking whether I am not
really as dull a fellow as I am sometimes said to be. If a drizzling
shower patters against the windows, it puts me in mind of a mild spring
rain, from which I retired twenty years ago, into a little public-house
near Wem in Shropshire, and while I saw the plants and shrubs before
the door imbibe the dewy moisture, quaffed a glass of sparkling ale, and
walked home in the dusk of evening, brighter to me than noonday suns
at present are! Would I indulge this feeling? In vain. They ask me what
news there is, and stare if I say I don't know. If a new actress has
come out, why must I have seen her? If a new novel has appeared, why
must I have read it? I, at one time, used to go and take a hand at
cribbage with a friend, and afterwards discuss a cold sirloin of beef,
and throw out a few lackadaisical remarks, in a way to please myself,
but it would not do long. I set up little pretension, and therefore the
little that I did set up was taken from me. As I said nothing on that
subject myself, it was continually thrown in my teeth that I was an
author. From having me at this disadvantage, my friend wanted to peg on
a hole or two in the game, and was displeased if I would not let him. If
I won off him, it was hard he should be beat by an author. If he won, it
would be strange if he did not understand the game better than I did. If
I mentioned my favourite game of rackets, there was a general silence,
as if this was my weak point. If I complained of being ill, it was asked
why I made myself so. If I said such an actor had played a part well,
the answer was, there was a different account in one of the newspapers.
If any allusion was made to men of letters, there was a suppressed
smile. If I told a humorous story, it was difficult to say whether the
laugh was at me or at the narrative. The wife hated me for my ugly face;
the servants, because I could not always get them tickets for the play,
and because they could not tell exactly what an author meant. If a
paragraph appeared against anything I had written, I found it was ready
there before me, and I was to undergo a regular _roasting._ I submitted
to all this till I was tired, and then I gave it up.

One of the miseries of intellectual pretensions is, that nine-tenths of
those you come in contact with do not know whether you are an impostor
or not. I dread that certain anonymous criticisms should get into the
hands of servants where I go, or that my hatter or shoemaker should
happen to read them, who cannot possibly tell whether they are well or
ill founded. The ignorance of the world leaves one at the mercy of
its malice. There are people whose good opinion or good-will you want,
setting aside all literary pretensions; and it is hard to lose by an ill
report (which you have no means of rectifying) what you cannot gain by a
good one. After a _diatribe_ in the _Quarterly_ (which is taken in by
a gentleman who occupies my old apartments on the first floor), my
landlord brings me up his bill (of some standing), and on my offering
to give him so much in money and a note of hand for the rest, shakes his
head, and says he is afraid he could make no use of it. Soon after, the
daughter comes in, and, on my mentioning the circumstance carelessly to
her, replies gravely, 'that indeed her father has been almost ruined
by bills.' _This is the unkindest cut of all._ It is in vain for me to
endeavour to explain that the publication in which I am abused is a mere
government engine--an organ of a political faction. They know nothing
about that. They only know such and such imputations are thrown out; and
the more I try to remove them, the more they think there is some truth
in them. Perhaps the people of the house are strong Tories--government
agents of some sort. Is it for me to enlighten their ignorance? If
I say, I once wrote a thing called _Prince Maurice's Parrot_, and an
_Essay on the Regal Character_, in the former of which allusion is made
to a noble marquis, and in the latter to a great personage (so at least,
I am told, it has been construed), and that Mr. Croker has peremptory
instructions to retaliate, they cannot conceive what connection there
can be between me and such distinguished characters. I can get no
farther. Such is the misery of pretensions beyond your situation,
and which are not backed by any external symbols of wealth or rank,
intelligible to all mankind!

The impertinence of admiration is scarcely more tolerable than the
demonstrations of contempt. I have known a person whom I had never
seen before besiege me all dinner-time with asking what articles I had
written in the _Edinburgh Review?_ I was at last ashamed to answer to my
splendid sins in that way. Others will pick out something not yours, and
say they are sure no one else could write it. By the first sentence they
can always tell your style. Now I hate my style to be known, as I hate
all _idiosyncrasy._ These obsequious flatterers could not pay me a worse
compliment. Then there are those who make a point of reading everything
you write (which is fulsome); while others, more provoking, regularly
lend your works to a friend as soon as they receive them. They pretty
well know your notions on the different subjects, from having heard you
talk about them. Besides, they have a greater value for your personal
character than they have for your writings. You explain things better in
a common way, when you are not aiming at effect. Others tell you of the
faults they have heard found with your last book, and that they defend
your style in general from a charge of obscurity. A friend once told me
of a quarrel he had had with a near relation, who denied that I knew
how to spell the commonest words. These are comfortable confidential
communications to which authors who have their friends and excusers are
subject. A gentleman told me that a lady had objected to my use of the
word _learneder_ as bad grammar. He said he thought it a pity that I
did not take more care, but that the lady was perhaps prejudiced, as her
husband held a government office. I looked for the word, and found it
in a motto from Butler. I was piqued, and desired him to tell the fair
critic that the fault was not in me, but in one who had far more wit,
more learning, and loyalty than I could pretend to. Then, again, some
will pick out the flattest thing of yours they can find to load it with
panegyrics; and others tell you (by way of letting you see how high they
rank your capacity) that your best passages are failures. Lamb has a
knack of tasting (or as he would say, _palating_) the insipid. Leigh
Hunt has a trick of turning away from the relishing morsels you put on
his plate. There is no getting the start of some people. Do what you
will, they can do it better; meet with what success you may, their own
good opinion stands them in better stead, and runs before the applause
of the world. I once showed a person of this overweening turn (with no
small triumph, I confess) a letter of a very flattering description I
had received from the celebrated Count Stendhal, dated Rome. He returned
it with a smile of indifference, and said, he had had a letter from
Rome himself the day before, from his friend S----! I did not think this
'germane to the matter.' Godwin pretends I never wrote anything worth
a farthing but my 'Answers to Vetus,' and that I fail altogether when I
attempt to write an essay, or anything in a short compass.

What can one do in such cases? Shall I confess a weakness? The only
set-off I know to these rebuffs and mortifications is sometimes in an
accidental notice or involuntary mark of distinction from a stranger. I
feel the force of Horace's _digito monstrari_--I like to be pointed out
in the street, or to hear people ask in Mr. Powell's court, _Which
is Mr. Hazlitt?_ This is to me a pleasing extension of one's personal
identity. Your name so repeated leaves an echo like music on the ear: it
stirs the blood like the sound of a trumpet. It shows that other people
are curious to see you; that they think of you, and feel an interest in
you without your knowing it. This is a bolster to lean upon; a lining to
your poor, shivering, threadbare opinion of yourself. You want some such
cordial to exhausted spirits, and relief to the dreariness of abstract
speculation. You are something; and, from occupying a place in the
thoughts of others, think less contemptuously of yourself. You are the
better able to run the gauntlet of prejudice and vulgar abuse. It is
pleasant in this way to have your opinion quoted against yourself, and
your own sayings repeated to you as good things. I was once talking to
an intelligent man in the pit, and criticising Mr. Knight's performance
of Filch. 'Ah!' he said, 'little Simmons was the fellow to play that
character.' He added, 'There was a most excellent remark made upon his
acting it in the _Examiner_ (I think it was)--_That he looked as if
he had the gallows in one eye and a pretty girl in the other._' I said
nothing, but was in remarkably good humour the rest of the evening. I
have seldom been in a company where fives-playing has been talked of but
some one has asked in the course of it, 'Pray, did any one ever see
an account of one Cavanagh that appeared some time back in most of the
papers? Is it known who wrote it?' These are trying moments. I had a
triumph over a person, whose name I will not mention, on the following
occasion. I happened to be saying something about Burke, and was
expressing my opinion of his talents in no measured terms, when this
gentleman interrupted me by saying he thought, for his part, that Burke
had been greatly overrated, and then added, in a careless way, 'Pray,
did you read a character of him in the last number of the -----?'
'I wrote it!'--I could not resist the antithesis, but was afterwards
ashamed of my momentary petulance. Yet no one that I find ever spares

Some persons seek out and obtrude themselves on public characters in
order, as it might seem, to pick out their failings, and afterwards
betray them. Appearances are for it, but truth and a better knowledge
of nature are against this interpretation of the matter. Sycophants and
flatterers are undesignedly treacherous and fickle. They are prone to
admire inordinately at first, and not finding a constant supply of food
for this kind of sickly appetite, take a distaste to the object of their
idolatry. To be even with themselves for their credulity, they sharpen
their wits to spy out faults, and are delighted to find that this
answers better than their first employment. It is a course of study,
'lively, audible, and full of vent.' They have the organ of wonder and
the organ of fear in a prominent degree. The first requires new objects
of admiration to satisfy its uneasy cravings: the second makes them
crouch to power wherever its shifting standard appears, and willing
to curry favour with all parties, and ready to betray any out of sheer
weakness and servility. I do not think they mean any harm: at least, I
can look at this obliquity with indifference in my own particular case.
I have been more disposed to resent it as I have seen it practised upon
others, where I have been better able to judge of the extent of the
mischief, and the heartlessness and idiot folly it discovered.

I do not think great intellectual attainments are any recommendation to
the women. They puzzle them, and are a diversion to the main question.
If scholars talk to ladies of what they understand, their hearers are
none the wiser: if they talk of other things, they prove themselves
fools. The conversation between Angelica and Foresight in _Love for
Love_ is a receipt in full for all such overstrained nonsense: while he
is wandering among the signs of the zodiac, she is standing a-tiptoe on
the earth. It has been remarked that poets do not choose mistresses very
wisely. I believe it is not choice, but necessity. If they could throw
the handkerchief like the Grand Turk, I imagine we should see scarce
mortals, but rather goddesses, surrounding their steps, and each
exclaiming, with Lord Byron's own Ionian maid--

 So shalt thou find me ever at thy side,
 Here and hereafter, if the last may be!

Ah! no, these are bespoke, carried of by men of mortal, not of ethereal
mould, and thenceforth the poet from whose mind the ideas of love and
beauty are inseparable as dreams from sleep, goes on the forlorn hope of
the passion, and dresses up the first Dulcinea that will take compassion
on him in all the colours of fancy. What boots it to complain if the
delusion lasts for life, and the rainbow still paints its form in the

There is one mistake I would wish, if possible, to correct. Men of
letters, artists, and others not succeeding with women in a certain rank
of life, think the objection is to their want of fortune, and that they
shall stand a better chance by descending lower, where only their
good qualities or talents will be thought of. Oh! worse and worse. The
objection is to themselves, not to their fortune--to their abstraction,
to their absence of mind, to their unintelligible and romantic notions.
Women of education may have a glimpse of their meaning, may get a clue
to their character, but to all others they are thick darkness. If the
mistress smiles at their ideal advances, the maid will laugh outright;
she will throw water over you, get her sister to listen, send her
sweetheart to ask you what you mean, will set the village or the house
upon your back; it will be a farce, a comedy, a standing jest for
a year, and then the murder will out. Scholars should be sworn
at Highgate. They are no match for chambermaids, or wenches at
lodging-houses. They had better try their hands on heiresses or ladies
of quality. These last have high notions of themselves that may fit some
of your epithets! They are above mortality; so are your thoughts!
But with low life, trick, ignorance, and cunning, you have nothing
in common. Whoever you are, that think you can make a compromise or
a conquest there by good nature or good sense, be warned b a friendly
voice, and retreat in time from the unequal contest.

If, as I have said above, scholars are no match for chambermaids, on
the other hand gentlemen are no match for blackguards. The former are
on their honour, act on the square; the latter take all advantages, and
have no idea of any other principle. It is astonishing how soon a fellow
without education will learn to cheat. He is impervious to any ray of
liberal knowledge; his understanding is

Not pierceable by power of any star--

but it is porous to all sorts of tricks, chicanery, stratagems, and
knavery, by which anything is to be got. Mrs. Peachum, indeed, says,
that to succeed at the gaming-table, the candidate should have the
education of a nobleman. I do not know how far this example contradicts
my theory. I think it is a rule that men in business should not be
taught other things. Any one will be almost sure to make money who has
no other idea in his head. A college education, or intense study of
abstract truth, will not enable a man to drive a bargain, to overreach
another, or even to guard himself from being overreached. As Shakespear
says, that 'to have a good face is the effect of study, but reading and
writing come by nature'; so it might be argued, that to be a knave is
the gift of fortune, but to play the fool to advantage it is necessary
to be a learned man. The best politicians are not those who are deeply
grounded in mathematical or in ethical science. Rules stand in the way
of expediency. Many a man has been hindered from pushing his fortune in
the world by an early cultivation of his moral sense, and has repented
of it at leisure during the rest of his life. A shrewd man said of my
father, that he would not send a son of his to school to him on any
account, for that by teaching him to speak the truth he would disqualify
him from getting his living in the world!

It is hardly necessary to add any illustration to prove that the most
original and profound thinkers are not always the most successful or
popular writers. This is not merely a temporary disadvantage; but many
great philosophers have not only been scouted while they were living,
but forgotten as soon as they were dead. The name of Hobbes is perhaps
sufficient to explain this assertion. But I do not wish to go farther
into this part of the subject, which is obvious in itself. I have said,
I believe, enough to take off the air of paradox which hangs over the
title of this Essay.


