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Title: Appreciations, with an Essay on Style
Author: Pater, Walter, 1839-1894
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Appreciations, with an Essay on Style" ***

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APPRECIATIONS, WITH AN ESSAY ON STYLE

By WALTER HORATIO PATER



E-text Editor: Alfred J. Drake, Ph.D. Electronic Version 1.0 / Date
10-12-01


NOTES BY THE E-TEXT EDITOR:

Reliability: Although I have done my best to ensure that the text you
read is error-free in comparison with an exact reprint of the standard
edition--Macmillan's 1910 Library Edition--please exercise scholarly
caution in using it.  It is not intended as a substitute for the
printed original but rather as a searchable supplement. My e-texts may
prove convenient substitutes for hard-to-get works in a course where
both instructor and students accept the possibility of some
imperfections in the text, but if you are writing a scholarly article,
dissertation, or book, you should use the standard hard-copy editions
of any works you cite.

Pagination and Paragraphing: To avoid an unwieldy electronic copy, I
have transferred original pagination to brackets.  A bracketed numeral
such as [22] indicates that the material immediately following the
number marks the beginning of the relevant page.  I have preserved
paragraph structure except for first-line indentation.

Hyphenation: I have not preserved original hyphenation since an e-text
does not require line-end or page-end hyphenation.

Greek typeface: For this full-text edition, I have transliterated
Pater's Greek quotations.  If there is a need for the original Greek,
it can be viewed at my site, http://www.ajdrake.com/etexts, a
Victorianist archive that contains the complete works of Walter Pater
and many other nineteenth-century texts, mostly in first editions.



CONTENTS

Style: 5-38

Wordsworth: 39-64

Coleridge: 65-104

Charles Lamb: 105-123

Sir Thomas Browne: 124-160

"Love's Labours Lost": 161-169

"Measure for Measure": 170-184

Shakespeare's English Kings: 185-204

Dante Gabriel Rossetti: 205-218

Feuillet's "La Morte": 219-240

Postscript: 241-261



APPRECIATIONS


STYLE

[5] SINCE all progress of mind consists for the most part in
differentiation, in the resolution of an obscure and complex object
into its component aspects, it is surely the stupidest of losses to
confuse things which right reason has put asunder, to lose the sense of
achieved distinctions, the distinction between poetry and prose, for
instance, or, to speak more exactly, between the laws and
characteristic excellences of verse and prose composition.  On the
other hand, those who have dwelt most emphatically on the distinction
between prose and verse, prose and poetry, may sometimes have been
tempted to limit the proper functions of prose too narrowly; and this
again is at least false economy, as being, in effect, the renunciation
of a certain means or faculty, in a world where after all we must needs
make the most of things.  Critical efforts to limit art a priori, by
anticipations regarding the natural incapacity of the material with
which this or that artist works, as the sculptor with solid form, or
the prose-writer with the ordinary [6] language of men, are always
liable to be discredited by the facts of artistic production; and while
prose is actually found to be a coloured thing with Bacon, picturesque
with Livy and Carlyle, musical with Cicero and Newman, mystical and
intimate with Plato and Michelet and Sir Thomas Browne, exalted or
florid, it may be, with Milton and Taylor, it will be useless to
protest that it can be nothing at all, except something very tamely and
narrowly confined to mainly practical ends--a kind of  "good
round-hand;" as useless as the protest that poetry might not touch
prosaic subjects as with Wordsworth, or an abstruse matter as with
Browning, or treat contemporary life nobly as with Tennyson.  In
subordination to one essential beauty in all good literary style, in
all literature as a fine art, as there are many beauties of poetry so
the beauties of prose are many, and it is the business of criticism to
estimate them as such; as it is good in the criticism of verse to look
for those hard, logical, and quasi-prosaic excellences which that too
has, or needs.  To find in the poem, amid the flowers, the allusions,
the mixed perspectives, of Lycidas for instance, the thought, the
logical structure:--how wholesome! how delightful! as to identify in
prose what we call the poetry, the imaginative power, not treating it
as out of place and a kind of vagrant intruder, but by way of an
estimate of its rights, that is, of its achieved powers, there.

[7] Dryden, with the characteristic instinct of his age, loved to
emphasise the distinction between poetry and prose, the protest against
their confusion with each other, coming with somewhat diminished effect
from one whose poetry was so prosaic.  In truth, his sense of prosaic
excellence affected his verse rather than his prose, which is not only
fervid, richly figured, poetic, as we say, but vitiated, all
unconsciously, by many a scanning line.  Setting up correctness, that
humble merit of prose, as the central literary excellence, he is really
a less correct writer than he may seem, still with an imperfect mastery
of the relative pronoun.  It might have been foreseen that, in the
rotations of mind, the province of poetry in prose would find its
assertor; and, a century after Dryden, amid very different intellectual
needs, and with the need therefore of great modifications in literary
form, the range of the poetic force in literature was effectively
enlarged by Wordsworth.  The true distinction between prose and poetry
he regarded as the almost technical or accidental one of the absence or
presence of metrical beauty, or, say! metrical restraint; and for him
the opposition came to be between verse and prose of course; but, as
the essential dichotomy in this matter, between imaginative and
unimaginative writing, parallel to De Quincey's distinction between
"the literature of power and the literature of knowledge," in the
former of which the composer gives us [8] not fact, but his peculiar
sense of fact, whether past or present.

Dismissing then, under sanction of Wordsworth, that harsher opposition
of poetry to prose, as savouring in fact of the arbitrary psychology of
the last century, and with it the prejudice that there can be but one
only beauty of prose style, I propose here to point out certain
qualities of all literature as a fine art, which, if they apply to the
literature of fact, apply still more to the literature of the
imaginative sense of fact, while they apply indifferently to verse and
prose, so far as either is really imaginative--certain conditions of
true art in both alike, which conditions may also contain in them the
secret of the proper discrimination and guardianship of the peculiar
excellences of either.

The line between fact and something quite different from external fact
is, indeed, hard to draw.  In Pascal, for instance, in the persuasive
writers generally, how difficult to define the point where, from time
to time, argument which, if it is to be worth anything at all, must
consist of facts or groups of facts, becomes a pleading--a theorem no
longer, but essentially an appeal to the reader to catch the writer's
spirit, to think with him, if one can or will--an expression no longer
of fact but of his sense of it, his peculiar intuition of a world,
prospective, or discerned below the faulty conditions of the present,
in either case changed somewhat from the actual [9] world.  In science,
on the other hand, in history so far as it conforms to scientific rule,
we have a literary domain where the imagination may be thought to be
always an intruder.  And as, in all science, the functions of
literature reduce themselves eventually to the transcribing of fact, so
all the excellences of literary form in regard to science are reducible
to various kinds of pains-taking; this good quality being involved in
all "skilled work" whatever, in the drafting of an act of parliament,
as in sewing.  Yet here again, the writer's sense of fact, in history
especially, and in all those complex subjects which do but lie on the
borders of science, will still take the place of fact, in various
degrees.  Your historian, for instance, with absolutely truthful
intention, amid the multitude of facts presented to him must needs
select, and in selecting assert something of his own humour, something
that comes not of the world without but of a vision within.  So Gibbon
moulds his unwieldy material to a preconceived view.  Livy, Tacitus,
Michelet, moving full of poignant sensibility amid the records of the
past, each, after his own sense, modifies--who can tell where and to
what degree?--and becomes something else than a transcriber; each, as
he thus modifies, passing into the domain of art proper.  For just in
proportion as the writer's aim, consciously or unconsciously, comes to
be the transcribing, not of the world, not of mere fact, but of his
sense [10] of it, he becomes an artist, his work fine art; and good art
(as I hope ultimately to show) in proportion to the truth of his
presentment of that sense; as in those humbler or plainer functions of
literature also, truth--truth to bare fact, there--is the essence of
such artistic quality as they may have.  Truth! there can be no merit,
no craft at all, without that.  And further, all beauty is in the long
run only fineness of truth, or what we call expression, the finer
accommodation of speech to that vision within.

--The transcript of his sense of fact rather than the fact, as being
preferable, pleasanter, more beautiful to the writer himself.  In
literature, as in every other product of human skill, in the moulding
of a bell or a platter for instance, wherever this sense asserts
itself, wherever the producer so modifies his work as, over and above
its primary use or intention, to make it pleasing (to himself, of
course, in the first instance) there, "fine" as opposed to merely
serviceable art, exists.  Literary art, that is, like all art which is
in any way imitative or reproductive of fact--form, or colour, or
incident--is the representation of such fact as connected with soul, of
a specific personality, in its preferences, its volition and power.

Such is the matter of imaginative or artistic literature--this
transcript, not of mere fact, but of fact in its infinite variety, as
modified by human preference in all its infinitely varied [11] forms.
It will be good literary art not because it is brilliant or sober, or
rich, or impulsive, or severe, but just in proportion as its
representation of that sense, that soul-fact, is true, verse being only
one department of such literature, and imaginative prose, it may be
thought, being the special art of the modern world.  That imaginative
prose should be the special and opportune art of the modern world
results from two important facts about the latter: first, the chaotic
variety and complexity of its interests, making the intellectual issue,
the really master currents of the present time incalculable--a
condition of mind little susceptible of the restraint proper to verse
form, so that the most characteristic verse of the nineteenth century
has been lawless verse; and secondly, an all-pervading naturalism, a
curiosity about everything whatever as it really is, involving a
certain humility of attitude, cognate to what must, after all, be the
less ambitious form of literature.  And prose thus asserting itself as
the special and privileged artistic faculty of the present day, will
be, however critics may try to narrow its scope, as varied in its
excellence as humanity itself reflecting on the facts of its latest
experience--an instrument of many stops, meditative, observant,
descriptive, eloquent, analytic, plaintive, fervid.  Its beauties will
be not exclusively "pedestrian": it will exert, in due measure, all the
varied charms of poetry, down to the rhythm which, as in Cicero, [12]
or Michelet, or Newman, at their best, gives its musical value to every
syllable.*

The literary artist is of necessity a scholar, and in what he .
proposes to do will have in mind, first of all, the scholar and the
scholarly conscience--the male conscience in this matter, as we must
think it, under a system of education which still to so large an extent
limits real scholarship to men.  In his self-criticism, he supposes
always that sort of reader who will go (full of eyes) warily,
considerately, though without consideration for him, over the ground
which the female conscience traverses so lightly, so amiably. For the
material in which he works is no more a creation of his own than the
sculptor's marble.  Product of a myriad various minds and contending
tongues, compact of obscure and minute association, a language has its
own abundant and often recondite laws, in the habitual and summary
recognition of which scholarship consists.  A writer, full of a matter
he is before all things anxious to express, may think of those laws,
the limitations of vocabulary, structure, and the like, as a
restriction, but if a [13] real artist will find in them an
opportunity. His punctilious observance of the proprieties of his
medium will diffuse through all he writes a general air of sensibility,
of refined usage.  Exclusiones debitae--the exclusions, or rejections,
which nature demands--we know how large a part these play, according to
Bacon, in the science of nature.  In a somewhat changed sense, we might
say that the art of the scholar is summed up in the observance of those
rejections demanded by the nature of his medium, the material he must
use.  Alive to the value of an atmosphere in which every term finds its
utmost degree of expression, and with all the jealousy of a lover of
words, he will resist a constant tendency on the part of the majority
of those who use them to efface the distinctions of language, the
facility of writers often reinforcing in this respect the work of the
vulgar.  He will feel the obligation not of the laws only, but of those
affinities, avoidances, those mere preferences, of his language, which
through the associations of literary history have become a part of its
nature, prescribing the rejection of many a neology, many a license,
many a gipsy phrase which might present itself as actually expressive.
His appeal, again, is to the scholar, who has great experience in
literature, and will show no favour to short-cuts, or hackneyed
illustration, or an affectation of learning designed for the unlearned.
Hence a contention, a sense [14] of self-restraint and renunciation,
having for the susceptible reader the effect of a challenge for minute
consideration; the attention of the writer, in every minutest detail,
being a pledge that it is worth the reader's while to be attentive too,
that the writer is dealing scrupulously with his instrument, and
therefore, indirectly, with the reader himself also, that he has the
science of the instrument he plays on, perhaps, after all, with a
freedom which in such case will be the freedom of a master.

For meanwhile, braced only by those restraints, he is really
vindicating his liberty in the making of a vocabulary, an entire system
of composition, for himself, his own true manner; and when we speak of
the manner of a true master we mean what is essential in his art.
Pedantry being only the scholarship of le cuistre (we have no English
equivalent) he is no pedant, and does but show his intelligence of the
rules of language in his freedoms with it, addition or expansion, which
like the spontaneities of manner in a well-bred person will still
further illustrate good taste.--The right vocabulary!  Translators have
not invariably seen how all-important that is in the work of
translation, driving for the most part at idiom or construction;
whereas, if the original be first-rate, one's first care should be with
its elementary particles, Plato, for instance, being often reproducible
by an exact following, with no variation in structure, of word after
word, as [15] the pencil follows a drawing under tracing-paper, so only
each word or syllable be not of false colour, to change my illustration
a little.

Well! that is because any writer worth translating at all has winnowed
and searched through his vocabulary, is conscious of the words he would
select in systematic reading of a dictionary, and still more of the
words he would reject were the dictionary other than Johnson's; and
doing this with his peculiar sense of the world ever in view, in search
of an instrument for the adequate expression of that, he begets a
vocabulary faithful to the colouring of his own spirit, and in the
strictest sense original.  That living authority which language needs
lies, in truth, in its scholars, who recognising always that every
language possesses a genius, a very fastidious genius, of its own,
expand at once and purify its very elements, which must needs change
along with the changing thoughts of living people.  Ninety years ago,
for instance, great mental force, certainly, was needed by Wordsworth,
to break through the consecrated poetic associations of a century, and
speak the language that was his, that was to become in a measure the
language of the next generation.  But he did it with the tact of a
scholar also.  English, for a quarter of a century past, has been
assimilating the phraseology of pictorial art; for half a century, the
phraseology of the great German metaphysical movement of eighty years
ago; in part also the [16] language of mystical theology: and none but
pedants will regret a great consequent increase of its resources.  For
many years to come its enterprise may well lie in the naturalisation of
the vocabulary of science, so only it be under the eye of a sensitive
scholarship--in a liberal naturalisation of the ideas of science too,
for after all the chief stimulus of good style is to possess a full,
rich, complex matter to grapple with.  The literary artist, therefore,
will be well aware of physical science; science also attaining, in its
turn, its true literary ideal.  And then, as the scholar is nothing
without the historic sense, he will be apt to restore not really
obsolete or really worn-out words, but the finer edge of words still in
use: ascertain, communicate, discover--words like these it has been
part of our "business" to misuse.  And still, as language was made for
man, he will be no authority for correctnesses which, limiting freedom
of utterance, were yet but accidents in their origin; as if one vowed
not to say "its," which ought to have been in Shakespeare; "his"
"hers," for inanimate objects, being but a barbarous and really
inexpressive survival.  Yet we have known many things like this.  Racy
Saxon monosyllables, close to us as touch and sight, he will intermix
readily with those long, savoursome, Latin words, rich in "second
intention."  In this late day certainly, no critical process can be
conducted reasonably without eclecticism.  Of [17] such eclecticism we
have a justifying example in one of the first poets of our time.  How
illustrative of monosyllabic effect, of sonorous Latin, of the
phraseology of science, of metaphysic, of colloquialism even, are the
writings of Tennyson; yet with what a fine, fastidious scholarship
throughout!

A scholar writing for the scholarly, he will of course leave something
to the willing intelligence of his reader.  "To go preach to the first
passer-by," says Montaigne, "to become tutor to the ignorance of the
first I meet, is a thing I abhor;" a thing, in fact, naturally
distressing to the scholar, who will therefore ever be shy of offering
uncomplimentary assistance to the reader's wit.  To really strenuous
minds there is a pleasurable stimulus in the challenge for a continuous
effort on their part, to be rewarded by securer and more intimate grasp
of the author's sense.  Self-restraint, a skilful economy of means,
ascêsis, that too has a beauty of its own; and for the reader supposed
there will be an aesthetic satisfaction in that frugal closeness of
style which makes the most of a word, in the exaction from every
sentence of a precise relief, in the just spacing out of word to
thought, in the logically filled space connected always with the
delightful sense of difficulty overcome.

Different classes of persons, at different times, make, of course, very
various demands upon literature.  Still, scholars, I suppose, and not
[18] only scholars, but all disinterested lovers of books, will always
look to it, as to all other fine art, for a refuge, a sort of cloistral
refuge, from a certain vulgarity in the actual world.  A perfect poem
like Lycidas, a perfect fiction like Esmond, the perfect handling of a
theory like Newman's Idea of a University, has for them something of
the uses of a religious "retreat."  Here, then, with a view to the
central need of a select few, those "men of a finer thread" who have
formed and maintain the literary ideal, everything, every component
element, will have undergone exact trial, and, above all, there will be
no uncharacteristic or tarnished or vulgar decoration, permissible
ornament being for the most part structural, or necessary.  As the
painter in his picture, so the artist in his book, aims at the
production by honourable artifice of a peculiar atmosphere.  "The
artist," says Schiller, "may be known rather by what he omits"; and in
literature, too, the true artist may be best recognised by his tact of
omission.  For to the grave reader words too are grave; and the
ornamental word, the figure, the accessory form or colour or reference,
is rarely content to die to thought precisely at the right moment, but
will inevitably linger awhile, stirring a long "brain-wave" behind it
of perhaps quite alien associations.

Just there, it may be, is the detrimental tendency of the sort of
scholarly attentiveness [19] of mind I am recommending.  But the true
artist allows for it.  He will remember that, as the very word ornament
indicates what is in itself non-essential, so the "one beauty" of all
literary style is of its very essence, and independent, in prose and
verse alike, of all removable decoration; that it may exist in its
fullest lustre, as in Flaubert's Madame Bovary, for instance, or in
Stendhal's Le Rouge et Le Noir, in a composition utterly unadorned,
with hardly a single suggestion of visibly beautiful things.  Parallel,
allusion, the allusive way generally, the flowers in the garden:--he
knows the narcotic force of these upon the negligent intelligence to
which any diversion, literally, is welcome, any vagrant intruder,
because one can go wandering away with it from the immediate subject.
Jealous, if he have a really quickening motive within, of all that does
not hold directly to that, of the facile, the otiose, he will never
depart from the strictly pedestrian process, unless he gains a
ponderable something thereby.  Even assured of its congruity, he will
still question its serviceableness.  Is it worth while, can we afford,
to attend to just that, to just that figure or literary reference, just
then?--Surplusage! he will dread that, as the runner on his muscles.
For in truth all art does but consist in the removal of surplusage,
from the last finish of the gem-engraver blowing away the last particle
of invisible dust, back to the earliest divination of [20] the finished
work to be, lying somewhere, according to Michelangelo's fancy, in the
rough-hewn block of stone.

And what applies to figure or flower must be understood of all other
accidental or removable ornaments of writing whatever; and not of
specific ornament only, but of all that latent colour and imagery which
language as such carries in it.  A lover of words for their own sake,
to whom nothing about them is unimportant, a minute and constant
observer of their physiognomy, he will be on the alert not only for
obviously mixed metaphors of course, but for the metaphor that is mixed
in all our speech, though a rapid use may involve no cognition of it.
Currently recognising the incident, the colour, the physical elements
or particles in words like absorb, consider, extract, to take the first
that occur, he will avail himself of them, as further adding to the
resources of expression.  The elementary particles of language will be
realised as colour and light and shade through his scholarly living in
the full sense of them.  Still opposing the constant degradation of
language by those who use it carelessly, he will not treat coloured
glass as if it were clear; and while half the world is using figure
unconsciously, will be fully aware not only of all that latent
figurative texture in speech, but of the vague, lazy, half-formed
personification--a rhetoric, depressing, and worse than nothing, [21]
because it has no really rhetorical motive--which plays so large a part
there, and, as in the case of more ostentatious ornament, scrupulously
exact of it, from syllable to syllable, its precise value.

So far I have been speaking of certain conditions of the literary art
arising out of the medium or material in or upon which it works, the
essential qualities of language and its aptitudes for contingent
ornamentation, matters which define scholarship as science and good
taste respectively.  They are both subservient to a more intimate
quality of good style: more intimate, as coming nearer to the artist
himself.  The otiose, the facile, surplusage: why are these abhorrent
to the true literary artist, except because, in literary as in all
other art, structure is all-important, felt, or painfully missed,
everywhere?--that architectural conception of work, which foresees the
end in the beginning and never loses sight of it, and in every part is
conscious of all the rest, till the last sentence does but, with
undiminished vigour, unfold and justify the first--a condition of
literary art, which, in contradistinction to another quality of the
artist himself, to be spoken of later, I shall call the necessity of
mind in style.

An acute philosophical writer, the late Dean Mansel (a writer whose
works illustrate the literary beauty there may be in closeness, and
with obvious repression or economy of a fine [22] rhetorical gift)
wrote a book, of fascinating precision in a very obscure subject, to
show that all the technical laws of logic are but means of securing, in
each and all of its apprehensions, the unity, the strict identity with
itself, of the apprehending mind.  All the laws of good writing aim at
a similar unity or identity of the mind in all the processes by which
the word is associated to its import.  The term is right, and has its
essential beauty, when it becomes, in a manner, what it signifies, as
with the names of simple sensations.  To give the phrase, the sentence,
the structural member, the entire composition, song, or essay, a
similar unity with its subject and with itself:--style is in the right
way when it tends towards that.  All depends upon the original unity,
the vital wholeness and identity, of the initiatory apprehension or
view.  So much is true of all art, which therefore requires always its
logic, its comprehensive reason--insight, foresight, retrospect, in
simultaneous action--true, most of all, of the literary art, as being
of all the arts most closely cognate to the abstract intelligence.
Such logical coherency may be evidenced not merely in the lines of
composition as a whole, but in the choice of a single word, while it by
no means interferes with, but may even prescribe, much variety, in the
building of the sentence for instance, or in the manner, argumentative,
descriptive, discursive, of this or that [23] part or member of the
entire design. The blithe, crisp sentence, decisive as a child's
expression of its needs, may alternate with the long-contending,
victoriously intricate sentence; the sentence, born with the integrity
of a single word, relieving the sort of sentence in which, if you look
closely, you can see much contrivance, much adjustment, to bring a
highly qualified matter into compass at one view.  For the literary
architecture, if it is to be rich and expressive, involves not only
foresight of the end in the beginning, but also development or growth
of design, in the process of execution, with many irregularities,
surprises, and afterthoughts; the contingent as well as the necessary
being subsumed under the unity of the whole.  As truly, to the lack of
such architectural design, of a single, almost visual, image,
vigorously informing an entire, perhaps very intricate, composition,
which shall be austere, ornate, argumentative, fanciful, yet true from
first to last to that vision within, may be attributed those weaknesses
of conscious or unconscious repetition of word, phrase, motive, or
member of the whole matter, indicating, as Flaubert was aware, an
original structure in thought not organically complete.  With such
foresight, the actual conclusion will most often get itself written out
of hand, before, in the more obvious sense, the work is finished. With
some strong and leading sense of the world, the [24] tight hold of
which secures true composition and not mere loose accretion, the
literary artist, I suppose, goes on considerately, setting joint to
joint, sustained by yet restraining the productive ardour, retracing
the negligences of his first sketch, repeating his steps only that he
may give the reader a sense of secure and restful progress, readjusting
mere assonances even, that they may soothe the reader, or at least not
interrupt him on his way; and then, somewhere before the end comes, is
burdened, inspired, with his conclusion, and betimes delivered of it,
leaving off, not in weariness and because he finds himself at an end,
but in all the freshness of volition.  His work now structurally
complete, with all the accumulating effect of secondary shades of
meaning, he finishes the whole up to the just proportion of that
ante-penultimate conclusion, and all becomes expressive.  The house he
has built is rather a body he has informed. And so it happens, to its
greater credit, that the better interest even of a narrative to be
recounted, a story to be told, will often be in its second reading.
And though there are instances of great writers who have been no
artists, an unconscious tact sometimes directing work in which we may
detect, very pleasurably, many of the effects of conscious art, yet one
of the greatest pleasures of really good prose literature is in the
critical tracing out of that conscious artistic structure, and the
pervading sense of it [25] as we read.  Yet of poetic literature too;
for, in truth, the kind of constructive intelligence here supposed is
one of the forms of the imagination.

That is the special function of mind, in style.  Mind and soul:--hard
to ascertain philosophically, the distinction is real enough
practically, for they often interfere, are sometimes in conflict, with
each other.  Blake, in the last century, is an instance of
preponderating soul, embarrassed, at a loss, in an era of
preponderating mind.  As a quality of style, at all events, soul is a
fact, in certain writers--the way they have of absorbing language, of
attracting it into the peculiar spirit they are of, with a subtlety
which makes the actual result seem like some inexplicable inspiration.
By mind, the literary artist reaches us, through static and objective
indications of design in his work, legible to all.  By soul, he reaches
us, somewhat capriciously perhaps, one and not another, through vagrant
sympathy and a kind of immediate contact. Mind we cannot choose but
approve where we recognise it; soul may repel us, not because we
misunderstand it.  The way in which theological interests sometimes
avail themselves of language is perhaps the best illustration of the
force I mean to indicate generally in literature, by the word soul.
Ardent religious persuasion may exist, may make its way, without
finding any equivalent heat in language: or, again, it may enkindle
[26] words to various degrees, and when it really takes hold of them
doubles its force.  Religious history presents many remarkable
instances in which, through no mere phrase-worship, an unconscious
literary tact has, for the sensitive, laid open a privileged pathway
from one to another.  "The altar-fire," people say, "has touched those
lips!" The Vulgate, the English Bible, the English Prayer-Book, the
writings of Swedenborg, the Tracts for the Times:--there, we have
instances of widely different and largely diffused phases of religious
feeling in operation as soul in style.  But something of the same kind
acts with similar power in certain writers of quite other than
theological literature, on behalf of some wholly personal and peculiar
sense of theirs.  Most easily illustrated by theological literature,
this quality lends to profane writers a kind of religious influence.
At their best, these writers become, as we say sometimes, "prophets";
such character depending on the effect not merely of their matter, but
of their matter as allied to, in "electric affinity" with, peculiar
form, and working in all cases by an immediate sympathetic contact, on
which account it is that it may be called soul, as opposed to mind, in
style.  And this too is a faculty of choosing and rejecting what is
congruous or otherwise, with a drift towards unity--unity of atmosphere
here, as there of design--soul securing colour (or perfume, might [27]
we say?) as mind secures form, the latter being essentially finite, the
former vague or infinite, as the influence of a living person is
practically infinite.  There are some to whom nothing has any real
interest, or real meaning, except as operative in a given person; and
it is they who best appreciate the quality of soul in literary art.
They seem to know a person, in a book, and make way by intuition: yet,
although they thus enjoy the completeness of a personal information, it
is still a characteristic of soul, in this sense of the word, that it
does but suggest what can never be uttered, not as being different
from, or more obscure than, what actually gets said, but as containing
that plenary substance of which there is only one phase or facet in
what is there expressed.

If all high things have their martyrs, Gustave Flaubert might perhaps
rank as the martyr of literary style.  In his printed correspondence, a
curious series of letters, written in his twenty-fifth year, records
what seems to have been his one other passion--a series of letters
which, with its fine casuistries, its firmly repressed anguish, its
tone of harmonious grey, and the sense of disillusion in which the
whole matter ends, might have been, a few slight changes supposed, one
of his own fictions.  Writing to Madame X. certainly he does display,
by "taking thought" mainly, by constant and delicate pondering, as in
his love for literature, a heart really moved, but [28] still more, and
as the pledge of that emotion, a loyalty to his work.  Madame X., too,
is a literary artist, and the best gifts he can send her are precepts
of perfection in art, counsels for the effectual pursuit of that better
love.  In his love-letters it is the pains and pleasures of art he
insists on, its solaces: he communicates secrets, reproves, encourages,
with a view to that. Whether the lady was dissatisfied with such
divided or indirect service, the reader is not enabled to see; but sees
that, on Flaubert's part at least, a living person could be no rival of
what was, from first to last, his leading passion, a somewhat solitary
and exclusive one.

I must scold you (he writes) for one thing, which shocks, scandalises
me, the small concern, namely, you show for art just now.  As regards
glory be it so: there, I approve.  But for art!--the one thing in life
that is good and real--can you compare with it an earthly love?--prefer
the adoration of a relative beauty to the cultus of the true beauty?
Well! I tell you the truth.  That is the one thing good in me: the one
thing I have, to me estimable.  For yourself, you blend with the
beautiful a heap of alien things, the useful, the agreeable, what not?--

The only way not to be unhappy is to shut yourself up in art, and count
everything else as nothing.  Pride takes the place of all beside when
it is established on a large basis.  Work!  God wills it.  That, it
seems to me, is clear.--+

I am reading over again the Aeneid, certain verses of which I repeat to
myself to satiety.  There are phrases there which stay in one's head,
by which I find myself beset, as with those musical airs which are for
ever returning, and cause you pain, you love them so much.  I observe
that I no longer laugh much, and am no longer depressed.  I am ripe.
You talk of my serenity, and envy me.  It may well surprise you.  Sick,
[29] irritated, the prey a thousand times a day of cruel pain, I
continue my labour like a true working-man, who, with sleeves turned
up, in the sweat of his brow, beats away at his anvil, never troubling
himself whether it rains or blows, for hail or thunder.  I was not like
that formerly.  The change has taken place naturally, though my will
has counted for something in the matter.--

Those who write in good style are sometimes accused of a neglect of
ideas, and of the moral end, as if the end of the physician were
something else than healing, of the painter than painting-as if the end
of art were not, before all else, the beautiful.

What, then, did Flaubert understand by beauty, in the art he pursued
with so much fervour, with so much self-command?  Let us hear a
sympathetic commentator:--

Possessed of an absolute belief that there exists but one way of
expressing one thing, one word to call it by, one adjective to qualify,
one verb to animate it, he gave himself to superhuman labour for the
discovery, in every phrase, of that word, that verb, that epithet.  In
this way, he believed in some mysterious harmony of expression, and
when a true word seemed to him to lack euphony still went on seeking
another, with invincible patience, certain that he had not yet got hold
of the unique word....  A thousand preoccupations would beset him at
the same moment, always with this desperate certitude fixed in his
spirit: Among all the expressions in the world, all forms and turns of
expression, there is but one--one form, one mode--to express what I
want to say.

The one word for the one thing, the one thought, amid the multitude of
words, terms, that might just do: the problem of style was there!--the
unique word, phrase, sentence, paragraph, essay, or song, absolutely
proper to the single mental presentation or vision within.

[30] In that perfect justice, over and above the many contingent and
removable beauties with which beautiful style may charm us, but which
it can exist without, independent of them yet dexterously availing
itself of them, omnipresent in good work, in function at every point,
from single epithets to the rhythm of a whole book, lay the specific,
indispensable, very intellectual, beauty of literature, the possibility
of which constitutes it a fine art.

One seems to detect the influence of a philosophic idea there, the idea
of a natural economy, of some pre-existent adaptation, between a
relative, somewhere in the world of thought, and its correlative,
somewhere in the world of language--both alike, rather, somewhere in
the mind of the artist, desiderative, expectant, inventive--meeting
each other with the readiness of "soul and body reunited," in Blake's
rapturous design; and, in fact, Flaubert was fond of giving his theory
philosophical expression.--

There are no beautiful thoughts (he would say) without beautiful forms,
and conversely.  As it is impossible to extract from a physical body
the qualities which really constitute it--colour, extension, and the
like--without reducing it to a hollow abstraction, in a word, without
destroying it; just so it is impossible to detach the form from the
idea, for the idea only exists by virtue of the form.

All, the recognised flowers, the removable ornaments of literature
(including harmony and ease in reading aloud, very carefully considered
[31] by him) counted, certainly; for these too are part of the actual
value of what one says.  But still, after all, with Flaubert, the
search, the unwearied research, was not for the smooth, or winsome, or
forcible word, as such, as with false Ciceronians, but quite simply and
honestly, for the word's adjustment to its meaning. The first condition
of this must be, of course, to know yourself, to have ascertained your
own sense exactly.  Then, if we suppose an artist, he says to the
reader,--I want you to see precisely what I see.  Into the mind
sensitive to "form," a flood of random sounds, colours, incidents, is
ever penetrating from the world without, to become, by sympathetic
selection, a part of its very structure, and, in turn, the visible
vesture and expression of that other world it sees so steadily within,
nay, already with a partial conformity thereto, to be refined,
enlarged, corrected, at a hundred points; and it is just there, just at
those doubtful points that the function of style, as tact or taste,
intervenes.  The unique term will come more quickly to one than
another, at one time than another, according also to the kind of matter
in question.  Quickness and slowness, ease and closeness alike, have
nothing to do with the artistic character of the true word found at
last.  As there is a charm of ease, so there is also a special charm in
the signs of discovery, of effort and contention towards a due end, as
so often with Flaubert himself--in the style which has [32] been
pliant, as only obstinate, durable metal can be, to the inherent
perplexities and recusancy of a certain difficult thought.