(1) Jack Cade's salutation to one who tries to recommend himself by
saying he can write and read--see _Henry VI._ Part Second.


 A gentle usher, Vanity by name. --Spenser.

A lady was complaining to a friend of mine of the credulity of people in
attending to quack advertisements, and wondering who could be taken in
by them--"for that she had never bought but one half-guinea bottle of
Dr. -----'s Elixir of Life, and it had done her no sort of good!" This
anecdote seemed to explain pretty well what made it worth the doctor's
while to advertise his wares in every newspaper in the kingdom. He
would no doubt be satisfied if every delicate, sceptical invalid in
his majesty's dominions gave his Elixir one trial, merely to show the
absurdity of the thing. We affect to laugh at the folly of those who put
faith in nostrums, but are willing to see ourselves whether there is any
truth in them.

There is a strong tendency in the human mind to flatter itself with
secret hopes, with some lucky reservation in our own favour, though
reason may point out the grossness of the trick in general; and,
besides, there is a wonderful power in words, formed into regular
propositions, and printed in capital letters, to draw the assent after
them, till we have proof of their fallacy. The ignorant and idle believe
what they read, as Scotch philosophers demonstrate the existence of a
material world, and other learned propositions, from the evidence of
their senses. The ocular proof is all that is wanting in either case.
As hypocrisy is said to be the highest compliment to virtue, the art
of lying is the strongest acknowledgment of the force of truth. We can
hardly _believe_ a thing to be a lie, though we _know_ it to be so.
The 'puff direct,' even as it stands in the columns of the _Times_
newspaper, branded with the title of Advertisement before it, claims
some sort of attention and respect for the merits that it discloses,
though we think the candidate for public favour and support has hit
upon (perhaps) an injudicious way of laying them before the world. Still
there may be something in them; and even the outrageous improbability
and extravagance of the statement on the very face of it stagger us,
and leave a hankering to inquire farther into it, because we think the
advertiser would hardly have the impudence to hazard such barefaced
absurdities without some foundation. Such is the strength of the
association between words and things in the mind--so much oftener must
our credulity have been justified by the event than imposed upon.
If every second story we heard was an invention, we should lose our
mechanical disposition to trust to the meaning of sounds, just as when
we have met with a number of counterfeit pieces of coin, we suspect good
ones; but our implicit assent to what we hear is a proof how much more
sincerity and good faith there is in the sum total of our dealings with
one another than artifice and imposture.

'To elevate and surprise' is the great art of quackery and puffing;
to raise a lively and exaggerated image in the mind, and take it by
surprise before it can recover breath, as it were; so that by having
been caught in the trap, it is unwilling to retract entirely--has a
secret desire to find itself in the right, and a determination to see
whether it is or not. Describe a picture as _lofty,_ _imposing,_ and
_grand,_ these words excite certain ideas in the mind like the sound
of a trumpet, which are not to be quelled, except by seeing the picture
itself, nor even then, if it is viewed by the help of a catalogue,
written expressly for the occasion by the artist himself. It is not to
be supposed that _he_ would say such things of his picture unless they
were allowed by all the world; and he repeats them, on this gentle
understanding, till all the world allows them.(1) So Reputation runs in
a vicious circle, and Merit limps behind it, mortified and abashed
at its own insignificance. It has been said that the test of fame or
popularity is to consider the number of times your name is repeated by
others, or is brought to their recollection in the course of a year. At
this rate, a man has his reputation in his own hands, and, by the help
of puffing and the press, may forestall the voice of posterity, and
stun the 'groundling' ear of his contemporaries. A name let off in your
hearing continually, with some bouncing epithet affixed to it, startles
you like the report of a pistol close at your car: you cannot help
the effect upon the imagination, though you know it is perfectly
harmless--_vox et praeterea nihil._ So, if you see the same name staring
you in the face in great letters at the corner of every street, you
involuntarily think the owner of it must be a great man to occupy so
large a space in the eye of the town. The appeal is made, in the first
instance, to the senses, but it sinks below the surface into the mind.
There are some, indeed, who publish their own disgrace, and make their
names a common by-word and nuisance, notoriety being all that they wa
though you may laugh in his face, it pays expenses. Parolles and his
drum typify many a modern adventurer and court-candidate for unearned
laurels and unblushing honours. Of all puffs, lottery puffs are the most
ingenious and most innocent. A collection of them would make an amusing
_Vade mecum._ They are still various and the same, with that infinite
ruse with which they lull the reader at the outset out of all suspicion.
the insinuating turn in the middle, the home-thrust at the ruling
passion at last, by which your spare cash is conjured clean out of
the pocket in spite of resolution, by the same stale, well-known,
thousandth-time repeated artifice of _All prizes_ and _No blanks_--a
self-evident imposition! Nothing, however, can be a stronger proof of
the power of fascinating the public judgment through the eye alone. I
know a gentleman who amassed a considerable fortune (so as to be able
to keep his carriage) by printing nothing but lottery placards and
handbills of a colossal size. Another friend of mine (of no mean
talents) was applied to (as a snug thing in the way of business) to
write regular lottery puffs for a large house in the city, and on having
a parcel of samples returned on his hands as done in too severe and
terse a style, complained quaintly enough, _'That modest merit never
could succeed!'_ Even Lord Byron, as he tells us, has been accused of
writing lottery-puffs. There are various ways of playing one's-self off
before the public, and keeping one's name alive. The newspapers, the
lamp-posts, the walls of empty houses, the shutters of windows, the
blank covers of magazines and reviews, are open to every one. I have
heard of a man of literary celebrity sitting in his study writing
letters of remonstrance to himself, on the gross defects of a plan
of education he had just published, and which remained unsold on the
bookseller's counter. Another feigned himself dead in order to see what
would be said of him in the newspapers, and to excite a sensation
in this way. A flashy pamphlet has been run to a five-and-thirtieth
edition, and thus ensured the writer a 'deathless date' among political
charlatans, by regularly striking off a new title-page to every fifty
or a hundred copies that were sold. This is a vile practice. It is
an erroneous idea got abroad (and which I will contradict here) that
paragraphs are paid for in the leading journals. It is quite out of the
question. A favourable notice of an author, an actress, etc., may be
inserted through interest, or to oblige a friend, but it must invariably
be done for _love,_ not _money!_

When I formerly had to do with these sort of critical verdicts, I was
generally sent out of the way when any _debutant_ had a friend at
court, and was to be tenderly handled. For the rest, or those of robust
constitutions, I had _carte blanche_ given me. Sometimes I ran out of
the course, to be sure. Poor Perry! what bitter complaints he used to
make, that by _running-a-muck_ at lords and Scotchmen I should not leave
him a place to dine out at! The expression of his face at these moments,
as if he should shortly be without a friend in the world, was truly
pitiable. What squabbles we used to have about Kean and Miss Stephens,
the only theatrical favourites I ever had! Mrs. Billington had got some
notion that Miss Stephens would never make a singer, and it was the
torment of Perry's life (as he told me in confidence) that he could not
get any two people to be of the same opinion on any one point. I shall
appearance in the _Beggar's Opera._ I have reason to remember that
article: it was almost the last I ever wrote with any pleasure to
myself. I had been down on a visit to my friends near Chertsey, and on
my return had stopped at an inn near Kingston-upon-Thames, where I had
got the _Beggar's Opera_, and had read it over-night. The next day I
walked cheerfully to town. It was a fine sunny morning, in the end of
autumn, and as I repeated the beautiful song, 'Life knows no return
of Spring,' I meditated my next day's criticism, trying to do all the
justice I could to so inviting a subject. I was not a little proud of it
by anticipation. I had just then begun to stammer out my sentiments on
paper, and was in a kind of honeymoon of authorship. But soon after, my
final hopes of happiness and of human liberty were blighted nearly at
the same time; and since then I have had no pleasure in anything--

 And Love himself can flatter me no more.

It was not so ten years since (ten short years since.--Ah! how fast
those years run that hurry us away from our last fond dream of bliss!)
when I loitered along thy green retreats, O Twickenham! and conned
over (with enthusiastic delight) the chequered view which one of thy
favourites drew of human life! I deposited my account of the play at the
Morning Chronicle office in the afternoon, and went to see Miss Stephens
as Polly. Those were happy times, in which she first came out in this
character, in Mandane, where she sang the delicious air, 'If o'er the
cruel tyrant, Love' (so as it can never be sung again), in _Love in a
Village_, where the scene opened with her and Miss Matthews in a painted
garden of roses and honeysuckles, and 'Hope, thou nurse of young Desire'
thrilled from two sweet voices in turn. Oh! may my ears sometimes still
drink the same sweet sounds, embalmed with the spirit of youth, of
health, and joy, but in the thoughts of an instant, but in a dream of
fancy, and I shall hardly need to complain! When I got back, after the
play, Perry called out, with his cordial, grating voice, 'Well, how did
she do?' and on my speaking in high terms, answered, that 'he had been
to dine with his friend the Duke, that some conversation had passed on
the subject, he was afraid it was not the thing, it was not the true
_sostenuto_ style; but as I had written the article' (holding my
peroration on the _Beggar's Opera_ carelessly in his hand), 'it might
pass!' I could perceive that the rogue licked his lips at it, and had
already in imagination 'bought golden opinions of all sorts of people'
by this very criticism, and I had the satisfaction the next day to meet
Miss Stephens coming out of the editor's room, who had been to thank him
for his very flattering account of her.

I was sent to see Kean the first night of his performance in Shylock,
when there were about a hundred people in the pit; but from his masterly
and spirited delivery of the first striking speech, 'On such a day you
called me a dog,' etc., I perceived it was a hollow thing. So it was
given out in the _Chronicle_; but Perry was continually at me as other
people were at him, and was afraid it would not last. It was to no
purpose I said _it would last:_ yet I am in the right hitherto. It
has been said, ridiculously, that Mr. Kean was written up in the
_Chronicle._ I beg leave to state my opinion that no actor can be
written up or down by a paper. An author may be puffed into notice, or
damned by criticism, because his book may not have been read. An artist
may be overrated, or undeservedly decried, because the public is not
much accustomed to see or judge of pictures. But an actor is judged
by his peers, the play-going public, and must stand or fall by his own
merits or defects. The critic may give the tone or have a casting
voice where popular opinion is divided; but he can no more _force_
that opinion either way, or wrest it from its base in common sense and
feeling, than he can move Stonehenge. Mr. Kean had, however, physical
disadvantages and strong prejudices to encounter, and so far the
_liberal_ and _independent_ part of the press might have been of service
in helping him to his seat in the public favour. May he long keep it
with dignity and firmness!(2)

It was pretended by the Covent Garden people, and some others at the
time, that Mr. Kean's popularity was a mere effect of love of novelty, a
nine days' wonder, like the rage after Master Betty's acting, and would
be as soon over. The comparison did not hold. Master Betty's acting
was so far wonderful, and drew crowds to see it as a mere singularity,
because he was a boy. Mr. Kean was a grown man, and there was no rule
or precedent established in the ordinary course of nature why some
other man should not appear in tragedy as great as John Kemble. Farther,
Master Betty's acting was a singular phenomenon, but it was also as
beautiful as it was singular. I saw him in the part of Douglas, and
he seemed almost like 'some gay creature of the element,' moving about
gracefully, with all the flexibility of youth, and murmuring AEolian
sounds with plaintive tenderness. I shall never forget the way in which
he repeated the line in which young Norval says, speaking of the fate of
two brothers:

 And in my mind happy was he that died!

The tones fell and seemed to linger prophetic on my ear. Perhaps the
wonder was made greater than it was. Boys at that age can often read
remarkably well, and certainly are not without natural grace and
sweetness of voice. The Westminster schoolboys are a better company of
comedians than we find at most of our theatres. As to the understanding
a part like Douglas, at least, I see no difficulty on that score.
I myself used to recite the speech in Enfield's _Speaker_ with good
emphasis and discretion when at school, and entered, about the same age,
into the wild sweetness of the sentiments in Mrs. Radcliffe's _Romance
of the Forest_, I am sure, quite as much as I should do now; yet the
same experiment has been often tried since and has uniformly failed.(3)

It was soon after this that Coleridge returned from Italy, and he got
one day into a long tirade to explain what a ridiculous farce the whole
was, and how all the people abroad wore shocked at the _gullibility_ of
the English nation, who on this and every other occasion were open to
the artifices of all sorts of quacks, wondering how any persons with the
smallest pretensions to common sense could for a moment suppose that
a boy could act the characters of men without any of their knowledge,
their experience, or their passions. We made some faint resistance, but
in vain. The discourse then took a turn, and Coleridge began a laboured
eulogy on some promising youth, the son of an English artist, whom he
had met in Italy, and who had wandered all over the Campagna with him,
whose talents, he assured us, were the admiration of all Rome, and whose
early designs had almost all the grace and purity of Raphael's. At last,
some one interrupted the endless theme by saying a little impatiently,
'Why just now you would not let us believe our own eyes and ears about
young Betty, because you have a theory against premature talents, and
now you start a boy phenomenon that nobody knows anything about but
yourself--a young artist that, you tell us, is to rival Raphael!' The
truth is, we like to have something to admire ourselves, as well as to
make other people gape and stare at; but then it must be a discovery of
our own, an idol of our own making and setting up:--if others stumble on
the discovery before us, or join in crying it up to the skies, we
then set to work to prove that this is a vulgar delusion, and show our
sagacity and freedom from prejudice by pulling it in pieces with all
the coolness imaginable. Whether we blow the bubble or crush it in our
hands, vanity and the desire of empty distinction are equally at the
bottom of our sanguine credulity or fastidious scepticism. There are
some who always fall in with the fashionable prejudice as others affect
singularity of opinion on all such points, according as they think they
have more or less wit to judge for themselves.