If Flaubert had not told us, perhaps we should never have guessed how
tardy and painful his own procedure really was, and after reading his
confession may think that his almost endless hesitation had much to do
with diseased nerves.  Often, perhaps, the felicity supposed will be
the product of a happier, a more exuberant nature than Flaubert's.
Aggravated, certainly, by a morbid physical condition, that anxiety in
"seeking the phrase," which gathered all the other small ennuis of a
really quiet existence into a kind of battle, was connected with his
lifelong contention against facile poetry, facile art--art, facile and
flimsy; and what constitutes the true artist is not the slowness or
quickness of the process, but the absolute success of the result.  As
with those labourers in the parable, the prize is independent of the
mere length of the actual day's work.  "You talk," he writes, odd,
trying lover, to Madame X.--

"You talk of the exclusiveness of my literary tastes.  That might have
enabled you to divine what kind of a person I am in the matter of love.
I grow so hard to please as a literary artist, that I am driven to
despair.  I shall end by not writing another line."

"Happy," he cries, in a moment of discouragement at that patient
labour, which for him, certainly, was the condition of a great
success--[33]

Happy those who have no doubts of themselves! who lengthen out, as the
pen runs on, all that flows forth from their brains.  As for me, I
hesitate, I disappoint myself, turn round upon myself in despite: my
taste is augmented in proportion as my natural vigour decreases, and I
afflict my soul over some dubious word out of all proportion to the
pleasure I get from a whole page of good writing.  One would have to
live two centuries to attain a true idea of any matter whatever.  What
Buffon said is a big blasphemy: genius is not long-continued patience.
Still, there is some truth in the statement, and more than people
think, especially as regards our own day.  Art! art! art! bitter
deception! phantom that glows with light, only to lead one on to
destruction...

Again--

I am growing so peevish about my writing.  I am like a man whose ear is
true but who plays falsely on the violin: his fingers refuse to
reproduce precisely those sounds of which he has the inward sense.
Then the tears come rolling down from the poor scraper's eyes and the
bow falls from his hand.

Coming slowly or quickly, when it comes, as it came with so much labour
of mind, but also with so much lustre, to Gustave Flaubert, this
discovery of the word will be, like all artistic success and felicity,
incapable of strict analysis: effect of an intuitive condition of mind,
it must be recognised by like intuition on the part of the reader, and
a sort of immediate sense.  In every one of those masterly sentences of
Flaubert there was, below all mere contrivance, shaping and
afterthought, by some happy instantaneous concourse of the various
faculties of the mind with each other, the exact apprehension of what
was needed to carry the meaning.  And that it fits with absolute
justice will be a judgment of [34] immediate sense in the appreciative
reader.  We all feel this in what may be called inspired translation.
Well! all language involves translation from inward to outward.  In
literature, as in all forms of art, there are the absolute and the
merely relative or accessory beauties; and precisely in that exact
proportion of the term to its purpose is the absolute beauty of style,
prose or verse.  All the good qualities, the beauties, of verse also,
are such, only as precise expression.

In the highest as in the lowliest literature, then, the one
indispensable beauty is, after all, truth:--truth to bare fact in the
latter, as to some personal sense of fact, diverted somewhat from men's
ordinary sense of it, in the former; truth there as accuracy, truth
here as expression, that finest and most intimate form of truth, the
vraie vérité. And what an eclectic principle this really is! employing
for its one sole purpose--that absolute accordance of expression to
idea--all other literary beauties and excellences whatever: how many
kinds of style it covers, explains, justifies, and at the same time
safeguards!  Scott's facility, Flaubert's deeply pondered evocation of
"the phrase," are equally good art.  Say what you have to say, what you
have a will to say, in the simplest, the most direct and exact manner
possible, with no surplusage:--there, is the justification of the
sentence so fortunately born, "entire, smooth, and round," that it
needs no punctuation, and also [35] (that is the point!) of the most
elaborate period, if it be right in its elaboration.  Here is the
office of ornament: here also the purpose of restraint in ornament.  As
the exponent of truth, that austerity (the beauty, the function, of
which in literature Flaubert understood so well) becomes not the
correctness or purism of the mere scholar, but a security against the
otiose, a jealous exclusion of what does not really tell towards the
pursuit of relief, of life and vigour in the portraiture of one's
sense.  License again, the making free with rule, if it be indeed, as
people fancy, a habit of genius, flinging aside or transforming all
that opposes the liberty of beautiful production, will be but faith to
one's own meaning.  The seeming baldness of Le Rouge et Le Noir is
nothing in itself; the wild ornament of Les Misérables is nothing in
itself; and the restraint of Flaubert, amid a real natural opulence,
only redoubled beauty--the phrase so large and so precise at the same
time, hard as bronze, in service to the more perfect adaptation of
words to their matter. Afterthoughts, retouchings, finish, will be of
profit only so far as they too really serve to bring out the original,
initiative, generative, sense in them.

In this way, according to the well-known saying, "The style is the
man," complex or simple, in his individuality, his plenary sense of
what he really has to say, his sense of the world; all cautions
regarding style arising out of so many [36] natural scruples as to the
medium through which alone he can expose that inward sense of things,
the purity of this medium, its laws or tricks of refraction: nothing is
to be left there which might give conveyance to any matter save that.
Style in all its varieties, reserved or opulent, terse, abundant,
musical, stimulant, academic, so long as each is really characteristic
or expressive, finds thus its justification, the sumptuous good taste
of Cicero being as truly the man himself, and not another, justified,
yet insured inalienably to him, thereby, as would have been his
portrait by Raffaelle, in full consular splendour, on his ivory chair.

A relegation, you may say perhaps--a relegation of style to the
subjectivity, the mere caprice, of the individual, which must soon
transform it into mannerism.  Not so! since there is, under the
conditions supposed, for those elements of the man, for every lineament
of the vision within, the one word, the one acceptable word,
recognisable by the sensitive, by others "who have intelligence" in the
matter, as absolutely as ever anything can be in the evanescent and
delicate region of human language.  The style, the manner, would be the
man, not in his unreasoned and really uncharacteristic caprices,
involuntary or affected, but in absolutely sincere apprehension of what
is most real to him.  But let us hear our French guide again.--

Styles (says Flaubert's commentator), Styles, as so many [37] peculiar
moulds, each of which bears the mark of a particular writer, who is to
pour into it the whole content of his ideas, were no part of his
theory.  What he believed in was Style: that is to say, a certain
absolute and unique manner of expressing a thing, in all its intensity
and colour.  For him the form was the work itself.  As in living
creatures, the blood, nourishing the body, determines its very contour
and external aspect, just so, to his mind, the matter, the basis, in a
work of art, imposed, necessarily, the unique, the just expression, the
measure, the rhythm--the form in all its characteristics.

If the style be the man, in all the colour and intensity of a veritable
apprehension, it will be in a real sense "impersonal."

I said, thinking of books like Victor Hugo's Les Misérables, that prose
literature was the characteristic art of the nineteenth century, as
others, thinking of its triumphs since the youth of Bach, have assigned
that place to music.  Music and prose literature are, in one sense, the
opposite terms of art; the art of literature presenting to the
imagination, through the intelligence, a range of interests, as free
and various as those which music presents to it through sense.  And
certainly the tendency of what has been here said is to bring
literature too under those conditions, by conformity to which music
takes rank as the typically perfect art.  If music be the ideal of all
art whatever, precisely because in music it is impossible to
distinguish the form from the substance or matter, the subject from the
expression, then, literature, by finding its specific excellence in the
absolute correspondence of the term to its import, will be [38] but
fulfilling the condition of all artistic quality in things everywhere,
of all good art.

Good art, but not necessarily great art; the distinction between great
art and good art depending immediately, as regards literature at all
events, not on its form, but on the matter.  Thackeray's Esmond,
surely, is greater art than Vanity Fair, by the greater dignity of its
interests.  It is on the quality of the matter it informs or controls,
its compass, its variety, its alliance to great ends, or the depth of
the note of revolt, or the largeness of hope in it, that the greatness
of literary art depends, as The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost, Les
Misérables, The English Bible, are great art. Given the conditions I
have tried to explain as constituting good art;--then, if it be devoted
further to the increase of men's happiness, to the redemption of the
oppressed, or the enlargement of our sympathies with each other, or to
such presentment of new or old truth about ourselves and our relation
to the world as may ennoble and fortify us in our sojourn here, or
immediately, as with Dante, to the glory of God, it will be also great
art; if, over and above those qualities I summed up as mind and
soul--that colour and mystic perfume, and that reasonable structure, it
has something of the soul of humanity in it, and finds its logical, its
architectural place, in the great structure of human life.

1888.

NOTES

12. *Mr. Saintsbury, in his Specimens of English Prose, from Malory to
Macaulay, has succeeded in tracing, through successive English
prose-writers, the tradition of that severer beauty in them, of which
this admirable scholar of our literature is known to be a lover.
English Prose, from Mandeville to Thackeray, more recently "chosen and
edited" by a younger scholar, Mr. Arthur Galton, of New College,
Oxford, a lover of our literature at once enthusiastic and discreet,
aims at a more various illustration of the eloquent powers of English
prose, and is a delightful companion.

28. +In the original, the quoted material is not indented but instead
appears in a smaller typeface; I have chosen to indent the material
half an inch to make it easier to read.



WORDSWORTH

[39] SOME English critics at the beginning of the present century had a
great deal to say concerning a distinction, of much importance, as they
thought, in the true estimate of poetry, between the Fancy, and another
more powerful faculty--the Imagination.  This metaphysical distinction,
borrowed originally from the writings of German philosophers, and
perhaps not always clearly apprehended by those who talked of it,
involved a far deeper and more vital distinction, with which indeed all
true criticism more or less directly has to do, the distinction,
namely, between higher and lower degrees of intensity in the poet's
perception of his subject, and in his concentration of himself upon his
work.  Of those who dwelt upon the metaphysical distinction between the
Fancy and the Imagination, it was Wordsworth who made the most of it,
assuming it as the basis for the final classification of his poetical
writings; and it is in these writings that the deeper and more vital
distinction, which, as I have said, underlies the metaphysical [40]
distinction, is most needed, and may best be illustrated.

For nowhere is there so perplexed a mixture as in Wordsworth's own
poetry, of work touched with intense and individual power, with work of
almost no character at all.  He has much conventional sentiment, and
some of that insincere poetic diction, against which his most serious
critical efforts were directed: the reaction in his political ideas,
consequent on the excesses of 1795, makes him, at times, a mere
declaimer on moral and social topics; and he seems, sometimes, to force
an unwilling pen, and write by rule.  By making the most of these
blemishes it is possible to obscure the true aesthetic value of his
work, just as his life also, a life of much quiet delicacy and
independence, might easily be placed in a false focus, and made to
appear a somewhat tame theme in illustration of the more obvious
parochial virtues.  And those who wish to understand his influence, and
experience his peculiar savour, must bear with patience the presence of
an alien element in Wordsworth's work, which never coalesced with what
is really delightful in it, nor underwent his special power.  Who that
values his writings most has not felt the intrusion there, from time to
time, of something tedious and prosaic? Of all poets equally great, he
would gain most by a skilfully made anthology.  Such a selection would
show, in truth, not so much what he was, or to himself or others [41]
seemed to be, as what, by the more energetic and fertile quality in his
writings, he was ever tending to become.  And the mixture in his work,
as it actually stands, is so perplexed, that one fears to miss the
least promising composition even, lest some precious morsel should be
lying hidden within--the few perfect lines, the phrase, the single word
perhaps, to which he often works up mechanically through a poem, almost
the whole of which may be tame enough.  He who thought that in all
creative work the larger part was given passively, to the recipient
mind, who waited so dutifully upon the gift, to whom so large a measure
was sometimes given, had his times also of desertion and relapse; and
he has permitted the impress of these too to remain in his work.  And
this duality there--the fitfulness with which the higher qualities
manifest themselves in it, gives the effect in his poetry of a power
not altogether his own, or under his control, which comes and goes when
it will, lifting or lowering a matter, poor in itself; so that that old
fancy which made the poet's art an enthusiasm, a form of divine
possession, seems almost literally true of him.

This constant suggestion of an absolute duality between higher and
lower moods, and the work done in them, stimulating one always to look
below the surface, makes the reading of Wordsworth an excellent sort of
training towards the things of art and poetry.  It begets in those,
[42] who, coming across him in youth, can bear him at all, a habit of
reading between the lines, a faith in the effect of concentration and
collectedness of mind in the right appreciation of poetry, an
expectation of things, in this order, coming to one by means of a right
discipline of the temper as well as of the intellect.  He meets us with
the promise that he has much, and something very peculiar, to give us,
if we will follow a certain difficult way, and seems to have the secret
of a special and privileged state of mind.  And those who have
undergone his influence, and followed this difficult way, are like
people who have passed through some initiation, a disciplina arcani, by
submitting to which they become able constantly to distinguish in art,
speech, feeling, manners, that which is organic, animated, expressive,
from that which is only conventional, derivative, inexpressive.

But although the necessity of selecting these precious morsels for
oneself is an opportunity for the exercise of Wordsworth's peculiar
influence, and induces a kind of just criticism and true estimate of
it, yet the purely literary product would have been more excellent, had
the writer himself purged away that alien element.  How perfect would
have been the little treasury, shut between the covers of how thin a
book!  Let us suppose the desired separation made, the electric thread
untwined, the golden pieces, [43] great and small, lying apart
together.*  What are the peculiarities of this residue? What special
sense does Wordsworth exercise, and what instincts does he satisfy?
What are the subjects and the motives which in him excite the
imaginative faculty?  What are the qualities in things and persons
which he values, the impression and sense of which he can convey to
others, in an extraordinary way?

An intimate consciousness of the expression of natural things, which
weighs, listens, penetrates, where the earlier mind passed roughly by,
is a large element in the complexion of modern poetry.  It has been
remarked as a fact in mental history again and again.  It reveals
itself in many forms; but is strongest and most attractive in what is
strongest and most attractive in modern literature.  It is exemplified,
almost equally, by writers as unlike each other as Senancour and
Théophile Gautier: as a singular chapter in the history of the human
mind, its growth might be traced from Rousseau to Chateaubriand, from
Chateaubriand to Victor Hugo: it has doubtless some latent connexion
with those pantheistic theories which locate an intelligent soul in
material things, and have largely exercised men's minds in some modern
systems of philosophy: it is traceable even in [44] the graver writings
of historians: it makes as much difference between ancient and modern
landscape art, as there is between the rough masks of an early mosaic
and a portrait by Reynolds or Gainsborough.  Of this new sense, the
writings of Wordsworth are the central and elementary expression: he is
more simply and entirely occupied with it than any other poet, though
there are fine expressions of precisely the same thing in so different
a poet as Shelley.  There was in his own character a certain
contentment, a sort of inborn religious placidity, seldom found united
with a sensibility so mobile as his, which was favourable to the quiet,
habitual observation of inanimate, or imperfectly animate, existence.
His life of eighty years is divided by no very profoundly felt
incidents: its changes are almost wholly inward, and it falls into
broad, untroubled, perhaps somewhat monotonous spaces.  What it most
resembles is the life of one of those early Italian or Flemish
painters, who, just because their minds were full of heavenly visions,
passed, some of them, the better part of sixty years in quiet,
systematic industry.  This placid life matured a quite unusual
sensibility, really innate in him, to the sights and sounds of the
natural world--the flower and its shadow on the stone, the cuckoo and
its echo.  The poem of Resolution and Independence is a storehouse of
such records: for its fulness of imagery it may be compared to Keats's
Saint Agnes' Eve.  To [45] read one of his longer pastoral poems for
the first time, is like a day spent in a new country: the memory is
crowded for a while with its precise and vivid incidents--

  The pliant harebell swinging in the breeze
  On some grey rock;--

  The single sheep and the one blasted tree
  And the bleak music from that old stone wall;--

  In the meadows and the lower ground
  Was all the sweetness of a common dawn;--

  And that green corn all day is rustling in thine ears.

Clear and delicate at once, as he is in the outlining of visible
imagery, he is more clear and delicate still, and finely scrupulous, in
the noting of sounds; so that he conceives of noble sound as even
moulding the human countenance to nobler types, and as something
actually "profaned" by colour, by visible form, or image.

He has a power likewise of realising, and conveying to the
consciousness of the reader, abstract and elementary
impressions--silence, darkness, absolute motionlessness: or, again, the
whole complex sentiment of a particular place, the abstract expression
of desolation in the long white road, of peacefulness in a particular
folding of the hills.  In the airy building of the brain, a special day
or hour even, comes to have for him a sort of personal identity, a
spirit or angel given to it, by which, for its exceptional [46]
insight, or the happy light upon it, it has a presence in one's
history, and acts there, as a separate power or accomplishment; and he
has celebrated in many of his poems the "efficacious spirit," which, as
he says, resides in these "particular spots" of time.

It is to such a world, and to a world of congruous meditation thereon,
that we see him retiring in his but lately published poem of The
Recluse--taking leave, without much count of costs, of the world of
business, of action and ambition; as also of all that for the majority
of mankind counts as sensuous enjoyment.*

And so it came about that this sense of a life in natural objects,
which in most poetry is but a rhetorical artifice, is with Wordsworth
the assertion of what for him is almost literal fact.  To him every
natural object seemed to possess more or less of a moral or spiritual
life, to be [47] capable of a companionship with man, full of
expression, of inexplicable affinities and delicacies of intercourse.
An emanation, a particular spirit, belonged, not to the moving leaves
or water only, but to the distant peak of the hills arising suddenly,
by some change of perspective, above the nearer horizon, to the passing
space of light across the plain, to the lichened Druidic stone even,
for a certain weird fellowship in it with the moods of men.  It was
like a "survival," in the peculiar intellectual temperament of a man of
letters at the end of the eighteenth century, of that primitive
condition, which some philosophers have traced in the general history
of human culture, wherein all outward objects [48] alike, including
even the works of men's hands, were believed to be endowed with
animation, and the world was "full of souls"--that mood in which the
old Greek gods were first begotten, and which had many strange
aftergrowths.

In the early ages, this belief, delightful as its effects on poetry
often are, was but the result of a crude intelligence.  But, in
Wordsworth, such power of seeing life, such perception of a soul, in
inanimate things, came of an exceptional susceptibility to the
impressions of eye and ear, and was, in its essence, a kind of
sensuousness.  At least, it is only in a temperament exceptionally
susceptible on the sensuous side, that this sense of the expressiveness
of outward things comes to be so large a part of life. That he awakened
"a sort of thought in sense," is Shelley's just estimate of this
element in Wordsworth's poetry.

And it was through nature, thus ennobled by a semblance of passion and
thought, that he approached the spectacle of human life.  Human life,
indeed, is for him, at first, only an additional, accidental grace on
an expressive landscape.  When he thought of man, it was of man as in
the presence and under the influence of these effective natural
objects, and linked to them by many associations.  The close connexion
of man with natural objects, the habitual association of his thoughts
and feelings with a particular spot of earth, has sometimes seemed to
[49] degrade those who are subject to its influence, as if it did but
reinforce that physical connexion of our nature with the actual lime
and clay of the soil, which is always drawing us nearer to our end.
But for Wordsworth, these influences tended to the dignity of human
nature, because they tended to tranquillise it.  By raising nature to
the level of human thought he gives it power and expression: he subdues
man to the level of nature, and gives him thereby a certain breadth and
coolness and solemnity. The leech-gatherer on the moor, the woman
"stepping westward," are for him natural objects, almost in the same
sense as the aged thorn, or the lichened rock on the heath.  In this
sense the leader of the "Lake School," in spite of an earnest
preoccupation with man, his thoughts, his destiny, is the poet of
nature.  And of nature, after all, in its modesty.  The English lake
country has, of course, its grandeurs.  But the peculiar function of
Wordsworth's genius, as carrying in it a power to open out the soul of
apparently little or familiar things, would have found its true test
had he become the poet of Surrey, say! and the prophet of its life.
The glories of Italy and Switzerland, though he did write a little
about them, had too potent a material life of their own to serve
greatly his poetic purpose.

Religious sentiment, consecrating the affections and natural regrets of
the human heart, above all, that pitiful awe and care for the [50]
perishing human clay, of which relic-worship is but the corruption, has
always had much to do with localities, with the thoughts which attach
themselves to actual scenes and places.  Now what is true of it
everywhere, is truest of it in those secluded valleys where one
generation after another maintains the same abiding-place; and it was
on this side, that Wordsworth apprehended religion most strongly.
Consisting, as it did so much, in the recognition of local sanctities,
in the habit of connecting the stones and trees of a particular spot of
earth with the great events of life, till the low walls, the green
mounds, the half-obliterated epitaphs seemed full of voices, and a sort
of natural oracles, the very religion of these people of the dales
appeared but as another link between them and the earth, and was
literally a religion of nature.  It tranquillised them by bringing them
under the placid rule of traditional and narrowly localised
observances.  "Grave livers," they seemed to him, under this aspect,
with stately speech, and something of that natural dignity of manners,
which underlies the highest courtesy.

And, seeing man thus as a part of nature, elevated and solemnised in
proportion as his daily life and occupations brought him into
companionship with permanent natural objects, his very religion forming
new links for him with the narrow limits of the valley, the low vaults
of his church, the rough stones of his [51] home, made intense for him
now with profound sentiment, Wordsworth was able to appreciate passion
in the lowly.  He chooses to depict people from humble life, because,
being nearer to nature than others, they are on the whole more
impassioned, certainly more direct in their expression of passion, than
other men: it is for this direct expression of passion, that he values
their humble words. In much that he said in exaltation of rural life,
he was but pleading indirectly for that sincerity, that perfect
fidelity to one's own inward presentations, to the precise features of
the picture within, without which any profound poetry is impossible.
It was not for their tameness, but for this passionate sincerity, that
he chose incidents and situations from common life, "related in a
selection of language really used by men."  He constantly endeavours to
bring his language near to the real language of men: to the real
language of men, however, not on the dead level of their ordinary
intercourse, but in select moments of vivid sensation, when this
language is winnowed and ennobled by excitement.  There are poets who
have chosen rural life as their subject, for the sake of its
passionless repose, and times when Wordsworth himself extols the mere
calm and dispassionate survey of things as the highest aim of poetical
culture.  But it was not for such passionless calm that he preferred
the scenes of pastoral life; and the meditative poet, sheltering [52]
himself, as it might seem, from the agitations of the outward world, is
in reality only clearing the scene for the great exhibitions of
emotion, and what he values most is the almost elementary expression of
elementary feelings.

And so he has much for those who value highly the concentrated
presentment of passion, who appraise men and women by their
susceptibility to it, and art and poetry as they afford the spectacle
of it.  Breaking from time to time into the pensive spectacle of their
daily toil, their occupations near to nature, come those great
elementary feelings, lifting and solemnising their language and giving
it a natural music.  The great, distinguishing passion came to Michael
by the sheepfold, to Ruth by the wayside, adding these humble children
of the furrow to the true aristocracy of passionate souls. In this
respect, Wordsworth's work resembles most that of George Sand, in those
of her novels which depict country life.  With a penetrative pathos,
which puts him in the same rank with the masters of the sentiment of
pity in literature, with Meinhold and Victor Hugo, he collects all the
traces of vivid excitement which were to be found in that pastoral
world--the girl who rung her father's knell; the unborn infant feeling
about its mother's heart; the instinctive touches of children; the
sorrows of the wild creatures, even--their home-sickness, their strange
yearnings; the tales of passionate regret that hang [53] by a ruined
farm-building, a heap of stones, a deserted sheepfold; that gay, false,
adventurous, outer world, which breaks in from time to time to bewilder
and deflower these quiet homes; not "passionate sorrow" only, for the
overthrow of the soul's beauty, but the loss of, or carelessness for
personal beauty even, in those whom men have wronged--their pathetic
wanness; the sailor "who, in his heart, was half a shepherd on the
stormy seas"; the wild woman teaching her child to pray for her
betrayer; incidents like the making of the shepherd's staff, or that of
the young boy laying the first stone of the sheepfold;--all the
pathetic episodes of their humble existence, their longing, their
wonder at fortune, their poor pathetic pleasures, like the pleasures of
children, won so hardly in the struggle for bare existence; their
yearning towards each other, in their darkened houses, or at their
early toil.  A sort of biblical depth and solemnity hangs over this
strange, new, passionate, pastoral world, of which he first raised the
image, and the reflection of which some of our best modern fiction has
caught from him.

He pondered much over the philosophy of his poetry, and reading deeply
in the history of his own mind, seems at times to have passed the
borders of a world of strange speculations, inconsistent enough, had he
cared to note such inconsistencies, with those traditional beliefs,
which [54] were otherwise the object of his devout acceptance.
Thinking of the high value he set upon customariness, upon all that is
habitual, local, rooted in the ground, in matters of religious
sentiment, you might sometimes regard him as one tethered down to a
world, refined and peaceful indeed, but with no broad outlook, a world
protected, but somewhat narrowed, by the influence of received ideas.
But he is at times also something very different from this, and
something much bolder.  A chance expression is overheard and placed in
a new connexion, the sudden memory of a thing long past occurs to him,
a distant object is relieved for a while by a random gleam of
light--accidents turning up for a moment what lies below the surface of
our immediate experience--and he passes from the humble graves and
lowly arches of "the little rock-like pile" of a Westmoreland church,
on bold trains of speculative thought, and comes, from point to point,
into strange contact with thoughts which have visited, from time to
time, far more venturesome, perhaps errant, spirits.

He had pondered deeply, for instance, on those strange reminiscences
and forebodings, which seem to make our lives stretch before and behind
us, beyond where we can see or touch anything, or trace the lines of
connexion.  Following the soul, backwards and forwards, on these
endless ways, his sense of man's dim, potential powers became a pledge
to him, indeed, of a future life, [55] but carried him back also to
that mysterious notion of an earlier state of existence--the fancy of
the Platonists--the old heresy of Origen.  It was in this mood that he
conceived those oft-reiterated regrets for a half-ideal childhood, when
the relics of Paradise still clung about the soul--a childhood, as it
seemed, full of the fruits of old age, lost for all, in a degree, in
the passing away of the youth of the world, lost for each one, over
again, in the passing away of actual youth.  It is this ideal childhood
which he celebrates in his famous Ode on the Recollections of
Childhood, and some other poems which may be grouped around it, such as
the lines on Tintern Abbey, and something like what he describes was
actually truer of himself than he seems to have understood; for his own
most delightful poems were really the instinctive productions of
earlier life, and most surely for him, "the first diviner influence of
this world" passed away, more and more completely, in his contact with
experience.

Sometimes as he dwelt upon those moments of profound, imaginative
power, in which the outward object appears to take colour and
expression, a new nature almost, from the prompting of the observant
mind, the actual world would, as it were, dissolve and detach itself,
flake by flake, and he himself seemed to be the creator, and when he
would the destroyer, of the world in which he lived--that old isolating
thought of many a brain-sick mystic of ancient and modern times.

[56] At other times, again, in those periods of intense susceptibility,
in which he appeared to himself as but the passive recipient of
external influences, he was attracted by the thought of a spirit of
life in outward things, a single, all-pervading mind in them, of which
man, and even the poet's imaginative energy, are but moments--that old
dream of the anima mundi, the mother of all things and their grave, in
which some had desired to lose themselves, and others had become
indifferent to the distinctions of good and evil. It would come,
sometimes, like the sign of the macrocosm to Faust in his cell: the
network of man and nature was seen to be pervaded by a common,
universal life: a new, bold thought lifted him above the furrow, above
the green turf of the Westmoreland churchyard, to a world altogether
different in its vagueness and vastness, and the narrow glen was full
of the brooding power of one universal spirit.

And so he has something, also, for those who feel the fascination of
bold speculative ideas, who are really capable of rising upon them to
conditions of poetical thought.  He uses them, indeed, always with a
very fine apprehension of the limits within which alone philosophical
imaginings have any place in true poetry; and using them only for
poetical purposes, is not too careful even to make them consistent with
each other.  To him, theories which for other men [57] bring a world of
technical diction, brought perfect form and expression, as in those two
lofty books of The Prelude, which describe the decay and the
restoration of Imagination and Taste.  Skirting the borders of this
world of bewildering heights and depths, he got but the first exciting
influence of it, that joyful enthusiasm which great imaginative
theories prompt, when the mind first comes to have an understanding of
them; and it is not under the influence of these thoughts that his
poetry becomes tedious or loses its blitheness.  He keeps them, too,
always within certain ethical bounds, so that no word of his could
offend the simplest of those simple souls which are always the largest
portion of mankind.  But it is, nevertheless, the contact of these
thoughts, the speculative boldness in them, which constitutes, at least
for some minds, the secret attraction of much of his best poetry--the
sudden passage from lowly thoughts and places to the majestic forms of
philosophical imagination, the play of these forms over a world so
different, enlarging so strangely the bounds of its humble churchyards,
and breaking such a wild light on the graves of christened children.

And these moods always brought with them faultless expression.  In
regard to expression, as with feeling and thought, the duality of the
higher and lower moods was absolute.  It belonged to the higher, the
imaginative mood, and was the pledge of its reality, to bring the [58]
appropriate language with it.  In him, when the really poetical motive
worked at all, it united, with absolute justice, the word and the idea;
each, in the imaginative flame, becoming inseparably one with the
other, by that fusion of matter and form, which is the characteristic
of the highest poetical expression.  His words are themselves thought
and feeling; not eloquent, or musical words merely, but that sort of
creative language which carries the reality of what it depicts,
directly, to the consciousness.

The music of mere metre performs but a limited, yet a very peculiar and
subtly ascertained function, in Wordsworth's poetry.  With him, metre
is but an additional grace, accessory to that deeper music of words and
sounds, that moving power, which they exercise in the nobler prose no
less than in formal poetry.  It is a sedative to that excitement, an
excitement sometimes almost painful, under which the language, alike of
poetry and prose, attains a rhythmical power, independent of metrical
combination, and dependent rather on some subtle adjustment of the
elementary sounds of words themselves to the image or feeling they
convey.  Yet some of his pieces, pieces prompted by a sort of
half-playful mysticism, like the Daffodils and The Two April Mornings,
are distinguished by a certain quaint gaiety of metre, and rival by
their perfect execution, in this respect, similar pieces among our own
Elizabethan, or contemporary French poetry.

[59] And those who take up these poems after an interval of months, or
years perhaps, may be surprised at finding how well old favourites
wear, how their strange, inventive turns of diction or thought still
send through them the old feeling of surprise.  Those who lived about
Wordsworth were all great lovers of the older English literature, and
oftentimes there came out in him a noticeable likeness to our earlier
poets.  He quotes unconsciously, but with new power of meaning, a
clause from one of Shakespeare's sonnets; and, as with some other men's
most famous work, the Ode on the Recollections of Childhood had its
anticipator.*  He drew something too from the unconscious mysticism of
the old English language itself, drawing out the inward significance of
its racy idiom, and the not wholly unconscious poetry of the language
used by the simplest people under strong excitement--language,
therefore, at its origin.

The office of the poet is not that of the moralist, and the first aim
of Wordsworth's poetry is to give the reader a peculiar kind of
pleasure.  But through his poetry, and through this pleasure in it, he
does actually convey to the reader an extraordinary wisdom in the
things of practice.  One lesson, if men must have lessons, he conveys
more clearly than all, the supreme importance of contemplation in the
conduct of life.

[60] Contemplation--impassioned contemplation--that, is with Wordsworth
the end-in-itself, the perfect end.  We see the majority of mankind
going most often to definite ends, lower or higher ends, as their own
instincts may determine; but the end may never be attained, and the
means not be quite the right means, great ends and little ones alike
being, for the most part, distant, and the ways to them, in this dim
world, somewhat vague.  Meantime, to higher or lower ends, they move
too often with something of a sad countenance, with hurried and ignoble
gait, becoming, unconsciously, something like thorns, in their anxiety
to bear grapes; it being possible for people, in the pursuit of even
great ends, to become themselves thin and impoverished in spirit and
temper, thus diminishing the sum of perfection in the world, at its
very sources.  We understand this when it is a question of mean, or of
intensely selfish ends--of Grandet, or Javert.  We think it bad
morality to say that the end justifies the means, and we know how false
to all higher conceptions of the religious life is the type of one who
is ready to do evil that good may come.  We contrast with such dark,
mistaken eagerness, a type like that of Saint Catherine of Siena, who
made the means to her ends so attractive, that she has won for herself
an undying place in the House Beautiful, not by her rectitude of soul
only, but by its "fairness"--by those quite different qualities [61]
which commend themselves to the poet and the artist.

Yet, for most of us, the conception of means and ends covers the whole
of life, and is the exclusive type or figure under which we represent
our lives to ourselves.  Such a figure, reducing all things to
machinery, though it has on its side the authority of that old Greek
moralist who has fixed for succeeding generations the outline of the
theory of right living, is too like a mere picture or description of
men's lives as we actually find them, to be the basis of the higher
ethics.  It covers the meanness of men's daily lives, and much of the
dexterity with which they pursue what may seem to them the good of
themselves or of others; but not the intangible perfection of those
whose ideal is rather in being than in doing--not those manners which
are, in the deepest as in the simplest sense, morals, and without which
one cannot so much as offer a cup of water to a poor man without
offence--not the part of  "antique Rachel," sitting in the company of
Beatrice; and even the moralist might well endeavour rather to withdraw
men from the too exclusive consideration of means and ends, in life.