If a little varnishing and daubing, a little puffing and quacking, and
giving yourself a good name, and getting a friend to speak a word
for you, is excusable in any profession, it is, I think, in that
of painting. Painting is an occult science, and requires a little
ostentation and mock-gravity in the professor. A man may here rival
Katterfelto, 'with his hair on end at his own wonders, wondering for
his bread'; for, if he does not, he may in the end go without it. He may
ride on a high-trotting horse, in green spectacles, and attract notice
to his person anyhow he can, if he only works hard at his profession.
If 'it only is when he is _out_ he is acting,' let him make the fools
stare, but give others something worth looking at. Good Mr. Carver and
Gilder, good Mr. Printer's Devil, good Mr. Billsticker, 'do me your
offices' unmolested! Painting is a plain ground, and requires a great
many heraldic quarterings and facings to set it off. Lay on, and do not
spare. No man's merit can be fairly judged of if he is not known; and
how can he be known if he keeps entirely in the background?(4) A great
name in art goes but a little way, is chilled as it creeps along the
surface of the world without something to revive and make it blaze up
with fresh splendour. Fame is here almost obscurity. It is long
before your name affixed to a sterling design will be spelt out by an
undiscerning regardless public. Have it proclaimed, therefore, as a
necessary precaution, by sound of trumpet at the corners of the street,
let it be stuck as a label in your mouth, carry it on a placard at your
back. Otherwise, the world will never trouble themselves about you, or
will very soon forget you. A celebrated artist of the present day, whose
name is engraved at the bottom of some of the most touching specimens
of English art, once had a frame-maker call on him, who, on entering his
room, exclaimed with some surprise, 'What, are you a painter, sir?' The
other made answer, a little startled in his turn, 'Why, didn't you know
that? Did you never see my name at the bottom of prints?' He could
not recollect that he had. 'And yet you sell picture-frames and
prints?'--'Yes.'--'What painter's names, then, did he recollect: did
he know West's?' 'Oh! yes.'--'And Opie's?' 'Yes.'--'And Fuseli's?' 'Oh!
yes.'--'But you never heard of me?' 'I cannot say that I ever did!' It
was plain from this conversation that Mr. Northcote had not kept company
enough with picture-dealers and newspaper critics. On another occasion,
a country gentleman, who was sitting to him for his portrait, asked him
if he had any pictures in the Exhibition at Somerset House, and on
his replying in the affirmative, desired to know what they were. He
mentioned, among others, The Marriage of Two Children; on which the
gentleman expressed great surprise, and said that was the very picture
his wife was always teasing him to go and have another look at, though
he had never noticed the painter's name. When the public are so eager
to be amused, and care so little who it is that amuses them, it is not
amiss to remind them of it now and then; or even to have a starling
taught to repeat the name, to which they owe such misprised obligations,
in their drowsy ears. On any other principle I cannot conceive how
painters (not without genius or industry) can fling themselves at
the head of the public in the manner they do, having lives written of
themselves, busts made of themselves, prints stuck in the shop-windows
of themselves, and their names placed in 'the first row of the
rubric,' with those of Rubens, Raphael, and Michael Angelo, swearing by
themselves or their proxies that these glorified spirits would do well
to leave the abodes of the blest in order to stand in mute wonder and
with uplifted hands before some production of theirs which is yet hardly
dry! Oh! whatever you do, leave that string untouched. It will jar the
rash and unhallowed hand that meddles with it. Profane not the mighty
dead by mixing them up with the uncanonised living. Leave yourself a
reversion in immortality, beyond the noisy clamour of the day. Do not
quite lose your respect for public opinion by making it in all cases a
palpable cheat, the echo of your own lungs that are hoarse with calling
on the world to admire. Do not think to bully posterity, or to cozen
your contemporaries. Be not always anticipating the effect of your
picture on the town--think more about deserving success than commanding
it. In issuing so many promissory notes upon the bank of fame, do not
forget you have to pay in sterling gold. Believe that there is something
in the pursuit of high art, beyond the manufacture of a paragraph or
the collection of receipts at the door of an exhibition. Venerate art as
art. Study the works of others, and inquire into those of nature.
Gaze at beauty. Become great by great efforts, and not by pompous
pretensions. Do not think the world was blind to merit before your time,
nor make the reputation of great geniuses the stalking-horse to your
vanity. You have done enough to insure yourself attention: you have now
only to do something to deserve it, and to make good all that you have
aspired to do.

There is a silent and systematic assumption of superiority which is as
barefaced and unprincipled an imposture as the most impudent puffing.
You may, by a tacit or avowed censure on all other arts, on all works of
art, on all other pretensions, tastes, talents, but your own, produce
a complete ostracism in the world of intellect, and leave yourself and
your own performances alone standing, a mighty monument in an universal
waste and wreck of genius. By cutting away the rude block and removing
the rubbish from around it, the idol may be effectually exposed to view,
placed on its pedestal of pride, without any other assistance. This
method is more inexcusable than the other. For there is no egotism
or vanity so hateful as that which strikes at our satisfaction in
everything else, and derives its nourishment from preying, like the
vampire, on the carcase of others' reputation. I would rather, in a
word, that a man should talk for ever of himself with vapid, senseless
assurance, than preserve a malignant, heartless silence when the merit
of a rival is mentioned. I have seen instances of both, and can judge
pretty well between them.

There is no great harm in putting forward one's own pretensions (of
whatever kind) if this does not bear a sour, malignant aspect towards
others. Every one sets himself off to the best advantage he can, and
tries to steal a march upon public opinion. In this sense, too, 'all the
world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players.' Life itself
is a piece of harmless quackery. A great house over your head is of
no use but to announce the great man within. Dress, equipage, title,
livery-servants are only so many quack advertisements and assumptions
of the question of merit. The star that glitters at the breast would
be worth nothing but as a badge of personal distinction; and the crown
itself is but a symbol of the virtues which the possessor inherits from
a long line of illustrious ancestors! How much honour and honesty have
been forfeited to be graced with a title or a ribbon; how much genius
and worth have sunk to the grave without an escutcheon and without an

As men of rank and fortune keep lackeys to reinforce their claims to
self-respect, so men of genius sometimes surround themselves with a
coterie of admirers to increase their reputation with the public. These
_proneurs,_ or satellites, repeat all their good things, laugh loud at
all their jokes, and remember all their oracular decrees. They are their
shadows and echoes. They talk of them in all companies, and bring back
word of all that has been said about them. They hawk the good qualities
of their patrons as shopmen and _barkers_ tease you to buy goods. I have
no notion of this vanity at second-hand; nor can I see how this servile
testimony from inferiors ('some followers of mine own') can be a proof
of merit. It may soothe the ear, but that it should impose on the
understanding, I own, surprises me; yet there are persons who cannot
exist without a _cortege_ of this kind about them, in which they smiling
read the opinion of the world, in the midst of all sorts of rancorous
abuse and hostility, as Otho called for his mirror in the Illyrian
field. One good thing is, that this evil, in some degree, cures itself;
and when a man has been nearly ruined by a herd of these sycophants,
he finds them leaving him, like thriftless dependants, for some more
eligible situation, carrying away with them all the tattle they can pick
up, and some left-off suit of finery. The same proneness to adulation
which made them lick the dust before one idol makes them bow as low to
the rising Sun; they are as lavish of detraction as they were prurient
with praise; and the _protege_ and admirer of the editor of the -----
figures in Blackwood's train. The man is a lackey, and it is of little
consequence whose livery he wears!

I would advise those who volunteer the office of puffing to go the whole
length of it. No half-measures will do. Lay it on thick and threefold,
or not at all. If you are once harnessed into that vehicle, it will be
in vain for you to think of stopping. You must drive to the devil at
once. The mighty Tamburlane, to whose car you are yoked, cries out:

 Holloa, you pamper'd jades of Asia,
 Can you not drive but twenty miles a day?

He has you on the hip, for you have pledged your taste and judgment to
his genius. Never fear but he will drive this wedge. If you are once
screwed into such a machine, you must extricate yourself by main force.
No hyperboles are too much: any drawback, any admiration on this side
idolatry, is high treason. It is an unpardonable offence to say that the
last production of your patron is not so good as the one before it, or
that a performer shines more in one character than another. I remember
once hearing a player declare that he never looked into any newspapers
or magazines on account of the abuse that was always levelled at himself
in them, though there were not less than three persons in company who
made it their business through these conduit pipes of fame to 'cry him
up to the top of the compass.' This sort of expectation is a little

One fashionable mode of acquiring reputation is by patronising it. This
may be from various motives--real good nature, good taste, vanity, or
pride. I shall only speak of the spurious ones in this place. The quack
and the _would-be_ patron are well met. The house of the latter is a
sort of curiosity shop or _menagerie,_ where all sorts of intellectual
pretenders and grotesques, musical children, arithmetical prodigies,
occult philosophers, lecturers, _accoucheurs,_ apes, chemists, fiddlers,
and buffoons are to be seen for the asking, and are shown to the company
for nothing. The folding doors are thrown open, and display a collection
that the world cannot parallel again. There may be a few persons of
common sense and established reputation, _rari nantes in gurgite vasto,_
otherwise it is a mere scramble or lottery. The professed encourager of
_virtu_ and letters, being disappointed of the great names, sends out
into the highways for the halt, the lame, and the blind, for all who
pretend to distinction, defects, and obliquities, for all the disposable
vanity or affectation floating on the town, in hopes that, among so many
oddities, chance may bring some jewel or treasure to his door, which he
may have the good fortune to appropriate in some way to his own use,
or the credit of displaying to others. The art is to encourage rising
genius--to bring forward doubtful and unnoticed merit. You thus get a
set of novices and raw pretenders about you, whose actual productions do
not interfere with your self-love, and whose future efforts may reflect
credit on your singular sagacity and faculty for finding out talent
in the germ; and in the next place, by having them completely in your
power, you are at liberty to dismiss them whenever you will, and to
supply the deficiency by a new set of wondering, unwashed faces in a
rapid succession; an 'aiery of children,' embryo actors, artists, poets,
or philosophers. Like unfledged birds, they are hatched, nursed, and fed
by hand: this gives room for a vast deal of management, meddling, care,
and condescending solicitude; but the instant the callow brood are
fledged, they are driven from the nest, and forced to shift for
themselves in the wide world. One sterling production decides the
question between them and their patrons, and from that time they become
the property of the public. Thus a succession of importunate, hungry,
idle, overweening candidates for fame are encouraged by these fickle
keepers, only to be betrayed, and left to starve or beg, or pine in
obscurity, while the man of merit and respectability is neglected,
discountenanced, and stigmatised, because he will not lend himself as
a tool to this system of splendid imposition, or pamper the luxury and
weaknesses of the Vulgar Great. When a young artist is too independent
to subscribe to the dogmas of his superiors, or fulfils their
predictions and prognostics of wonderful contingent talent too soon, so
as to get out of leading-strings, and lean on public opinion for partial
support, exceptions are taken to his dress, dialect, or manners, and he
is expelled the circle with a character for ingratitude and treachery.
None can procure toleration long but those who do not contradict the
opinions or excite the jealousy of their betters. One independent step
is an appeal from them to the public, their natural and hated rivals,
and annuls the contract between them, which implies ostentatious
countenance on the one part and servile submission on the other. But
enough of this.