Against this predominance of machinery in our existence, Wordsworth's
poetry, like all great art and poetry, is a continual protest. Justify
rather the end by the means, it seems to say: whatever may become of
the fruit, make sure of [62] the flowers and the leaves. It was justly
said, therefore, by one who had meditated very profoundly on the true
relation of means to ends in life, and on the distinction between what
is desirable in itself and what is desirable only as machinery, that
when the battle which he and his friends were waging had been won, the
world would need more than ever those qualities which Wordsworth was
keeping alive and nourishing.*

That the end of life is not action but contemplation--being as distinct
from doing--a certain disposition of the mind: is, in some shape or
other, the principle of all the higher morality.  In poetry, in art, if
you enter into their true spirit at all; you touch this principle, in a
measure: these, by their very sterility, are a type of beholding for
the mere joy of beholding.  To treat life in the spirit of art, is to
make life a thing in which means and ends are identified: to encourage
such treatment, the true moral significance of art and poetry.
Wordsworth, and other poets who have been like him in ancient or more
recent times, are the masters, the experts, in this art of impassioned
contemplation.  Their work is, not to teach lessons, or enforce rules,
or even to stimulate us to noble ends; but to withdraw the thoughts for
a little while from the mere machinery of life, to fix [63] them, with
appropriate emotions, on the spectacle of those great facts in man's
existence which no machinery affects, "on the great and universal
passions of men, the most general and interesting of their occupations,
and the entire world of nature,"--on "the operations of the elements
and the appearances of the visible universe, on storm and sunshine, on
the revolutions of the seasons, on cold and heat, on loss of friends
and kindred, on injuries and resentments, on gratitude and hope, on
fear and sorrow."  To witness this spectacle with appropriate emotions
is the aim of all culture; and of these emotions poetry like
Wordsworth's is a great nourisher and stimulant.  He sees nature full
of sentiment and excitement; he sees men and women as parts of nature,
passionate, excited, in strange grouping and connexion with the
grandeur and beauty of the natural world:--images, in his own words,
"of man suffering, amid awful forms and powers."

Such is the figure of the more powerful and original poet, hidden away,
in part, under those weaker elements in Wordsworth's poetry, which for
some minds determine their entire character; a poet somewhat bolder and
more passionate than might at first sight be supposed, but not too bold
for true poetical taste; an unimpassioned writer, you might sometimes
fancy, yet thinking the chief aim, in life and art alike, to be a
certain deep emotion; seeking most often the great [64] elementary
passions in lowly places; having at least this condition of all
impassioned work, that he aims always at an absolute sincerity of
feeling and diction, so that he is the true forerunner of the deepest
and most passionate poetry of our own day; yet going back also, with
something of a protest against the conventional fervour of much of the
poetry popular in his own time, to those older English poets, whose
unconscious likeness often comes out in him.

1874.

NOTES

43. *Since this essay was written, such selections have been made, with
excellent taste, by Matthew Arnold and Professor Knight.

46-47. *In Wordsworth's prefatory advertisement to the first edition of
The Prelude, published in 1850, it is stated that that work was
intended to be introductory to The Recluse; and that The Recluse, if
completed, would have consisted of three parts.  The second part is The
Excursion.  The third part was only planned; but the first book of the
first part was left in manuscript by Wordsworth--though in manuscript,
it is said, in no great condition of forwardness for the printers.
This book, now for the first time printed  in extenso (a very noble
passage from it found place in that prose advertisement to The
Excursion), is included in the latest edition of Wordsworth by Mr. John
Morley.  It was well worth adding to the poet's great bequest to
English literature.  A true student of his work, who has formulated for
himself what he supposes to be the leading characteristics of
Wordsworth's genius, will feel, we think, lively interest in testing
them by the various fine passages in what is here presented for the
first time.  Let the following serve for a sample:--

  Thickets full of songsters, and the voice
  Of lordly birds, an unexpected sound
  Heard now and then from morn to latest eve,
  Admonishing the man who walks below
  Of solitude and silence in the sky:--
  These have we, and a thousand nooks of earth
  Have also these, but nowhere else is found,
  Nowhere (or is it fancy?) can be found
  The one sensation that is here; 'tis here,
  Here as it found its way into my heart
  In childhood, here as it abides by day,
  By night, here only; or in chosen minds
  That take it with them hence, where'er they go.
  --'Tis, but I cannot name it, 'tis the sense
  Of majesty, and beauty, and repose,
  A blended holiness of earth and sky,
  Something that makes this individual spot,
  This small abiding-place of many men,
  A termination, and a last retreat,
  A centre, come from wheresoe'er you will,
  A whole without dependence or defect,
  Made for itself, and happy in itself,
  Perfect contentment, Unity entire.


59. *Henry Vaughan, in The Retreat.

62. *See an interesting paper, by Mr. John Morley, on "The Death of Mr.
Mill," Fortnightly Review, June 1873.



COLERIDGE*

[65] FORMS of intellectual and spiritual culture sometimes exercise
their subtlest and most artful charm when life is already passing from
them. Searching and irresistible as are the changes of the human spirit
on its way to perfection, there is yet so much elasticity of temper
that what must pass away sooner or later is not disengaged all at once,
even from the highest order of minds. Nature, which by one law of
development evolves ideas, hypotheses, modes of inward life, and
represses them in turn, has in this way provided that the earlier
growth should propel its fibres into the later, and so transmit the
whole of its forces in an unbroken continuity of life. Then comes the
spectacle of the reserve of the elder generation exquisitely refined by
the antagonism of the new.  That current of new life chastens them
while they contend against it. Weaker minds fail to perceive the
change: the clearest minds abandon themselves to it.  To [66] feel the
change everywhere, yet not abandon oneself to it, is a situation of
difficulty and contention.  Communicating, in this way, to the passing
stage of culture, the charm of what is chastened, high-strung,
athletic, they yet detach the highest minds from the past, by pressing
home its difficulties and finally proving it impossible. Such has been
the charm of many leaders of lost causes in philosophy and in religion.
It is the special charm of Coleridge, in connexion with those older
methods of philosophic inquiry, over which the empirical philosophy of
our day has triumphed.

Modern thought is distinguished from ancient by its cultivation of the
"relative" spirit in place of the "absolute."  Ancient philosophy
sought to arrest every object in an eternal outline, to fix thought in
a necessary formula, and the varieties of life in a classification by
"kinds," or genera.  To the modern spirit nothing is, or can be rightly
known, except relatively and under conditions.  The philosophical
conception of the relative has been developed in modern times through
the influence of the sciences of observation.  Those sciences reveal
types of life evanescing into each other by inexpressible refinements
of change.  Things pass into their opposites by accumulation of
undefinable quantities.  The growth of those sciences consists in a
continual analysis of facts of rough and general observation into
groups of facts more precise and minute.

[67] The faculty for truth is recognised as a power of distinguishing
and fixing delicate and fugitive detail.  The moral world is ever in
contact with the physical, and the relative spirit has invaded moral
philosophy from the ground of the inductive sciences.  There it has
started a new analysis of the relations of body and mind, good and
evil, freedom and necessity.  Hard and abstract moralities are yielding
to a more exact estimate of the subtlety and complexity of our life.
Always, as an organism increases in perfection, the conditions of its
life become more complex.  Man is the most complex of the products of
nature.  Character merges into temperament: the nervous system refines
itself into intellect.  Man's physical organism is played upon not only
by the physical conditions about it, but by remote laws of inheritance,
the vibration of long-past acts reaching him in the midst of the new
order of things in which he lives.  When we have estimated these
conditions he is still not yet simple and isolated; for the mind of the
race, the character of the age, sway him this way or that through the
medium of language and current ideas.  It seems as if the most opposite
statements about him were alike true: he is so receptive, all the
influences of nature and of society ceaselessly playing upon him, so
that every hour in his life is unique, changed altogether by a stray
word, or glance, or touch.  It is the truth of these relations that
experience [68] gives us, not the truth of eternal outlines ascertained
once for all, but a world of fine gradations and subtly linked
conditions, shifting intricately as we ourselves change--and bids us,
by a constant clearing of the organs of observation and perfecting of
analysis, to make what we can of these.  To the intellect, the critical
spirit, just these subtleties of effect are more precious than anything
else. What is lost in precision of form is gained in intricacy of
expression.  It is no vague scholastic abstraction that will satisfy
the speculative instinct in our modern minds.  Who would change the
colour or curve of a rose-leaf for that ousia akhrômatos,
askhêmatistos, anaphês+--that colourless, formless, intangible,
being--Plato put so high?  For the true illustration of the speculative
temper is not the Hindoo mystic, lost to sense, understanding,
individuality, but one such as Goethe, to whom every moment of life
brought its contribution of experimental, individual knowledge; by whom
no touch of the world of form, colour, and passion was disregarded.

Now the literary life of Coleridge was a disinterested struggle against
the relative spirit. With a strong native bent towards the tracking of
all questions, critical or practical, to first principles, he is ever
restlessly scheming to "apprehend the absolute," to affirm it
effectively, to get it acknowledged.  It was an effort, surely, an
effort of sickly thought, that saddened his [69] mind, and limited the
operation of his unique poetic gift.

So what the reader of our own generation will least find in Coleridge's
prose writings is the excitement of the literary sense. And yet, in
those grey volumes, we have the larger part of the production of one
who made way ever by a charm, the charm of voice, of aspect, of
language, above all by the intellectual charm of new, moving, luminous
ideas.  Perhaps the chief offence in Coleridge is an excess of
seriousness, a seriousness arising not from any moral principle, but
from a misconception of the perfect manner.  There is a certain shade
of unconcern, the perfect manner of the eighteenth century, which may
be thought to mark complete culture in the handling of abstract
questions.  The humanist, the possessor of that complete culture, does
not "weep" over the failure of "a theory of the quantification of the
predicate," nor "shriek" over the fall of a philosophical formula.  A
kind of humour is, in truth, one of the conditions of the just mental
attitude, in the criticism of by-past stages of thought.  Humanity
cannot afford to be too serious about them, any more than a man of good
sense can afford to be too serious in looking back upon his own
childhood.  Plato, whom Coleridge claims as the first of his spiritual
ancestors, Plato, as we remember him, a true humanist, holds his
theories lightly, glances with a somewhat blithe and naive
inconsequence from [70] one view to another, not anticipating the
burden of importance "views" will one day have for men.  In reading him
one feels how lately it was that Croesus thought it a paradox to say
that external prosperity was not necessarily happiness.  But on
Coleridge lies the whole weight of the sad reflection that has since
come into the world, with which for us the air is full, which the
"children in the market-place" repeat to each other.  His very language
is forced and broken lest some saving formula should be
lost--distinctities, enucleation, pentad of operative Christianity; he
has a whole armoury of these terms, and expects to turn the tide of
human thought by fixing the sense of such expressions as "reason,"
"understanding," "idea."  Again, he lacks the jealousy of a true artist
in excluding all associations that have no colour, or charm, or
gladness in them; and everywhere allows the impress of a somewhat
inferior theological literature.

"I was driven from life in motion to life in thought and sensation:" so
Coleridge sums up his childhood, with its delicacy, its sensitiveness,
and passion.  But at twenty-five he was exercising a wonderful charm,
and had already defined for himself his peculiar line of intellectual
activity.  He had an odd, attractive gift of conversation, or rather of
monologue, as Madame de Staël observed of him, full of bizarreries,
with the rapid alternations of a dream, and here or there an unexpected
summons into a world [71] strange to the hearer, abounding in images
drawn from a sort of divided imperfect life, the consciousness of the
opium-eater, as of one to whom the external world penetrated only in
part, and, blent with all this, passages of deep obscurity, precious,
if at all, only for their musical cadence, echoes in Coleridge of the
eloquence of those older English writers of whom he was so ardent a
lover.  And all through this brilliant early manhood we may discern the
power of the "Asiatic" temperament, of that voluptuousness, which is
connected perhaps with his appreciation of the intimacy, the almost
mystical communion of touch, between nature and man.  "I am much
better," he writes, "and my new and tender health is all over me like a
voluptuous feeling."  And whatever fame, or charm, or life-inspiring
gift he has had as a speculative thinker, is the vibration of the
interest he excited then, the propulsion into years which clouded his
early promise of that first buoyant, irresistible, self-assertion. So
great is even the indirect power of a sincere effort towards the ideal
life, of even a temporary escape of the spirit from routine.

In 1798 he visited Germany, then, the only half-known, "promised land,"
of the metaphysical, the "absolute," philosophy.  A beautiful fragment
of this period remains, describing a spring excursion to the Brocken.
His excitement still vibrates in it.  Love, all joyful states [72] of
mind, are self-expressive: they loosen the tongue, they fill the
thoughts with sensuous images, they harmonise one with the world of
sight.  We hear of the "rich graciousness and courtesy" of Coleridge's
manner, of the white and delicate skin, the abundant black hair, the
full, almost animal lips--that whole physiognomy of the dreamer,
already touched with narcotism.  One says, of the beginning of one of
his Unitarian sermons: "His voice rose like a stream of rich, distilled
perfumes;" another, "He talks like an angel, and does--nothing!"

The Aids to Reflection, The Friend, The Biographia Literaria: those
books came from one whose vocation was in the world of the imagination,
the theory and practice of poetry.  And yet, perhaps, of all books that
have been influential in modern times, they are furthest from artistic
form--bundles of notes; the original matter inseparably mixed up with
that borrowed from others; the whole, just that mere preparation for an
artistic effect which the finished literary artist would be careful one
day to destroy.  Here, again, we have a trait profoundly characteristic
of Coleridge.  He sometimes attempts to reduce a phase of thought,
subtle and exquisite, to conditions too rough for it.  He uses a purely
speculative gift for direct moral edification.  Scientific truth is a
thing fugitive, relative, full of fine gradations: he tries to fix it
in absolute formulas.  The Aids to Reflection, The Friend, are [73]
efforts to propagate the volatile spirit of conversation into the less
ethereal fabric of a written book; and it is only here or there that
the poorer matter becomes vibrant, is really lifted by the spirit.

De Quincey said of him that "he wanted better bread than can be made
with wheat:" Lamb, that from childhood he had "hungered for eternity."
Yet the faintness, the continuous dissolution, whatever its cause,
which soon supplanted the buoyancy of his first wonderful years, had
its own consumptive refinements, and even brought, as to the "Beautiful
Soul" in Wilhelm Meister, a faint religious ecstasy--that "singing in
the sails" which is not of the breeze.  Here again is one of his
occasional notes:--

"In looking at objects of nature while I am thinking, as at yonder
moon, dim-glimmering through the window-pane, I seem rather to be
seeking, as it were asking, a symbolical language for something within
me, that already and for ever exists, than observing anything new.
Even when the latter is the case, yet still I have always an obscure
feeling, as if that new phenomenon were the dim awaking of a forgotten
or hidden truth of my inner nature.  While I was preparing the pen to
make this remark, I lost the train of thought which had led me to it."

What a distemper of the eye of the mind!  What an almost bodily
distemper there is in that!

Coleridge's intellectual sorrows were many; [74] but he had one
singular intellectual happiness.  With an inborn taste for
transcendental philosophy, he lived just at the time when that
philosophy took an immense spring in Germany, and connected itself with
an impressive literary movement.  He had the good luck to light upon it
in its freshness, and introduce it to his countrymen.  What an
opportunity for one reared on the colourless analytic English
philosophies of the last century, but who feels an irresistible
attraction towards bold metaphysical synthesis!  How rare are such
occasions of intellectual contentment!  This transcendental philosophy,
chiefly as systematised by the mystic Schelling, Coleridge applied with
an eager, unwearied subtlety, to the questions of theology, and poetic
or artistic criticism.  It is in his theory of poetry, of art, that he
comes nearest to principles of permanent truth and importance: that is
the least fugitive part of his prose work.  What, then, is the essence
of his philosophy of art--of imaginative production?

Generally, it may be described as an attempt to reclaim the world of
art as a world of fixed laws, to show that the creative activity of
genius and the simplest act of thought are but higher and lower
products of the laws of a universal logic.  Criticism, feeling its own
inadequacy in dealing with the greater works of art, is sometimes
tempted to make too much of those dark and capricious suggestions of
genius, which even [75] the intellect possessed by them is unable to
explain or recall.  It has seemed due to the half-sacred character of
those works to ignore all analogy between the productive process by
which they had their birth, and the simpler processes of mind.
Coleridge, on the other hand, assumes that the highest phases of
thought must be more, not less, than the lower, subject to law.

With this interest, in the Biographia Literaria, he refines Schelling's
"Philosophy of Nature" into a theory of art.  "There can be no
plagiarism in philosophy," says Heine:--Es giebt kein Plagiat in der
Philosophie, in reference to the charge brought against Schelling of
unacknowledged borrowing from Bruno; and certainly that which is common
to Coleridge and Schelling and Bruno alike is of far earlier origin
than any of them.  Schellingism, the "Philosophy of Nature," is indeed
a constant tradition in the history of thought: it embodies a permanent
type of the speculative temper.  That mode of conceiving nature as a
mirror or reflex of the intelligence of man may be traced up to the
first beginnings of Greek speculation.  There are two ways of
envisaging those aspects of nature which seem to bear the impress of
reason or intelligence.  There is the deist's way, which regards them
merely as marks of design, which separates the informing mind from its
result in nature, as the mechanist from the machine; and there is the
pantheistic way, which identifies the two, which [76] regards nature
itself as the living energy of an intelligence of the same kind as
though vaster in scope than the human.  Partly through the influence of
mythology, the Greek mind became early possessed with the conception of
nature as living, thinking, almost speaking to the mind of man.  This
unfixed poetical prepossession, reduced to an abstract form, petrified
into an idea, is the force which gives unity of aim to Greek
philosophy.  Little by little, it works out the substance of the
Hegelian formula: "Whatever is, is according to reason: whatever is
according to reason, that is."  Experience, which has gradually
saddened the earth's colours for us, stiffened its motions, withdrawn
from it some blithe and debonair presence, has quite changed the
character of the science of nature, as we understand it.  The
"positive" method, in truth, makes very little account of marks of
intelligence in nature: in its wider view of phenomena, it sees that
those instances are a minority, and may rank as happy coincidences: it
absorbs them in the larger conception of universal mechanical law.  But
the suspicion of a mind latent in nature, struggling for release, and
intercourse with the intellect of man through true ideas, has never
ceased to haunt a certain class of minds.  Started again and again in
successive periods by enthusiasts on the antique pattern, in each case
the thought may have seemed paler and more fantastic amid the growing
[77] consistency and sharpness of outline of other and more positive
forms of knowledge.  Still, wherever the speculative instinct has been
united with a certain poetic inwardness of temperament, as in Bruno, in
Schelling, there that old Greek conception, like some seed floating in
the air, has taken root and sprung up anew.  Coleridge, thrust inward
upon himself, driven from "life in thought and sensation" to life in
thought only, feels already, in his dark London school, a thread of the
Greek mind on this matter vibrating strongly in him.  At fifteen he is
discoursing on Plotinus, as in later years he reflects from Schelling
that flitting intellectual tradition. He supposes a subtle, sympathetic
co-ordination between the ideas of the human reason and the laws of the
natural world.  Science, the real knowledge of that natural world, is
to be attained, not by observation, experiment, analysis, patient
generalisation, but by the evolution or recovery of those ideas
directly from within, by a sort of Platonic "recollection"; every group
of observed facts remaining an enigma until the appropriate idea is
struck upon them from the mind of a Newton, or a Cuvier, the genius in
whom sympathy with the universal reason becomes entire.  In the next
place, he conceives that this reason or intelligence in nature becomes
reflective, or self-conscious.  He fancies he can trace, through all
the simpler forms of life, fragments of an eloquent prophecy about the
[78] human mind.  The whole of nature he regards as a development of
higher forms out of the lower, through shade after shade of systematic
change.  The dim stir of chemical atoms towards the axis of crystal
form, the trance-like life of plants, the animal troubled by strange
irritabilities, are stages which anticipate consciousness.  All through
the ever-increasing movement of life that was shaping itself; every
successive phase of life, in its unsatisfied susceptibilities, seeming
to be drawn out of its own limits by the more pronounced current of
life on its confines, the "shadow of approaching humanity" gradually
deepening, the latent intelligence winning a way to the surface.  And
at this point the law of development does not lose itself in caprice:
rather it becomes more constraining and incisive. From the lowest to
the very highest acts of the conscious intelligence, there is another
series of refining shades.  Gradually the mind concentrates itself,
frees itself from the limitations of the particular, the individual,
attains a strange power of modifying and centralising what it receives
from without, according to the pattern of an inward ideal.  At last, in
imaginative genius, ideas become effective: the intelligence of nature,
all its discursive elements now connected and justified, is clearly
reflected; the interpretation of its latent purposes being embodied in
the great central products of creative art.  The secret of creative
[79] genius would be an exquisitely purged sympathy with nature, with
the reasonable soul antecedent there.  Those associative conceptions of
the imagination, those eternally fixed types of action and passion,
would come, not so much from the conscious invention of the artist, as
from his self-surrender to the suggestions of an abstract reason or
ideality in things: they would be evolved by the stir of nature itself,
realising the highest reach of its dormant reason: they would have a
kind of prevenient necessity to rise at some time to the surface of the
human mind.

It is natural that Shakespeare should be the favourite illustration of
such criticism, whether in England or Germany.  The first suggestion in
Shakespeare is that of capricious detail, of a waywardness that plays
with the parts careless of the impression of the whole; what supervenes
is the constraining unity of effect, the ineffaceable impression, of
Hamlet or Macbeth.  His hand moving freely is curved round as if by
some law of gravitation from within: an energetic unity or identity
makes itself visible amid an abounding variety.  This unity or identity
Coleridge exaggerates into something like the identity of a natural
organism, and the associative act which effected it into something
closely akin to the primitive power of nature itself.  "In the
Shakespearian drama," he says, "there is a vitality which grows and
evolves itself from within."

[80] Again--

He, too, worked in the spirit of nature, by evolving the germ from
within, by the imaginative power, according to the idea. For as the
power of seeing is to light, so is an idea in mind to a law in nature.
They are correlatives which suppose each other.

Again--

The organic form is innate: it shapes, as it develops, itself from
within, and the fulness of its development is one and the same with the
perfection of its outward form.  Such as the life is, such is the form.
Nature, the prime, genial artist, inexhaustible in diverse powers, is
equally inexhaustible in forms: each exterior is the physiognomy of the
being within, and even such is the appropriate excellence of
Shakespeare, himself a nature humanised, a genial understanding,
directing self-consciously a power and an implicit wisdom deeper even
than our consciousness.+

In this late age we are become so familiarised with the greater works
of art as to be little sensitive of the act of creation in them: they
do not impress us as a new presence in the world.  Only sometimes, in
productions which realise immediately a profound influence and enforce
a change in taste, we are actual witnesses of the moulding of an
unforeseen type by some new principle of association; and to that
phenomenon Coleridge wisely recalls our attention.  What makes his view
a one-sided one is, that in it the artist has become almost a
mechanical agent: instead of the most luminous and self-possessed phase
of consciousness, the associative act in art or poetry is made to look
like some blindly organic process of assimilation.  The work of art is
likened to a living organism.  That expresses [81] truly the sense of a
self-delighting, independent life which the finished work of art gives
us: it hardly figures the process by which such work was produced.
Here there is no blind ferment of lifeless elements towards the
realisation of a type.  By exquisite analysis the artist attains
clearness of idea; then, through many stages of refining, clearness of
expression.  He moves slowly over his work, calculating the tenderest
tone, and restraining the subtlest curve, never letting hand or fancy
move at large, gradually enforcing flaccid spaces to the higher degree
of expressiveness.  The philosophic critic, at least, will value, even
in works of imagination, seemingly the most intuitive, the power of the
understanding in them, their logical process of construction, the
spectacle of a supreme intellectual dexterity which they afford.

Coleridge's prose writings on philosophy, politics, religion, and
criticism, were, in truth, but one element in a whole lifetime of
endeavours to present the then recent metaphysics of Germany to English
readers, as a legitimate expansion of the older, classical and native
masters of what has been variously called the a priori, or absolute, or
spiritual, or Platonic, view of things.  His criticism, his challenge
for recognition in the concrete, visible, finite work of art, of the
dim, unseen, comparatively infinite, soul or power of the artist, may
well be [82] remembered as part of the long pleading of German culture
for the things "behind the veil."  To introduce that spiritual
philosophy, as represented by the more transcendental parts of Kant,
and by Schelling, into all subjects, as a system of reason in them, one
and ever identical with itself, however various the matter through
which it was diffused, became with him the motive of an unflagging
enthusiasm, which seems to have been the one thread of continuity in a
life otherwise singularly wanting in unity of purpose, and in which he
was certainly far from uniformly at his best.  Fragmentary and obscure,
but often eloquent, and always at once earnest and ingenious, those
writings, supplementing his remarkable gift of conversation, were
directly and indirectly influential, even on some the furthest removed
from Coleridge's own masters; on John Stuart Mill, for instance, and
some of the earlier writers of the "high-church" school.  Like his
verse, they display him also in two other characters--as a student of
words, and as a psychologist, that is, as a more minute observer or
student than other men of the phenomena of mind.  To note the recondite
associations of words, old or new; to expound the logic, the reasonable
soul, of their various uses; to recover the interest of older writers
who had had a phraseology of their own--this was a vein of inquiry
allied to his undoubted gift of tracking out and analysing curious
modes of thought.  A [83] quaint fragment of verse on Human Life might
serve to illustrate his study of the earlier English philosophical
poetry.  The latter gift, that power of the "subtle-souled
psychologist," as Shelley calls him, seems to have been connected with
some tendency to disease in the physical temperament, something of a
morbid want of balance in those parts where the physical and
intellectual elements mix most closely together, with a kind of languid
visionariness, deep-seated in the very constitution of the "narcotist,"
who had quite a gift for "plucking the poisons of self-harm," and which
the actual habit of taking opium, accidentally acquired, did but
reinforce.  This morbid languor of nature, connected both with his
fitfulness of purpose and his rich delicate dreaminess, qualifies
Coleridge's poetic composition even more than his prose; his verse,
with the exception of his avowedly political poems, being, unlike that
of the "Lake School," to which in some respects he belongs, singularly
unaffected by any moral, or professional, or personal effort or
ambition,--"written," as he says, "after the more violent emotions of
sorrow, to give him pleasure, when perhaps nothing else could;" but
coming thus, indeed, very close to his own most intimately personal
characteristics, and having a certain languidly soothing grace or
cadence, for its most fixed quality, from first to last.  After some
Platonic soliloquy on a flower opening on a fine day in February, he
goes on-- [84]

  Dim similitudes
  Weaving in mortal strains, I've stolen one hour
  From anxious self, life's cruel taskmaster!
  And the warm wooings of this sunny day
  Tremble along my frame and harmonise
  The attempered organ, that even saddest thoughts
  Mix with some sweet sensations, like harsh tunes
  Played deftly on a sweet-toned instrument.

The expression of two opposed, yet allied, elements of sensibility in
these lines, is very true to Coleridge:--the grievous agitation, the
grievous listlessness, almost never entirely relieved, together with a
certain physical voluptuousness.  He has spoken several times of the
scent of the bean-field in the air:--the tropical touches in a chilly
climate; his is a nature that will make the most of these, which finds
a sort of caress in such things.  Kubla Khan, the fragment of a poem
actually composed in some certainly not quite healthy sleep, is perhaps
chiefly of interest as showing, by the mode of its composition, how
physical, how much of a diseased or valetudinarian temperament, in its
moments of relief, Coleridge's happiest gift really was; and side by
side with Kubla Khan should be read, as Coleridge placed it, the Pains
of Sleep, to illustrate that retarding physical burden in his
temperament, that "unimpassioned grief," the source of which lay so
near the source of those pleasures.  Connected also with this, and
again in contrast with Wordsworth, is the limited quantity of his
poetical performance, as he himself [85] regrets so eloquently in the
lines addressed to Wordsworth after his recitation of The Prelude.  It
is like some exotic plant, just managing to blossom a little in the
somewhat un-english air of Coleridge's own south-western birthplace,
but never quite well there.

In 1798 he joined Wordsworth in the composition of a volume of
poems--the Lyrical Ballads.  What Wordsworth then wrote already
vibrates with that blithe impulse which carried him to final happiness
and self-possession.  In Coleridge we feel already that faintness and
obscure dejection which clung like some contagious damp to all his
work.  Wordsworth was to be distinguished by a joyful and penetrative
conviction of the existence of certain latent affinities between nature
and the human mind, which reciprocally gild the mind and nature with a
kind of "heavenly alchemy."

  My voice proclaims
  How exquisitely the individual mind
  (And the progressive powers, perhaps, no less
  Of the whole species) to the external world
  Is fitted; and how exquisitely, too,
  The external world is fitted to the mind;
  And the creation, by no lower name
  Can it be called, which they with blended might
  Accomplish.

In Wordsworth this took the form of an unbroken dreaming over the
aspects and transitions of nature--a reflective, though altogether
unformulated, analysis of them.

[86] There are in Coleridge's poems expressions of this conviction as
deep as Wordsworth's.  But Coleridge could never have abandoned himself
to the dream, the vision, as Wordsworth did, because the first
condition of such abandonment must be an unvexed quietness of heart.
No one can read the Lines composed above Tintern without feeling how
potent the physical element was among the conditions of Wordsworth's
genius--"felt in the blood and felt along the heart."

  My whole life I have lived in quiet thought!

The stimulus which most artists require of nature he can renounce. He
leaves the ready-made glory of the Swiss mountains that he may reflect
glory on a mouldering leaf.  He loves best to watch the floating
thistledown, because of its hint at an unseen life in the air.
Coleridge's temperament, aei en sphodra orexei,+ with its faintness,
its grieved dejection, could never have been like that.

  My genial spirits fail;
  And what can these avail
  To lift the smothering weight from off my breast?
  It were a vain endeavour,
  Though I should gaze for ever
  On that green light that lingers in the west
  I may not hope from outward forms to win
  The passion and the life whose fountains are within.

Wordsworth's flawless temperament, his fine mountain atmosphere of
mind, that calm, sabbatic, mystic, wellbeing which De Quincey, [87] a
little cynically, connected with worldly (that is to say, pecuniary)
good fortune, kept his conviction of a latent intelligence in nature
within the limits of sentiment or instinct, and confined it to those
delicate and subdued shades of expression which alone perfect art
allows.  In Coleridge's sadder, more purely intellectual, cast of
genius, what with Wordsworth was sentiment or instinct became a
philosophical idea, or philosophical formula, developed, as much as
possible, after the abstract and metaphysical fashion of the
transcendental schools of Germany.

The period of Coleridge's residence at Nether Stowey, 1797-1798, was
for him the annus mirabilis.  Nearly all the chief works by which his
poetic fame will live were then composed or planned.  What shapes
itself for criticism as the main phenomenon of Coleridge's poetic life,
is not, as with most true poets, the gradual development of a poetic
gift, determined, enriched, retarded, by the actual circumstances of
the poet's life, but the sudden blossoming, through one short season,
of such a gift already perfect in its kind, which thereafter
deteriorates as suddenly, with something like premature old age.
Connecting this phenomenon with the leading motive of his prose
writings, we might note it as the deterioration of a productive or
creative power into one merely metaphysical or discursive.  In his
unambitious conception of his function as a poet, and in the very
limited quantity of his [88] poetical performance, as I have said, he
was a contrast to his friend Wordsworth.  That friendship with
Wordsworth, the chief "developing" circumstance of his poetic life,
comprehended a very close intellectual sympathy; and in such
association chiefly, lies whatever truth there may be in the popular
classification of Coleridge as a member of what is called the "Lake
School."  Coleridge's philosophical speculations do really turn on the
ideas which underlay Wordsworth's poetical practice.  His prose works
are one long explanation of all that is involved in that famous
distinction between the Fancy and the Imagination.  Of what is
understood by both writers as the imaginative quality in the use of
poetic figures, we may take some words of Shakespeare as an example.--

  My cousin Suffolk,
  My soul shall thine keep company to heaven
  Tarry, sweet soul, for mine, then fly abreast.

The complete infusion here of the figure into the thought, so vividly
realised, that, though birds are not actually mentioned, yet the sense
of their flight, conveyed to us by the single word "abreast," comes to
be more than half of the thought itself:--this, as the expression of
exalted feeling, is an instance of what Coleridge meant by Imagination.
And this sort of identification of the poet's thought, of himself, with
the image or figure which serves him, is the secret, sometimes, [89] of
a singularly entire realisation of that image, such as makes these
lines of Coleridge, for instance, "imaginative"--

  Amid the howl of more than wintry storms,
  The halcyon hears the voice of vernal hours
  Already on the wing.

There are many such figures both in Coleridge's verse and prose.  He
has, too, his passages of that sort of impassioned contemplation on the
permanent and elementary conditions of nature and humanity, which
Wordsworth held to be the essence of a poet; as it would be his proper
function to awaken such contemplation in other men--those "moments," as
Coleridge says, addressing him--

  Moments awful,
  Now in thy inner life, and now abroad,
  When power streamed from thee, and thy soul received
  The light reflected, as a light bestowed.

The entire poem from which these lines are taken, "composed on the
night after Wordsworth's recitation of a poem on the growth of an
individual mind," is, in its high-pitched strain of meditation, and in
the combined justice and elevation of its philosophical expression--

  high and passionate thoughts
  To their own music chanted;

wholly sympathetic with The Prelude which it celebrates, and of which
the subject is, in effect, the generation of the spirit of the "Lake
poetry." [90] The Lines to Joseph Cottle have the same philosophically
imaginative character; the Ode to Dejection being Coleridge's most
sustained effort of this kind.