The patronage of men of talent, even when it proceeds from vanity, is
often carried on with a spirit of generosity and magnificence, as long
as these are in difficulties and a state of dependence; but as the
principle of action in this case is a love of power, the complacency in
the object of friendly regard ceases with the opportunity or necessity
for the same manifest display of power; and when the unfortunate
_protege_ is just coming to land, and expects a last helping hand, he
is, to his surprise, pushed back, in order that he may be saved from
drowning once more. You are not hailed ashore, as you had supposed, by
these kind friends, as a mutual triumph after all your struggles and
their exertions in your behalf. It is a piece of presumption in you to
be seen walking on _terra firma_: you are required, at the risk of their
friendship, to be always swimming in troubled waters, that they may
have the credit of throwing out ropes, and sending out lifeboats to you,
without ever bringing you ashore. Your successes, your reputation,
which you think would please them, as justifying their good opinion,
are coldly received, and looked at askance, because they remove your
dependence on them: if you are under a cloud, they do all they can to
keep you there by their goodwill: they are so sensible of your gratitude
that they wish your obligations never to cease, and take care you shall
owe no one else a good turn; and provided you are compelled or contented
to remain always in poverty, obscurity, and disgrace, they will continue
your very good friends and humble servants to command, to the end of
the chapter. The tenure of these indentures is hard. Such persons
will wilfully forfeit the gratitude created by years of friendship, by
refusing to perform the last act of kindness that is likely ever to be
demanded of them: will lend you money, if you have no chance of repaying
them: will give you their good word, if nobody will believe it; and the
only thing they do not forgive is an attempt or probability on your
part of being able to repay your obligations. There is something
disinterested in all this: at least, it does not show a cowardly
or mercenary disposition, but it savours too much of arrogance and
arbitrary pretension. It throws a damning light on this question, to
consider who are mostly the subjects of the patronage of the great, and
in the habit of receiving cards of invitation to splendid dinners. I
confess, for one, I am not on the list; at which I do not grieve much,
nor wonder at all. Authors, in general, are not in much request. Dr.
Johnson was asked why he was not more frequently invited out; and he
said, 'Because great lords and ladies do not like to have their mouths
stopped.' Garrick was not in this predicament: he could amuse the
company in the drawing-room by imitating the great moralist and
lexicographer, and make the negro-boy in the courtyard die with laughing
to see him take off the swelling airs and strut of the turkey-cock. This
was clever and amusing, but it did not involve an opinion, it did not
lead to a difference of sentiment, in which the owner of the house might
be found in the wrong. Players, singers, dancers, are hand and glove
with the great. They embellish, and have an _eclat_ in their names,
but do not come into collision. Eminent portrait-painters, again, are
tolerated, because they come into personal contact with the great; and
sculptors hold equality with lords when they have a certain quantity
of solid marble in their workshops to answer for the solidity of their
pretensions. People of fashion and property must have something to show
for their patronage, something visible or tangible. A sentiment is a
visionary thing; an argument may lead to dangerous consequences,
and those who are likely to broach either one or the other ate not,
therefore, fit for good company in general. Poets and men of genius who
find their way there, soon find their way out. They are not of that ilk,
with some exceptions. Painters who come in contact with majesty get on
by servility or buffoonery, by letting themselves down in some way. Sir
Joshua was never a favourite at court. He kept too much at a distance.
Beechey gained a vast deal of favour by familiarity, and lost it by
taking too great freedoms.(5) West ingratiated himself in the same
quarter by means of practices as little creditable to himself as his
august employer, namely, by playing the hypocrite, and professing
sentiments the reverse of those he naturally felt. Kings (I know not how
justly) have been said to be lovers of low company and low conversation.
They are also said to be fond of dirty practical jokes. If the fact is
so, the reason is as follows. From the elevation of their rank, aided by
pride and flattery, they look down on the rest of mankind, and would
not be thought to have all their advantages for nothing. They wish to
maintain the same precedence in private life that belongs to them as a
matter of outward ceremony. This pretension they cannot keep up by fair
means; for in wit or argument they are not superior to the common run of
men. They therefore answer a repartee by a practical joke, which turns
the laugh against others, and cannot be retaliated with safety. That
is, they avail themselves of the privilege of their situation to take
liberties, and degrade those about them, as they can only keep up the
idea of their own dignity by proportionably lowering their company.


(1) It is calculated that West cleared some hundred pounds by the
catalogues that were sold of his great picture of Death riding on the
Pale Horse.

(2) I cannot say how in this respect it might have fared if a Mr.
Mudford, a fat gentleman, who might not have 'liked yon lean and hungry
Roscius,' had continued in the theatrical department of Mr. Perry's
paper at the time of this actor's first appearance; but I had been put
upon this duty just before, and afterwards Mr. Mudford's _spare_ talents
were not in much request. This, I believe, is the reason why he takes
pains every now and then to inform the readers of the _Courier_ that it
is impossible for any one to understand a word that I write.

(3) I (not very long ago) had the pleasure of spending an evening with
Mr. Betty, when we had some 'good talk' about the good old times of
acting. I wanted to insinuate that I had been a sneaking admirer, but
could not bring it in. As, however, we were putting on our greatcoats
downstairs I ventured to break the ice by saying, 'There is one actor of
that period of whom we have not made honourable mention, I mean Master
Betty.' 'Oh!' he said, 'I have forgot all that.' I replied, that he
might, but that I could not forget the pleasure I had had in seeing him.
On which he turned off, and, shaking his sides heartily, and with no
measured demand upon his lungs, called out, 'Oh, memory! memory!' in
a way that showed he felt the full force of the allusion. I found
afterwards that the subject did not offend, and we were to have drunk
some Burton ale together the following evening, but were prevented. I
hope he will consider that the engagement still stands good.

(4) Sir Joshua, who was not a vain man, purchased a tawdry sheriff's
carriage, soon after he took his house in Leicester Fields, and desired
his sister to ride about in it, in order that people might ask, 'Whose
it was?' and the answer would be, 'It belongs to the great painter!'

(5) Sharp became a great favourite of the king on the following
occasion. It was the custom, when the king went through the lobbies of
the palace, for those who preceded him to cry out, 'Sharp, sharp, look
sharp!' in order to clear the way. Mr. Sharp, who was waiting in a room
just by (preparing some colours), hearing his name repeated so urgently,
ran out in great haste, and came up with all his force against the king,
who was passing the door at the time. The young artist was knocked down
in the encounter, and the attendants were in the greatest consternation;
but the king laughed heartily at the adventure, and took great notice of
the unfortunate subject of it from that time forward.


It is astonishing, with all our opportunities and practice, how little
we know of this subject. For myself, I feel that the more I learn, the
less I understand it.

I remember, several years ago, a conversation in the diligence coming
from Paris, in which, on its being mentioned that a man had married
his wife after thirteen years' courtship, a fellow-countryman of
mine observed, that 'then, at least, he would be acquainted with her
character'; when a Monsieur P----, inventor and proprietor of the
_Invisible Girl,_ made answer, 'No, not at all; for that the very next
day she might turn out the very reverse of the character that she had
appeared in during all the preceding time.'(1) I could not help admiring
the superior sagacity of the French juggler, and it struck me then that
we could never be sure when we had got at the bottom of this riddle.

There are various ways of getting at a knowledge of character--by looks,
words, actions. The first of these, which seems the most superficial, is
perhaps the safest, and least liable to deceive: nay, it is that which
mankind, in spite of their pretending to the contrary, most generally go
by. Professions pass for nothing, and actions may be counterfeited; but
a man cannot help his looks. 'Speech,' said a celebrated wit, 'was given
to man to conceal his thoughts.' Yet I do not know that the greatest
hypocrites are the least silent. The mouth of Cromwell is pursed up in
the portraits of him, as if he was afraid to trust himself with words.
Lord Chesterfield advises us, if we wish to know the real sentiments of
the person we are conversing with, to look in his face, for he can more
easily command his words than his features. A man's whole life may be
picture painted of him by a great artist would probably stamp his
true character on the canvas, and betray the secret to posterity.
Men's opinions were divided, in their lifetimes, about such prominent
personages as Charles V. and Ignatius Loyola, partly, no doubt, from
passion and interest, but partly from contradictory evidence in their
ostensible conduct: the spectator, who has ever seen their pictures by
Titian, judges of them at once, and truly. I had rather leave a good
portrait of myself behind me than have a fine epitaph. The face, for the
most part, tells what we have thought and felt--the rest is nothing. I
prefixed to his poems than from anything he ever wrote. Caesar's
_Commentaries_ would not have redeemed him in my opinion, if the bust of
him had resembled the Duke of Wellington. My old friend Fawcett used
to say, that if Sir Isaac Newton himself had lisped, he could not have
thought anything of him. So I cannot persuade myself that any one is a
great man who looks like a fool. In this I may be wrong.

First impressions are often the truest, as we find (not unfrequently) to
our cost when we have been wheedled out of them by plausible professions
or actions. A man's look is the work of years, it is stamped on his
countenance by the events of his whole life, nay, more, by the hand of
nature, and it is not to be got rid of easily. There is, as it has been
remarked repeatedly, something in a person's appearance at first sight
which we do not like, and that gives us an odd twinge, but which is
overlooked in a multiplicity of other circumstances, till the mask is
taken off, and we see this lurking character verified in the plainest
manner in the sequel. We are struck at first, and by chance, with what
is peculiar and characteristic; also with permanent _traits_ and general
effect: this afterwards goes off in a set of unmeaning, common-place
details. This sort of _prima facie_ evidence, then, shows what a man is
better than what he says or does; for it shows us the habit of his mind,
which is the same under all circumstances and disguises. You will say,
on the other hand, that there is no judging by appearances, as a general
rule. No one, for instance, would take such a person for a very clever
man without knowing who he was. Then, ten to one, he is not: he may have
got the reputation, but it is a mistake. You say, there is Mr. -----,
undoubtedly a person of great genius; yet, except when excited by
something extraordinary, he seems half dead. He has wit at will, yet
wants life and spirit. He is capable of the most generous acts,
yet meanness seems to cling to every motion. He looks like a poor
creature--and in truth he is one! The first impression he gives you of
him answers nearly to the feeling he has of his personal identity;
and this image of himself, rising from his thoughts, and shrouding his
faculties, is that which sits with him in the house, walks out with him
into the street, and haunts his bedside. The best part of his existence
is dull, cloudy, leaden: the flashes of light that proceed from it, or
streak it here and there, may dazzle others, but do not deceive himse
deficiency it indicates. He who undervalues himself is justly
undervalued by others. Whatever good properties he may possess are,
in fact, neutralised by a 'cold rheum' running through his veins, and
taking away the zest of his pretensions, the pith and marrow of his
performances. What is it to me that I can write these TABLE-TALKS? It
is true I can, by a reluctant effort, rake up a parcel of half-forgotten
observations, but they do not float on the surface of my mind, nor
stir it with any sense of pleasure, nor even of pride. Others have more
property in them than I have: they may reap the benefit, I have only had
the pain. Otherwise, they are to me as if they had never existed; nor
should I know that I had ever thought at all, but that I am reminded of
it by the strangeness of my appearance, and my unfitness for everything
else. Look in Coleridge's face while he is talking. His words are such
as might 'create a soul under the ribs of death.' His face is a blank.
Which are we to consider as the true index of his mind? Pain, languor,
shadowy remembrances, are the uneasy inmates there: his lips move

There are people that we do not like, though we may have known them
long, and have no fault to find with them, 'their appearance, as we
say, is so much against them.' That is not all, if we could find it out.
There is, generally, a reason for this prejudice; for nature is true
to itself. They may be very good sort of people too, in their way, but
still something is the matter. There is a coldness, a selfishness, a
levity, an insincerity, which we cannot fix upon any particular phrase
or action, but we see it in their whole persons and deportment. One
reason that we do not see it in any other way may be, that they are all
the time trying to conceal this defect by every means in their power.
There is, luckily, a sort of _second sight_ in morals: we discern
the lurking indications of temper and habit a long while before their
palpable effects appear. I once used to meet with a person at an
ordinary, a very civil, good-looking man in other respects, but with
an odd look about his eyes, which I could not explain, as if he saw you
under their fringed lids, and you could not see him again: this man
was a common sharper. The greatest hypocrite I ever knew was a little,
demure, pretty, modest-looking girl, with eyes timidly cast upon the
ground, and an air soft as enchantment; the only circumstance that could
lead to a suspicion of her true character was a cold, sullen, watery,
glazed look about the eyes, which she bent on vacancy, as if determined
to avoid all explanation with yours. I might have spied in their
glittering, motionless surface the rocks and quicksands that awaited
me below! We do not feel quite at ease in the company or friendship
of those who have any natural obliquity or imperfection of person.
The reason is, they are not on the best terms with themselves, and are
sometimes apt to play off on others the tricks that nature has played
them. This, however, is a remark that, perhaps, ought not to have been
made. I know a person to whom it has been objected as a disqualification
for friendship, that he never shakes you cordially by the hand. I own
this is a damper to sanguine and florid temperaments, who abound in
these practical demonstrations and 'compliments extern.' The same person
who testifies the least pleasure at meeting you, is the last to quit
his seat in your company, grapples with a subject in conversation right
earnestly, and is, I take it, backward to give up a cause or a friend.
Cold and distant in appearance, he piques himself on being the king
of _good haters,_ and a no less zealous partisan. The most phlegmatic
constitutions often contain the most inflammable spirits--a fire is
struck from the hardest flints.

And this is another reason that makes it difficult to judge of
character. Extremes meet; and qualities display themselves by the most
contradictory appearances. Any inclination, in consequence of
being generally suppressed, vents itself the more violently when
an opportunity presents itself: the greatest grossness sometimes
accompanies the greatest refinement, as a natural relief, one to the
other; and we find the most reserved and indifferent tempers at the
beginning of an entertainment, or an acquaintance, turn out the most
communicative and cordial at the end of it. Some spirits exhaust
themselves at first: others gain strength by progression. Some minds
have a greater facility of throwing off impressions--are, as it were,
more transparent or porous than others. Thus the French present a marked
contrast to the English in this respect. A Frenchman addresses you at
once with a sort of lively indifference: an Englishman is more on his
guard, feels his way, and is either exceedingly reserved, or lets you
into his whole confidence, which he cannot so well impart to an entire
stranger. Again, a Frenchman is naturally humane: an Englishman is, I
should say, only friendly by habit. His virtues and his vices cost him
more than they do his more gay and volatile neighbours. An Englishman is
said to speak his mind more plainly than others,--yes, if it will give
you pain to hear it. He does not care whom he offends by his discourse:
a foreigner generally strives to oblige in what he says. The French are
accused of promising more than they perform. That may be, and yet they
may perform as many good-natured acts as the English, if the latter are
as averse to perform as they are to promise. Even the professions of the
French may be sincere at the time, or arise out of the impulse of the
moment; though their desire to serve you may be neither very violent nor
very lasting. I cannot think, notwithstanding, that the French are not a
serious people; nay, that they are not a more reflecting people than
the common run of the English. Let those who think them merely light and
mercurial explain that enigma, their everlasting prosing tragedy. The
English are considered as comparatively a slow, plodding people. If the
French are quicker, they are also more plodding. See, for example, how
highly finished and elaborate their works of art are! How systematic and
correct they aim at being in all their productions of a graver cast!
'If the French have a fault,' as Yorick said, 'it is that they are
too grave.' With wit, sense, cheerfulness, patience, good-nature, and
refinement of manners, all they want is imagination and sturdiness of
moral principle! Such are some of the contradictions in the character
of the two nations, and so little does the character of either appear to
have been understood! Nothing can be more ridiculous indeed than the
way in which we exaggerate each other's vices and extenuate our own.
The whole is an affair of prejudice on one side of the question, and
of partiality on the other. Travellers who set out to carry back a
true report of the case appear to lose not only the use of their
understandings, but of their senses, the instant they set foot in a
foreign land. The commonest facts and appearances are distorted and
discoloured. They go abroad with certain preconceived notions on the
subject, and they make everything answer, in reason's spite, to their
favourite theory. In addition to the difficulty of explaining customs
and manners foreign to our own, there are all the obstacles of wilful
prepossession thrown in the way. It is not, therefore, much to be
wondered at that nations have arrived at so little knowledge of one
another's characters; and that, where the object has been to widen the
breach between them, any slight differences that occur are easily
blown into a blaze of fury by repeated misrepresentations, and all the
exaggerations that malice or folly can invent!

This ignorance of character is not confined to foreign nations: we are
ignorant of that of our own countrymen in a class a little below or
above ourselves. We shall hardly pretend to pronounce magisterially on
the good or bad qualities of strangers; and, at the same time, we are
ignorant of those of our friends, of our kindred, and of our own. We are
in all these cases either too near or too far off the object to judge of
it properly.

Persons, for instance, in a higher or middle rank of life know little
or nothing of the characters of those below them, as servants, country
people, etc. I would lay it down in the first place as a general rule
on this subject, that all uneducated people are hypocrites. Their sole
business is to deceive. They conceive themselves in a state of hostility
with others, and stratagems are fair in war. The inmates of the kitchen
and the parlour are always (as far as respects their feelings and
intentions towards each other) in Hobbes's; 'state of nature.' Servants
and others in that line of life have nothing to exercise their spare
talents for invention upon but those about them. Their superfluous
electrical particles of wit and fancy are not carried off by those
established and fashionable conductors, novels and romances. Their
faculties are not buried in books, but all alive and stirring, erect
and bristling like a cat's back. Their coarse conversation sparkles with
'wild wit, invention ever new.' Their betters try all they can to set
themselves up above them, and they try all they can to pull them down to
their own level. They do this by getting up a little comic interlude,
a daily, domestic, homely drama out of the odds and ends of the family
failings, of which there is in general a pretty plentiful supply, or
make up the deficiency of materials out of their own heads. They turn
the qualities of their masters and mistresses inside out, and any real
kindness or condescension only sets them the more against you. They are
not to be taken in that way--they will not be baulked in the spite they
have to you. They only set to work with redoubled alacrity, to lessen
the favour or to blacken your character. They feel themselves like a
degraded _caste,_ and cannot understand how the obligations can be all
on one side, and the advantages all on the other. You cannot come to
equal terms with them--they reject all such overtures as insidious and
hollow--nor can you ever calculate upon their gratitude or goodwill, any
more than if they were so many strolling Gipsies or wild Indians. They
have no fellow-feeling, they keep no faith with the more privileged
classes. They are in your power, and they endeavour to be even with you
by trick and cunning, by lying and chicanery. In this they have nothing
to restrain them. Their whole life is a succession of shifts, excuses,
and expedients. The love of truth is a principle with those only who
have made it their study, who have applied themselves to the pursuit of
some art or science, where the intellect is severely tasked, and learns
by habit to take a pride in, and to set a just value on, the correctness
of its conclusions. To have a disinterested regard to truth, the mind
must have contemplated it in abstract and remote questions; whereas the
ignorant and vulgar are only conversant with those things in which their
own interest is concerned. All their notions are local, personal, and
consequently gross and selfish. They say whatever comes uppermost--turn
whatever happens to their own account--and invent any story, or give any
answer that suits their purposes. Instead of being bigoted to general
principles, they trump up any lie for the occasion, and the more of a
_thumper_ it is, the better they like it; the more unlooked-for it is,
why, so much the more of a _God-send!_ They have no conscience about
the matter; and if you find them out in any of their manoeuvres, are not
ashamed of themselves, but angry with you. If you remonstrate with
them, they laugh in your face. The only hold you have of them is their
interest--you can but dismiss them from your employment; and _service is
no inheritance._ If they effect anything like decent remorse, and hope
you will pass it over, all the while they are probably trying to recover
the wind of you. Persons of liberal knowledge or sentiments have no kind
of chance in this sort of mixed intercourse with these barbarians in
civilised life. You cannot tell, by any signs or principles, what is
passing in their minds. There is no common point of view between you.
You have not the same topics to refer to, the same language to express
yourself. Your interests, your feelings are quite distinct. You take
certain things for granted as rules of action: they take nothing for
granted but their own ends, pick up all their knowledge out of their own
occasions, are on the watch only for what they can catch--are

  Subtle as the fox for prey:
 Like warlike as the wolf, for what they eat.

They have indeed a regard to their character, as this last may affect
their livelihood or advancement, none as it is connected with a sense
of propriety; and this sets their mother-wit and native talents at work
upon a double file of expedients, to bilk their consciences, and salve
their reputation. In short, you never know where to have them, any more
than if they were of a different species of animals; and in trusting to
them, you are sure to be betrayed and overreached. You have other
things to mind; they are thinking only of you, and how to turn you to
advantage. _Give and take_ is no maxim here. You can build nothing
on your own moderation or on their false delicacy. After a familiar
conversation with a waiter at a tavern, you overhear him calling you by
some provoking nickname. If you make a present to the daughter of the
house where you lodge, the mother is sure to recollect some addition to
her bill. It is a running fight. In fact, there is a principle in
human nature not willingly to endure the idea of a superior, a sour,
jacobinical disposition to wipe out the score of obligation, or efface
the tinsel of external advantages--and where others have the opportunity
of coming in contact with us, they generally find the means to establish
a sufficiently marked degree of degrading equality. No man is a hero
to his valet-de-chambre, is an old maxim. A new illustration of this
principle occurred the other day. While Mrs. Siddons was giving her
readings of Shakespear to a brilliant and admiring drawing-room, one of
the servants in the hall below was saying, 'What, I find the old lady is
making as much noise as ever!' So little is there in common between the
different classes of society, and so impossible is it ever to unite the
diversities of custom and knowledge which separate them.

Women, according to Mrs. Peachum, are 'bitter bad judges' of the
characters of men; and men are not much better of theirs, if we can form
any guess from their choice in marriage. Love is proverbially blind. The
whole is an affair of whim and fancy. Certain it is that the greatest
favourites with the other sex are not those who are most liked or
respected among their own. I never knew but one clever man who was
what is called a _lady's man;_ and he (unfortunately for the argument)
happened to be a considerable coxcomb. It was by this irresistible
quality, and not by the force of his genius, that he vanquished. Women
seem to doubt their own judgments in love, and to take the opinion which
a man entertains of his own prowess and accomplishments for granted. The
wives of poets are (for the most part) mere pieces of furniture in the
room. If you speak to them of their husbands' talents or reputation in
the world, it is as if you made mention of some office that they held.
It can hardly be otherwise, when the instant any subject is started or
conversation arises, in which men are interested, or try one another's
strength, the women leave the room, or attend to something else. The
qualities, then, in which men are ambitious to excel, and which ensure
the applause of the world,--eloquence, genius, learning, integrity,--are
not those which gain the favour of the fair. I must not deny, however,
that wit and courage have this effect. Neither is youth or beauty the
sole passport to their affections.

 The way of woman's will is hard to find,
 Harder to hit.

Yet there is some clue to this mystery, some determining cause; for we
find that the same men are universal favourites with women, as others
are uniformly disliked by them. Is not the loadstone that attracts so
powerfully, and in all circumstances, a strong and undisguised bias
towards them, a marked attention, a conscious preference of them to
every other passing object or topic? I am not sure, but I incline
to think so. The successful lover is the _cavalier servente_ of all
nations. The man of gallantry behaves as if he had made an assignation
with every woman he addresses. An argument immediately draws off my
attention from the prettiest woman in the room. I accordingly succeed
better in argument--than in love!--I do not think that what is called
_Love at first sight_ is so great an absurdity as it is sometimes
imagined to be. We generally make up our minds beforehand to the sort of
person we should like,--grave or gay, black, brown, or fair; with golden
tresses or with raven locks;--and when we meet with a complete example
of the qualities we admire, the bargain is soon struck. We have never
seen anything to come up to our newly-discovered goddess before, but she
is what we have been all our lives looking for. The idol we fall down
and worship is an image familiar to our minds. It has been present to
our waking thoughts, it has haunted us in our dreams, like some fairy
vision. Oh! thou who, the first time I over beheld thee, didst draw my
soul into the circle of thy heavenly looks, and wave enchantment
round me, do not think thy conquest less complete because it was
instantaneous; for in that gentle form (as if another Imogen had
entered) I saw all that I had ever loved of female grace, modesty, and

I shall not say much of friendship as giving an insight into character,
because it is often founded on mutual infirmities and prejudices.
Friendships are frequently taken up on some sudden sympathy, and we
see only as much as we please of one another's characters afterwards.
Intimate friends are not fair witnesses to character, any more than
professed enemies. They cool, indeed, in time, part, and retain only a
rankling grudge of past errors and oversights. Their testimony in the
latter case is not quite free from suspicion.

One would think that near relations, who live constantly together, and
always have done so, must be pretty well acquainted with one another's
characters. They are nearly in the dark about it. Familiarity confounds
all traits of distinction: interest and prejudice take away the power
of judging. We have no opinion on the subject, any more than of one
another's faces. The Penates, the household gods, are veiled. We do not
see the features of those we love, nor do we clearly distinguish their
virtues or their vices. We take them as they are found in the lump,--by
weight, and not by measure. We know all about the individuals, their
sentiments, history, manners, words, actions, everything; but we know
all these too much as facts, as inveterate, habitual impressions,
as clothed with too many associations, as sanctified with too many
affections, as woven too much into the web of our hearts, to be able to
pick out the different threads, to cast up the items of the debtor and
creditor account, or to refer them to any general standard of right and
wrong. Our impressions with respect to them are too strong, too real,
too much _sui generis,_ to be capable of a comparison with anything
but themselves. We hardly inquire whether those for whom we are thus
interested, and to whom we are thus knit, are _better_ or _worse_ than
others--the question is a kind of profanation--all we know is, they are
_more_ to us than any one else can be. Our sentiments of this kind are
rooted and grow in us, and we cannot eradicate them by voluntary means.
Besides, our judgments are bespoke, our interests take part with our
blood. If any doubt arises, if the veil of our implicit confidence is
drawn aside by any accident for a moment, the shock is too great, like
that of a dislocated limb, and we recoil on our habitual impressions
again. Let not that veil ever be rent entirely asunder, so that those
images may be left bare of reverential awe, and lose their religion; for
nothing can ever support the desolation of the heart afterwards.