It is in a highly sensitive apprehension of the aspects of external
nature that Coleridge identifies himself most closely with one of the
main tendencies of the "Lake School"; a tendency instinctive, and no
mere matter of theory, in him as in Wordsworth.  That record of the

  green light
  Which lingers in the west,

and again, of

  the western sky,
  And its peculiar tint of yellow green,

which Byron found ludicrously untrue, but which surely needs no
defence, is a characteristic example of a singular watchfulness for the
minute fact and expression of natural scenery pervading all he wrote--a
closeness to the exact physiognomy of nature, having something to do
with that idealistic philosophy which sees in the external world no
mere concurrence of mechanical agencies, but an animated body, informed
and made expressive, like the body of man, by an indwelling
intelligence.  It was a tendency, doubtless, in the air, for Shelley
too is affected by it, and Turner, with the school of landscape which
followed him.  "I had found," Coleridge tells us,

[91]

  That outward forms, the loftiest, still receive
  Their finer influence from the world within;
  Fair ciphers of vague import, where the eye
  Traces no spot, in which the heart may read
  History and prophecy:...

and this induces in him no indifference to actual colour and form and
process, but such minute realism as this--

  The thin grey cloud is spread on high,
  It covers but not hides the sky.
  The moon is behind and at the full;
  And yet she looks both small and dull;

or this, which has a touch of "romantic" weirdness--

  Nought was green upon the oak
  But moss and rarest misletoe

or this--

  There is not wind enough to twirl
  The one red leaf, the last of its clan,
  That dances as often as dance it can,
  Hanging so light, and hanging so high,
  On the topmost twig that looks up at the sky

or this, with a weirdness, again, like that of some wild French etcher--

  Lo! the new-moon winter-bright!
  And overspread with phantom light
  (With swimming phantom light o'erspread,
  But rimmed and circled with a silver thread)
  I see the old moon in her lap, foretelling
  The coming on of rain and squally blast.

He has a like imaginative apprehension of the silent and unseen
processes of nature, its "ministries" [92] of dew and frost, for
instance; as when he writes, in April--

  A balmy night! and though the stars be dim,
  Yet let us think upon the vernal showers
  That gladden the green earth, and we shall find
  A pleasure in the dimness of the stars.

Of such imaginative treatment of landscape there is no better instance
than the description of The Dell, in Fears in Solitude--

  A green and silent spot amid the hills,
  A small and silent dell!  O'er stiller place
  No singing skylark ever poised himself--
  But the dell,
  Bathed by the mist is fresh and delicate
  As vernal cornfield, or the unripe flax
  When, through its half-transparent stalks, at eve,
  The level sunshine glimmers with green light:--

  The gust that roared and died away
  To the distant tree--

  heard and only heard
  In this low dell, bowed not the delicate grass.

This curious insistence of the mind on one particular spot, till it
seems to attain actual expression and a sort of soul in it--a mood so
characteristic of the "Lake School"--occurs in an earnest political
poem, "written in April 1798, during the alarm of an invasion"; and
that silent dell is the background against which the tumultuous fears
of the poet are in strong relief, while the quiet sense of the place,
maintained all through them, gives a true poetic unity to the piece.
Good political poetry--[93] political poetry that shall be permanently
moving--can, perhaps, only be written on motives which, for those they
concern, have ceased to be open questions, and are really beyond
argument; while Coleridge's political poems are for the most part on
open questions.  For although it was a great part of his intellectual
ambition to subject political questions to the action of the
fundamental ideas of his philosophy, he was nevertheless an ardent
partisan, first on one side, then on the other, of the actual politics
proper to the end of the last and the beginning of the present century,
where there is still room for much difference of opinion.  Yet The
Destiny of Nations, though formless as a whole, and unfinished,
presents many traces of his most elevated manner of speculation, cast
into that sort of imaginative philosophical expression, in which, in
effect, the language itself is inseparable from, or essentially a part
of, the thought.  France, an Ode, begins with a famous apostrophe to
Liberty--

  Ye Clouds! that far above me float and pause,
  Whose pathless march no mortal may control!
  Ye Ocean-waves! that wheresoe'er ye roll,
  Yield homage only to eternal laws!
  Ye Woods! that listen to the night-bird's singing,
  Midway the smooth and perilous slope reclined,
  Save when your own imperious branches swinging,
  Have made a solemn music of the wind!
  Where like a man beloved of God,
  Through glooms which never woodman trod,
  How oft, pursuing fancies holy,

[94]

  My moonlight way o'er flowering weeds I wound,
  Inspired, beyond the guess of folly,
  By each rude shape and wild unconquerable sound!
  O ye loud Waves! and O ye Forests high!
  And O ye Clouds that far above me soar'd!

  Thou rising Sun! thou blue rejoicing Sky!
  Yea, everything that is and will be free!
  Bear witness for me, wheresoe'er ye be,
  With what deep worship I have still adored
  The spirit of divinest liberty.

And the whole ode, though, after Coleridge's way, not quite equal to
that exordium, is an example of strong national sentiment, partly in
indignant reaction against his own earlier sympathy with the French
Republic, inspiring a composition which, in spite of some turgid lines,
really justifies itself as poetry, and has that true unity of effect
which the ode requires.  Liberty, after all his hopes of young France,
is only to be found in nature:--

  Thou speedest on thy subtle pinions,
  The guide of homeless winds, and playmate of the waves!

In his changes of political sentiment, Coleridge was associated with
the "Lake School"; and there is yet one other very different sort of
sentiment in which he is one with that school, yet all himself, his
sympathy, namely, with the animal world.  That was a sentiment
connected at once with the love of outward nature in himself and in the
"Lake School," and its assertion of the natural affections in their
simplicity; with the homeliness and pity, consequent upon [95] that
assertion.  The Lines to a Young Ass, tethered--

  Where the close-eaten grass is scarcely seen,
  While sweet around her waves the tempting green,

which had seemed merely whimsical in their day, indicate a vein of
interest constant in Coleridge's poems, and at its height in his
greatest poems--in Christabel, where it has its effect, as it were
antipathetically, in the vivid realisation of the serpentine element in
Geraldine's nature; and in The Ancient Mariner, whose fate is
interwoven with that of the wonderful bird, at whose blessing of the
water-snakes the curse for the death of the albatross passes away, and
where the moral of the love of all creatures, as a sort of religious
duty, is definitely expressed.

Christabel, though not printed till 1816, was written mainly in the
year 1797: The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner was printed as a
contribution to the Lyrical Ballads in 1798; and these two poems belong
to the great year of Coleridge's poetic production, his twenty-fifth
year.  In poetic quality, above all in that most poetic of all
qualities, a keen sense of, and delight in beauty, the infection of
which lays hold upon the reader, they are quite out of proportion to
all his other compositions.  The form in both is that of the ballad,
with some of its terminology, and some also of its quaint conceits.
They connect themselves with that revival of ballad literature, of
which Percy's Relics, and, in another [96] way, Macpherson's Ossian are
monuments, and which afterwards so powerfully affected Scott--

  Young-eyed poesy
  All deftly masked as hoar antiquity.

The Ancient Mariner, as also, in its measure, Christabel, is a
"romantic" poem, impressing us by bold invention, and appealing to that
taste for the supernatural, that longing for le frisson, a shudder, to
which the "romantic" school in Germany, and its derivations in England
and France, directly ministered.  In Coleridge, personally, this taste
had been encouraged by his odd and out-of-the-way reading in the
old-fashioned literature of the marvellous--books like Purchas's
Pilgrims, early voyages like Hakluyt's, old naturalists and visionary
moralists, like Thomas Burnet, from whom he quotes the motto of "The
Ancient Mariner, Facile credo, plures esse naturas invisibiles quam
visibiles in rerum universitate, etc."  Fancies of the strange things
which may very well happen, even in broad daylight, to men shut up
alone in ships far off on the sea, seem to have occurred to the human
mind in all ages with a peculiar readiness, and often have about them,
from the story of the stealing of Dionysus downwards, the fascination
of a certain dreamy grace, which distinguishes them from other kinds of
marvellous inventions.  This sort of fascination The Ancient Mariner
brings to its highest degree: it is the delicacy, the dreamy [97]
grace, in his presentation of the marvellous, which makes Coleridge's
work so remarkable.  The too palpable intruders from a spiritual world
in almost all ghost literature, in Scott and Shakespeare even, have a
kind of crudity or coarseness.  Coleridge's power is in the very
fineness with which, as by some really ghostly finger, he brings home
to our inmost sense his inventions, daring as they are--the skeleton
ship, the polar spirit, the inspiriting of the dead corpses of the
ship's crew.  The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner has the plausibility,
the perfect adaptation to reason and the general aspect of life, which
belongs to the marvellous, when actually presented as part of a
credible experience in our dreams.  Doubtless, the mere experience of
the opium-eater, the habit he must almost necessarily fall into of
noting the more elusive phenomena of dreams, had something to do with
that: in its essence, however, it is connected with a more purely
intellectual circumstance in the development of Coleridge's poetic
gift.  Some one once asked William Blake, to whom Coleridge has many
resemblances, when either is at his best (that whole episode of the
re-inspiriting of the ship's crew in The Ancient Mariner being
comparable to Blake's well-known design of the "Morning Stars singing
together") whether he had ever seen a ghost, and was surprised when the
famous seer, who ought, one might think, to have seen so many, answered
frankly, "Only [98] once!"  His "spirits," at once more delicate, and
so much more real, than any ghost--the burden, as they were the
privilege, of his temperament--like it, were an integral element in his
everyday life.  And the difference of mood expressed in that question
and its answer, is indicative of a change of temper in regard to the
supernatural which has passed over the whole modern mind, and of which
the true measure is the influence of the writings of Swedenborg.  What
that change is we may see if we compare the vision by which Swedenborg
was "called," as he thought, to his work, with the ghost which called
Hamlet, or the spells of Marlowe's Faust with those of Goethe's.  The
modern mind, so minutely self-scrutinising, if it is to be affected at
all by a sense of the supernatural, needs to be more finely touched
than was possible in the older, romantic presentment of it.  The
spectral object, so crude, so impossible, has become plausible, as

  The blot upon the brain,
  That will show itself without;

and is understood to be but a condition of one's own mind, for which,
according to the scepticism, latent at least, in so much of our modern
philosophy, the so-called real things themselves are but spectra after
all.

It is this finer, more delicately marvellous supernaturalism, fruit of
his more delicate [99] psychology, that Coleridge infuses into romantic
adventure, itself also then a new or revived thing in English
literature; and with a fineness of weird effect in The Ancient Mariner,
unknown in those older, more simple, romantic legends and ballads.  It
is a flower of medieval or later German romance, growing up in the
peculiarly compounded atmosphere of modern psychological speculation,
and putting forth in it wholly new qualities.  The quaint prose
commentary, which runs side by side with the verse of The Ancient
Mariner, illustrates this--a composition of quite a different shade of
beauty and merit from that of the verse which it accompanies,
connecting this, the chief poem of Coleridge, with his philosophy, and
emphasising therein that psychological interest of which I have spoken,
its curious soul-lore.

Completeness, the perfectly rounded wholeness and unity of the
impression it leaves on the mind of a reader who fairly gives himself
to it--that, too, is one of the characteristics of a really excellent
work, in the poetic as in every other kind of art; and by this
completeness, The Ancient Mariner certainly gains upon Christabel--a
completeness, entire as that of Wordsworth's Leech-gatherer, or Keats's
Saint Agnes' Eve, each typical in its way of such wholeness or entirety
of effect on a careful reader.  It is Coleridge's one great complete
work, the one really finished thing, in a life of many beginnings.
Christabel remained a fragment.  In The Ancient Mariner [100] this
unity is secured in part by the skill with which the incidents of the
marriage-feast are made to break in dreamily from time to time upon the
main story.  And then, how pleasantly, how reassuringly, the whole
nightmare story itself is made to end, among the clear fresh sounds and
lights of the bay, where it began, with

  The moon-light steeped in silentness,
  The steady weather-cock.

So different from The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner in regard to this
completeness of effect, Christabel illustrates the same complexion of
motives, a like intellectual situation.  Here, too, the work is of a
kind peculiar to one who touches the characteristic motives of the old
romantic ballad, with a spirit made subtle and fine by modern
reflection; as we feel, I think, in such passages as--

  But though my slumber had gone by,
  This dream it would not pass away--
  It seems to live upon mine eye;

and--

  For she, belike, hath drunken deep
  Of all the blessedness of sleep;

and again--

  With such perplexity of mind
  As dreams too lively leave behind.

And that gift of handling the finer passages of human feeling, at once
with power and delicacy, which was another result of his finer
psychology, [101] of his exquisitely refined habit of self-reflection,
is illustrated by a passage on Friendship in the Second Part--

  Alas! they had been friends in youth;
  But whispering tongues can poison truth;
  And constancy lives in realms above;
  And life is thorny; and youth is vain;
  And to be wroth with one we love,
  Doth work like madness in the brain.
  And thus it chanced, as I divine,
  With Roland and Sir Leoline.
  Each spake words of high disdain
  And insult to his heart's best brother
  They parted--ne'er to meet again!
  But never either found another
  To free the hollow heart from paining--
  They stood aloof the scars remaining,
  Like cliffs which had been rent asunder;
  A dreary sea now flows between;
  But neither heat, nor frost, nor thunder,
  Shall wholly do away, I ween,
  The marks of that which once hath been.

I suppose these lines leave almost every reader with a quickened sense
of the beauty and compass of human feeling; and it is the sense of such
richness and beauty which, in spite of his "dejection," in spite of
that burden of his morbid lassitude, accompanies Coleridge himself
through life.  A warm poetic joy in everything beautiful, whether it be
a moral sentiment, like the friendship of Roland and Leoline, or only
the flakes of falling light from the water-snakes--this joy, visiting
him, now and again, after sickly dreams, in sleep or waking, as a
relief not to be forgotten, [102] and with such a power of felicitous
expression that the infection of it passes irresistibly to the
reader--such is the predominant element in the matter of his poetry, as
cadence is the predominant quality of its form.  "We bless thee for our
creation!" he might have said, in his later period of definite
religious assent, "because the world is so beautiful: the world of
ideas--living spirits, detached from the divine nature itself, to
inform and lift the heavy mass of material things; the world of man,
above all in his melodious and intelligible speech; the world of living
creatures and natural scenery; the world of dreams."  What he really
did say, by way of A Tombless Epitaph, is true enough of himself--

  Sickness, 'tis true,
  Whole years of weary days, besieged him close,
  Even to the gates and inlets of his life!
  But it is true, no less, that strenuous, firm,
  And with a natural gladness, he maintained
  The citadel unconquered, and in joy
  Was strong to follow the delightful Muse.
  For not a hidden path, that to the shades
  Of the beloved Parnassian forest leads,
  Lurked undiscovered by him; not a rill
  There issues from the fount of Hippocrene,
  But he had traced it upward to its source,
  Through open glade, dark glen, and secret dell,
  Knew the gay wild flowers on its banks, and culled
  Its med'cinable herbs.  Yea, oft alone,
  Piercing the long-neglected holy cave,
  The haunt obscure of old Philosophy,
  He bade with lifted torch its starry walls
  Sparkle, as erst they sparkled to the flame

[103]

  Of odorous lamps tended by saint and sage.
  O framed for calmer times and nobler hearts!
  O studious Poet, eloquent for truth!
  Philosopher! contemning wealth and death,
  Yet docile, childlike, full of Life and Love.

The student of empirical science asks, Are absolute principles
attainable?  What are the limits of knowledge?  The answer he receives
from science itself is not ambiguous.  What the moralist asks is, Shall
we gain or lose by surrendering human life to the relative spirit?
Experience answers that the dominant tendency of life is to turn
ascertained truth into a dead letter, to make us all the phlegmatic
servants of routine.  The relative spirit, by its constant dwelling on
the more fugitive conditions or circumstances of things, breaking
through a thousand rough and brutal classifications, and giving
elasticity to inflexible principles, begets an intellectual finesse of
which the ethical result is a delicate and tender justice in the
criticism of human life.  Who would gain more than Coleridge by
criticism in such a spirit?  We know how his life has appeared when
judged by absolute standards.  We see him trying to apprehend the
"absolute," to stereotype forms of faith and philosophy, to attain, as
he says, "fixed principles" in politics, morals, and religion, to fix
one mode of life as the essence of life, refusing to see the parts as
parts only; and all the time his own pathetic history pleads for a more
[104] elastic moral philosophy than his, and cries out against every
formula less living and flexible than life itself.

"From his childhood he hungered for eternity."  There, after all, is
the incontestable claim of Coleridge.  The perfect flower of any
elementary type of life must always be precious to humanity, and
Coleridge is a true flower of the ennuyé, of the type of René.  More
than Childe Harold, more than Werther, more than René himself,
Coleridge, by what he did, what he was, and what he failed to do,
represents that inexhaustible discontent, languor, and homesickness,
that endless regret, the chords of which ring all through our modern
literature.  It is to the romantic element in literature that those
qualities belong.  One day, perhaps, we may come to forget the distant
horizon, with full knowledge of the situation, to be content with "what
is here and now"; and herein is the essence of classical feeling.  But
by us of the present moment, certainly--by us for whom the Greek
spirit, with its engaging naturalness, simple, chastened, debonair,
tryphês, habrotêtos, khlidês, kharitôn, himerou, pothou patêr+, is
itself the Sangrail of an endless pilgrimage, Coleridge, with his
passion for the absolute, for something fixed where all is moving, his
faintness, his broken memory, his intellectual disquiet, may still be
ranked among the interpreters of one of the constituent elements of our
life.

1865, 1880.

NOTES

65. *The latter part of this paper, like that on Dante Gabriel
Rossetti, was contributed to Mr. T. H. Ward's English Poets.

68. +Transliteration: ousia akhrômatos, askhêmatistos, anaphês.
Translation:  "the colorless, utterly formless, intangible essence."
Phaedrus 247C.

80. +The two passages are not indented in the original; they are in
smaller typeface that makes for difficult reading.

86. +Transliteration: aei en sphodra orexei.  Translation: "always
greatly yearning."

104. +Transliteration: tryphês, habrotêtos, khlidês, kharitôn, himerou,
pothou patêr.  Translation: "Of daintiness, delicacy, luxury, graces,
father of desire."



CHARLES LAMB

[105] THOSE English critics who at the beginning of the present century
introduced from Germany, together with some other subtleties of thought
transplanted hither not without advantage, the distinction between the
Fancy and the Imagination, made much also of the cognate distinction
between Wit and Humour, between that unreal and transitory mirth, which
is as the crackling of thorns under the pot, and the laughter which
blends with tears and even with the sublimities of the imagination, and
which, in its most exquisite motives, is one with pity--the laughter of
the comedies of Shakespeare, hardly less expressive than his moods of
seriousness or solemnity, of that deeply stirred soul of sympathy in
him, as flowing from which both tears and laughter are alike genuine
and contagious.

This distinction between wit and humour, Coleridge and other kindred
critics applied, with much effect, in their studies of some of our
older English writers.  And as the distinction between imagination and
fancy, made popular by Wordsworth, [106] found its best justification
in certain essential differences of stuff in Wordsworth's own writings,
so this other critical distinction, between wit and humour, finds a
sort of visible interpretation and instance in the character and
writings of Charles Lamb;--one who lived more consistently than most
writers among subtle literary theories, and whose remains are still
full of curious interest for the student of literature as a fine art.

The author of the English Humourists of the Eighteenth Century, coming
to the humourists of the nineteenth, would have found, as is true
preeminently of Thackeray himself, the springs of pity in them deepened
by the deeper subjectivity, the intenser and closer living with itself,
which is characteristic of the temper of the later generation; and
therewith, the mirth also, from the amalgam of which with pity humour
proceeds, has become, in Charles Dickens, for example, freer and more
boisterous.

To this more high-pitched feeling, since predominant in our literature,
the writings of Charles Lamb, whose life occupies the last quarter of
the eighteenth century and the first quarter of the nineteenth, are a
transition; and such union of grave, of terrible even, with gay, we may
note in the circumstances of his life, as reflected thence into his
work.  We catch the aroma of a singular, homely sweetness about his
first years, spent on Thames' side, amid the red [107] bricks and
terraced gardens, with their rich historical memories of old-fashioned
legal London.  Just above the poorer class, deprived, as he says, of
the "sweet food of academic institution," he is fortunate enough to be
reared in the classical languages at an ancient school, where he
becomes the companion of Coleridge, as at a later period he was his
enthusiastic disciple.  So far, the years go by with less than the
usual share of boyish difficulties; protected, one fancies, seeing what
he was afterwards, by some attraction of temper in the quaint child,
small and delicate, with a certain Jewish expression in his clear,
brown complexion, eyes not precisely of the same colour, and a slow
walk adding to the staidness of his figure; and whose infirmity of
speech, increased by agitation, is partly engaging.

And the cheerfulness of all this, of the mere aspect of Lamb's quiet
subsequent life also, might make the more superficial reader think of
him as in himself something slight, and of his mirth as cheaply bought.
Yet we know that beneath this blithe surface there was something of the
fateful domestic horror, of the beautiful heroism and devotedness too,
of old Greek tragedy.  His sister Mary, ten years his senior, in a
sudden paroxysm of madness, caused the death of her mother, and was
brought to trial for what an overstrained justice might have construed
as the greatest of crimes.  She was [108] released on the brother's
pledging himself to watch over her; and to this sister, from the age of
twenty-one, Charles Lamb sacrificed himself, "seeking thenceforth,"
says his earliest biographer, "no connexion which could interfere with
her supremacy in his affections, or impair his ability to sustain and
comfort her." The "feverish, romantic tie of love," he cast away in
exchange for the "charities of home."  Only, from time to time, the
madness returned, affecting him too, once; and we see the brother and
sister voluntarily yielding to restraint.  In estimating the humour of
Elia, we must no more forget the strong undercurrent of this great
misfortune and pity, than one could forget it in his actual story. So
he becomes the best critic, almost the discoverer, of Webster, a
dramatist of genius so sombre, so heavily coloured, so macabre.
Rosamund Grey, written in his twenty-third year, a story with something
bitter and exaggerated, an almost insane fixedness of gloom perceptible
in it, strikes clearly this note in his work.

For himself, and from his own point of view, the exercise of his gift,
of his literary art, came to gild or sweeten a life of monotonous
labour, and seemed, as far as regarded others, no very important thing;
availing to give them a little pleasure, and inform them a little,
chiefly in a retrospective manner, but in no way concerned with the
turning of the tides of the great world.  And yet this very modesty,
this unambitious [109] way of conceiving his work, has impressed upon
it a certain exceptional enduringness.  For of the remarkable English
writers contemporary with Lamb, many were greatly preoccupied with
ideas of practice--religious, moral, political--ideas which have since,
in some sense or other, entered permanently into the general
consciousness; and, these having no longer any stimulus for a
generation provided with a different stock of ideas, the writings of
those who spent so much of themselves in their propagation have lost,
with posterity, something of what they gained by them in immediate
influence.  Coleridge, Wordsworth, Shelley even--sharing so largely in
the unrest of their own age, and made personally more interesting
thereby, yet, of their actual work, surrender more to the mere course
of time than some of those who may have seemed to exercise themselves
hardly at all in great matters, to have been little serious, or a
little indifferent, regarding them.

Of this number of the disinterested servants of literature, smaller in
England than in France, Charles Lamb is one.  In the making of prose he
realises the principle of art for its own sake, as completely as Keats
in the making of verse.  And, working ever close to the concrete, to
the details, great or small, of actual things, books, persons, and with
no part of them blurred to his vision by the intervention of mere
abstract theories, he has reached an enduring moral effect [110] also,
in a sort of boundless sympathy. Unoccupied, as he might seem, with
great matters, he is in immediate contact with what is real, especially
in its caressing littleness, that littleness in which there is much of
the whole woeful heart of things, and meets it more than half-way with
a perfect understanding of it.  What sudden, unexpected touches of
pathos in him!--bearing witness how the sorrow of humanity, the
Weltschmerz, the constant aching of its wounds, is ever present with
him: but what a gift also for the enjoyment of life in its subtleties,
of enjoyment actually refined by the need of some thoughtful economies
and making the most of things!  Little arts of happiness he is ready to
teach to others. The quaint remarks of children which another would
scarcely have heard, he preserves--little flies in the priceless amber
of his Attic wit--and has his "Praise of chimney-sweepers" (as William
Blake has written, with so much natural pathos, the Chimney-sweeper's
Song) valuing carefully their white teeth, and fine enjoyment of white
sheets in stolen sleep at Arundel Castle, as he tells the story,
anticipating something of the mood of our deep humourists of the last
generation.  His simple mother-pity for those who suffer by accident,
or unkindness of nature, blindness for instance, or fateful disease of
mind like his sister's, has something primitive in its largeness; and
on behalf of ill-used animals he is early in composing a Pity's Gift.

[111] And if, in deeper or more superficial sense, the dead do care at
all for their name and fame, then how must the souls of Shakespeare and
Webster have been stirred, after so long converse with things that
stopped their ears, whether above or below the soil, at his exquisite
appreciations of them; the souls of Titian and of Hogarth too; for,
what has not been observed so generally as the excellence of his
literary criticism, Charles Lamb is a fine critic of painting also.  It
was as loyal, self-forgetful work for others, for Shakespeare's self
first, for instance, and then for Shakespeare's readers, that that too
was done: he has the true scholar's way of forgetting himself in his
subject.  For though "defrauded," as we saw, in his young years, "of
the sweet food of academic institution," he is yet essentially a
scholar, and all his work mainly retrospective, as I said; his own
sorrows, affections, perceptions, being alone real to him of the
present.  "I cannot make these present times," he says once, "present
to me."

Above all, he becomes not merely an expositor, permanently valuable,
but for Englishmen almost the discoverer of the old English drama. "The
book is such as I am glad there should be," he modestly says of the
Specimens of English Dramatic Poets who lived about the time of
Shakespeare; to which, however, he adds in a series of notes the very
quintessence of criticism, the choicest savour and perfume of
Elizabethan poetry being [112] sorted, and stored here, with a sort of
delicate intellectual epicureanism, which has had the effect of winning
for these, then almost forgotten, poets, one generation after another
of enthusiastic students.  Could he but have known how fresh a source
of culture he was evoking there for other generations, through all
those years in which, a little wistfully, he would harp on the
limitation of his time by business, and sigh for a better fortune in
regard to literary opportunities!

To feel strongly the charm of an old poet or moralist, the literary
charm of Burton, for instance, or Quarles, or The Duchess of Newcastle;
and then to interpret that charm, to convey it to others--he seeming to
himself but to hand on to others, in mere humble ministration, that of
which for them he is really the creator--this is the way of his
criticism; cast off in a stray letter often, or passing note, or
lightest essay or conversation.  It is in such a letter, for instance,
that we come upon a singularly penetrative estimate of the genius and
writings of Defoe.

Tracking, with an attention always alert, the whole process of their
production to its starting-point in the deep places of the mind, he
seems to realise the but half-conscious intuitions of Hogarth or
Shakespeare, and develops the great ruling unities which have swayed
their actual work; or "puts up," and takes, the one morsel of good
stuff in an old, forgotten writer.  Even [113] in what he says casually
there comes an aroma of old English; noticeable echoes, in chance turn
and phrase, of the great masters of style, the old masters.  Godwin,
seeing in quotation a passage from John Woodvil, takes it for a choice
fragment of an old dramatist, and goes to Lamb to assist him in finding
the author.  His power of delicate imitation in prose and verse reaches
the length of a fine mimicry even, as in those last essays of Elia on
Popular Fallacies, with their gentle reproduction or caricature of Sir
Thomas Browne, showing, the more completely, his mastery, by
disinterested study, of those elements of the man which were the real
source of style in that great, solemn master of old English, who, ready
to say what he has to say with fearless homeliness, yet continually
overawes one with touches of a strange utterance from worlds afar.  For
it is with the delicacies of fine literature especially, its gradations
of expression, its fine judgment, its pure sense of words, of
vocabulary--things, alas! dying out in the English literature of the
present, together with the appreciation of them in our literature of
the past--that his literary mission is chiefly concerned.  And yet,
delicate, refining, daintily epicurean, as he may seem, when he writes
of giants, such as Hogarth or Shakespeare, though often but in a stray
note, you catch the sense of veneration with which those great names in
past literature and art brooded over his intelligence, his undiminished
[114] impressibility by the great effects in them.  Reading, commenting
on Shakespeare, he is like a man who walks alone under a grand stormy
sky, and among unwonted tricks of light, when powerful spirits might
seem to be abroad upon the air; and the grim humour of Hogarth, as he
analyses it, rises into a kind of spectral grotesque; while he too
knows the secret of fine, significant touches like theirs.

There are traits, customs, characteristics of houses and dress,
surviving morsels of old life, such as Hogarth has transferred so
vividly into The Rake's Progress, or Marriage à la Mode, concerning
which we well understand how, common, uninteresting, or even worthless
in themselves, they have come to please us at last as things
picturesque, being set in relief against the modes of our different
age.  Customs, stiff to us, stiff dresses, stiff furniture--types of
cast-off fashions, left by accident, and which no one ever meant to
preserve--we contemplate with more than good-nature, as having in them
the veritable accent of a time, not altogether to be replaced by its
more solemn and self-conscious deposits; like those tricks of
individuality which we find quite tolerable in persons, because they
convey to us the secret of lifelike expression, and with regard to
which we are all to some extent humourists.  But it is part of the
privilege of the genuine humourist to anticipate this pensive mood with
regard to the ways and things [115] of his own day; to look upon the
tricks in manner of the life about him with that same refined, purged
sort of vision, which will come naturally to those of a later
generation, in observing whatever may have survived by chance of its
mere external habit.  Seeing things always by the light of an
understanding more entire than is possible for ordinary minds, of the
whole mechanism of humanity, and seeing also the manner, the outward
mode or fashion, always in strict connexion with the spiritual
condition which determined it, a humourist such as Charles Lamb
anticipates the enchantment of distance; and the characteristics of
places, ranks, habits of life, are transfigured for him, even now and
in advance of time, by poetic light; justifying what some might condemn
as mere sentimentality, in the effort to hand on unbroken the tradition
of such fashion or accent.  "The praise of beggars," "the cries of
London," the traits of actors just grown "old," the spots in "town"
where the country, its fresh green and fresh water, still lingered on,
one after another, amidst the bustle; the quaint, dimmed, just
played-out farces, he had relished so much, coming partly through them
to understand the earlier English theatre as a thing once really alive;
those fountains and sun-dials of old gardens, of which he entertains
such dainty discourse:--he feels the poetry of these things, as the
poetry of things old indeed, but surviving [116] as an actual part of
the life of the present; and as something quite different from the
poetry of things flatly gone from us and antique, which come back to
us, if at all, as entire strangers, like Scott's old Scotch-border
personages, their oaths and armour.  Such gift of appreciation depends,
as I said, on the habitual apprehension of men's life as a whole--its
organic wholeness, as extending even to the least things in it--of its
outward manner in connexion with its inward temper; and it involves a
fine perception of the congruities, the musical accordance between
humanity and its environment of custom, society, personal intercourse;
as if all this, with its meetings, partings, ceremonies, gesture, tones
of speech, were some delicate instrument on which an expert performer
is playing.

These are some of the characteristics of Elia, one essentially an
essayist, and of the true family of Montaigne, "never judging," as he
says, "system-wise of things, but fastening on particulars;" saying all
things as it were on chance occasion only, and by way of pastime, yet
succeeding thus, "glimpse-wise," in catching and recording more
frequently than others "the gayest, happiest attitude of things;" a
casual writer for dreamy readers, yet always giving the reader so much
more than he seemed to propose.  There is something of the follower of
George Fox about him, and the Quaker's belief in the inward light
coming to one passive, [117] to the mere wayfarer, who will be sure at
all events to lose no light which falls by the way--glimpses,
suggestions, delightful half-apprehensions, profound thoughts of old
philosophers, hints of the innermost reason in things, the full
knowledge of which is held in reserve; all the varied stuff, that is,
of which genuine essays are made.

And with him, as with Montaigne, the desire of self-portraiture is,
below all more superficial tendencies, the real motive in writing at
all--a desire closely connected with that intimacy, that modern
subjectivity, which may be called the Montaignesque element in
literature.  What he designs is to give you himself, to acquaint you
with his likeness; but must do this, if at all, indirectly, being
indeed always more or less reserved, for himself and his friends;
friendship counting for so much in his life, that he is jealous of
anything that might jar or disturb it, even to the length of a sort of
insincerity, to which he assigns its quaint "praise"; this lover of
stage plays significantly welcoming a little touch of the artificiality
of play to sweeten the intercourse of actual life.

And, in effect, a very delicate and expressive portrait of him does put
itself together for the duly meditative reader.  In indirect touches of
his own work, scraps of faded old letters, what others remembered of
his talk, the man's likeness emerges; what he laughed and wept at,
[118] his sudden elevations, and longings after absent friends, his
fine casuistries of affection and devices to jog sometimes, as he says,
the lazy happiness of perfect love, his solemn moments of higher
discourse with the young, as they came across him on occasion, and went
along a little way with him, the sudden, surprised apprehension of
beauties in old literature, revealing anew the deep soul of poetry in
things, and withal the pure spirit of fun, having its way again;
laughter, that most short-lived of all things (some of Shakespeare's
even being grown hollow) wearing well with him.  Much of all this comes
out through his letters, which may be regarded as a department of his
essays.  He is an old-fashioned letter-writer, the essence of the old
fashion of letter-writing lying, as with true essay-writing, in the
dexterous availing oneself of accident and circumstance, in the
prosecution of deeper lines of observation; although, just as with the
record of his conversation, one loses something, in losing the actual
tones of the stammerer, still graceful in his halting, as he halted
also in composition, composing slowly and by fits, "like a Flemish
painter," as he tells us, so "it is to be regretted," says the editor
of his letters, "that in the printed letters the reader will lose the
curious varieties of writing with which the originals abound, and which
are scrupulously adapted to the subject."