The greatest misfortune that can happen among relations is a different
way of bringing up, so as to set one another's opinions and characters
in an entirely new point of view. This often lets in an unwelcome
daylight on the subject, and breeds schisms, coldness, and incurable
heart-burnings in families. I have sometimes thought whether the
progress of society and march of knowledge does not do more harm in this
respect, by loosening the ties of domestic attachment, and preventing
those who are most interested in and anxious to think well of one
another from feeling a cordial sympathy and approbation of each
other's sentiments, manners, views, etc., than it does good by any real
advantage to the community at large. The son, for instance, is brought
up to the Church, and nothing can exceed the pride and pleasure the
father takes in him while all goes on well in this favourite direction.
His notions change, and he imbibes a taste for the Fine Arts. From
this moment there is an end of anything like the same unreserved
communication between them. The young man may talk with enthusiasm
of his 'Rembrandts, Correggios, and stuff': it is all _Hebrew_ to the
elder; and whatever satisfaction he may feel in the hearing of his son's
progress, or good wishes for his success, he is never reconciled to the
new pursuit, he still hankers after the first object that he had set
his mind upon. Again, the grandfather is a Calvinist, who never gets the
better of his disappointment at his son's going over to the Unitarian
side of the question. The matter rests here till the grandson, some
years after, in the fashion of the day and 'infinite agitation of men's
wit,' comes to doubt certain points in the creed in which he has
been brought up, and the affair is all abroad again. Here are three
generations made uncomfortable and in a manner set at variance by a
veering point of theology, and the officious, meddling biblical critics!
Nothing, on the other hand, can be more wretched or common than that
upstart pride and insolent good fortune which is ashamed of its origin;
nor are there many things more awkward than the situation of rich and
poor relations. Happy, much happier, are those tribes and people who
are confined to the same _caste_ and way of life from sire to son, where
prejudices are transmitted like instincts, and where the same unvarying
standard of opinion and refinement blends countless generations in its
improgressive, everlasting mould!

Not only is there a wilful and habitual blindness in near kindred to
each other's defects, but an incapacity to judge from the quantity of
materials, from the contradictoriness of the evidence. The chain of
particulars is too long and massy for us to lift it or put it into the
most approved ethical scales. The concrete result does not answer to any
abstract theory, to any logical definition. There is black, and white,
and grey, square and round--there are too many anomalies, too many
redeeming points, in poor human nature, such as it actually is, for us
to arrive at a smart, summary decision on it. We know too much to come
to any hasty or partial conclusion. We do not pronounce upon the present
act, because a hundred others rise up to contradict it. We suspend our
judgments altogether, because in effect one thing unconsciously balances
another; and perhaps this obstinate, pertinacious indecision would be
the truest philosophy in other cases, where we dispose of the question
of character easily, because we have only the smallest part of the
evidence to decide upon. Real character is not one thing, but a thousand
things; actual qualities do not conform to any factitious standard in
the mind, but rest upon their own truth and nature. The dull stupor
under which we labour in respect of those whom we have the greatest
opportunities of inspecting nearly, we should do well to imitate before
we give extreme and uncharitable verdicts against those whom we only
see in passing or at a distance. If we knew them better, we should be
disposed to say less about them.

In the truth of things, there are none utterly worthless, none without
some drawback on their pretensions or some alloy of imperfection. It has
been observed that a familiarity with the worst characters lessens our
abhorrence of them; and a wonder is often expressed that the greatest
criminals look like other men. The reason is that _they are like other
men in many respects._ If a particular individual was merely the wretch
we read of, or conceive in the abstract, that is, if he was the mere
personified idea of the criminal brought to the bar, he would not
disappoint the spectator, but would look like what he would be--a
monster! But he has other qualities, ideas, feelings, nay, probably
virtues, mixed up with the most profligate habits or desperate acts.
This need not lessen our abhorrence of the crime, though it does of
the criminal; for it has the latter effect only by showing him to us in
different points of view, in which he appears a common mortal, and not
the caricature of vice we took him for, or spotted all over with infamy.
I do not, at the same time, think this is a lax or dangerous, though it
is a charitable view of the subject. In my opinion, no man ever answered
in his own mind (except in the agonies of conscience or of repentance,
in which latter case he throws the imputation from himself in another
way) to the abstract idea of a _murderer._ He may have killed a man
in self-defence, or 'in the trade of war,' or to save himself from
starving, or in revenge for an injury, but always 'so as with a
difference,' or from mixed and questionable motives. The individual, in
reckoning with himself, always takes into the account the considerations
of time, place, and circumstance, and never makes out a case of
unmitigated, unprovoked villainy, of 'pure defecated evil' against
himself. There are degrees in real crimes: we reason and moralise only
by names and in classes. I should be loth, indeed, to say that 'whatever
is, is right'; but almost every actual choice inclines to it, with some
sort of imperfect, unconscious bias. This is the reason, besides the
ends of secrecy, of the invention of _slang_ terms for different acts
of profligacy committed by thieves, pickpockets, etc. The common names
suggest associations of disgust in the minds of others, which those who
live by them do not willingly recognise, and which they wish to sink in
a technical phraseology. So there is a story of a fellow who, as he was
writing down his confession of a murder, stopped to ask how the word
_murder_ was spelt; this, if true, was partly because his imagination
was staggered by the recollection of the thing, and partly because he
shrunk from the verbal admission of it. '_Amen_ stuck in his throat'!
The defence made by Eugene Aram of himself against a charge of murder,
some years before, shows that he in imagination completely flung from
himself the _nominal_ crime imputed to him: he might, indeed, have
staggered an old man with a blow, and buried his body in a cave, and
lived ever since upon the money he found upon him, but there was 'no
malice in the case, none at all,' as Peachum says. The very coolness,
subtlety, and circumspection of his defence (as masterly a legal
document as there is upon record) prove that he was guilty of the act,
as much as they prove that he was unconscious of the _crime_.(2) In
the same spirit, and I conceive with great metaphysical truth, Mr.
Coleridge, in his tragedy of _Remorse,_ makes Ordonio (his chief
character) wave the acknowledgment of his meditated guilt to his own
mind, by putting into his mouth that striking soliloquy:

 Say, I had lay'd a body in the sun!
 Well! in a month there swarm forth from the corse
 A thousand, nay, ten thousand sentient beings
 In place of that one man.  Say I had _kill'd_ him!
 Yet who shall tell me, that each one and all
 Of these ten thousand lives Is not as happy
 As that one life, which being push'd aside,
 Made room for these unnumber'd.--Act ii. Sc. 2.

I am not sure, indeed, that I have not got this whole train of
speculation from him; but I should not think the worse of it on that
account. That gentleman, I recollect, once asked me whether I thought
that the different members of a family really liked one another so well,
or had so much attachment, as was generally supposed; and I said that
I conceived the regard they had towards each other was expressed by the
word _interest_ rather than by any other, which he said was the true
answer. I do not know that I could mend it now. Natural affection is
not pleasure in one another's company, nor admiration of one another's
qualities; but it is an intimate and deep knowledge of the things that
affect those to whom we are bound by the nearest ties, with pleasure
or pain; it is an anxious, uneasy fellow-feeling with them, a jealous
watchfulness over their good name, a tender and unconquerable yearning
for their good. The love, in short, we bear them is the nearest to that
we bear ourselves. _Home,_ according to the old saying, _is home, be it
never so homely._ We love ourselves, not according to our deserts, but
our cravings after good: so we love our immediate relations in the next
degree (if not, even sometimes a higher one), because we know best
what they have suffered and what sits nearest to their hearts. We are
implicated, in fact, in their welfare by habit and sympathy, as we are
in our own.

If our devotion to our own interests is much the same as to theirs, we
are ignorant of our own characters for the same reason. We are parties
too much concerned to return a fair verdict, and are too much in
the secret of our own motives or situation not to be able to give a
favourable turn to our actions. We exercise a liberal criticism upon
ourselves, and put off the final decision to a late day. The field is
large and open. Hamlet exclaims, with a noble magnanimity, 'I count
myself indifferent honest, and yet I could accuse me of such things!'
If you could prove to a man that he is a knave, it would not make much
difference in his opinion, his self-love is stronger than his love of
virtue. Hypocrisy is generally used as a mask to deceive the world, not
to impose on ourselves: for once detect the delinquent in his knavery,
and he laughs in your face or glories in his iniquity. This at least
happens except where there is a contradiction in the character, and our
vices are involuntary and at variance with our convictions. One
great difficulty is to distinguish ostensible motives, or such as we
acknowledge to ourselves, from tacit or secret springs of action. A man
changes his opinion readily, he thinks it candour: it is levity of min
 We are callous by custom to our defects or excellences, unless where
vanity steps in to exaggerate or extenuate them. I cannot conceive how
it is that people are in love with their own persons, or astonished at
their own performances, which are but a nine days' wonder to every one
else. In general it may be laid down that we are liable to this twofold
mistake in judging of our own talents: we, in the first place, nurse the
rickety bantling, we think much of that which has cost us much pains
and labour, and comes against the grain; and we also set little store by
what we do with most ease to ourselves, and therefore best. The works of
the greatest genius are produced almost unconsciously, with an ignorance
on the part of the persons themselves that they have done anything
extraordinary. Nature has done it for them. How little Shakespear seems
to have thought of himself or of his fame! Yet, if 'to know another
well were to know one's self,' he must have been acquainted with his
own pretensions and character, 'who knew all qualities with a learned
spirit.' His eye seems never to have been bent upon himself, but
outwards upon nature. A man who thinks highly of himself may almost set
it down that it is without reason. Milton, notwithstanding, appears to
have had a high opinion of himself, and to have made it good. He was
conscious of his powers, and great by design. Perhaps his tenaciousness,
on the score of his own merit, might arise from an early habit of
polemical writing, in which his pretensions were continually called to
the bar of prejudice and party-spirit, and he had to plead not guilty to
the indictment. Some men have died unconscious of immortality, as others
have almost exhausted the sense of it in their lifetimes. Correggio
might be mentioned as an instance of the one, Voltaire of the other.

There is nothing that helps a man in his conduct through life more
than a knowledge of his own characteristic weaknesses (which, guarded
against, become his strength), as there is nothing that tends more
to the success of a man's talents than his knowing the limits of his
faculties, which are thus concentrated on some practicable object. One
man can do but one thing. Universal pretensions end in nothing. Or, as
Butler has it, too much wit requires

 As much again to govern it.

There are those who have gone, for want of this self-knowledge,
strangely out of their way, and others who have never found it. We find
many who succeed in certain departments, and are yet melancholy and
dissatisfied, because they failed in the one to which they first
devoted themselves, like discarded lovers who pine after their scornful
mistress. I will conclude with observing that authors in general
overrate the extent and value of posthumous fame: for what (as it has
been asked) is the amount even of Shakespear's fame? That in that very
country which boasts his genius and his birth, perhaps, scarce one
person in ten has ever heard of his name or read a syllable of his


(1) 'It is not a year or two shows us a man.'--AEmilia, in _Othello._

(2) The bones of the murdered man were dug up in an old hermitage. On
this, as one instance of the acuteness which he displayed all through
the occasion, Aram remarks, 'Where would you expect to find the bones of
a man sooner than in a hermit's cell, except you were to look for them
in a cemetery?'--See _Newgate Calendar_ for the year 1758 or 1759.


(A Fragment)

The natural in visible objects is whatever is ordinarily presented to
the senses: the picturesque is that which stands out and catches the
attention by some striking peculiarity: the _ideal_ is that which
answers to the preconceived imagination and appetite in the mind for
love and beauty. The picturesque depends chiefly on the principle of
discrimination or contrast; the _ideal_ on harmony and continuity of
effect: the one surprises, the other satisfies the mind; the one
starts off from a given point, the other reposes on itself; the one
is determined by an excess of form, the other by a concentration of

The picturesque may be considered as something like an excrescence
on the face of nature. It runs imperceptibly into the fantastical and
grotesque. Fairies and satyrs are picturesque; but they are scarcely
_ideal._ They are an extreme and unique conception of a certain thing,
but not of what the mind delights in or broods fondly over. The image
created by the artist's hand is not moulded and fashioned by the love of
good and yearning after grace and beauty, but rather the contrary: that
is they are ideal deformity, not ideal beauty. Rubens was perhaps the
most picturesque of painters; but he was almost the least _ideal._ So
Rembrandt was (out of sight) the most picturesque of colourists; as
Correggio was the most _ideal._ In other words, his composition of light
and shade is more a whole, more in unison, more blended into the same
harmonious feeling than Rembrandt's, who staggers by contrast, but does
not soothe by gradation. Correggio's forms, indeed, had a picturesque
air; for they often incline (even when most beautiful) to the quaintness
of caricature. Vandyke, I think, was at once the least picturesque and
least _ideal_ of all the great painters. He was purely natural, and
neither selected from outward forms nor added anything from his own
mind. He owes everything to perfect truth, clearness, and transparency;
and though his productions certainly arrest the eye, and strike in a
room full of pictures, it is from the contrast they present to other
pictures, and from being stripped quite naked of all artificial
advantages. They strike almost as a piece of white paper would, hung up
in the same situation--I began with saying that whatever stands out from
a given line, and as it were projects upon the eye, is picturesque; and
this holds true (comparatively) in form and colour. A rough terrier dog,
with the hair bristled and matted together, is picturesque. As we say,
there is a decided character in it, a marked determination to an
extreme point. A shock-dog is odd and disagreeable, but there is nothing
picturesque in its appearance; it is a mere mass of flimsy confusion. A
goat with projecting horns and pendent beard is a picturesque animal; a
sheep is not. A horse is only picturesque from opposition of colour;
as in Mr. Northcote's study of Gadshill, where the white horse's head
coming against the dark, scowling face of the man makes as fine a
contrast as can be imagined. An old stump of a tree with rugged bark,
and one or two straggling branches, a little stunted hedge-row line,
marking the boundary of the horizon, a stubble-field, a winding path,
a rock seen against the sky, are picturesque, because they have all of
them prominence and a distinctive character of their own. They are not
objects (to borrow Shakespear's phrase) 'of no mark or likelihood.'
A country may be beautiful, romantic, or sublime, without being
picturesque. The Lakes in the North of England are not picturesque,
though certainly the most interesting sight in this country. To be a
subject for painting, a prospect must present sharp, striking points of
view or singular forms, or one object must relieve and set off another.
There must be distinct stages and salient points for the eye to rest
upon or start from in its progress over the expanse before it. The
distance of a landscape will oftentimes look flat or heavy, that the
trunk of a tree or a ruin in the foreground would immediately throw
into perspective and turn to air. Rembrandt's landscapes are the least
picturesque in the world, except from the straight lines and sharp
angles, the deep incision and dragging of his pencil, like a harrow
over the ground, and the broad contrast of earth and sky. Earth, in his
copies, is rough and hairy; and Pan has struck his hoof against it!--A
camel is a picturesque ornament in a landscape or history-piece. This is
not merely from its romantic and oriental character; for an elephant has
not the same effect, and if introduced as a necessary appendage, is also
an unwieldy incumbrance. A negro's head in a group is picturesque from
contrast; so are the spots on a panther's hide. This was the principle
that Paul Veronese went upon, who said the rule for composition was
_black upon white, and while upon black._ He was a pretty good judge.
His celebrated picture of the Marriage of Cana is in all likelihood the
completest piece of workmanship extant in the art. When I saw it, it
nearly covered one side of a large room in the Louvre (being itself
forty feet by twenty)--and it seemed as if that side of the apartment
was thrown open, and you looked out at the open sky, at buildings,
marble pillars, galleries with people in them, emperors, female slaves,
Turks, negroes, musicians, all the famous painters of the time, the
tables loaded with viands, goblets, and dogs under them--a sparkling,
overwhelming confusion, a bright, unexpected reality--the only fault
you could find was that no miracle was going on in the faces of the
spectators: the only miracle there was the picture itself! A French
gentleman, who showed me this 'triumph of painting' (as it has been
called), perceiving I was struck with it, observed, 'My wife admires
it exceedingly for the facility of the execution.' I took this proof of
sympathy for a compliment. It is said that when Humboldt, the celebrated
traveller and naturalist, was introduced to Buonaparte, the Emperor
addressed him in these words--_'Vous aimez la botanique, Monsieur'_;
and on the other's replying in the affirmative, added, _'Et ma femme
aussi!'_ This has been found fault with as a piece of brutality and
insolence in the great man by bigoted critics, who do not know what a
thing it is to get a Frenchwoman to agree with them in any point. For my
part, I took the observation as it was meant, and it did not put me out
of conceit with myself or the picture that Madame M----liked it as well
as _Monsieur l'Anglois._ Certainly, there could be no harm in that. By
the side of it happened to be hung two allegorical pictures of Rubens
(and in such matters he too was 'no baby'(1))--I don't remember what the
figures were, but the texture seemed of wool or cotton. The texture
of the Paul Veronese was not wool or cotton, but stuff, jewels, flesh,
marble, air, whatever composed the essence of the varied subjects, in
endless relief and truth of handling. If the Fleming had seen his two
allegories hanging where they did, he would, without a question, have
wished them far enough.

I imagine that Rubens's landscapes are picturesque: Claude's are
_ideal._ Rubens is always in extremes; Claude in the middle. Rubens
carries some one peculiar quality or feature of nature to the utmost
verge of probability: Claude balances and harmonises different forms and
masses with laboured delicacy, so that nothing falls short, no one
thing overpowers another. Rainbows, showers, partial gleams of sunshine,
moonlight, are the means with which Rubens produces his most gorgeous
and enchanting effects: there are neither rainbows, nor showers, nor
sudden bursts of sunshine, nor glittering moonbeams in Claude. He is all
softness and proportion: the other is all spirit and brilliant excess.
The two sides (for example) of one of Claude's landscapes balance one
another, as in a scale of beauty: in Rubens the several objects are
grouped and thrown together with capricious wantonness. Claude has more
repose: Rubens more gaiety and extravagance. And here it might be asked,
Is a rainbow a picturesque or an _ideal_ object? It seems to me to be
both. It is an accident in nature; but it is an inmate of the fancy. It
startles and surprises the sense, but it soothes and tranquillises the
spirit. It makes the eye glisten to behold it, but the mind turns to
it long after it has faded from its place in the sky. It has both
properties, then, of giving an extraordinary impulse to the mind by the
singularity of its appearance, and of riveting the imagination by its
intense beauty. I may just notice here in passing, that I think the
effect of moonlight is treated in an _ideal_ manner in the well-known
line in Shakespear--

 See how the moonlight _sleeps_ upon yon bank.

The image is heightened by the exquisiteness of the expression beyond
its natural beauty, and it seems as if there could be no end to the
delight taken in it.--A number of sheep coming to a pool of water
to drink, with shady trees in the background, the rest of the flock
following them, and the shepherd and his dog left carelessly behind,
is surely the _ideal_ in landscape-composition, if the _ideal_ has its
source in the interest excited by a subject, in its power of drawing the
affections after it linked in a golden chain, and in the desire of the
mind to dwell on it for ever. The _ideal_, in a word, is the height of
the pleasing, that which satisfies and accords with the inmost longing
of the soul: the picturesque is merely a sharper and bolder impression
of reality. A morning mist drawing a slender veil over all objects is
at once picturesque and _ideal_; for it in the first place excites
immediate surprise and admiration, and in the next a wish for it to
continue, and a fear lest it should be too soon dissipated. Is the Cupid
riding on a lion in the ceiling at Whitehall, and urging him with
a spear over a precipice, with only clouds and sky beyond, most
picturesque or _ideal?_ It has every effect of startling contrast and
situation, and yet inspires breathless expectation and wonder for the
event. Rembrandt's Jacob's Dream, again, is both fearful to the eye, but
realising that loftiest vision of the soul. Take two faces in Leonardo
da Vinci's Last Supper, the Judas and the St John: the one is all
strength, repulsive character; the other is all divine grace and mild
sensibility. The individual, the characteristic in painting, is that
_which is_ in a marked manner--the _ideal_ is that which we wish
anything to be, and to contemplate without measure and without end.
The first is truth, the last is good. The one appeals to the sense
and understanding, the other to the will and the affections. The truly
beautiful and grand attracts the mind to it by instinctive harmony, is
absorbed in it, and nothing can ever part them afterwards. Look at
a Madonna of Raphael's: what gives the _ideal_ character to the
expression,--the insatiable purpose of the soul, or its measureless
content in the object of its contemplation? A portrait of Vandyke's is
mere indifference and still-life in the comparison: it has not in it the
principle of growing and still unsatisfied desire. In the _ideal_ there
is no fixed stint or limit but the limit of possibility: it is the
infinite with respect to human capacities and wishes. Love is for this
reason an _ideal_ passion. We give to it our all of hope, of fear, of
present enjoyment, and stake our last chance of happiness wilfully and
desperately upon it. A good authority puts into the mouth of one of his

 My bounty is as boundless as the sea,
 My love as deep!

How many fair catechumens will there be found in all ages to repeat as
much after Shakespear's Juliet!


(1) And surely Mandricardo was no baby. --HARRINGTON's _Ariosto._


 And our little life is rounded with a sleep.

Perhaps the best cure for the fear of death is to reflect that life has
a beginning as well as an end. There was a time when we were not: this
gives us no concern--why, then, should it trouble us that a time will
come when we shall cease to be? I have no wish to have been alive a
hundred years ago, or in the reign of Queen Anne: why should I regret
and lay it so much to heart that I shall not be alive a hundred years
hence, in the reign of I cannot tell whom?

When Bickerstaff wrote his Essays I knew nothing of the subjects
of them; nay, much later, and but the other day, as it were, in the
beginning of the reign of George III., when Goldsmith, Johnson, Burke,
used to meet at the Globe, when Garrick was in his glory, and Reynolds
was over head and ears with his portraits, and Sterne brought out the
volumes of _Tristram Shandy_ year by year, it was without consulting me:
I had not the slightest intimation of what was going on: the debates
in the House of Commons on the American War, or the firing at Bunker's
Hill, disturbed not me: yet I thought this no evil--I neither ate,
drank, nor was merry, yet I did not complain: I had not then looked out
into this breathing world, yet I was well; and the world did quite as
well without me as I did without it! Why, then, should I make all this
outcry about parting with it, and being no worse off than I was before?
There is nothing in the recollection that at a certain time we were not
come into the world that 'the gorge rises at'--why should we revolt at
the idea that we must one day go out of it? To die is only to be as we
were before we were born; yet no one feels any remorse, or regret, or
repugnance, in contemplating this last idea. It is rather a relief and
disburthening of the mind: it seems to have been holiday-time with us
then: we were not called to appear upon the stage of life, to wear
robes or tatters, to laugh or cry, be hooted or applauded; we had lain
_perdus_ all this while, snug, out of harm's way; and had slept out our
thousands of centuries without wanting to be waked up; at peace and free
from care, in a long nonage, in a sleep deeper and calmer than that of
infancy, wrapped in the softest and finest dust. And the worst that we
dread is, after a short, fretful, feverish being, after vain hopes and
idle fears, to sink to final repose again, and forget the troubled dream
of life!... Ye armed men, knights templars, that sleep in the stone
aisles of that old Temple church, where all is silent above, and where
a deeper silence reigns below (not broken by the pealing organ), are ye
not contented where ye lie? Or would you come out of your long homes to
go to the Holy War? Or do ye complain that pain no longer visits you,
that sickness has done its worst, that you have paid the last debt to
nature, that you hear no more of the thickening phalanx of the foe, or
your lady's waning love; and that while this ball of earth rolls its
eternal round, no sound shall ever pierce through to disturb your
lasting repose, fixed as the marble over your tombs, breathless as the
grave that holds you! And thou, oh! thou, to whom my heart turns, and
will turn while it has feeling left, who didst love in vain, and whose
first was thy last sigh, wilt not thou too rest in peace (or wilt thou
cry to me complaining from thy clay-cold bed) when that sad heart is no
longer sad, and that sorrow is dead which thou wert only called into the
world to feel!

It is certain that there is nothing in the idea of a pre-existent state
that excites our longing like the prospect of a posthumous existence.
We are satisfied to have begun life when we did; we have no ambition
to have set out on our journey sooner; and feel that we have had quite
enough to do to battle our way through since. We cannot say,

 The wars we well remember of King Nine,
 Of old Assaracus and Inachus divine.

Neither have we any wish: we are contented to read of them in story, and
to stand and gaze at the vast sea of time that separates us from them.
It was early days then: the world was not _well-aired_ enough for us: we
have no inclination to have been up and stirring. We do not consider the
six thousand years of the world before we were born as so much time lost
to us: we are perfectly indifferent about the matter. We do not grieve
and lament that we did not happen to be in time to see the grand mask
and pageant of human life going on in all that period; though we are
mortified at being obliged to quit our stand before the rest of the
procession passes.

It may be suggested in explanation of this difference, that we know from
various records and traditions what happened in the time of Queen Anne,
or even in the reigns of the Assyrian monarchs, but that we have no
means of ascertaining what is to happen hereafter but by awaiting the
event, and that our eagerness and curiosity are sharpened in proportion
as we are in the dark about it. This is not at all the case; for at that
rate we should be constantly wishing to make a voyage of discovery to
Greenland or to the Moon, neither of which we have, in general, the
least desire to do. Neither, in truth, have we any particular solicitude
to pry into the secrets of futurity, but as a pretext for prolonging our
own existence. It is not so much that we care to be alive a hundred or
a thousand years hence, any more than to have been alive a hundred or
a thousand years ago: but the thing lies here, that we would all of us
wish the present moment to last for ever. We would be as we are, and
would have the world remain just as it is, to please us.

 The present eye catches the present object--

to have and to hold while it may; and abhors, on any terms, to have it
torn from us, and nothing left in its room. It is the pang of parting,
the unloosing our grasp, the breaking asunder some strong tie, the
leaving some cherished purpose unfulfilled, that creates the repugnance
to go, and 'makes calamity of so long life,' as it often is.

  O! thou strong heart!
 There's such a covenant 'twixt the world and thee
 They're loth to break!