Also, he was a true "collector," delighting [119] in the personal
finding of a thing, in the colour an old book or print gets for him by
the little accidents which attest previous ownership.  Wither's
Emblems, "that old book and quaint," long-desired, when he finds it at
last, he values none the less because a child had coloured the plates
with his paints.  A lover of household warmth everywhere, of that
tempered atmosphere which our various habitations get by men's living
within them, he "sticks to his favourite books as he did to his
friends," and loved the "town," with a jealous eye for all its
characteristics, "old houses" coming to have souls for him.  The
yearning for mere warmth against him in another, makes him content, all
through life, with pure brotherliness, "the most kindly and natural
species of love," as he says, in place of the passion of love.  Brother
and sister, sitting thus side by side, have, of course, their
anticipations how one of them must sit at last in the faint sun alone,
and set us speculating, as we read, as to precisely what amount of
melancholy really accompanied for him the approach of old age, so
steadily foreseen; make us note also, with pleasure, his successive
wakings up to cheerful realities, out of a too curious musing over what
is gone and what remains, of life.  In his subtle capacity for enjoying
the more refined points of earth, of human relationship, he could throw
the gleam of poetry or humour on what seemed common or threadbare; has
a care for the [120] sighs, and the weary, humdrum preoccupations of
very weak people, down to their little pathetic "gentilities," even;
while, in the purely human temper, he can write of death, almost like
Shakespeare.

And that care, through all his enthusiasm of discovery, for what is
accustomed, in literature, connected thus with his close clinging to
home and the earth, was congruous also with that love for the
accustomed in religion, which we may notice in him.  He is one of the
last votaries of that old-world sentiment, based on the feelings of
hope and awe, which may be described as the religion of men of letters
(as Sir Thomas Browne has his Religion of the Physician) religion as
understood by the soberer men of letters in the last century, Addison,
Gray, and Johnson; by Jane Austen and Thackeray, later.  A high way of
feeling developed largely by constant intercourse with the great things
of literature, and extended in its turn to those matters greater still,
this religion lives, in the main retrospectively, in a system of
received sentiments and beliefs; received, like those great things of
literature and art, in the first instance, on the authority of a long
tradition, in the course of which they have linked themselves in a
thousand complex ways to the conditions of human life, and no more
questioned now than the feeling one keeps by one of the greatness--say!
of Shakespeare.  For Charles Lamb, such form of religion becomes [121]
the solemn background on which the nearer and more exciting objects of
his immediate experience relieve themselves, borrowing from it an
expression of calm; its necessary atmosphere being indeed a profound
quiet, that quiet which has in it a kind of sacramental efficacy,
working, we might say, on the principle of the opus operatum, almost
without any co-operation of one's own, towards the assertion of the
higher self. And, in truth, to men of Lamb's delicately attuned
temperament mere physical stillness has its full value; such natures
seeming to long for it sometimes, as for no merely negative thing, with
a sort of mystical sensuality.

The writings of Charles Lamb are an excellent illustration of the value
of reserve in literature.  Below his quiet, his quaintness, his humour,
and what may seem the slightness, the occasional or accidental
character of his work, there lies, as I said at starting, as in his
life, a genuinely tragic element.  The gloom, reflected at its darkest
in those hard shadows of Rosamund Grey, is always there, though not
always realised either for himself or his readers, and restrained
always in utterance.  It gives to those lighter matters on the surface
of life and literature among which he for the most part moved, a
wonderful force of expression, as if at any moment these slight words
and fancies might pierce very far into the deeper soul of things.  In
his writing, as in his [122] life, that quiet is not the low-flying of
one from the first drowsy by choice, and needing the prick of some
strong passion or worldly ambition, to stimulate him into all the
energy of which he is capable; but rather the reaction of nature, after
an escape from fate, dark and insane as in old Greek tragedy, following
upon which the sense of mere relief becomes a kind of passion, as with
one who, having narrowly escaped earthquake or shipwreck, finds a thing
for grateful tears in just sitting quiet at home, under the wall, till
the end of days.

He felt the genius of places; and I sometimes think he resembles the
places he knew and liked best, and where his lot fell--London,
sixty-five years ago, with Covent Garden and the old theatres, and the
Temple gardens still unspoiled, Thames gliding down, and beyond to
north and south the fields at Enfield or Hampton, to which, "with their
living trees," the thoughts wander "from the hard wood of the
desk"--fields fresher, and coming nearer to town then, but in one of
which the present writer remembers, on a brooding early summer's day,
to have heard the cuckoo for the first time.  Here, the surface of
things is certainly humdrum, the streets dingy, the green places, where
the child goes a-maying, tame enough.  But nowhere are things more apt
to respond to the brighter weather, nowhere is there so much difference
between rain and sunshine, nowhere do the [123] clouds roll together
more grandly; those quaint suburban pastorals gathering a certain
quality of grandeur from the background of the great city, with its
weighty atmosphere, and portent of storm in the rapid light on dome and
bleached stone steeples.

1878.



SIR THOMAS BROWNE

[124] ENGLISH prose literature towards the end of the seventeenth
century, in the hands of Dryden and Locke, was becoming, as that of
France had become at an earlier date, a matter of design and skilled
practice, highly conscious of itself as an art, and, above all,
correct.  Up to that time it had been, on the whole, singularly
informal and unprofessional, and by no means the literature of the "man
of letters," as we understand him.  Certain great instances there had
been of literary structure or architecture--The Ecclesiastical Polity,
The Leviathan--but for the most part that earlier prose literature is
eminently occasional, closely determined by the eager practical aims of
contemporary politics and theology, or else due to a man's own native
instinct to speak because he cannot help speaking.  Hardly aware of the
habit, he likes talking to himself; and when he writes (still in
undress) he does but take the "friendly reader" into his confidence.
The type of this literature, obviously, is not Locke or Gibbon, but,
above all others, Sir Thomas [125] Browne; as Jean Paul is a good
instance of it in German literature, always in its developments so much
later than the English; and as the best instance of it in French
literature, in the century preceding Browne, is Montaigne, from whom
indeed, in a great measure, all those tentative writers, or essayists,
derive.

It was a result, perhaps, of the individualism and liberty of personal
development, which, even for a Roman Catholic, were effects of the
Reformation, that there was so much in Montaigne of the "subjective,"
as people say, of the singularities of personal character.  Browne,
too, bookish as he really is claims to give his readers a matter, "not
picked from the leaves of any author, but bred amongst the weeds and
tares" of his own brain.  The faults of such literature are what we all
recognise in it: unevenness, alike in thought and style; lack of
design; and caprice--the lack of authority; after the full play of
which, there is so much to refresh one in the reasonable transparency
of Hooker, representing thus early the tradition of a classical
clearness in English literature, anticipated by Latimer and More, and
to be fulfilled afterwards in Butler and Hume.  But then, in recompense
for that looseness and whim, in Sir Thomas Browne for instance, we have
in those "quaint" writers, as they themselves understood the term
(coint, adorned, but adorned with all the curious ornaments of their
own predilection, provincial [126] or archaic, certainly unfamiliar,
and selected without reference to the taste or usages of other people)
the charm of an absolute sincerity, with all the ingenuous and racy
effect of what is circumstantial and peculiar in their growth.

The whole creation is a mystery and particularly that of man. At the
blast of His mouth were the rest of the creatures made, and at His bare
word they started out of nothing.  But in the frame of man He played
the sensible operator, and seemed not so much to create as to make him.
When He had separated the materials of other creatures, there
consequently resulted a form and soul: but having raised the walls of
man, He was driven to a second and harder creation--of a substance like
Himself, an incorruptible and immortal soul.

There, we have the manner of Sir Thomas Browne, in exact expression of
his mind!--minute and curious in its thinking; but with an effect, on
the sudden, of a real sublimity or depth.  His style is certainly an
unequal one.  It has the monumental aim which charmed, and perhaps
influenced, Johnson--a dignity that can be attained only in such mental
calm as follows long and learned pondering on the high subjects Browne
loves to deal with.  It has its garrulity, its various levels of
painstaking, its mannerism, pleasant of its kind or tolerable, together
with much, to us intolerable, but of which he was capable on a lazy
summer afternoon down at Norwich.  And all is so oddly mixed, showing,
in its entire ignorance of self, how much he, and the sort of
literature he represents, really stood in need of technique, [127] of a
formed taste in literature, of a literary architecture.

And yet perhaps we could hardly wish the result different, in him, any
more than in the books of Burton and Fuller, or some other similar
writers of that age--mental abodes, we might liken, after their own
manner, to the little old private houses of some historic town grouped
about its grand public structures, which, when they have survived at
all, posterity is loth to part with.  For, in their absolute sincerity,
not only do these authors clearly exhibit themselves ("the unique
peculiarity of the writer's mind," being, as Johnson says of Browne,
"faithfully reflected in the form and matter of his work") but, even
more than mere professionally instructed writers, they belong to, and
reflect, the age they lived in.  In essentials, of course, even Browne
is by no means so unique among his contemporaries, and so singular, as
he looks.  And then, as the very condition of their work, there is an
entire absence of personal restraint in dealing with the public, whose
humours they come at last in a great measure to reproduce.  To speak
more properly, they have no sense of a "public" to deal with, at
all--only a full confidence in the "friendly reader," as they love to
call him.  Hence their amazing pleasantry, their indulgence in their
own conceits; but hence also those unpremeditated wildflowers of speech
we should [128] never have the good luck to find in any more formal
kind of literature.

It is, in truth, to the literary purpose of the humourist, in the
old-fashioned sense of the term, that this method of writing naturally
allies itself--of the humourist to whom all the world is but a
spectacle in which nothing is really alien from himself, who has hardly
a sense of the distinction between great and little among things that
are at all, and whose half-pitying, half-amused sympathy is called out
especially by the seemingly small interests and traits of character in
the things or the people around him.  Certainly, in an age stirred by
great causes, like the age of Browne in England, of Montaigne in
France, that is not a type to which one would wish to reduce all men of
letters.  Still, in an age apt also to become severe, or even cruel
(its eager interest in those great causes turning sour on occasion) the
character of the humourist may well find its proper influence, through
that serene power, and the leisure it has for conceiving second
thoughts, on the tendencies, conscious or unconscious, of the fierce
wills around it.  Something of such a humourist was Browne--not callous
to men and their fortunes; certainly not without opinions of his own
about them; and yet, undisturbed by the civil war, by the fall, and
then the restoration, of the monarchy, through that long quiet life
(ending at last on the day [129] himself had predicted, as if at the
moment he had willed) in which "all existence," as he says, "had been
but food for contemplation."

Johnson, in beginning his Life of Browne, remarks that Browne "seems to
have had the fortune, common among men of letters, of raising little
curiosity after their private life."  Whether or not, with the example
of Johnson himself before us, we can think just that, it is certain
that Browne's works are of a kind to directly stimulate curiosity about
himself--about himself, as being manifestly so large a part of those
works; and as a matter of fact we know a great deal about his life,
uneventful as in truth it was.  To himself, indeed, his life at
Norwich, as he gives us to understand, seemed wonderful enough.  "Of
these wonders," says Johnson, "the view that can now be taken of his
life offers no appearance."  But "we carry with us," as Browne writes,
"the wonders we seek without us," and we may note on the other hand, a
circumstance which his daughter, Mrs. Lyttleton, tells us of his
childhood: "His father used to open his breast when he was asleep, and
kiss it in prayers over him, as 'tis said of Origen's father, that the
Holy Ghost would take possession there." It was perhaps because the son
inherited an aptitude for a like profound kindling of sentiment in the
taking of his life, that, uneventful as it was, [130] commonplace as it
seemed to Johnson, to Browne himself it was so full of wonders, and so
stimulates the curiosity of his more careful reader of to-day.  "What
influence," says Johnson again, "learning has had on its possessors may
be doubtful."  Well! the influence of his great learning, of his
constant research on Browne, was its imaginative influence--that it
completed his outfit as a poetic visionary, stirring all the strange
"conceit" of his nature to its depths.

Browne himself dwells, in connexion with the first publication
(extorted by circumstance) of the Religio Medici, on the natural
"inactivity of his disposition"; and he does, as I have said, pass very
quietly through an exciting time.  Born in the year of the Gunpowder
Plot, he was not, in truth, one of those clear and clarifying souls
which, in an age alike of practical and mental confusion, can
anticipate and lay down the bases of reconstruction, like Bacon or
Hooker.  His mind has much of the perplexity which was part of the
atmosphere of the time.  Not that he is without his own definite
opinions on events.  For him, Cromwell is a usurper, the death of
Charles an abominable murder.  In spite of what is but an affectation,
perhaps, of the sceptical mood, he is a Churchman too; one of those who
entered fully into the Anglican position, so full of sympathy with
those ceremonies and observances [131] which "misguided zeal terms
superstition," that there were some Roman Catholics who thought that
nothing but custom and education kept him from their communion.  At the
Restoration he rejoices to see the return of the comely Anglican order
in old episcopal Norwich, with its ancient churches; the antiquity, in
particular, of the English Church being, characteristically, one of the
things he most valued in it, vindicating it, when occasion came,
against the "unjust scandal" of those who made that Church a creation
of Henry the Eighth.  As to Romanists--he makes no scruple to "enter
their churches in defect of ours."  He cannot laugh at, but rather
pities, "the fruitless journeys of pilgrims--for there is something in
it of devotion."  He could never "hear the Ave Mary! bell without an
oraison."  At a solemn procession he has "wept abundantly."  How
English, in truth, all this really is!  It reminds one how some of the
most popular of English writers, in many a half-conscious expression,
have witnessed to a susceptibility in the English mind itself, in spite
of the Reformation, to what is affecting in religious ceremony.  Only,
in religion as in politics, Browne had no turn for disputes; was
suspicious of them, indeed; knowing, as he says with true acumen, that
"a man may be in as just possession of truth as of a city, and yet be
forced to surrender," even in controversies not [132] necessarily
maladroit--an image in which we may trace a little contemporary
colouring.

The Enquiries into Vulgar Errors appeared in the year 1646; a year
which found him very hard on "the vulgar."  His suspicion, in the
abstract, of what Bacon calls Idola Fori, the Idols of the
Market-place, takes a special emphasis from the course of events about
him: "being erroneous in their single numbers, once huddled together,
they will be error itself."  And yet, congruously with a dreamy
sweetness of character we may find expressed in his very features, he
seems not greatly concerned at the temporary suppression of the
institutions he values so much.  He seems to possess some inward
Platonic reality of them--church or monarchy--to hold by in idea, quite
beyond the reach of Roundhead or unworthy Cavalier.  In the power of
what is inward and inviolable in his religion, he can still take note:
"In my solitary and retired imagination (neque enim cum porticus aut me
lectulus accepit, desum mihi) I remember I am not alone, and therefore
forget not to contemplate Him and His attributes who is ever with me."

His father, a merchant of London, with some claims to ancient descent,
left him early in possession of ample means.  Educated at Winchester
and Oxford, he visited Ireland, France, and Italy; and in the year
1633, at the age of twenty-eight, became Doctor of Medicine at Leyden.
Three years later he established himself as a physician [133] at
Norwich for the remainder of his life, having married a lady, described
as beautiful and attractive, and affectionate also, as we may judge
from her letters and postscripts to those of her husband, in an
orthography of a homeliness amazing even for that age. Dorothy Browne
bore him ten children, six of whom he survived.

Their house at Norwich, even then an old one it would seem, must have
grown, through long years of acquisition, into an odd cabinet of
antiquities--antiquities properly so called; his old Roman, or
Romanised British urns, from Walsingham or Brampton, for instance, and
those natural objects which he studied somewhat in the temper of a
curiosity-hunter or antiquary.  In one of the old churchyards of
Norwich he makes the first discovery of adipocere, of which grim
substance "a portion still remains with him."  For his multifarious
experiments he must have had his laboratory.  The old window-stanchions
had become magnetic, proving, as he thinks, that iron "acquires
verticity" from long lying in one position.  Once we find him re-tiling
the place.  It was then, perhaps, that he made the observation that
bricks and tiles also acquire "magnetic alliciency"--one's whole house,
one might fancy; as indeed, he holds the earth itself to be a vast
lodestone.

The very faults of his literary work, its desultoriness, the time it
costs his readers, that [134] slow Latinity which Johnson imitated from
him, those lengthy leisurely terminations which busy posterity will
abbreviate, all breathe of the long quiet of the place.  Yet he is by
no means indolent.  Besides wide book-learning, experimental research
at home, and indefatigable observation in the open air, he prosecutes
the ordinary duties of a physician; contrasting himself indeed with
other students, "whose quiet and unmolested doors afford no such
distractions."  To most persons of mind sensitive as his, his chosen
studies would have seemed full of melancholy, turning always, as they
did, upon death and decay.  It is well, perhaps, that life should be
something of a "meditation upon death": but to many, certainly,
Browne's would have seemed too like a lifelong following of one's own
funeral.  A museum is seldom a cheerful place--oftenest induces the
feeling that nothing could ever have been young; and to Browne the
whole world is a museum; all the grace and beauty it has being of a
somewhat mortified kind.  Only, for him (poetic dream, or philosophic
apprehension, it was this which never failed to evoke his wonderful
genius for exquisitely impassioned speech) over all those ugly
anatomical preparations, as though over miraculous saintly relics,
there was the perpetual flicker of a surviving spiritual ardency, one
day to reassert itself--stranger far than any fancied odylic
gravelights!

[135] When Browne settled at Norwich, being then about thirty-six years
old, he had already completed the Religio Medici; a desultory
collection of observations designed for himself only and a few friends,
at all events with no purpose of immediate publication.  It had been
lying by him for seven years, circulating privately in his own
extraordinarily perplexed manuscript, or in manuscript copies, when, in
1642, an incorrect printed version from one of those copies, "much
corrupted by transcription at various hands," appeared anonymously.
Browne, decided royalist as he was in spite of seeming indifference,
connects this circumstance with the unscrupulous use of the press for
political purposes, and especially against the king, at that time.
Just here a romantic figure comes on the scene.  Son of the unfortunate
young Everard Digby who perished on the scaffold for some half-hearted
participation in the Gunpowder Plot, Kenelm Digby, brought up in the
reformed religion, had returned in manhood to the religion of his
father.  In his intellectual composition he had, in common with Browne,
a scientific interest, oddly tinged with both poetry and scepticism: he
had also a strong sympathy with religious reaction, and a more than
sentimental love for a seemingly vanishing age of faith, which he, for
one, would not think of as vanishing.  A copy of that surreptitious
edition of the Religio Medici found him a prisoner on suspicion of a
too active [136] royalism, and with much time on his hands.

The Roman Catholic, although, secure in his definite orthodoxy, he
finds himself indifferent on many points (on the reality of witchcraft,
for instance) concerning which Browne's more timid, personally grounded
faith might indulge no scepticism, forced himself, nevertheless, to
detect a vein of rationalism in a book which on the whole much
attracted him, and hastily put forth his "animadversions" upon it.
Browne, with all his distaste for controversy, thus found himself
committed to a dispute, and his reply came with the correct edition of
the Religio Medici published at last with his name.  There have been
many efforts to formulate the "religion of the layman," which might be
rightly understood, perhaps, as something more than what is called
"natural," yet less than ecclesiastical, or "professional" religion.
Though its habitual mode of conceiving experience is on a different
plane, yet it would recognise the legitimacy of the traditional
religious interpretation of that experience, generally and by
implication; only, with a marked reserve as to religious particulars,
both of thought and language, out of a real reverence or awe, as proper
only for a special place. Such is the lay religion, as we may find it
in Addison, in Gray, in Thackeray; and there is something of a
concession--a concession, on second thoughts--about it.  Browne's
Religio Medici is designed as the expression of a mind [137] more
difficult of belief than that of the mere "layman," as above described;
it is meant for the religion of the man of science.  Actually, it is
something less to the point, in any balancing of the religious against
the worldly view of things, than the religion of the layman, as just
now defined.  For Browne, in spite of his profession of boisterous
doubt, has no real difficulties, and his religion, certainly, nothing
of the character of a concession.  He holds that there has never
existed an atheist. Not that he is credulous; but that his religion is
only the correlative of himself, his peculiar character and education,
a religion of manifold association.  For him, the wonders of religion,
its supernatural events or agencies, are almost natural facts or
processes.  "Even in this material fabric, the spirits walk as freely
exempt from the affection of time, place and motion, as beyond the
extremest circumference."  Had not Divine interference designed to
raise the dead, nature herself is in act to do it--to lead out the
"incinerated soul" from the retreats of her dark laboratory. Certainly
Browne has not, like Pascal, made the "great resolution," by the
apprehension that it is just in the contrast of the moral world to the
world with which science deals that religion finds its proper basis.
It is from the homelessness of the world which science analyses so
victoriously, its dark unspirituality, wherein the soul he is conscious
of seems such a [138] stranger, that Pascal "turns again to his rest,"
in the conception of a world of wholly reasonable and moral agencies.
For Browne, on the contrary, the light is full, design everywhere
obvious, its conclusion easy to draw, all small and great things marked
clearly with the signature of the "Word."  The adhesion, the difficult
adhesion, of men such as Pascal, is an immense contribution to
religious controversy; the concession, again, of a man like Addison, of
great significance there.  But in the adhesion of Browne, in spite of
his crusade against "vulgar errors," there is no real significance.
The Religio Medici is a contribution, not to faith, but to piety; a
refinement and correction, such as piety often stands in need of; a
help, not so much to religious belief in a world of doubt, as to the
maintenance of the religious mood amid the interests of a secular
calling.

From about this time Browne's letters afford a pretty clear view of his
life as it passed in the house at Norwich.  Many of these letters
represent him in correspondence with the singular men who shared his
own half poetic, half scientific turn of mind, with that impressibility
towards what one might call the thaumaturgic elements in nature which
has often made men dupes, and which is certainly an element in the
somewhat atrabiliar mental complexion of that age in England.  He
corresponds seriously with William Lily, the astrologer; is acquainted
[139] with Dr.  Dee, who had some connexion with Norwich, and has
"often heard him affirm, sometimes with oaths, that he had seen
transmutation of pewter dishes and flagons into silver (at least) which
the goldsmiths at Prague bought of him."  Browne is certainly an honest
investigator; but it is still with a faint hope of something like that
upon fitting occasion, and on the alert always for surprises in nature
(as if nature had a rhetoric, at times, to deliver to us, like those
sudden and surprising flowers of his own poetic style) that he listens
to her everyday talk so attentively. Of strange animals, strange cures,
and the like, his correspondence is full.  The very errors he combats
are, of course, the curiosities of error--those fascinating,
irresistible, popular, errors, which various kinds of people have
insisted on gliding into because they like them.  Even his heresies
were old ones--the very fossils of capricious opinion.

It is as an industrious local naturalist that Browne comes before us
first, full of the fantastic minute life in the fens and "Broads"
around Norwich, its various sea and marsh birds.  He is something of a
vivisectionist also, and we may not be surprised at it, perhaps, in an
age which, for the propagation of truth, was ready to cut off men's
ears.  He finds one day "a Scarabaus capricornus odoratus," which he
takes "to be mentioned by Monfetus, folio 150.  He saith, 'Nucem
moschatam et cinnamomum vere spirat'--[140] but to me it smelt like
roses, santalum, and ambergris."  "Musca tuliparum moschata," again,
"is a small bee-like fly of an excellent fragrant odour, which I have
often found at the bottom of the flowers of tulips."  Is this within
the experience of modern entomologists?

The Garden of Cyrus, though it ends indeed with a passage of wonderful
felicity, certainly emphasises (to say the least) the defects of
Browne's literary good qualities.  His chimeric fancy carries him here
into a kind of frivolousness, as if he felt almost too safe with his
public, and were himself not quite serious, or dealing fairly with it;
and in a writer such as Browne levity must of necessity be a little
ponderous.  Still, like one of those stiff gardens, half-way between
the medieval garden and the true "English" garden of Temple or Walpole,
actually to be seen in the background of some of the conventional
portraits of that day, the fantasies of this indescribable exposition
of the mysteries of the quincunx form part of the complete portrait of
Browne himself; and it is in connexion with it that, once or twice, the
quaintly delightful pen of Evelyn comes into the correspondence--in
connexion with the "hortulane pleasure."  "Norwich," he writes to
Browne, "is a place, I understand, much addicted to the flowery part."
Professing himself a believer in the operation "of the air and genius
of gardens upon human spirits, towards virtue and sanctity," he is all
for [141] natural gardens as against "those which appear like gardens
of paste-board and march-pane, and smell more of paint than of flowers
and verdure."  Browne is in communication also with Ashmole and
Dugdale, the famous antiquaries; to the latter of whom, who had written
a work on the history of the embanking of fens, he communicates the
discovery of certain coins, on a piece of ground "in the nature of an
island in the fens."

Far more interesting certainly than those curious scientific letters is
Browne's "domestic correspondence."  Dobson, Charles the First's
"English Tintoret," would seem to have painted a life-sized picture of
Sir Thomas Browne and his family, after the manner of those big,
urbane, family groups, then coming into fashion with the Dutch Masters.
Of such a portrait nothing is now known.  But in these old-fashioned,
affectionate letters, transmitted often, in those troublous times, with
so much difficulty, we have what is almost as graphic--a numerous
group, in which, although so many of Browne's children died young, he
was happy; with Dorothy Browne, occasionally adding her charming,
ill-spelt postscripts to her husband's letters; the religious daughter
who goes to daily prayers after the Restoration, which brought Browne
the honour of knighthood; and, above all, two Toms, son and grandson of
Sir Thomas, the latter being the son of Dr. Edward Browne, [142] now
become distinguished as a physician in London (he attended John, Earl
of Rochester, in his last illness at Woodstock) and his childish
existence as he lives away from his proper home in London, in the old
house at Norwich, two hundred years ago, we see like a thing of to-day.

At first the two brothers, Edward and Thomas (the elder) are together
in everything.  Then Edward goes abroad for his studies, and Thomas,
quite early, into the navy, where he certainly develops into a
wonderfully gallant figure; passing away, however, from the
correspondence, it is uncertain how, before he was of full age.  From
the first he is understood to be a lad of parts.  "If you practise to
write, you will have a good pen and style:" and a delightful, boyish
journal of his remains, describing a tour the two brothers made in
September 1662 among the Derbyshire hills.  "I received your two last
letters," he writes to his father from aboard the Marie Rose, "and give
you many thanks for the discourse you sent me out of Vossius: De motu
marium et ventorum.  It seemed very hard to me at first; but I have now
beaten it, and I wish I had the book."  His father is pleased to think
that he is "like to proceed not only a good navigator, but a good
scholar": and he finds the much exacting, old classical prescription
for the character of the brave man fulfilled in him.  On 16th July 1666
the young man writes--still from the Marie Rose--

[143] If it were possible to get an opportunity to send as often as I
am desirous to write, you should hear more often from me, being now so
near the grand action, from which I would by no means be absent.  I
extremely long for that thundering day: wherein I hope you shall hear
we have behaved ourselves like men, and to the honour of our country.
I thank you for your directions for my ears against the noise of the
guns, but I have found that I could endure it; nor is it so intolerable
as most conceive; especially when men are earnest, and intent upon
their business, unto whom muskets sound but like pop-guns.  It is
impossible to express unto another how a smart sea-fight elevates the
spirits of a man, and makes him despise all dangers.  In and after all
sea-fights, I have been very thirsty.

He died, as I said, early in life.  We only hear of him later in
connexion with a trait of character observed in Tom the grandson, whose
winning ways, and tricks of bodily and mental growth, are duly recorded
in these letters: the reader will, I hope, pardon the following
extracts from them:--

Little Tom is lively....  Frank is fayne sometimes to play him asleep
with a fiddle.  When we send away our letters he scribbles a paper and
will have it sent to his sister, and saith she doth not know how many
fine things there are in Norwich....  He delights his grandfather when
he comes home.

Tom gives you many thanks for his clothes (from London).  He has
appeared very fine this King's day with them.

Tom presents his duty.  A gentleman at our election asked Tom who hee
was for? and he answered, "For all four."  The gentleman replied that
he answered like a physician's son.

Tom would have his grandmother, his aunt Betty, and Frank, valentines:
but hee conditioned with them that they should give him nothing of any
kind that hee had ever had or seen before.

[144] "Tom is just now gone to see two bears which are to be shown."
"Tom, his duty.  He is begging books and reading of them."  "The
players are at the Red Lion hard by; and Tom goes sometimes to see a
play."

And then one day he stirs old memories--

The fairings were welcome to Tom.  He finds about the house divers
things that were your brother's (the late Edward's), and Betty
sometimes tells him stories about him, so that he was importunate with
her to write his life in a quarter of a sheet of paper, and read it
unto him, and will have still more added.

Just as I am writing (learnedly about a comet, 7th January 1680-81) Tom
comes and tells me the blazing star is in the yard, and calls me to see
it.  It was but dim, and the sky not clear....  I am very sensible of
this sharp weather.+

He seems to have come to no good end, riding forth one stormy night.
Requiescat in pace!

Of this long, leisurely existence the chief events were Browne's rare
literary publications; some of his writings indeed having been left
unprinted till after his death; while in the circumstances of the issue
of every one of them there is something accidental, as if the world
might have missed it altogether.  Even the Discourse of Vulgar Errors,
the longest and most elaborate of his works, is entirely discursive and
occasional, coming to an end with no natural conclusion, but only
because the writer chose to leave off just there; and few probably have
been the readers of the book as a consecutive whole. At times indeed we
seem to have in it observations only, or notes, preliminary to some
more orderly composition.  Dip into it: read, for [145] instance, the
chapter "Of the Ring-finger," or the chapters "Of the Long Life of the
Deer," and on the "Pictures of Mermaids, Unicorns, and some Others,"
and the part will certainly seem more than the whole.  Try to read it
through, and you will soon feel cloyed;--miss very likely, its real
worth to the fancy, the literary fancy (which finds its pleasure in
inventive word and phrase) and become dull to the really vivid beauties
of a book so lengthy, but with no real evolution.  Though there are
words, phrases, constructions innumerable, which remind one how much
the work initiated in France by Madame de Rambouillet--work, done for
England, we may think perhaps imperfectly, in the next century by
Johnson and others--was really needed; yet the capacities of Browne's
manner of writing, coming as it did so directly from the man, are felt
even in his treatment of matters of science.  As with Buffon, his full,
ardent, sympathetic vocabulary, the poetry of his language, a poetry
inherent in its elementary particles--the word, the epithet--helps to
keep his eye, and the eye of the reader, on the object before it, and
conduces directly to the purpose of the naturalist, the observer.  But,
only one half observation, its other half consisting of very
out-of-the-way book-lore, this work displays Browne still in the
character of the antiquary, as that age understood him.  He is a kind
of Elias Ashmole, but dealing with natural objects; which are for him,
in the first [146] place, and apart from the remote religious hints and
intimations they carry with them, curiosities.  He seems to have no
true sense of natural law, as Bacon understood it; nor even of that
immanent reason in the natural world, which the Platonic tradition
supposes.  "Things are really true," he says, "as they correspond unto
God's conception; and have so much verity as they hold of conformity
unto that intellect, in whose idea they had their first
determinations."  But, actually, what he is busy in the record of, are
matters more or less of the nature of caprices; as if things, after
all, were significant of their higher verity only at random, and in a
sort of surprises, like music in old instruments suddenly touched into
sound by a wandering finger, among the lumber of people's houses.
Nature, "the art of God," as he says, varying a little a phrase used
also by Hobbes, in a work printed later--Nature, he seems to protest,
is only a little less magical, its processes only a little less in the
way of alchemy, than you had supposed.  We feel that, as with that
disturbed age in England generally (and it is here that he, with it, is
so interesting, curious, old-world, and unlike ourselves) his supposed
experience might at any moment be broken in upon by a hundred forms of
a natural magic, only not quite so marvellous as that older sort of
magic, or alchemy, he is at so much pains to expose; and the large
promises of which, its large words too, he still regretfully enjoys.

[147] And yet the Discourse of Vulgar Errors, seeming, as it often
does, to be a serious refutation of fairy tales--arguing, for instance,
against the literal truth of the poetic statement that "The pigeon hath
no gall," and such questions as "Whether men weigh heavier dead than
alive?" being characteristic questions--is designed, with much
ambition, under its pedantic Greek title Pseudodoxia Epidemica, as a
criticism, a cathartic, an instrument for the clarifying of the
intellect.  He begins from "that first error in Paradise," wondering
much at "man's deceivability in his perfection,"--"at such gross
deceit."  He enters in this connexion, with a kind of poetry of
scholasticism which may interest the student of Paradise Lost, into
what we may call the intellectual and moral by-play of the situation of
the first man and woman in Paradise, with strange queries about it.
Did Adam, for instance, already know of the fall of the Angels?  Did he
really believe in death, till Abel died?  It is from Julius Scaliger
that he takes his motto, to the effect that the true knowledge of
things must be had from things themselves, not from books; and he seems
as seriously concerned as Bacon to dissipate the crude impressions of a
false "common sense," of false science, and a fictitious authority.
Inverting, oddly, Plato's theory that all learning is but reminiscence,
he reflects with a sigh how much of oblivion must needs be involved in
the getting of any true knowledge.  "Men that [148] adore times past,
consider not that those times were once present (that is, as our own
are) and ourselves unto those to come, as they unto us at present."
That, surely, coming from one both by temperament and habit so great an
antiquary, has the touch of something like an influence in the
atmosphere of the time.  That there was any actual connexion between
Browne's work and Bacon's is but a surmise.  Yet we almost seem to hear
Bacon when Browne discourses on the "use of doubts, and the advantages
which might be derived from drawing up a calendar of doubts,
falsehoods, and popular errors;" and, as from Bacon, one gets the
impression that men really have been very much the prisoners of their
own crude or pedantic terms, notions, associations; that they have been
very indolent in testing very simple matters--with a wonderful kind of
"supinity," as he calls it.  In Browne's chapter on the "Sources of
Error," again, we may trace much resemblance to Bacon's striking
doctrine of the Idola, the "shams" men fall down and worship.  Taking
source respectively, from the "common infirmity of human nature," from
the "erroneous disposition of the people," from "confident adherence to
authority," the errors which Browne chooses to deal with may be
registered as identical with Bacon's Idola Tribus, Fori, Theatri; the
idols of our common human nature; of the vulgar, when they get
together; and of the learned, when they get together.

[149] But of the fourth species of error noted by Bacon, the Idola
Specus, the Idols of the Cave, that whole tribe of illusions, which are
"bred amongst the weeds and tares of one's own brain," Browne tells us
nothing by way of criticism; was himself, rather, a lively example of
their operation.  Throw those illusions, those "idols," into concrete
or personal form, suppose them introduced among the other forces of an
active intellect, and you have Sir Thomas Browne himself.  The
sceptical inquirer who rises from his cathartic, his purging of error,
a believer in the supernatural character of pagan oracles, and a cruel
judge of supposed witches, must still need as much as ever that
elementary conception of the right method and the just limitations of
knowledge, by power of which he should not just strain out a single
error here or there, but make a final precipitate of fallacy.

And yet if the temperament had been deducted from Browne's work--that
inherent and strongly marked way of deciding things, which has guided
with so surprising effect the musings of the Letter to a Friend, and
the Urn-Burial--we should probably have remembered him little.  Pity!
some may think, for himself at least, that he had not lived earlier,
and still believed in the mandrake, for instance; its fondness for
places of execution, and its human cries "on eradication, with hazard
of life to them that pull it up."  "In philosophy," he observes,
meaning to contrast [150] his free-thinking in that department with his
orthodoxy in religion--in philosophy, "where truth seems double-faced,
there is no man more paradoxical than myself:" which is true, we may
think, in a further sense than he meant, and that it was the
"paradoxical" that he actually preferred.  Happy, at all events, he
still remained--undisturbed and happy--in a hundred native
prepossessions, some certainly valueless, some of them perhaps
invaluable.  And while one feels that no real logic of fallacies has
been achieved by him, one feels still more how little the construction
of that branch of logical inquiry really helps men's minds; fallacy,
like truth itself, being a matter so dependent on innate gift of
apprehension, so extra-logical and personal; the original perception
counting for almost everything, the mere inference for so little!  Yes!
"A man may be in as just possession of truth as of a city, and yet be
forced to surrender," even in controversies not necessarily maladroit.

The really stirring poetry of science is not in guesses, or facile
divinations about it, but in its larger ascertained truths--the order
of infinite space, the slow method and vast results of infinite time.
For Browne, however, the sense of poetry which so overmasters his
scientific procedure, depends chiefly on its vaguer possibilities; the
empirical philosophy, even after Bacon, being still dominated by a
temper, resultant from the general unsettlement of men's [151] minds at
the Reformation, which may be summed up in the famous question of
Montaigne--Que sçais-je?  The cold-blooded method of observation and
experiment was creeping but slowly over the domain of science; and such
unreclaimed portions of it as the phenomena of magnetism had an immense
fascination for men like Browne and Digby. Here, in those parts of
natural philosophy "but yet in discovery," "the America and untravelled
parts of truth," lay for them the true prospect of science, like the
new world itself to a geographical discoverer such as Raleigh.  And
welcome as one of the minute hints of that country far ahead of them,
the strange bird, or floating fragment of unfamiliar vegetation, which
met those early navigators, there was a certain fantastic experiment,
in which, as was alleged, Paracelsus had been lucky.  For Browne and
others it became the crucial type of the kind of agency in nature
which, as they conceived, it was the proper function of science to
reveal in larger operation.  "The subject of my last letter," says Dr.
Henry Power, then a student, writing to Browne in 1648, the last year
of Charles the First, "being so high and noble a piece of chemistry,
invites me once more to request an experimental eviction of it from
yourself; and I hope you will not chide my importunity in this
petition, or be angry at my so frequent knockings at your door to
obtain a grant of so great and admirable a [152] mystery."  What the
enthusiastic young student expected from Browne, so high and noble a
piece of chemistry, was the "re-individualling of an incinerated
plant"--a violet, turning to freshness, and smelling sweet again, out
of its ashes, under some genially fitted conditions of the chemic art.

Palingenesis, resurrection, effected by orderly prescription--the
"re-individualling" of an "incinerated organism"--is a subject which
affords us a natural transition to the little book of the Hydriotaphia,
or Treatise of Urn-Burial--about fifty or sixty pages--which, together
with a very singular letter not printed till after Browne's death, is
perhaps, after all, the best justification of Browne's literary
reputation, as it were his own curiously figured urn, and
treasure-place of immortal memory.

In its first presentation to the public this letter was connected with
Browne's Christian Morals; but its proper and sympathetic collocation
would be rather with the Urn-Burial, of which it is a kind of prelude,
or strikes the keynote.  He is writing in a very complex situation--to
a friend, upon occasion of the death of a common friend.  The deceased
apparently had been little known to Browne himself till his recent
visits, while the intimate friend to whom he is writing had been absent
at the time; and the leading motive of Browne's letter is the deep
impression he has received during those visits, of a sort of [153]
physical beauty in the coming of death, with which he still surprises
and moves his reader.  There had been, in this case, a tardiness and
reluctancy in the circumstances of dissolution, which had permitted
him, in the character of a physician, as it were to assist at the
spiritualising of the bodily frame by natural process; a wonderful new
type of a kind of mortified grace being evolved by the way.  The
spiritual body had anticipated the formal moment of death; the alert
soul, in that tardy decay, changing its vesture gradually, and as if
piece by piece.  The infinite future had invaded this life perceptibly
to the senses, like the ocean felt far inland up a tidal river.
Nowhere, perhaps, is the attitude of questioning awe on the threshold
of another life displayed with the expressiveness of this unique morsel
of literature; though there is something of the same kind, in another
than the literary medium, in the delicate monumental sculpture of the
early Tuscan School, as also in many of the designs of William Blake,
often, though unconsciously, much in sympathy with those
unsophisticated Italian workmen.  With him, as with them, and with the
writer of the Letter to a Friend upon the occasion of the death of his
intimate Friend,--so strangely! the visible function of death is but to
refine, to detach from aught that is vulgar.  And this elfin letter,
really an impromptu epistle to a friend, affords the best possible
light on the general temper of the man [154] who could be moved by the
accidental discovery of those old urns at Walsingham--funeral relics of
"Romans, or Britons Romanised which had learned Roman customs"--to the
composition of that wonderful book the Hydriotaphia.  He had drawn up a
short account of the circumstance at the moment; but it was after ten
years' brooding that he put forth the finished treatise, dedicated to
an eminent collector of ancient coins and other rarities, with
congratulations that he "can daily command the view of so many imperial
faces," and (by way of frontispiece) with one of the urns, "drawn with
a coal taken out of it and found among the burnt bones."  The discovery
had resuscitated for him a whole world of latent observation, from
life, from out-of-the-way reading, from the natural world, and fused
into a composition, which with all its quaintness we may well pronounce
classical, all the heterogeneous elements of that singular mind.  The
desire to "record these risen ashes and not to let them be buried twice
among us," had set free, in his manner of conceiving things, something
not wholly analysable, something that may be properly called genius,
which shapes his use of common words to stronger and deeper senses, in
a way unusual in prose writing.  Let the reader, for instance, trace
his peculiarly sensitive use of the epithets thin and dark, both here
and in the Letter to a Friend.

Upon what a grand note he can begin and end [155] chapter or paragraph!
"When the funeral pyre was out, and the last valediction over:"  "And a
large part of the earth is still in the urn unto us." Dealing with a
very vague range of feelings, it is his skill to associate them to very
definite objects.  Like the Soul, in Blake's design, "exploring the
recesses of the tomb," he carries a light, the light of the poetic
faith which he cannot put off him, into those dark places, "the abode
of worms and pismires," peering round with a boundless curiosity and no
fear; noting the various casuistical considerations of men's last form
of self-love; all those whims of humanity as a "student of perpetuity,"
the mortuary customs of all nations, which, from their very closeness
to our human nature, arouse in most minds only a strong feeling of
distaste.  There is something congruous with the impassive piety of the
man in his waiting on accident from without to take start for the work,
which, of all his work, is most truly touched by the "divine spark."
Delightsome as its eloquence is actually found to be, that eloquence is
attained out of a certain difficulty and halting crabbedness of
expression; the wretched punctuation of the piece being not the only
cause of its impressing the reader with the notion that he is but
dealing with a collection of notes for a more finished composition, and
of a different kind; perhaps a purely erudite treatise on its subject,
with detachment of all personal colour now adhering [156] to it.  Out
of an atmosphere of all-pervading oddity and quaintness--the quaintness
of mind which reflects that this disclosing of the urns of the ancients
hath "left unto our view some parts which they never beheld
themselves"--arises a work really ample and grand, nay! classical, as I
said, by virtue of the effectiveness with which it fixes a type in
literature; as, indeed, at its best, romantic literature (and Browne is
genuinely romantic) in every period attains classical quality, giving
true measure of the very limited value of those well-worn critical
distinctions.  And though the Urn-Burial certainly has much of the
character of a poem, yet one is never allowed to forget that it was
designed, candidly, as a scientific treatise on one department of
ancient "culture" (as much so as Guichard's curious old French book on
Divers Manners of Burial) and was the fruit of much labour, in the way
especially of industrious selection from remote and difficult writers;
there being then few or no handbooks, or anything like our modern
shortcuts to varied knowledge.  Quite unaffectedly, a curious learning
saturates, with a kind of grey and aged colour most apt and congruous
with the subject-matter, all the thoughts that arise in him.  His great
store of reading, so freely displayed, he uses almost as poetically as
Milton; like him, profiting often by the mere sonorous effect of some
heroic or ancient name, which he can adapt to that same sort of learned
sweetness of [157] cadence with which so many of his single sentences
are made to fall upon the ear.

Pope Gregory, that great religious poet, requested by certain eminent
persons to send them some of those relics he sought for so devoutly in
all the lurking-places of old Rome, took up, it is said, a portion of
common earth, and delivered it to the messengers; and, on their
expressing surprise at such a gift, pressed the earth together in his
hand, whereupon the sacred blood of the Martyrs was beheld flowing out
between his fingers.  The veneration of relics became a part of
Christian (as some may think it a part of natural) religion.  All over
Rome we may count how much devotion in fine art is owing to it; and,
through all ugliness or superstition, its intention still speaks
clearly to serious minds.  The poor dead bones, ghastly and
forbidding:--we know what Shakespeare would have felt about
them.--"Beat not the bones of the buried: when he breathed, he was a
man!" And it is with something of a similar feeling that Browne is
full, on the common and general ground of humanity; an awe-stricken
sympathy with those, whose bones "lie at the mercies of the living,"
strong enough to unite all his various chords of feeling into a single
strain of impressive and genuine poetry.  His real interest is in what
may be called the curiosities of our common humanity.  As another might
be moved at the sight of Alexander's bones, or Saint Edmund's, or Saint
Cecilia's, [158] so he is full of a fine poetical excitement at such
lowly relics as the earth hides almost everywhere beneath our feet.
But it is hardly fair to take our leave amid these grievous images of
so happy a writer as Sir Thomas Browne; so great a lover of the open
air, under which much of his life was passed.  His work, late one
night, draws to a natural close:--"To keep our eyes open longer," he
bethinks himself suddenly, "were but to act our Antipodes.  The
huntsmen are up in America!"

What a fund of open-air cheerfulness, there! in turning to sleep.
Still, even when we are dealing with a writer in whom mere style counts
for so much as with Browne, it is impossible to ignore his matter; and
it is with religion he is really occupied from first to last, hardly
less than Richard Hooker.  And his religion, too, after all, was a
religion of cheerfulness: he has no great consciousness of evil in
things, and is no fighter.  His religion, if one may say so, was all
profit to him; among other ways, in securing an absolute staidness and
placidity of temper, for the intellectual work which was the proper
business of his life.  His contributions to "evidence," in the Religio
Medici, for instance, hardly tell, because he writes out of view of a
really philosophical criticism.  What does tell in him, in this
direction, is the witness he brings to men's instinct of survival--the
"intimations of immortality," as Wordsworth terms them, which  [159]
were natural with him in surprising force. As was said of Jean Paul,
his special subject was the immortality of the soul; with an assurance
as personal, as fresh and original, as it was, on the one hand, in
those old half-civilised people who had deposited the urns; on the
other hand, in the cynical French poet of the nineteenth century, who
did not think, but knew, that his soul was imperishable.  He lived in
an age in which that philosophy made a great stride which ends with
Hume; and his lesson, if we may be pardoned for taking away a "lesson"
from so ethical a writer, is the force of men's temperaments in the
management of opinion, their own or that of others;--that it is not
merely different degrees of bare intellectual power which cause men to
approach in different degrees to this or that intellectual programme.
Could he have foreseen the mature result of that mechanical analysis
which Bacon had applied to nature, and Hobbes to the mind of man, there
is no reason to think that he would have surrendered his own chosen
hypothesis concerning them.  He represents, in an age, the intellectual
powers of which tend strongly to agnosticism, that class of minds to
which the supernatural view of things is still credible.  The
non-mechanical theory of nature has had its grave adherents since: to
the non-mechanical theory of man--that he is in contact with a moral
order on a different plane from the [160] mechanical order--thousands,
of the most various types and degrees of intellectual power, always
adhere; a fact worth the consideration of all ingenuous thinkers, if
(as is certainly the case with colour, music, number, for instance)
there may be whole regions of fact, the recognition of which belongs to
one and not to another, which people may possess in various degrees;
for the knowledge of which, therefore, one person is dependent upon
another; and in relation to which the appropriate means of cognition
must lie among the elements of what we call individual temperament, so
that what looks like a pre-judgment may be really a legitimate
apprehension.  "Men are what they are," and are not wholly at the mercy
of formal conclusions from their formally limited premises. Browne
passes his whole life in observation and inquiry: he is a genuine
investigator, with every opportunity: the mind of the age all around
him seems passively yielding to an almost foregone intellectual result,
to a philosophy of disillusion.  But he thinks all that a prejudice;
and not from any want of intellectual power certainly, but from some
inward consideration, some afterthought, from the antecedent
gravitation of his own general character--or, will you say? from that
unprecipitated infusion of fallacy in him--he fails to draw, unlike
almost all the rest of the world, the conclusion ready to hand.

1886.

NOTES

144. +In the original, this quotation, like several above it, is not
indented; it is in smaller type.  Return.



"LOVE'S LABOURS LOST"

[161] Love's Labours Lost is one of the earliest of Shakespeare's
dramas, and has many of the peculiarities of his poems, which are also
the work of his earlier life.  The opening speech of the king on the
immortality of fame--on the triumph of fame over death--and the nobler
parts of Biron, display something of the monumental style of
Shakespeare's Sonnets, and are not without their concerts of thought
and expression.  This connexion of Love's Labours Lost with
Shakespeare's poems is further enforced by the actual insertion in it
of three sonnets and a faultless song; which, in accordance with his
practice in other plays, are inwoven into the argument of the piece
and, like the golden ornaments of a fair woman, give it a peculiar air
of distinction.  There is merriment in it also, with choice
illustrations of both wit and humour; a laughter, often exquisite,
ringing, if faintly, yet as genuine laughter still, though sometimes
sinking into mere burlesque, which has not lasted quite so well.  And
Shakespeare [162] brings a serious effect out of the trifling of his
characters.  A dainty love-making is interchanged with the more
cumbrous play: below the many artifices of Biron's amorous speeches we
may trace sometimes the "unutterable longing;" and the lines in which
Katherine describes the blighting through love of her younger sister
are one of the most touching things in older literature.* Again, how
many echoes seem awakened by those strange words, actually said in
jest!  "The sweet war-man (Hector of Troy) is dead and rotten; sweet
chucks, beat not the bones of the buried: when he breathed, he was a
man!"--words which may remind us of Shakespeare's own epitaph.  In the
last scene, an ingenious turn is given to the action, so that the piece
does not conclude after the manner of other comedies.--

  Our wooing doth not end like an old play;
  Jack hath not Jill:

and Shakespeare strikes a passionate note across it at last, in the
entrance of the messenger, who announces to the princess that the king
her father is suddenly dead.

The merely dramatic interest of the piece is slight enough; only just
sufficient, indeed, to form the vehicle of its wit and poetry.  The
scene--a park of the King of Navarre--is unaltered throughout; and the
unity of the [163] play is not so much the unity of a drama as that of
a series of pictorial groups, in which the same figures reappear, in
different combinations but on the same background.  It is as if
Shakespeare had intended to bind together, by some inventive conceit,
the devices of an ancient tapestry, and give voices to its figures.  On
one side, a fair palace; on the other, the tents of the Princess of
France, who has come on an embassy from her father to the King of
Navarre; in the midst, a wide space of smooth grass.

The same personages are combined over and over again into a series of
gallant scenes--the princess, the three masked ladies, the quaint,
pedantic king; one of those amiable kings men have never loved enough,
whose serious occupation with the things of the mind seems, by contrast
with the more usual forms of kingship, like frivolity or play.  Some of
the figures are grotesque merely, and all the male ones at least, a
little fantastic.  Certain objects reappearing from scene to
scene--love-letters crammed with verses to the margin, and lovers'
toys--hint obscurely at some story of intrigue.  Between these groups,
on a smaller scale, come the slighter and more homely episodes, with
Sir Nathaniel the curate, the country-maid Jaquenetta, Moth or Mote the
elfin-page, with Hiems and Ver, who recite "the dialogue that the two
learned men have compiled in praise of the owl and the cuckoo."  The
ladies are [164] lodged in tents, because the king, like the princess
of the modern poet's fancy, has taken a vow

  to make his court a little Academe,

and for three years' space no woman may come within a mile of it; and
the play shows how this artificial attempt was broken through.  For the
king and his three fellow-scholars are of course soon forsworn, and
turn to writing sonnets, each to his chosen lady.  These
fellow-scholars of the king--"quaint votaries of science" at first,
afterwards "affection's men-at-arms"--three youthful knights, gallant,
amorous, chivalrous, but also a little affected, sporting always a
curious foppery of language, are, throughout, the leading figures in
the foreground; one of them, in particular, being more carefully
depicted than the others, and in himself very noticeable--a portrait
with somewhat puzzling manner and expression, which at once catches the
eye irresistibly and keeps it fixed.

Play is often that about which people are most serious; and the
humourist may observe how, under all love of playthings, there is
almost always hidden an appreciation of something really engaging and
delightful.  This is true always of the toys of children: it is often
true of the playthings of grown-up people, their vanities, their
fopperies even, their lighter loves; the cynic would add their pursuit
of fame.  Certainly, this is true without exception [165] of the
playthings of a past age, which to those who succeed it are always full
of a pensive interest--old manners, old dresses, old houses. For what
is called fashion in these matters occupies, in each age, much of the
care of many of the most discerning people, furnishing them with a kind
of mirror of their real inward refinements, and their capacity for
selection.  Such modes or fashions are, at their best, an example of
the artistic predominance of form over matter; of the manner of the
doing of it over the thing done; and have a beauty of their own.  It is
so with that old euphuism of the Elizabethan age--that pride of dainty
language and curious expression, which it is very easy to ridicule,
which often made itself ridiculous, but which had below it a real sense
of fitness and nicety; and which, as we see in this very play, and
still more clearly in the Sonnets, had some fascination for the young
Shakespeare himself.  It is this foppery of delicate language, this
fashionable plaything of his time, with which Shakespeare is occupied
in Love's Labours Lost.  He shows us the manner in all its stages;
passing from the grotesque and vulgar pedantry of Holofernes, through
the extravagant but polished caricature of Armado, to become the
peculiar characteristic of a real though still quaint poetry in Biron
himself, who is still chargeable even at his best with just a little
affectation.  As Shakespeare laughs broadly at it in Holofernes or
Armado, so he [166] is the analyst of its curious charm in Biron; and
this analysis involves a delicate raillery by Shakespeare himself at
his own chosen manner.

This "foppery" of Shakespeare's day had, then, its really delightful
side, a quality in no sense "affected," by which it satisfies a real
instinct in our minds--the fancy so many of us have for an exquisite
and curious skill in the use of words.  Biron is the perfect flower of
this manner:

  A man of fire-new words, fashion's own knight:

--as he describes Armado, in terms which are really applicable to
himself.  In him this manner blends with a true gallantry of nature,
and an affectionate complaisance and grace.  He has at times some of
its extravagance or caricature also, but the shades of expression by
which he passes from this to the "golden cadence" of Shakespeare's own
most characteristic verse, are so fine, that it is sometimes difficult
to trace them.  What is a vulgarity in Holofernes, and a caricature in
Armado, refines itself with him into the expression of a nature truly
and inwardly bent upon a form of delicate perfection, and is
accompanied by a real insight into the laws which determine what is
exquisite in language, and their root in the nature of things.  He can
appreciate quite the opposite style--

  In russet yeas, and honest kersey noes;

he knows the first law of pathos, that

  Honest plain words best suit the ear of grief.

[167] He delights in his own rapidity of intuition; and, in harmony
with the half-sensuous philosophy of the Sonnets, exalts, a little
scornfully, in many memorable expressions, the judgment of the senses,
above all slower, more toilsome means of knowledge, scorning some who
fail to see things only because they are so clear:

  So here you find where light in darkness lies,
  Your light grows dark by losing of your eyes:--

as with some German commentators on Shakespeare.  Appealing always to
actual sensation from men's affected theories, he might seem to despise
learning; as, indeed, he has taken up his deep studies partly in sport,
and demands always the profit of learning in renewed enjoyment.  Yet he
surprises us from time to time by intuitions which could come only from
a deep experience and power of observation; and men listen to him, old
and young, in spite of themselves.  He is quickly impressible to the
slightest clouding of the spirits in social intercourse, and has his
moments of extreme seriousness: his trial-task may well be, as Rosaline
puts it--

  To enforce the pained impotent to smile.

But still, through all, he is true to his chosen manner: that gloss of
dainty language is a second nature with him: even at his best he is not
without a certain artifice: the trick of playing on words never deserts
him; and [168] Shakespeare, in whose own genius there is an element of
this very quality, shows us in this graceful, and, as it seems,
studied, portrait, his enjoyment of it.

As happens with every true dramatist, Shakespeare is for the most part
hidden behind the persons of his creation.  Yet there are certain of
his characters in which we feel that there is something of
self-portraiture.  And it is not so much in his grander, more subtle
and ingenious creations that we feel this--in Hamlet and King Lear--as
in those slighter and more spontaneously developed figures, who, while
far from playing principal parts, are yet distinguished by a peculiar
happiness and delicate ease in the drawing of them; figures which
possess, above all, that winning attractiveness which there is no man
but would willingly exercise, and which resemble those works of art
which, though not meant to be very great or imposing, are yet wrought
of the choicest material.  Mercutio, in Romeo and Juliet, belongs to
this group of Shakespeare's characters--versatile, mercurial people,
such as make good actors, and in whom the

  nimble spirits of the arteries,

the finer but still merely animal elements of great wit, predominate. A
careful delineation of minor, yet expressive traits seems to mark them
out as the characters of his predilection; [169] and it is hard not to
identify him with these more than with others.  Biron, in Love's
Labours Lost, is perhaps the most striking member of this group.  In
this character, which is never quite in touch, never quite on a perfect
level of understanding, with the other persons of the play, we see,
perhaps, a reflex of Shakespeare himself, when he has just become able
to stand aside from and estimate the first period of his poetry.

1878.

NOTES

162. *Act V. Scene II.  Return.



"MEASURE FOR MEASURE"

[170] IN Measure for Measure, as in some other of his plays,
Shakespeare has remodelled an earlier and somewhat rough composition to
"finer issues," suffering much to remain as it had come from the less
skilful hand, and not raising the whole of his work to an equal degree
of intensity.  Hence perhaps some of that depth and weightiness which
make this play so impressive, as with the true seal of experience, like
a fragment of life itself, rough and disjointed indeed, but forced to
yield in places its profounder meaning.  In Measure for Measure, in
contrast with the flawless execution of Romeo and Juliet, Shakespeare
has spent his art in just enough modification of the scheme of the
older play to make it exponent of this purpose, adapting its terrible
essential incidents, so that Coleridge found it the only painful work
among Shakespeare's dramas, and leaving for the reader of to-day more
than the usual number of difficult expressions; but infusing a lavish
colour and a profound significance into it, so that under his [171]
touch certain select portions of it rise far above the level of all but
his own best poetry, and working out of it a morality so characteristic
that the play might well pass for the central expression of his moral
judgments.  It remains a comedy, as indeed is congruous with the bland,
half-humorous equity which informs the whole composition, sinking from
the heights of sorrow and terror into the rough scheme of the earlier
piece; yet it is hardly less full of what is really tragic in man's
existence than if Claudio had indeed "stooped to death."  Even the
humorous concluding scenes have traits of special grace, retaining in
less emphatic passages a stray lire or word of power, as it seems, so
that we watch to the end for the traces where the nobler hand has
glanced along, leaving its vestiges, as if accidentally or wastefully,
in the rising of the style.

The interest of Measure for Measure, therefore, is partly that of an
old story told over again.  We measure with curiosity that variety of
resources which has enabled Shakespeare to refashion the original
material with a higher motive; adding to the intricacy of the piece,
yet so modifying its structure as to give the whole almost the unity of
a single scene; lending, by the light of a philosophy which dwells much
on what is complex and subtle in our nature, a true human propriety to
its strange and unexpected turns of feeling and character, to incidents
so [172] difficult as the fall of Angelo, and the subsequent
reconciliation of Isabella, so that she pleads successfully for his
life.  It was from Whetstone, a contemporary English writer, that
Shakespeare derived the outline of Cinthio's "rare history" of Promos
and Cassandra, one of that numerous class of Italian stories, like
Boccaccio's Tancred of Salerno, in which the mere energy of southern
passion has everything its own way, and which, though they may repel
many a northern reader by a certain crudity in their colouring, seem to
have been full of fascination for the Elizabethan age.  This story, as
it appears in Whetstone's endless comedy, is almost as rough as the
roughest episode of actual criminal life.  But the play seems never to
have been acted, and some time after its publication Whetstone himself
turned the thing into a tale, included in his Heptameron of Civil
Discourses, where it still figures as a genuine piece, with touches of
undesigned poetry, a quaint field-flower here and there of diction or
sentiment, the whole strung up to an effective brevity, and with the
fragrance of that admirable age of literature all about it.  Here,
then, there is something of the original Italian colour: in this
narrative Shakespeare may well have caught the first glimpse of a
composition with nobler proportions; and some artless sketch from his
own hand, perhaps, putting together his first impressions, insinuated
itself between Whetstone's work and the play as we actually read it.
Out [173] of these insignificant sources Shakespeare's play rises, full
of solemn expression, and with a profoundly designed beauty, the new
body of a higher, though sometimes remote and difficult poetry,
escaping from the imperfect relics of the old story, yet not wholly
transformed, and even as it stands but the preparation only, we might
think, of a still more imposing design.  For once we have in it a real
example of that sort of writing which is sometimes described as
suggestive, and which by the help of certain subtly calculated hints
only, brings into distinct shape the reader's own half-developed
imaginings.  Often the quality is attributed to writing merely vague
and unrealised, but in Measure for Measure, quite certainly,
Shakespeare has directed the attention of sympathetic readers along
certain channels of meditation beyond the immediate scope of his work.

Measure for Measure, therefore, by the quality of these higher designs,
woven by his strange magic on a texture of poorer quality, is hardly
less indicative than Hamlet even, of Shakespeare's reason, of his power
of moral interpretation.  It deals, not like Hamlet with the problems
which beset one of exceptional temperament, but with mere human nature.
It brings before us a group of persons, attractive, full of desire,
vessels of the genial, seed-bearing powers of nature, a gaudy existence
flowering out over the old court and city of Vienna, a spectacle of the
fulness and [174] pride of life which to some may seem to touch the
verge of wantonness.  Behind this group of people, behind their various
action, Shakespeare inspires in us the sense of a strong tyranny of
nature and circumstance.  Then what shall there be on this side of
it--on our side, the spectators' side, of this painted screen, with its
puppets who are really glad or sorry all the time? what philosophy of
life, what sort of equity?

Stimulated to read more carefully by Shakespeare's own profounder
touches, the reader will note the vivid reality, the subtle interchange
of light and shade, the strongly contrasted characters of this group of
persons, passing across the stage so quickly.  The slightest of them is
at least not ill-natured: the meanest of them can put forth a plea for
existence--Truly, sir, I am a poor fellow that would live!--they are
never sure of themselves, even in the strong tower of a cold
unimpressible nature: they are capable of many friendships and of a
true dignity in danger, giving each other a sympathetic, if transitory,
regret--one sorry that another "should be foolishly lost at a game of
tick-tack."  Words which seem to exhaust man's deepest sentiment
concerning death and life are put on the lips of a gilded, witless
youth; and the saintly Isabella feels fire creep along her, kindling
her tongue to eloquence at the suggestion of shame.  In places the
shadow deepens: death intrudes itself on the scene, as among other
[175] things "a great disguiser," blanching the features of youth and
spoiling its goodly hair, touching the fine Claudio even with its
disgraceful associations.  As in Orcagna's fresco at Pisa, it comes
capriciously, giving many and long reprieves to Barnardine, who has
been waiting for it nine years in prison, taking another thence by
fever, another by mistake of judgment, embracing others in the midst of
their music and song.  The little mirror of existence, which reflects
to each for a moment the stage on which he plays, is broken at last by
a capricious accident; while all alike, in their yearning for untasted
enjoyment, are really discounting their days, grasping so hastily and
accepting so inexactly the precious pieces.  The Duke's quaint but
excellent moralising at the beginning of the third act does but
express, like the chorus of a Greek play, the spirit of the passing
incidents.  To him in Shakespeare's play, to a few here and there in
the actual world, this strange practical paradox of our life, so unwise
in its eager haste, reveals itself in all its clearness.

The Duke disguised as a friar, with his curious moralising on life and
death, and Isabella in her first mood of renunciation, a thing "ensky'd
and sainted," come with the quiet of the cloister as a relief to this
lust and pride of life: like some grey monastic picture hung on the
wall of a gaudy room, their presence cools the heated air of the piece.
For a moment we [176] are within the placid conventual walls, whither
they fancy at first that the Duke has come as a man crossed in love,
with Friar Thomas and Friar Peter, calling each other by their homely,
English names, or at the nunnery among the novices, with their little
limited privileges, where

  If you speak you must not show your face,
  Or if you show your face you must not speak.

Not less precious for this relief in the general structure of the
piece, than for its own peculiar graces is the episode of Mariana, a
creature wholly of Shakespeare's invention, told, by way of interlude,
in subdued prose.  The moated grange, with its dejected mistress, its
long, listless, discontented days, where we hear only the voice of a
boy broken off suddenly in the midst of one of the loveliest songs of
Shakespeare, or of Shakespeare's school,* is the pleasantest of many
glimpses we get here of pleasant places--the field without the town,
Angelo's garden-house, the consecrated fountain.  Indirectly it has
suggested two of the most perfect compositions among the poetry of our
own generation.  Again it is a picture within a picture, but with
fainter lines and a greyer atmosphere: we have here the same passions,
the same wrongs, the same continuance of affection, the same crying out
upon death, as in the nearer and larger piece, though softened, and
reduced to the mood of a more dreamy scene.

[177] Of Angelo we may feel at first sight inclined to say only guarda
e passa! or to ask whether he is indeed psychologically possible.  In
the old story, he figures as an embodiment of pure and unmodified evil,
like "Hyliogabalus of Rome or Denis of Sicyll."  But the embodiment of
pure evil is no proper subject of art, and Shakespeare, in the spirit
of a philosophy which dwells much on the complications of outward
circumstance with men's inclinations, turns into a subtle study in
casuistry this incident of the austere judge fallen suddenly into
utmost corruption by a momentary contact with supreme purity.  But the
main interest in Measure for Measure is not, as in Promos and
Cassandra, in the relation of Isabella and Angelo, but rather in the
relation of Claudio and Isabella.