The love of life, then, is an habitual attachment, not an abstract
principle. Simply _to be_ does not 'content man's natural desire': we
long to be in a certain time, place, and circumstance. We would much
rather be now, 'on this bank and shoal of time,' than have our choice of
any future period, than take a slice of fifty or sixty years out of the
Millennium, for instance. This shows that our attachment is not confined
either to _being_ or to _well-being_; but that we have an inveterate
prejudice in favour of our immediate existence, such as it is. The
mountaineer will not leave his rock, nor the savage his hut; neither are
we willing to give up our present mode of life, with all its advantages
and disadvantages, for any other that could be substituted for it. No
man would, I think, exchange his existence with any other man, however
fortunate. We had as lief _not be_, as _not be ourselves_. There are
some persons of that reach of soul that they would like to live two
hundred and fifty years hence, to see to what height of empire America
will have grown up in that period, or whether the English constitution
will last so long. These are points beyond me. But I confess I should
like to live to see the downfall of the Bourbons. That is a vital
question with me; and I shall like it the better, the sooner it happens!

No young man ever thinks he shall die. He may believe that others will,
or assent to the doctrine that 'all men are mortal' as an abstract
proposition, but he is far enough from bringing it home to himself
individually.(1) Youth, buoyant activity, and animal spirits, hold
absolute antipathy with old age as well as with death; nor have we, in
the hey-day of life, any more than in the thoughtlessness of childhood,
the remotest conception how

 This sensible warm motion can become
 A kneaded clod--

nor how sanguine, florid health and vigour, shall 'turn to withered,
weak, and grey.' Or if in a moment of idle speculation we indulge in
this notion of the close of life as a theory, it is amazing at what a
distance it seems; what a long, leisurely interval there is between;
what a contrast its slow and solemn approach affords to our present gay
dreams of existence! We eye the farthest verge of the horizon, and
think what a way we shall have to look back upon, ere we arrive at our
journey's end; and without our in the least suspecting it, the mists are
at our feet, and the shadows of age encompass us. The two divisions of
our lives have melted into each other: the extreme points close and meet
with none of that romantic interval stretching out between them that
we had reckoned upon; and for the rich, melancholy, solemn hues of
age, 'the sear, the yellow leaf,' the deepening shadows of an autumnal
evening, we only feel a dank, cold mist, encircling all objects, after
the spirit of youth is fled. There is no inducement to look forward;
and what is worse, little interest in looking back to what has become
so trite and common. The pleasures of our existence have worn
themselves out, are 'gone into the wastes of time,' or have turned their
indifferent side to us: the pains by their repeated blows have worn us
out, and have left us neither spirit nor inclination to encounter them
again in retrospect. We do not want to rip up old grievances, nor to
renew our youth like the phoenix, nor to live our lives twice over. Once
is enough. As the tree falls, so let it lie. Shut up the book and close
the account once for all!

It has been thought by some that life is like the exploring of a
passage that grows narrower and darker the farther we advance, without
a possibility of ever turning back, and where we are stifled for want of
breath at last. For myself, I do not complain of the greater thickness
of the atmosphere as I approach the narrow house. I felt it more
formerly,(2) when the idea alone seemed to suppress a thousand rising
hopes, and weighed upon the pulses of the blood. At present I rather
feel a thinness and want of support, I stretch out my hand to some
object and find none, I am too much in a world of abstraction; the naked
map of life is spread out before me, and in the emptiness and desolation
I see Death coming to meet me. In my youth I could not behold him for
the crowd of objects and feelings, and Hope stood always between us,
saying, 'Never mind that old fellow!' If I had lived indeed, I should
not care to die. But I do not like a contract of pleasure broken off
unfulfilled, a marriage with joy unconsummated, a promise of happiness
rescinded. My public and private hopes have been left a ruin, or remain
only to mock me. I would wish them to be re-edified. I should like to
see some prospect of good to mankind, such as my life began with. I
should like to leave some sterling work behind me. I should like to have
some friendly hand to consign me to the grave. On these conditions I
am ready, if not willing, to depart. I shall then write on my
tomb--GRATEFUL AND CONTENTED! But I have thought and suffered too much
to be willing to have thought and suffered in vain.--In looking back, it
sometimes appears to me as if I had in a manner slept out my life in a
dream or shadow on the side of the hill of knowledge, where I have fed
on books, on thoughts, on pictures, and only heard in half-murmurs the
trampling of busy feet, or the noises of the throng below. Waked out
of this dim, twilight existence, and startled with the passing scene, I
have felt a wish to descend to the world of realities, and join in the
chase. But I fear too late, and that I had better return to my bookish
chimeras and indolence once more! _Zanetto, lascia le donne, et studia
la matematica._ I will think of it.

It is not wonderful that the contemplation and fear of death become more
familiar to us as we approach nearer to it: that life seems to ebb with
the decay of blood and youthful spirits; and that as we find everything
about us subject to chance and change, as our strength and beauty die,
as our hopes and passions, our friends and our affections leave us, we
begin by degrees to feel ourselves mortal!

I have never seen death but once, and that was in an infant. It is years
ago. The look was calm and placid, and the face was fair and firm. It
was as if a waxen image had been laid out in the coffin, and strewed
with innocent flowers. It was not like death, but more like an image
of life! No breath moved the lips, no pulse stirred, no sight or sound
would enter those eyes or ears more. While I looked at it, I saw no pain
was there; it seemed to smile at the short pang of life which was over:
but I could not bear the coffin-lid to be closed--it seemed to stifle
me; and still as the nettles wave in a corner of the churchyard over
his little grave, the welcome breeze helps to refresh me, and ease the
tightness at my breast!

An ivory or marble image, like Chantry's monument of the two children,
is contemplated with pure delight. Why do we not grieve and fret that
the marble is not alive, or fancy that it has a shortness of breath? It
never was alive; and it is the difficulty of making the transition from
life to death, the struggle between the two in our imagination, that
confounds their properties painfully together, and makes us conceive
that the infant that is but just dead, still wants to breathe, to enjoy,
and look about it, and is prevented by the icy hand of death, locking up
its faculties and benumbing its senses; so that, if it could, it
would complain of its own hard state. Perhaps religious considerations
reconcile the mind to this change sooner than any others, by
representing the spirit as fled to another sphere, and leaving the body
behind it. So in reflecting on death generally, we mix up the idea of
life with it, and thus make it the ghastly monster it is. We think, how
we should feel, not how the dead feel.

 Still from the tomb the voice of nature cries;
 Even in our ashes live their wonted fires!

There is an admirable passage on this subject in Tucker's _Light
of Nature Pursued_, which I shall transcribe, as by much the best
illustration I can offer of it.

'The melancholy appearance of a lifeless body, the mansion provided
for it to inhabit, dark, cold, close and solitary, are shocking to the
imagination; but it is to the imagination only, not the understanding;
for whoever consults this faculty will see at first glance, that there
is nothing dismal in all these circumstances: if the corpse were kept
wrapped up in a warm bed, with a roasting fire in the chamber, it would
feel no comfortable warmth therefrom; were store of tapers lighted up as
soon as day shuts in, it would see no objects to divert it; were it left
at large it would have no liberty, nor if surrounded with company would
be cheered thereby; neither are the distorted features expressions of
pain, uneasiness, or distress. This every one knows, and will readily
allow upon being suggested, yet still cannot behold, nor even cast a
thought upon those objects without shuddering; for knowing that a
living person must suffer grievously under such appearances, they become
habitually formidable to the mind, and strike a mechanical horror, which
is increased by the customs of the world around us.'

There is usually one pang added voluntarily and unnecessarily to the
fear of death, by our affecting to compassionate the loss which others
will have in us. If that were all, we might reasonably set our minds at
rest. The pathetic exhortation on country tombstones, 'Grieve not for
me, my wife and children dear,' etc., is for the most part speedily
followed to the letter. We do not leave so great a void in society as
we are inclined to imagine, partly to magnify our own importance, and
partly to console ourselves by sympathy. Even in the same family the gap
is not so great; the wound closes up sooner than we should expect. Nay,
_our room_ is not unfrequently thought better than _our company._ People
walk along the streets the day after our deaths just as they did before,
and the crowd is not diminished. While we were living, the world seemed
in a manner to exist only for us, for our delight and amusement, because
it contributed to them. But our hearts cease to beat, and it goes on
as usual, and thinks no more about us than it did in our lifetime. The
million are devoid of sentiment, and care as little for you or me as if
we belonged to the moon. We live the week over in the Sunday's paper,
or are decently interred in some obituary at the month's end! It is
not surprising that we are forgotten so soon after we quit this mortal
stage; we are scarcely noticed while we are on it. It is not merely that
our names are not known in China--they have hardly been heard of in
the next street. We are hand and glove with the universe, and think the
obligation is mutual. This is an evident fallacy. If this, however, does
not trouble us now, it will not hereafter. A handful of dust can have
no quarrel to pick with its neighbours, or complaint to make against
Providence, and might well exclaim, if it had but an understanding and
a tongue, 'Go thy ways, old world, swing round in blue ether, voluble to
every age, you and I shall no more jostle!'

It is amazing how soon the rich and titled, and even some of those who
have wielded great political power, are forgotten.

 A little rule, a little sway,
 Is all the great and mighty have
 Betwixt the cradle and the grave--

and, after its short date, they hardly leave a name behind them. 'A
great man's memory may, at the common rate, survive him half a year.'
His heirs and successors take his titles, his power, and his wealth--all
that made him considerable or courted by others; and he has left nothing
else behind him either to delight or benefit the world. Posterity are
not by any means so disinterested as they are supposed to be. They give
their gratitude and admiration only in return for benefits conferred.
They cherish the memory of those to whom they are indebted for
instruction and delight; and they cherish it just in proportion to the
instruction and delight they are conscious they receive. The sentiment
of admiration springs immediately from this ground, and cannot be
otherwise than well founded.(3)

The effeminate clinging to life as such, as a general or abstract idea,
is the effect of a highly civilised and artificial state of society. Men
formerly plunged into all the vicissitudes and dangers of war, or staked
their all upon a single die, or some one passion, which if they could
not have gratified, life became a burden to them--now our strongest
passion is to think, our chief amusement is to read new plays, new
poems, new novels, and this we may do at our leisure, in perfect
security, _ad infinitum_. If we look into the old histories and
romances, before the _belles-lettres_ neutralised human affairs and
reduced passion to a state of mental equivocation, we find the heroes
and heroines not setting their lives 'at a pin's fee,' but rather
courting opportunities of throwing them away in very wantonness of
spirit. They raise their fondness for some favourite pursuit to its
height, to a pitch of madness, and think no price too dear to pay for
its full gratification. Everything else is dross. They go to death as to
a bridal bed, and sacrifice themselves or others without remorse at the
shrine of love, of honour, of religion, or any other prevailing feeling.
Romeo runs his 'sea-sick, weary bark upon the rocks' of death the
instant he finds himself deprived of his Juliet; and she clasps his
neck in their last agonies, and follows him to the same fatal shore. One
strong idea takes possession of the mind and overrules every other;
and even life itself, joyless without that, becomes an object of
indifference or loathing. There is at least more of imagination in such
a state of things, more vigour of feeling and promptitude to act, than
in our lingering, languid, protracted attachment to life for its own
poor sake. It is, perhaps, also better, as well as more heroical, to
strike at some daring or darling object, and if we fail in that, to
take the consequences manfully, than to renew the lease of a tedious,
spiritless, charmless existence, merely (as Pierre says) 'to lose it
afterwards in some vile brawl' for some worthless object. Was there
not a spirit of martyrdom as well as a spice of the reckless energy of
barbarism in this bold defiance of death? Had not religion something to
do with it: the implicit belief in a future life, which rendered this of
less value, and embodied something beyond it to the imagination; so
that the rough soldier, the infatuated lover, the valorous knight, etc.,
could afford to throw away the present venture, and take a leap into the
arms of futurity, which the modern sceptic shrinks back from, with all
his boasted reason and vain philosophy, weaker than a woman! I cannot
help thinking so myself; but I have endeavoured to explain this point
before, and will not enlarge farther on it here.

A life of action and danger moderates the dread of death. It not only
gives us fortitude to bear pain, but teaches us at every step the
precarious tenure on which we hold our present being. Sedentary and
studious men are the most apprehensive on this score. Dr. Johnson was
an instance in point. A few years seemed to him soon over, compared with
those sweeping contemplations on time and infinity with which he had
been used to pose himself. In the _still-life_ of a man of letters there
was no obvious reason for a change. He might sit in an arm-chair and
pour out cups of tea to all eternity. Would it had been possible for him
to do so! The most rational cure after all for the inordinate fear of
death is to set a just value on life. If we merely wish to continue on
the scene to indulge our headstrong humours and tormenting passions,
we had better begone at once; and if we only cherish a fondness for
existence according to the good we derive from it, the pang we feel at
parting with it will not be very severe!


(1) All men think all men mortal but themselves.

(2) I remember once, In particular, having this feeling in reading
Schiller's _Don Carlos_, where there is a description of death, in a
degree that almost stifled me.

(3) It has been usual to raise a very unjust clamour against the
enormous salaries of public singers, actors, and so on. This matter
seems reducible to a moral equation. They are paid out of money raised
by voluntary contributions in the strictest sense; and if they did not
bring certain sums into the treasury, the managers would not engage
them. These sums are exactly in proportion to the number of Individuals
to whom their performance gives an extraordinary degree of pleasure. The
talents of a singer, actor, etc., are therefore worth just as much as
they will fetch.

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