Greek tragedy in some of its noblest products has taken for its theme
the love of a sister, a sentiment unimpassioned indeed, purifying by
the very spectacle of its passionlessness, but capable of a fierce and
almost animal strength if informed for a moment by pity and regret.  At
first Isabella comes upon the scene as a tranquillising influence in
it.  But Shakespeare, in the development of the action, brings quite
different and unexpected qualities out of her.  It is his
characteristic poetry to expose this cold, chastened personality,
respected even by the worldly Lucio as "something ensky'd and sainted,
and almost an immortal spirit," to two [178] sharp, shameful trials,
and wring out of her a fiery, revealing eloquence.  Thrown into the
terrible dilemma of the piece, called upon to sacrifice that cloistral
whiteness to sisterly affection, become in a moment the ground of
strong, contending passions, she develops a new character and shows
herself suddenly of kindred with those strangely conceived women, like
Webster's Vittoria, who unite to a seductive sweetness something of a
dangerous and tigerlike changefulness of feeling.  The swift,
vindictive anger leaps, like a white flame, into this white spirit,
and, stripped in a moment of all convention, she stands before us
clear, detached, columnar, among the tender frailties of the piece.
Cassandra, the original of Isabella in Whetstone's tale, with the
purpose of the Roman Lucretia in her mind, yields gracefully enough to
the conditions of her brother's safety; and to the lighter reader of
Shakespeare there may seem something harshly conceived, or
psychologically impossible even, in the suddenness of the change
wrought in her, as Claudio welcomes for a moment the chance of life
through her compliance with Angelo's will, and he may have a sense here
of flagging skill, as in words less finely handled than in the
preceding scene.  The play, though still not without traces of nobler
handiwork, sinks down, as we know, at last into almost homely comedy,
and it might be supposed that just here the grander manner [179]
deserted it.  But the skill with which Isabella plays upon Claudio's
well-recognised sense of honour, and endeavours by means of that to
insure him beforehand from the acceptance of life on baser terms,
indicates no coming laxity of hand just in this place.  It was rather
that there rose in Shakespeare's conception, as there may for the
reader, as there certainly would in any good acting of the part,
something of that terror, the seeking for which is one of the notes of
romanticism in Shakespeare and his circle.  The stream of ardent
natural affection, poured as sudden hatred  upon the youth condemned to
die, adds an additional note of expression to the horror of the prison
where so much of the scene takes place.  It is not here only that
Shakespeare has conceived of such extreme anger and pity as putting a
sort of genius into simple women, so that their "lips drop eloquence,"
and their intuitions interpret that which is often too hard or fine for
manlier reason; and it is Isabella with her grand imaginative diction,
and that poetry laid upon the "prone and speechless dialect" there is
in mere youth itself, who gives utterance to the equity, the finer
judgments of the piece on men and things.

From behind this group with its subtle lights and shades, its poetry,
its impressive contrasts, Shakespeare, as I said, conveys to us a
strong sense of the tyranny of nature and [180] circumstance over human
action.  The most powerful expressions of this side of experience might
be found here.  The bloodless, impassible temperament does but wait for
its opportunity, for the almost accidental coherence of time with
place, and place with wishing, to annul its long and patient
discipline, and become in a moment the very opposite of that which
under ordinary conditions it seemed to be, even to itself.  The mere
resolute self-assertion of the blood brings to others special
temptations, temptations which, as defects or over-growths, lie in the
very qualities which make them otherwise imposing or attractive; the
very advantage of men's gifts of intellect or sentiment being dependent
on a balance in their use so delicate that men hardly maintain it
always.  Something also must be conceded to influences merely physical,
to the complexion of the heavens, the skyey influences, shifting as the
stars shift; as something also to the mere caprice of men exercised
over each other in the dispensations of social or political order, to
the chance which makes the life or death of Claudio dependent on
Angelo's will.

The many veins of thought which render the poetry of this play so
weighty and impressive unite in the image of Claudio, a flowerlike
young man, whom, prompted by a few hints from Shakespeare, the
imagination easily clothes with all the bravery of youth, as he crosses
the stage before us on his way to death, coming so [181] hastily to the
end of his pilgrimage.  Set in the horrible blackness of the prison,
with its various forms of unsightly death, this flower seems the
braver.  Fallen by "prompture of the blood," the victim of a suddenly
revived law against the common fault of youth like his, he finds his
life forfeited as if by the chance of a lottery.  With that instinctive
clinging to life, which breaks through the subtlest casuistries of monk
or sage apologising for an early death, he welcomes for a moment the
chance of life through his sister's shame, though he revolts hardly
less from the notion of perpetual imprisonment so repulsive to the
buoyant energy of youth. Familiarised, by the words alike of friends
and the indifferent, to the thought of death, he becomes gentle and
subdued indeed, yet more perhaps through pride than real resignation,
and would go down to darkness at last hard and unblinded.  Called upon
suddenly to encounter his fate, looking with keen and resolute profile
straight before him, he gives utterance to some of the central truths
of human feeling, the sincere, concentrated expression of the recoiling
flesh. Thoughts as profound and poetical as Hamlet's arise in him; and
but for the accidental arrest of sentence he would descend into the
dust, a mere gilded, idle flower of youth indeed, but with what are
perhaps the most eloquent of all Shakespeare's words upon his lips.

As Shakespeare in Measure for Measure has [182] refashioned, after a
nobler pattern, materials already at hand, so that the relics of other
men's poetry are incorporated into his perfect work, so traces of the
old "morality," that early form of dramatic composition which had for
its function the inculcating of some moral theme, survive in it also,
and give it a peculiar ethical interest.  This ethical interest, though
it can escape no attentive reader, yet, in accordance with that
artistic law which demands the predominance of form everywhere over the
mere matter or subject handled, is not to be wholly separated from the
special circumstances, necessities, embarrassments, of these particular
dramatic persons.  The old "moralities" exemplified most often some
rough-and-ready lesson. Here the very intricacy and subtlety of the
moral world itself, the difficulty of seizing the true relations of so
complex a material, the difficulty of just judgment, of judgment that
shall not be unjust, are the lessons conveyed.  Even in Whetstone's old
story this peculiar vein of moralising comes to the surface: even
there, we notice the tendency to dwell on mixed motives, the contending
issues of action, the presence of virtues and vices alike in unexpected
places, on "the hard choice of two evils," on the "imprisoning" of
men's "real intents."  Measure for Measure is full of expressions drawn
from a profound experience of these casuistries, and that ethical
interest becomes predominant in it: it is no longer Promos and [183]
Cassandra, but Measure for Measure, its new name expressly suggesting
the subject of poetical justice.  The action of the play, like the
action of life itself for the keener observer, develops in us the
conception of this poetical justice, and the yearning to realise it,
the true justice of which Angelo knows nothing, because it lies for the
most part beyond the limits of any acknowledged law. The idea of
justice involves the idea of rights.  But at bottom rights are
equivalent to that which really is, to facts; and the recognition of
his rights therefore, the justice he requires of our hands, or our
thoughts, is the recognition of that which the person, in his inmost
nature, really is; and as sympathy alone can discover that which really
is in matters of feeling and thought, true justice is in its essence a
finer knowledge through love.

  'Tis very pregnant:
  The jewel that we find we stoop and take it,
  Because we see it; but what we do not see
  We tread upon, and never think of it.

It is for this finer justice, a justice based on a more delicate
appreciation of the true conditions of men and things, a true respect
of persons in our estimate of actions, that the people in Measure for
Measure cry out as they pass before us; and as the poetry of this play
is full of the peculiarities of Shakespeare's poetry, so in its ethics
it is an epitome of Shakespeare's moral judgments.  They are the moral
judgments of [184] an observer, of one who sits as a spectator, and
knows how the threads in the design before him hold together under the
surface: they are the judgments of the humourist also, who follows with
a half-amused but always pitiful sympathy, the various ways of human
disposition, and sees less distance than ordinary men between what are
called respectively great and little things.  It is not always that
poetry can be the exponent of morality; but it is this aspect of morals
which it represents most naturally, for this true justice is dependent
on just those finer appreciations which poetry cultivates in us the
power of making, those peculiar valuations of action and its effect
which poetry actually requires.

1874.

NOTES

176.  *Fletcher, in the Bloody Brother, gives the rest of it. Return.



SHAKESPEARE'S ENGLISH KINGS

[185]

  A brittle glory shineth in this face:
  As brittle as the glory is the face.

THE English plays of Shakespeare needed but the completion of one
unimportant interval to possess the unity of a popular chronicle from
Richard the Second to Henry the Eighth, and possess, as they actually
stand, the unity of a common motive in the handling of the various
events and persons which they bring before us.  Certain of his historic
dramas, not English, display Shakespeare's mastery in the development
of the heroic nature amid heroic circumstances; and had he chosen, from
English history, to deal with Coeur-de-Lion or Edward the First, the
innate quality of his subject would doubtless have called into play
something of that profound and sombre power which in Julius Caesar and
Macbeth has sounded the depths of mighty character. True, on the whole,
to fact, it is another side of kingship which he has made prominent in
his English histories.  The irony [186] of kingship--average human
nature, flung with a wonderfully pathetic effect into the vortex of
great events; tragedy of everyday quality heightened in degree only by
the conspicuous scene which does but make those who play their parts
there conspicuously unfortunate; the utterance of common humanity
straight from the heart, but refined like other common things for
kingly uses by Shakespeare's unfailing eloquence: such, unconsciously
for the most part, though palpably enough to the careful reader, is the
conception under which Shakespeare has arranged the lights and shadows
of the story of the English kings, emphasising merely the light and
shadow inherent in it, and keeping very close to the original
authorities, not simply in the general outline of these dramatic
histories but sometimes in their very expression.  Certainly the
history itself, as he found it in Hall, Holinshed, and Stowe, those
somewhat picturesque old chroniclers who had themselves an eye for the
dramatic "effects" of human life, has much of this sentiment already
about it.  What he did not find there was the natural prerogative--such
justification, in kingly, that is to say, in exceptional, qualities, of
the exceptional position, as makes it practicable in the result.  It is
no Henriade he writes, and no history of the English people, but the
sad fortunes of some English kings as conspicuous examples of the
ordinary human condition.  As in a children's [187] story, all princes
are in extremes.  Delightful in the sunshine above the wall into which
chance lifts the flower for a season, they can but plead somewhat more
touchingly than others their everyday weakness in the storm. Such is
the motive that gives unity to these unequal and intermittent
contributions toward a slowly evolved dramatic chronicle, which it
would have taken many days to rehearse; a not distant story from real
life still well remembered in its general course, to which people might
listen now and again, as long as they cared, finding human nature at
least wherever their attention struck ground in it.

He begins with John, and allows indeed to the first of these English
kings a kind of greatness, making the development of the play centre in
the counteraction of his natural gifts--that something of heroic force
about him--by a madness which takes the shape of reckless impiety,
forced especially on men's attention by the terrible circumstances of
his end, in the delineation of which Shakespeare triumphs, setting,
with true poetic tact, this incident of the king's death, in all the
horror of a violent one, amid a scene delicately suggestive of what is
perennially peaceful and genial in the outward world.  Like the sensual
humours of Falstaff in another play, the presence of the bastard
Faulconbridge, with his physical energy and his unmistakable family
likeness--"those limbs [188] which Sir Robert never holp to make"*
contributes to an almost coarse assertion of the force of nature, of
the somewhat ironic preponderance of nature and circumstance over men's
artificial arrangements, to, the recognition of a certain potent
natural aristocracy, which is far from being always identical with that
more formal, heraldic one.  And what is a coarse fact in the case of
Faulconbridge becomes a motive of pathetic appeal in the wan and
babyish Arthur.  The magic with which nature models tiny and delicate
children to the likeness of their rough fathers is nowhere more justly
expressed than in the words of King Philip.--

  Look here upon thy brother Geoffrey's face
  These eyes, these brows were moulded out of his:
  This little abstract doth contain that large
  Which died in Geoffrey; and the hand of time
  Shall draw this brief into as huge a volume.

It was perhaps something of a boyish memory of the shocking end of his
father that had distorted the piety of Henry the Third into
superstitious terror.  A frightened soul, himself touched with the
contrary sort of religious madness, doting on all that was alien from
his father's huge ferocity, on the genialities, the soft gilding, of
life, on the genuine interests of art and poetry, to be credited more
than any other person with the deep religious expression of [189]
Westminster Abbey, Henry the Third, picturesque though useless, but
certainly touching, might have furnished Shakespeare, had he filled up
this interval in his series, with precisely the kind of effect he tends
towards in his English plays.  But he found it completer still in the
person and story of Richard the Second, a figure--"that sweet lovely
rose"--which haunts Shakespeare's mind, as it seems long to have
haunted the minds of the English people, as the most touching of all
examples of the irony of kingship.

Henry the Fourth--to look for a moment beyond our immediate subject, in
pursuit of Shakespeare's thought--is presented, of course, in general
outline, as an impersonation of "surviving force:" he has a certain
amount of kingcraft also, a real fitness for great opportunity.  But
still true to his leading motive, Shakespeare, in King Henry the
Fourth, has left the high-water mark of his poetry in the soliloquy
which represents royalty longing vainly for the toiler's sleep; while
the popularity, the showy heroism, of Henry the Fifth, is used to give
emphatic point to the old earthy commonplace about "wild oats."  The
wealth of homely humour in these plays, the fun coming straight home to
all the world, of Fluellen especially in his unconscious interview with
the king, the boisterous earthiness of Falstaff and his companions,
contribute to the same effect.  The keynote of [190] Shakespeare's
treatment is indeed expressed by Henry the Fifth himself, the greatest
of Shakespeare's kings.--"Though I speak it to you," he says incognito,
under cover of night, to a common soldier on the field, "I think the
king is but a man, as I am: the violet smells to him as it doth to me:
all his senses have but human conditions; and though his affections be
higher mounted than ours yet when they stoop they stoop with like
wing."  And, in truth, the really kingly speeches which Shakespeare
assigns to him, as to other kings weak enough in all but speech, are
but a kind of flowers, worn for, and effective only as personal
embellishment.  They combine to one result with the merely outward and
ceremonial ornaments of royalty, its pageantries, flaunting so naively,
so credulously, in Shakespeare, as in that old medieval time.  And
then, the force of Hotspur is but transient youth, the common heat of
youth, in him. The character of Henry the Sixth again, roi fainéant,
with La Pucelle* for his counterfoil, lay in the direct course of
Shakespeare's design: he has done much to fix the sentiment of the
"holy Henry."  Richard the Third, touched, like John, with an effect of
real heroism, is spoiled like him by something of criminal madness, and
reaches his highest level of tragic expression [191] when circumstances
reduce him to terms of mere human nature.--

  A horse!  A horse!  My kingdom for a horse!

The Princes in the Tower recall to mind the lot of young Arthur:--

  I'll go with thee,
  And find the inheritance of this poor child,
  His little kingdom of a forced grave.

And when Shakespeare comes to Henry the Eighth, it is not the
superficial though very English splendour of the king himself, but the
really potent and ascendant nature of the butcher's son on the one
hand, and Katharine's subdued reproduction of the sad fortunes of
Richard the Second on the other, that define his central interest.*

With a prescience of the Wars of the Roses, of which his errors were
the original cause, it is Richard who best exposes Shakespeare's own
constant sentiment concerning war, and especially that sort of civil
war which was then recent in English memories.  The soul of
Shakespeare, certainly, was not wanting in a sense of the magnanimity
of warriors.  The grandiose aspects of war, its magnificent
apparelling, he records [192] monumentally enough--the "dressing of the
lists," the lion's heart, its unfaltering haste thither in all the
freshness of youth and morning.--

  Not sick although I have to do with death--
  The sun doth gild our armour: Up, my Lords!--
  I saw young Harry with his beaver on,
  His cuisses on his thighs, gallantly arm'd,
  Rise from the ground like feather'd Mercury.

Only, with Shakespeare, the afterthought is immediate:--

  They come like sacrifices in their trim.

--Will it never be to-day?  I will trot to-morrow a mile, and my way
shall be paved with English faces.

This sentiment Richard reiterates very plaintively, in association with
the delicate sweetness of the English fields, still sweet and fresh,
like London and her other fair towns in that England of Chaucer, for
whose soil the exiled Bolingbroke is made to long so dangerously, while
Richard on his return from Ireland salutes it--

  That pale, that white-fac'd shore,--
  As a long-parted mother with her child.--
  So, weeping, smiling, greet I thee, my earth!
  And do thee favour with my royal hands.--

Then (of Bolingbroke)

  Ere the crown he looks for live in peace,
  Ten thousand bloody crowns of mothers' sons
  Shall ill become the flower of England's face;
  Change the complexion of her maid-pale peace
  To scarlet indignation, and bedew
  My pastures' grass with faithful English blood.--

[193]

  Why have they dared to march?--

asks York,

  So many miles upon her peaceful bosom,
  Frighting her pale-fac'd visages with war?--

waking, according to Richard,

  Our peace, which in our country's cradle,
  Draws the sweet infant breath of gentle sleep:--

bedrenching "with crimson tempest"

  The fresh green lap of fair king Richard's land:--

frighting "fair peace" from "our quiet confines," laying

  The summer's dust with showers of blood,
  Rained from the wounds of slaughter'd Englishmen:

bruising

  Her flowerets with the armed hoofs
  Of hostile paces.

Perhaps it is not too fanciful to note in this play a peculiar recoil
from the mere instruments of warfare, the contact of the "rude ribs,"
the "flint bosom," of Barkloughly Castle or Pomfret or

  Julius Caesar's ill-erected tower:

the

  Boisterous untun'd drums
  With harsh-resounding trumpets' dreadful bray
  And grating shock of wrathful iron arms.

It is as if the lax, soft beauty of the king took effect, at least by
contrast, on everything beside.  One gracious prerogative, certainly,
Shakespeare's [194]  English kings possess: they are a very eloquent
company, and Richard is the most sweet-tongued of them all.  In no
other play perhaps is there such a flush of those gay, fresh,
variegated flowers of speech--colour and figure, not lightly attached
to, but fused into, the very phrase itself--which Shakespeare cannot
help dispensing to his characters, as in this "play of the Deposing of
King Richard the Second," an exquisite poet if he is nothing else, from
first to last, in light and gloom alike, able to see all things
poetically, to give a poetic turn to his conduct of them, and
refreshing with his golden language the tritest aspects of that ironic
contrast between the pretensions of a king and the actual necessities
of his destiny.  What a garden of words!  With him, blank verse,
infinitely graceful, deliberate, musical in inflexion, becomes indeed a
true "verse royal," that rhyming lapse, which to the Shakespearian ear,
at least in youth, came as the last touch of refinement on it, being
here doubly appropriate.  His eloquence blends with that fatal beauty,
of which he was so frankly aware, so amiable to his friends, to his
wife, of the effects of which on the people his enemies were so much
afraid, on which Shakespeare himself dwells so attentively as the
"royal blood" comes and goes in the face with his rapid changes of
temper.  As happens with sensitive natures, it attunes him to a
congruous suavity of manners, by which anger itself became flattering:
[195] it blends with his merely youthful hopefulness and high spirits,
his sympathetic love for gay people, things, apparel--"his cote of gold
and stone, valued at thirty thousand marks," the novel Italian fashions
he preferred, as also with those real amiabilities that made people
forget the darker touches of his character, but never tire of the
pathetic rehearsal of his fall, the meekness of which would have seemed
merely abject in a less graceful performer.

Yet it is only fair to say that in the painstaking "revival" of King
Richard the Second, by the late Charles Kean, those who were very young
thirty years ago were afforded much more than Shakespeare's play could
ever have been before--the very person of the king based on the stately
old portrait in Westminster Abbey, "the earliest extant contemporary
likeness of any English sovereign," the grace, the winning pathos, the
sympathetic voice of the player, the tasteful archaeology confronting
vulgar modern London with a scenic reproduction, for once really
agreeable, of the London of Chaucer. In the hands of Kean the play
became like an exquisite performance on the violin.

The long agony of one so gaily painted by nature's self, from his
"tragic abdication" till the hour in which he

  Sluiced out his innocent soul thro' streams of blood,

was for playwrights a subject ready to hand, and [196] became early the
theme of a popular drama, of which some have fancied surviving
favourite fragments in the rhymed parts of Shakespeare's work.

  The king Richard of Yngland
  Was in his flowris then regnand:
  But his flowris efter sone
  Fadyt, and ware all undone:--

says the old chronicle.  Strangely enough, Shakespeare supposes him an
over-confident believer in that divine right of kings, of which people
in Shakespeare's time were coming to hear so much; a general right,
sealed to him (so Richard is made to think) as an ineradicable personal
gift by the touch--stream rather, over head and breast and
shoulders--of the "holy oil" of his consecration at Westminster; not,
however, through some oversight, the genuine balm used at the
coronation of his successor, given, according to legend, by the Blessed
Virgin to Saint Thomas of Canterbury.  Richard himself found that, it
was said, among other forgotten treasures, at the crisis of his
changing fortunes, and vainly sought reconsecration
therewith--understood, wistfully, that it was reserved for his happier
rival. And yet his coronation, by the pageantry, the amplitude, the
learned care, of its order, so lengthy that the king, then only eleven
years of age, and fasting, as a communicant at the ceremony, was
carried away in a faint, fixed the type under which it has ever [197]
since continued.  And nowhere is there so emphatic a reiteration as in
Richard the Second of the sentiment which those singular rites were
calculated to produce.

  Not all the water in the rough rude sea
  Can wash the balm from an anointed king,--

as supplementing another, almost supernatural, right.--"Edward's seven
sons," of whom Richard's father was one,

  Were as seven phials of his sacred blood.

But this, too, in the hands of Shakespeare, becomes for him, like any
other of those fantastic, ineffectual, easily discredited, personal
graces, as capricious in its operation on men's wills as merely
physical beauty, kindling himself to eloquence indeed, but only giving
double pathos to insults which "barbarism itself" might have
pitied--the dust in his face, as he returns, through the streets of
London, a prisoner in the train of his victorious enemy.

  How soon my sorrow hath destroyed my face!

he cries, in that most poetic invention of the mirror scene, which does
but reinforce again that physical charm which all confessed. The sense
of "divine right" in kings is found to act not so much as a secret of
power over others, as of infatuation to themselves.  And of all those
personal gifts the one which alone never altogether fails him is just
that royal utterance, his [198] appreciation of the poetry of his own
hapless lot, an eloquent self-pity, infecting others in spite of
themselves, till they too become irresistibly eloquent about him.

In the Roman Pontifical, of which the order of Coronation is really a
part, there is no form for the inverse process, no rite of
"degradation," such as that by which an offending priest or bishop may
be deprived, if not of the essential quality of "orders," yet, one by
one, of its outward dignities.  It is as if Shakespeare had had in mind
some such inverted rite, like those old ecclesiastical or military
ones, by which human hardness, or human justice, adds the last touch of
unkindness to the execution of its sentences, in the scene where
Richard "deposes" himself, as in some long, agonising ceremony,
reflectively drawn out, with an extraordinary refinement of
intelligence and variety of piteous appeal, but also with a felicity of
poetic invention, which puts these pages into a very select class, with
the finest "vermeil and ivory" work of Chatterton or Keats.

  Fetch hither Richard that in common view
  He may surrender!--

And Richard more than concurs: he throws himself into the part,
realises a type, falls gracefully as on the world's stage.--Why is he
sent for?

  To do that office of thine own good will
  Which tired majesty did make thee offer.--

  Now mark me! how I will undo myself.

[199] "Hath Bolingbroke deposed thine intellect?" the Queen asks him,
on his way to the Tower:--

  Hath Bolingbroke
  Deposed thine intellect? hath he been in thy heart?

And in truth, but for that adventitious poetic gold, it would be only
"plume-plucked Richard."--

  I find myself a traitor with the rest,
  For I have given here my soul's consent
  To undeck the pompous body of a king.

He is duly reminded, indeed, how

  That which in mean men we entitle patience
  Is pale cold cowardice in noble breasts.

Yet at least within the poetic bounds of Shakespeare's play, through
Shakespeare's bountiful gifts, his desire seems fulfilled.--

  O! that I were as great
  As is my grief.

And his grief becomes nothing less than a central expression of all
that in the revolutions of Fortune's wheel goes down in the world.

No!  Shakespeare's kings are not, nor are meant to be, great men:
rather, little or quite ordinary humanity, thrust upon greatness, with
those pathetic results, the natural self-pity of the weak heightened in
them into irresistible appeal to others as the net result of their
royal prerogative.  One after another, they seem to lie composed in
Shakespeare's embalming pages, with just that touch of nature about
them, [200] making the whole world akin, which has infused into their
tombs at Westminster a rare poetic grace.  It is that irony of
kingship, the sense that it is in its happiness child's play, in its
sorrows, after all, but children's grief, which gives its finer accent
to all the changeful feeling of these wonderful speeches:--the great
meekness of the graceful, wild creature, tamed at last.--

  Give Richard leave to live till Richard die!

his somewhat abject fear of death, turning to acquiescence at moments
of extreme weariness:--

  My large kingdom for a little grave!
  A little little grave, an obscure grave!--

his religious appeal in the last reserve, with its bold reference to
the judgment of Pilate, as he thinks once more of his "anointing."

And as happens with children he attains contentment finally in the
merely passive recognition of superior strength, in the naturalness of
the result of the great battle as a matter of course, and experiences
something of the royal prerogative of poetry to obscure, or at least to
attune and soften men's griefs.  As in some sweet anthem of Handel, the
sufferer, who put finger to the organ under the utmost pressure of
mental conflict, extracts a kind of peace at last from the mere skill
with which he sets his distress to music.--

  Beshrew thee, Cousin, that didst lead me forth
  Of that sweet way I was in to despair!

[201] "With Cain go wander through the shades of night!" cries the new
king to the gaoler Exton, dissimulating his share in the murder he is
thought to have suggested; and in truth there is something of the
murdered Abel about Shakespeare's Richard.  The fact seems to be that
he died of "waste and a broken heart:" it was by way of proof that his
end had been a natural one that, stifling a real fear of the face, the
face of Richard, on men's minds, with the added pleading now of all
dead faces, Henry exposed the corpse to general view; and Shakespeare,
in bringing it on the stage, in the last scene of his play, does but
follow out the motive with which he has emphasised Richard's physical
beauty all through it--that "most beauteous inn," as the Queen says
quaintly, meeting him on the way to death--residence, then soon to be
deserted, of that wayward, frenzied, but withal so affectionate soul.
Though the body did not go to Westminster immediately, his tomb,

  That small model of the barren earth
  Which serves as paste and cover to our bones,*

the effigy clasping the hand of his youthful consort, was already
prepared there, with "rich [202] gilding and ornaments," monument of
poetic regret, for Queen Anne of Bohemia, not of course the "Queen" of
Shakespeare, who however seems to have transferred to this second wife
something of Richard's wildly proclaimed affection for the first.  In
this way, through the connecting link of that sacred spot, our thoughts
once more associate Richard's two fallacious prerogatives, his personal
beauty and his "anointing."

According to Johnson, Richard the Second is one of those plays which
Shakespeare has "apparently revised;" and how doubly delightful
Shakespeare is where he seems to have revised!  "Would that he had
blotted a thousand"--a thousand hasty phrases, we may venture once more
to say with his earlier critic, now that the tiresome German
superstition has passed away which challenged us to a dogmatic faith in
the plenary verbal inspiration of every one of Shakespeare's clowns.
Like some melodiously contending anthem of Handle's, I said, of
Richard's meek "undoing" of himself in the mirror-scene; and, in fact,
the play of Richard the Second does, like a musical composition,
possess a certain concentration of all its parts, a simple continuity,
an evenness in execution, which are rare in the great dramatist.  With
Romeo and Juliet, that perfect symphony (symphony of three independent
poetic forms set in a grander one* which it is the merit of German
[203] criticism to have detected) it belongs to a small group of plays,
where, by happy birth and consistent evolution, dramatic form
approaches to something like the unity of a lyrical ballad, a lyric, a
song, a single strain of music. Which sort of poetry we are to account
the highest, is perhaps a barren question.  Yet if, in art generally,
unity of impression is a note of what is perfect, then lyric poetry,
which in spite of complex structure often preserves the unity of a
single passionate ejaculation, would rank higher than dramatic poetry,
where, especially to the reader, as distinguished from the spectator
assisting at a theatrical performance, there must always be a sense of
the effort necessary to keep the various parts from flying asunder, a
sense of imperfect continuity, such as the older criticism vainly
sought to obviate by the rule of the dramatic "unities."  It follows
that a play attains artistic perfection just in proportion as it
approaches that unity of lyrical effect, as if a song or ballad were
still lying at the root of it, all the various expression of the
conflict of character and circumstance falling at last into the compass
of a single melody, or musical theme.  As, historically, the earliest
classic drama arose out of the chorus, from which this or that person,
this or that episode, detached itself, so, into the unity of a choric
song the perfect drama ever tends to return, its intellectual scope
deepened, complicated, enlarged, but still with an unmistakable [204]
singleness, or identity, in its impression on the mind.  Just there, in
that vivid single impression left on the mind when all is over, not in
any mechanical limitation of time and place, is the secret of the
"unities"--the true imaginative unity--of the drama.

1889.

NOTES

188. *Elinor.  Do you not read some tokens of my son (Coeur-de-Lion)
     In the large composition of this man?

190. *Perhaps the one person of genius in these English plays.

  The spirit of deep prophecy she hath,
  Exceeding the nine Sibyls of old Rome:
  What's past and what's to come she can descry.

191. *Proposing in this paper to trace the leading sentiment in
Shakespeare's English Plays as a sort of popular dramatic chronicle, I
have left untouched the question how much (or, in the case of Henry the
Sixth and Henry the Eighth, how little) of them may be really his: how
far inferior hands have contributed to a result, true on the whole to
the greater, that is to say, the Shakespearian elements in them.

201. *Perhaps a double entendre:--of any ordinary grave, as comprising,
in effect, the whole small earth now left to its occupant or, of such a
tomb as Richard's in particular, with its actual model, or effigy, of
the clay of him.  Both senses are so characteristic that it would be a
pity to lose either.

202. *The Sonnet: the Aubade: the Epithalamium.



DANTE GABRIEL ROSSETTI

[205] IT was characteristic of a poet who had ever something about him
of mystic isolation, and will still appeal perhaps, though with a name
it may seem now established in English literature, to a special and
limited audience, that some of his poems had won a kind of exquisite
fame before they were in the full sense published.  The Blessed
Damozel, although actually printed twice before the year 1870, was
eagerly circulated in manuscript; and the volume which it now opens
came at last to satisfy a long-standing curiosity as to the poet, whose
pictures also had become an object of the same peculiar kind of
interest.  For those poems were the work of a painter, understood to
belong to, and to be indeed the leader, of a new school then rising
into note; and the reader of to-day may observe already, in The Blessed
Damozel, written at the age of eighteen, a prefigurement of the chief
characteristics of that school, as he will recognise in it also, in
proportion as he really knows Rossetti, many of the characteristics
which are most markedly personal and his own. Common [206] to that
school and to him, and in both alike of primary significance, was the
quality of sincerity, already felt as one of the charms of that
earliest poem--a perfect sincerity, taking effect in the deliberate use
of the most direct and unconventional expression, for the conveyance of
a poetic sense which recognised no conventional standard of what poetry
was called upon to be.  At a time when poetic originality in England
might seem to have had its utmost play, here was certainly one new poet
more, with a structure and music of verse, a vocabulary, an accent,
unmistakably novel, yet felt to be no mere tricks of manner adopted
with a view to forcing attention--an accent which might rather count as
the very seal of reality on one man's own proper speech; as that speech
itself was the wholly natural expression of certain wonderful things he
really felt and saw.  Here was one, who had a matter to present to his
readers, to himself at least, in the first instance, so valuable, so
real and definite, that his primary aim, as regards form or expression
in his verse, would be but its exact equivalence to those data within.
That he had this gift of transparency in language--the control of a
style which did but obediently shift and shape itself to the mental
motion, as a well-trained hand can follow on the tracing-paper the
outline of an original drawing below it, was proved afterwards by a
volume of typically perfect translations from the delightful but
difficult [207] "early Italian poets:" such transparency being indeed
the secret of all genuine style, of all such style as can truly belong
to one man and not to another.  His own meaning was always personal and
even recondite, in a certain sense learned and casuistical, sometimes
complex or obscure; but the term was always, one could see,
deliberately chosen from many competitors, as the just transcript of
that peculiar phase of soul which he alone knew, precisely as he knew
it.

One of the peculiarities of The Blessed Damozel was a definiteness of
sensible imagery, which seemed almost grotesque to some, and was
strange, above all, in a theme so profoundly visionary.  The gold bar
of heaven from which she leaned, her hair yellow like ripe corn, are
but examples of a general treatment, as naively detailed as the
pictures of those early painters contemporary with Dante, who has shown
a similar care for minute and definite imagery in his verse; there,
too, in the very midst of profoundly mystic vision.  Such definition of
outline is indeed one among many points in which Rossetti resembles the
great Italian poet, of whom, led to him at first by family
circumstances, he was ever a lover--a "servant and singer," faithful as
Dante, "of Florence and of Beatrice"--with some close inward
conformities of genius also, independent of any mere circumstances of
education.  It was said by a critic of the last century, not wisely
though agreeably to the practice of his time, [208] that poetry
rejoices in abstractions.  For Rossetti, as for Dante, without question
on his part, the first condition of the poetic way of seeing and
presenting things is particularisation. "Tell me now," he writes, for
Villon's

  Dictes-moy où, n'en quel pays,
  Est Flora, la belle Romaine--

  Tell me now, in what hidden way is
  Lady Flora the lovely Roman:

--"way," in which one might actually chance to meet her; the
unmistakably poetic effect of the couplet in English being dependent on
the definiteness of that single word (though actually lighted on in the
search after a difficult double rhyme) for which every one else would
have written, like Villon himself, a more general one, just equivalent
to place or region.

And this delight in concrete definition is allied with another of his
conformities to Dante, the really imaginative vividness, namely, of his
personifications--his hold upon them, or rather their hold upon him,
with the force of a Frankenstein, when once they have taken life from
him.  Not Death only and Sleep, for instance, and the winged spirit of
Love, but certain particular aspects of them, a whole "populace" of
special hours and places, "the hour" even "which might have been, yet
might not be," are living creatures, with hands and eyes and articulate
voices.

[209]

  Stands it not by the door--
  Love's Hour--till she and I shall meet;
  With bodiless form and unapparent feet
  That cast no shadow yet before,
  Though round its head the dawn begins to pour
  The breath that makes day sweet?--

  Nay, why
  Name the dead hours?  I mind them well:
  Their ghosts in many darkened doorways dwell
  With desolate eyes to know them by.

Poetry as a mania--one of Plato's two higher forms of "divine"
mania--has, in all its species, a mere insanity incidental to it, the
"defect of its quality," into which it may lapse in its moment of
weakness; and the insanity which follows a vivid poetic
anthropomorphism like that of Rossetti may be noted here and there in
his work, in a forced and almost grotesque materialising of
abstractions, as Dante also became at times a mere subject of the
scholastic realism of the Middle Age.

In Love's Nocturn and The Stream's Secret, congruously perhaps with a
certain feverishness of soul in the moods they present, there is at
times a near approach (may it be said?) to such insanity of realism--

  Pity and love shall burn
  In her pressed cheek and cherishing hands;
  And from the living spirit of love that stands
  Between her lips to soothe and yearn,
  Each separate breath shall clasp me round in turn
  And loose my spirit's bands.

[210] But even if we concede this; even if we allow, in the very plan
of those two compositions, something of the literary conceit--what
exquisite, what novel flowers of poetry, we must admit them to be, as
they stand!  In the one, what a delight in all the natural beauty of
water, all its details for the eye of a painter; in the other, how
subtle and fine the imaginative hold upon all the secret ways of sleep
and dreams!  In both of them, with much the same attitude and tone,
Love--sick and doubtful Love--would fain inquire of what lies below the
surface of sleep, and below the water; stream or dream being forced to
speak by Love's powerful "control"; and the poet would have it foretell
the fortune, issue, and event of his wasting passion.  Such artifices,
indeed, were not unknown in the old Provençal poetry of which Dante had
learned something.  Only, in Rossetti at least, they are redeemed by a
serious purpose, by that sincerity of his, which allies itself readily
to a serious beauty, a sort of grandeur of literary workmanship, to a
great style.  One seems to hear there a really new kind of poetic
utterance, with effects which have nothing else like them; as there is
nothing else, for instance, like the narrative of Jacob's Dream in
Genesis, or Blake's design of the Singing of the Morning Stars, or
Addison's Nineteenth Psalm.

With him indeed, as in some revival of the old mythopoeic age, common
things--dawn, [211] noon, night--are full of human or personal
expression, full of sentiment.  The lovely little sceneries scattered
up and down his poems, glimpses of a landscape, not indeed of broad
open-air effects, but rather that of a painter concentrated upon the
picturesque effect of one or two selected objects at a time--the
"hollow brimmed with mist," or the "ruined weir," as he sees it from
one of the windows, or reflected in one of the mirrors of his "house of
life" (the vignettes for instance seen by Rose Mary in the magic beryl)
attest, by their very freshness and simplicity, to a pictorial or
descriptive power in dealing with the inanimate world, which is
certainly also one half of the charm, in that other, more remote and
mystic, use of it.  For with Rossetti this sense of lifeless nature,
after all, is translated to a higher service, in which it does but
incorporate itself with some phase of strong emotion.  Every one
understands how this may happen at critical moments of life; what a
weirdly expressive soul may have crept, even in full noonday, into "the
white-flower'd elder-thicket," when Godiva saw it "gleam through the
Gothic archways in the wall," at the end of her terrible ride. To
Rossetti it is so always, because to him life is a crisis at every
moment.  A sustained impressibility towards the mysterious conditions
of man's everyday life, towards the very mystery itself in it, gives a
singular gravity to all his work: those matters never became trite
[212] to him.  But throughout, it is the ideal intensity of love--of
love based upon a perfect yet peculiar type of physical or material
beauty--which is enthroned in the midst of those mysterious powers;
Youth and Death, Destiny and Fortune, Fame, Poetic Fame, Memory,
Oblivion, and the like.  Rossetti is one of those who, in the words of
Mérimée, se passionnent pour la passion, one of Love's lovers.

And yet, again as with Dante, to speak of his ideal type of beauty as
material, is partly misleading.  Spirit and matter, indeed, have been
for the most part opposed, with a false contrast or antagonism by
schoolmen, whose artificial creation those abstractions really are. In
our actual concrete experience, the two trains of phenomena which the
words matter and spirit do but roughly distinguish, play inextricably
into each other.  Practically, the church of the Middle Age by its
aesthetic worship, its sacramentalism, its real faith in the
resurrection of the flesh, had set itself against that Manichean
opposition of spirit and matter, and its results in men's way of taking
life; and in this, Dante is the central representative of its spirit.
To him, in the vehement and impassioned heat of his conceptions, the
material and the spiritual are fused and blent: if the spiritual
attains the definite visibility of a crystal, what is material loses
its earthiness and impurity.  And here again, by force of instinct,
Rossetti [213] is one with him.  His chosen type of beauty is one,

  Whose speech Truth knows not from her thought,
  Nor Love her body from her soul.

Like Dante, he knows no region of spirit which shall not be sensuous
also, or material.  The shadowy world, which he realises so powerfully,
has still the ways and houses, the land and water, the light and
darkness, the fire and flowers, that had so much to do in the moulding
of those bodily powers and aspects which counted for so large a part of
the soul, here.

For Rossetti, then, the great affections of persons to each other,
swayed and determined, in the case of his highly pictorial genius,
mainly by that so-called material loveliness, formed the great
undeniable reality in things, the solid resisting substance, in a world
where all beside might be but shadow.  The fortunes of those
affections--of the great love so determined; its casuistries, its
languor sometimes; above all, its sorrows; its fortunate or unfortunate
collisions with those other great matters; how it looks, as the long
day of life goes round, in the light and shadow of them: all this,
conceived with an abundant imagination, and a deep, a philosophic,
reflectiveness, is the matter of his verse, and especially of what he
designed as his chief poetic work, "a work to be called The House of
Life," towards which the majority of his sonnets and songs were
contributions.

[214] The dwelling-place in which one finds oneself by chance or
destiny, yet can partly fashion for oneself; never properly one's own
at all, if it be changed too lightly; in which every object has its
associations--the dim mirrors, the portraits, the lamps, the books, the
hair-tresses of the dead and visionary magic crystals in the secret
drawers, the names and words scratched on the windows, windows open
upon prospects the saddest or the sweetest; the house one must quit,
yet taking perhaps, how much of its quietly active light and colour
along with us!--grown now to be a kind of raiment to one's body, as the
body, according to Swedenborg, is but the raiment of the soul--under
that image, the whole of Rossetti's work might count as a House of
Life, of which he is but the "Interpreter."  And it is a "haunted"
house.  A sense of power in love, defying distance, and those barriers
which are so much more than physical distance, of unutterable desire
penetrating into the world of sleep, however "lead-bound," was one of
those anticipative notes obscurely struck in The Blessed Damozel, and,
in his later work, makes him speak sometimes almost like a believer in
mesmerism.  Dream-land, as we said, with its "phantoms of the body,"
deftly coming and going on love's service, is to him, in no mere fancy
or figure of speech, a real country, a veritable expansion of, or
addition to, our waking life; and he did well perhaps to wait carefully
upon sleep, for the lack [215] of it became mortal disease with him.
One may even recognise a sort of morbid and over-hasty making-ready for
death itself, which increases on him; thoughts concerning it, its
imageries, coming with a frequency and importunity, in excess, one
might think, of even the very saddest, quite wholesome wisdom.

And indeed the publication of his second volume of Ballads and Sonnets
preceded his death by scarcely a twelvemonth.  That volume bears
witness to the reverse of any failure of power, or falling-off from his
early standard of literary perfection, in every one of his then
accustomed forms of poetry--the song, the sonnet, and the ballad.  The
newly printed sonnets, now completing The House of Life, certainly
advanced beyond those earlier ones, in clearness; his dramatic power in
the ballad, was here at its height; while one monumental, gnomic piece,
Soothsay, testifies, more clearly even than the Nineveh of his first
volume, to the reflective force, the dry reason, always at work behind
his imaginative creations, which at no time dispensed with a genuine
intellectual structure.  For in matters of pure reflection also,
Rossetti maintained the painter's sensuous clearness of conception; and
this has something to do with the capacity, largely illustrated by his
ballads, of telling some red-hearted story of impassioned action with
effect.

Have there, in very deed, been ages, in which [216] the external
conditions of poetry such as Rossetti's were of more spontaneous growth
than in our own?  The archaic side of Rossetti's work, his preferences
in regard to earlier poetry, connect him with those who have certainly
thought so, who fancied they could have breathed more largely in the
age of Chaucer, or of Ronsard, in one of those ages, in the words of
Stendhal--ces siècles de passions où les âmes pouvaient se livrer
franchement à la plus haute exaltation, quand les passions qui font la
possibilité We may think, perhaps, that such old time as that has never
really existed except in the fancy of poets; but it was to find it,
that Rossetti turned so often from modern life to the chronicle of the
past.  Old Scotch history, perhaps beyond any other, is strong in the
matter of heroic and vehement hatreds and love, the tragic Mary herself
being but the perfect blossom of them; and it is from that history that
Rossetti has taken the subjects of the two longer ballads of his second
volume: of the three admirable ballads in it, The King's Tragedy (in
which Rossetti has dexterously interwoven some relics of James's own
exquisite early verse) reaching the highest level of dramatic success,
and marking perfection, perhaps, in this kind of poetry; which, in the
earlier volume, gave us, among other pieces, Troy Town, Sister Helen,
and Eden Bower.

Like those earlier pieces, the ballads of the [217] second volume bring
with them the question of the poetic value of the "refrain"--

  Eden bower's in flower:
  And O the bower and the hour!

--and the like.  Two of those ballads--Troy Town and Eden Bower, are
terrible in theme; and the refrain serves, perhaps, to relieve their
bold aim at the sentiment of terror.  In Sister Helen again, the
refrain has a real, and sustained purpose (being here duly varied also)
and performs the part of a chorus, as the story proceeds.  Yet even in
these cases, whatever its effect may be in actual recitation, it may
fairly be questioned, whether, to the mere reader their actual effect
is not that of a positive interruption and drawback, at least in pieces
so lengthy; and Rossetti himself, it would seem, came to think so, for
in the shortest of his later ballads, The White Ship--that old true
history of the generosity with which a youth, worthless in life, flung
himself upon death--he was contented with a single utterance of the
refrain, "given out" like the keynote or tune of a chant.

In The King's Tragedy, Rossetti has worked upon motive, broadly human
(to adopt the phrase of popular criticism) such as one and all may
realise.  Rossetti, indeed, with all his self-concentration upon his
own peculiar aim, by no means ignored those general interests which are
external to poetry as he conceived it; as he has [218] shown here and
there, in this poetic, as also in pictorial, work.  It was but that, in
a life to be shorter even than the average, he found enough to occupy
him in the fulfilment of a task, plainly "given him to do."  Perhaps,
if one had to name a single composition of his to readers desiring to
make acquaintance with him for the first time, one would select: The
King's Tragedy--that poem so moving, so popularly dramatic, and
lifelike.  Notwithstanding this, his work, it must be conceded,
certainly through no narrowness or egotism, but in the faithfulness of
a true workman to a vocation so emphatic, was mainly of the esoteric
order.  But poetry, at all times, exercises two distinct functions: it
may reveal, it may unveil to every eye, the ideal aspects of common
things, after Gray's way (though Gray too, it is well to remember,
seemed in his own day, seemed even to Johnson, obscure) or it may
actually add to the number of motives poetic and uncommon in
themselves, by the imaginative creation of things that are ideal from
their very birth.  Rossetti did something, something excellent, of the
former kind; but his characteristic, his really revealing work, lay in
the adding to poetry of fresh poetic material, of a new order of
phenomena, in the creation of a new ideal.

1883.



FEUILLET'S "LA MORTE"

[219] IN his latest novel M. Octave Feuillet adds two charming people
to that chosen group of personages in which he loves to trace the
development of the more serious elements of character amid the
refinements and artifices of modern society, and which make such good
company.  The proper function of fictitious literature in affording us
a refuge into a world slightly better--better conceived, or better
finished--than the real one, is effected in most instances less through
the imaginary events at which a novelist causes us to assist, than by
the imaginary persons to whom he introduces us.  The situations of M.
Feuillet's novels are indeed of a real and intrinsic
importance:--tragic crises, inherent in the general conditions of human
nature itself, or which arise necessarily out of the special conditions
of modern society.  Still, with him, in the actual result, they become
subordinate, as it is their tendency to do in real life, to the
characters they help to form.  Often, his most attentive reader will
have forgotten the actual details of his plot; while [220] the soul,
tried, enlarged, shaped by it, remains as a well-fixed type in the
memory.  He may return a second or third time to Sibylle, or Le Journal
d'une Femme, or Les Amours de Philippe, and watch, surprised afresh,
the clean, dainty, word-sparing literary operation (word-sparing, yet
with no loss of real grace or ease) which, sometimes in a few pages,
with the perfect logic of a problem of Euclid, complicates and then
unravels some moral embarrassment, really worthy of a trained dramatic
expert.  But the characters themselves, the agents in those difficult,
revealing situations, such a reader will recognise as old acquaintances
after the first reading, feeling for them as for some gifted and
attractive persons he has known in the actual world--Raoul de Chalys,
Henri de Lerne, Madame de Técle, Jeanne de la Roche-Ermel, Maurice de
Frémeuse, many others; to whom must now be added Bernard and Aliette de
Vaudricourt.

"How I love those people!" cries Mademoiselle de Courteheuse, of Madame
de Sévigné and some other of her literary favourites in the days of the
Grand Monarch.  "What good company!  What pleasure they took in high
things!  How much more worthy they were than the people who live
now!"--What good company!  That is precisely what the admirer of M.
Feuillet's books feels as one by one he places them on his book-shelf,
to be sought again.  What is proposed here is not to tell his last
story, [221] but to give the English reader specimens of his most
recent effort at characterisation.

It is with the journal of Bernard himself that the story opens,
September 187-.  Bernard-Maurice Hugon de Montauret, Vicomte de
Vaudricourt, is on a visit to his uncle, the head of his family, at La
Savinière, a country-house somewhere between Normandy and Brittany.
This uncle, an artificial old Parisian in manner, but honest in
purpose, a good talker, and full of real affection for his heir
Bernard, is one of M. Feuillet's good minor characters--one of the
quietly humorous figures with which he relieves his more serious
company.  Bernard, with whom the refinements of a man of fashion in the
Parisian world by no means disguise a powerful intelligence cultivated
by wide reading, has had thoughts during his tedious stay at La
Savinière of writing a history of the reign of Louis the Fourteenth,
the library of a neighbouring château being rich in memoirs of that
period.  Finally, he prefers to write his own story, a story so much
more interesting to himself; to write it at a peculiar crisis in his
life, the moment when his uncle, unmarried, but anxious to perpetuate
his race, is bent on providing him with a wife, and indeed has one in
view.

The accomplished Bernard, with many graces of person, by his own
confession, takes nothing seriously.  As to that matter of religious
beliefs, "the breeze of the age, and of science, has blown [222] over
him, as it has blown over his contemporaries, and left empty space
there."  Still, when he saw his childish religious faith departing from
him, as he thinks it must necessarily depart from all intelligent male
Parisians, he wept.  Since that moment, however, a gaiety, serene and
imperturbable, has been the mainstay of his happily constituted
character.  The girl to whom his uncle desires to see him united--odd,
quixotic, intelligent, with a sort of pathetic and delicate grace, and
herself very religious--belongs to an old-fashioned, devout family,.
resident at Varaville, near by.  M. Feuillet, with half a dozen fine
touches of his admirable pencil makes us see the place.  And the
enterprise has at least sufficient interest to keep Bernard in the
country, which the young Parisian detests.  "This piquant episode of my
life," he writes, "seems to me to be really deserving of study; to be
worth etching off, day by day, by an observer well informed on the
subject."

Recognising in himself, though as his one real fault, that he can take
nothing seriously in heaven or earth, Bernard de Vaudricourt, like all
M. Feuillet's favourite young men, so often erring or corrupt, is a man
of scrupulous "honour."  He has already shown disinterestedness in
wishing his rich uncle to marry again.  His friends at Varaville think
so well-mannered a young man more of a Christian than he really is;
and, at all events, he will never owe his happiness to a falsehood.  If
he has great faults, [223] hypocrisy at least is no part of them.  In
oblique paths he finds himself ill at ease.  Decidedly, as he thinks,
he was born for straight ways, for loyalty in all his enterprises; and
he congratulates himself upon the fact.

In truth, Bernard has merits which he ignores, at least in this first
part of his journal: merits which are necessary to explain the
influence he is able to exercise from the first over such a character
as Mademoiselle de Courteheuse.  His charm, in fact, is in the union of
that gay and apparently wanton nature with a genuine power of
appreciating devotion in others, which becomes devotion in himself.
With all the much-cherished elegance and worldly glitter of his
personality, he is capable of apprehending, of understanding and being
touched by the presence of great matters.  In spite of that happy
lightness of heart, so jealously fenced about, he is to be wholly
caught at last, as he is worthy to be, by the serious, the generous
influence of things.  In proportion to his immense worldly strength is
his capacity for the immense pity which breaks his heart.

In a few life-like touches M. Feuillet brings out, as if it were indeed
a thing of ordinary existence, the simple yet delicate life of a French
country-house, the ideal life in an ideal France.  Bernard is paying a
morning visit at the old turreted home of the "prehistoric" Courteheuse
family.  Mademoiselle Aliette de Courteheuse, a studious girl, though a
bold and excellent rider [224] --Mademoiselle de Courteheuse, "with her
hair of that strange colour of fine ashes"--has conducted her visitor
to see the library:

One day she took me to see the library, rich in works of the
seventeenth century and in memoirs relating to that time.  I remarked
there also a curious collection of engravings of the same period.
"Your father," I observed, "had a strong predilection for the age of
Louis the Fourteenth."

"My father lived in that age," she answered gravely.  And as I looked
at her with surprise, and a little embarrassed, she added, "He made me
live there too, in his company."

And then the eyes of this singular girl filled with tears. She turned
away, took a few steps to suppress her emotion, and returning, pointed
me to a chair.  Then seating herself on the step of the book-case, she
said, "I must explain my father to you."

She was half a minute collecting her thoughts: then, speaking with an
expansion of manner not habitual with her, hesitating, and blushing
deeply, whenever she was about to utter a word that might seem a shade
too serious for lips so youthful:--"My father," she proceeded, "died of
the consequences of a wound he had received at Patay.  That may show
you that he loved his country, but he was no lover of his own age.  He
possessed in the highest degree the love of order; and order was a
thing nowhere to be seen.  He had a horror of disorder; and he saw it
everywhere.  In those last years, especially, his reverence, his
beliefs, his tastes, all alike were ruffled to the point of actual
suffering, by whatever was done and said and written around him.
Deeply saddened by the conditions of the present time, he habituated
himself to find a refuge in the past, and the seventeenth century more
particularly offered him the kind of society in which he would have
wished to live--a society, well-ordered, polished, lettered, believing.
More and more he loved to shut himself up in it.  More and more also he
loved to make the moral discipline and the literary tastes of that
favourite age prevail in his own household.  You may even have remarked
that he carried his predilection into minute matters of arrangement and
decoration.  You can see from this window the straight paths, the box
in [225] patterns, the yew trees and clipped alleys of our garden.  You
may notice that in our garden-beds we have none but flowers of the
period--lilies, rose-mallows, immortelles, rose-pinks, in short what
people call parsonage flowers--des fleurs de curé.  Our old silvan
tapestries, similarly, are of that age.  You see too that all our
furniture, from presses and sideboards, down to our little tables and
our arm-chairs, is in the severest style of Louis the Fourteenth. My
father did not appreciate the dainty research of our modern luxury.  He
maintained that our excessive care for the comforts of life weakened
mind as well as body.  That," added the girl with a laugh,--"that is
why you find your chair so hard when you come to see us."

Then, with resumed gravity--"It was thus that my father endeavoured, by
the very aspect and arrangement of outward things, to promote in
himself the imaginary presence of the epoch in which his thoughts
delighted.  As for myself--need I tell you that I was the confidant of
that father, so well-beloved: a confidant touched by his sorrows, full
of indignation at his disappointments, charmed by his consolations.
Here, precisely--surrounded by those books which we read together, and
which he taught me to love--it is here that I have passed the
pleasantest hours of my youth.  In common we indulged our enthusiasm
for those days of faith; of the quiet life; its blissful hours of
leisure well-secured; for the French language in its beauty and purity;
the delicate, the noble urbanity, which was then the honour and the
special mark of our country, but has ceased to be so."

She paused, with a little confusion, as I thought, at the warmth of her
last words.

And then, just to break the silence, "You have explained," I said, "an
impression which I have experienced again and again in my visits here,
and which has sometimes reached the intensity of an actual illusion,
though a very agreeable one.  The look of your house, its style, its
tone and keeping, carried me two centuries back so completely that I
should hardly have been surprised to hear Monsieur le Prince, Madame de
la Fayette, or Madame de Sévigné herself, announced at your
drawing-room door."

"Would it might be!" said Mademoiselle de Courteheuse.  [226] "Ah!
Monsieur, how I love those people!  What good company! What pleasure
they took in high things!  How much more worthy they were than the
people who live now!"  I tried to calm a little this retrospective
enthusiasm, so much to the prejudice of my contemporaries and of
myself.  "Most truly, Mademoiselle," I said, "the age which you regret
had its rare merits--merits which I appreciate as you do.  But then,
need one say that that society, so regular, so choice in appearance,
had, like our own, below the surface, its troubles, its disorders?  I
see here many of the memoirs of that time. I can't tell exactly which
of them you may or may not have read, and so I feel a certain
difficulty in speaking."

She interrupted me: "Ah!" she said, with entire simplicity, "I
understand you.  I have not read all you see here.  But I have read
enough of it to know that my friends in that past age had, like those
who live now, their passions, their weaknesses, their mistakes.  But,
as my father used to say to me, all that did but pass over a ground of
what was solid and serious, which always discovered itself again anew.
There were great faults then; but there were also great repentances.
There was a certain higher region to which everything conducted--even
what as evil."  She blushed deeply: then rising a little suddenly, "A
long speech!" she said: "Forgive me!  I am not usually so very
talkative.  It is because my father was in question; and I should wish
his memory to be as dear and as venerable to all the rest of the world
as it is to me."

We pass over the many little dramatic intrigues and misunderstandings,
with the more or less adroit interferences of the uncle, which raise
and lower alternately Bernard's hopes.  M. Feuillet has more than once
tried his hand with striking success in the portraiture of French
ecclesiastics.  He has drawn none better than the Bishop of Saint-Méen,
uncle of Mademoiselle de Courteheuse, to whose interests he is devoted.
Bernard feels that to gain the influence of this prelate [227] would be
to gain his cause; and the opportunity for an interview comes.

Monseigneur de Courteheuse would seem to be little over fifty years of
age: he is rather tall, and very thin: the eyes, black and full of
life, are encircled by a ring of deep brown.  His speech and gesture
are animated, and, at times, as if carried away.  He adopts frequently
a sort of furious manner which on a sudden melts into the smile of an
honest man.  He has beautiful silvery hair, flying in vagrant locks
over his forehead, and beautiful bishop's hands.  As he becomes calm he
has an imposing way of gently resettling himself in his sacerdotal
dignity.  To sum up: his is a physiognomy full of passion, consumed
with zeal, yet still frank and sincere.

I was hardly seated, when with a motion of the hand he invited me to
speak.

"Monseigneur!" I said, "I come to you (you understand me?) as to my
last resource.  What I am now doing is almost an act of despair; for it
might seem at first sight that no member of the family of Mademoiselle
de Courteheuse must show himself more pitiless than yourself towards
the faults with which I am reproached.  I am an unbeliever: you are an
apostle!  And yet, Monseigneur, it is often at the hands of saintly
priests, such as yourself, that the guilty find most indulgence.  And
then, I am not indeed guilty: I have but wandered.  I am refused the
hand of your niece because I do not share her faith--your own faith.
But, Monseigneur, unbelief is not a crime, it is a misfortune.  I know
people often say, a man denies God when by his own conduct he has
brought himself into a condition in which he may well desire that God
does not exist.  In this way he is made guilty, or, in a sense,
responsible for his incredulity.  For myself, Monseigneur, I have
consulted my conscience with an entire sincerity; and although my youth
has been amiss, I am certain that my atheism proceeds from no sentiment
of personal interest.  On the contrary, I may tell you with truth that
the day on which I perceived my faith come to nought, the day on which
I lost hope in God, I shed the bitterest tears of my life.  In spite of
appearances, I am not so light a spirit as people think.  I am not one
of those for whom God, when He disappears, [228] leaves no sense of a
void place. Believe me!--a man may love sport, his club, his worldly
habits, and yet have his hours of thought, of self-recollection.  Do
you suppose that in those hours one does not feel the frightful
discomfort of an existence with no moral basis, without principles,
with no outlook beyond this world?  And yet, what can one do?  You
would tell me forthwith, in the goodness, the compassion, which I read
in your eyes; Confide to me your objections to religion, and I will try
to solve them.  Monseigneur, I should hardly know how to answer you.
My objections are 'Legion!'  They are without number, like the stars in
the sky: they come to us on all sides, from every quarter of the
horizon, as if on the wings of the wind; and they leave in us, as they
pass, ruins only, and darkness. Such has been my experience, and that
of many others; and it has been as involuntary as it is irreparable."

"And I--Monsieur!" said the bishop, suddenly, casting on me one of his
august looks, "Do you suppose that I am but a play-actor in my
cathedral church?"

"Monseigneur!"

"Yes!  Listening to you, one would suppose that we were come to a
period of the world in which one must needs be either an atheist or a
hypocrite!  Personally, I claim to be neither one nor the other."

"Need I defend myself on that point, Monseigneur?  Need I say that I
did not come here to give you offence?"

"Doubtless! doubtless!  Well, Monsieur, I admit; not without great
reserves, mind! for one is always more or less responsible for the
atmosphere in which he lives, the influences to which he is subject,
for the habitual turn he gives to his thoughts; still, I admit that you
are the victim of the incredulity of the age, that you are altogether
guiltless in your scepticism, your atheism! since you have no fear of
hard words.  Is it therefore any the less certain that the union of a
fervent believer, such as my niece, with a man like yourself would be a
moral disorder of which the consequences might be disastrous?  Do you
think it could be my duty, as a relative of Mademoiselle de
Courteheuse, her spiritual father, as a prelate of the Church, to lend
my hands to such disorder, to preside over the shocking union of two
souls separated by the whole width of heaven?"

[229] The bishop, in proposing that question, kept his eyes fixed
ardently on mine.

"Monseigneur," I answered, after a moment's embarrassment, "you know as
well as, and better than I, the condition of the world, and of our
country, at this time.  You know that unhappily I am not an exception:
that men of faith are rare in it.  And permit me to tell you my whole
mind.  If I must needs suffer the inconsolable misfortune of renouncing
the happiness I had hoped for, are you quite sure that the man to whom
one of these days you will give your niece may not be something more
than a sceptic, or even an atheist?"

"What, Monsieur?"

"A hypocrite, Monseigneur!  Mademoiselle de Courteheuse is beautiful
enough, rich enough, to excite the ambition of those who may be less
scrupulous than I.  As for me, if you now know that I am a sceptic, you
know also that I am a man of honour: and there is something in that!"

"A man of honour!" the bishop muttered to himself, with a little
petulance and hesitation.  "A man of honour!  Yes, I believe it!"
Then, after an interval, "Come, Monsieur," he said gently, "your case
is not as desperate as you suppose. My Aliette is one of those young
enthusiasts through whom Heaven sometimes works miracles."  And Bernard
refusing any encouragement of that hope (the "very roots of faith are
dead" in him for ever) "since you think that," the bishop answers, "it
is honest to say so.  But God has His ways!"

Soon after, the journal comes to an end with that peculiar crisis in
Bernard's life which had suggested the writing of it.  Aliette, with
the approval of her family, has given him her hand.  Bernard accepts it
with the full purpose of doing all he can to make his wife as happy as
she is charming and beloved.  The virginal first period of their
married life in their dainty house in Paris--the pure and beautiful
picture of the mother, the father, and at last the child, a little
[230] girl, Jeanne--is presented with M. Feuillet's usual grace.
Certain embarrassments succeed; the development of what was ill-matched
in their union; but still with mutual loyalty.  A far-reaching
acquaintance with, and reflection upon, the world and its ways,
especially the Parisian world, has gone into the apparently slight
texture of these pages.  The accomplished playwright may be recognised
in the skilful touches with which M. Feuillet, unrivalled, as his
regular readers know, in his power of breathing higher notes into the
frivolous prattle of fashionable French life, develops the tragic germ
in the elegant, youthful household.  Amid the distractions of a
society, frivolous, perhaps vulgar, Aliette's mind is still set on
greater things; and, in spite of a thousand rude discouragements, she
maintains her generous hope for Bernard's restoration to faith.  One
day, a little roughly, he bids her relinquish that dream finally.  She
looks at him with the moist, suppliant eyes of some weak animal at bay.
Then his native goodness returns.  In a softened tone he owns himself
wrong.

"As to conversions;--no one must be despaired of.  Do you remember M.
de Rancé?  He lived in your favourite age;--M. de Rancé.  Well! before
he became the reformer of La Trappe he had been a worldling like me,
and a great sceptic--what people called a libertine.  Still he became a
saint!  It is true he had a terrible reason for it.  Do you know what
it was converted him?"

Aliette gave a sign that she did not know.

"Well! he returned to Paris after a few days' absence.  He [231] ran
straight to the lady he loved; Madame Montbazon, I think: he went up a
little staircase of which he had the key, and the first thing he saw on
the table in the middle of the room was the head of his mistress, of
which the doctors were about to make a post-mortem examination."

"If I were sure," said Aliette, "that my head could have such power, I
would love to die."

She said it in a low voice, but with such an accent of loving sincerity
that her husband had a sensation of a sort of painful disquiet.  He
smiled, however, and tapping her cheek softly, "Folly!" he said.  "A
head, charming as yours, has no need to be dead that it may work
miracles!"

Certainly M. Feuillet has some weighty charges to bring against the
Parisian society of our day.  When Aliette revolts from a world of
gossip, which reduces all minds alike to the same level of vulgar
mediocrity, Bernard, on his side, can perceive there a deterioration of
moral tone which shocks his sense of honour.  As a man of honour, he
can hardly trust his wife to the gaieties of a society which welcomes
all the world "to amuse itself in undress."

It happened that at this perplexed period in the youthful household,
one and the same person became the recipient both of the tearful
confidences of Madame de Vaudricourt and those of her husband.  It was
the Duchess of Castel-Moret [she is another of M. Feuillet's admirable
minor sketches] an old friend of the Vaudricourt family, and the only
woman with whom Aliette since her arrival in Paris had formed a kind of
intimacy.  The Duchess was far from sharing, on points of morality, and
above all of religion, the severe and impassioned orthodoxy of her
young friend.  She had lived, it is true, an irreproachable life, but
less in consequence of defined principles than by instinct and natural
taste. She admitted to herself that she was an honest woman as a result
of her birth, and had no further merit in the matter. She was old, very
careful of [232] herself, and a pleasant aroma floated about her, below
her silvery hair.  People loved her for her grace--the grace of another
time than ours--for her wit, and her worldly wisdom, which she placed
freely at the disposal of the public.  Now and then she made a match:
but her special gift lay rather in the way in which she came to the
rescue when a marriage turned out ill.  And she had no sinecure: the
result was that she passed the best part of her time in repairing
family rents.  That might "last its time," she would say.  "And then we
know that what has been well mended sometimes lasts better than what is
new."

A little later, Bernard, in the interest of Aliette, has chivalrously
determined to quit Paris.  At Valmoutiers, a fine old place in the
neighbourhood of Fontainebleau, they established themselves for a
country life.  Here Aliette tastes the happiest days since her
marriage.  Bernard, of course, after a little time is greatly bored.
But so far they have never seriously doubted of their great love for
each other.  It is here that M. Feuillet brings on the scene a kind of
character new in his books; perhaps hardly worthy of the other company
there; a sort of female Monsieur de Camors, but without his grace and
tenderness, and who actually commits a crime.  How would the morbid
charms of M. de Camors have vanished, if, as his wife once suspected of
him, he had ever contemplated crime!  And surely, the showy insolent
charms of Sabine de Tallevaut, beautiful, intellectually gifted,
supremely Amazonian, yet withal not drawn with M. Feuillet's usual
fineness, scarcely hold out for the reader, any more than for [233]
Bernard himself, in the long run, against the vulgarising touch of her
cold wickedness.  Living in the neighbourhood of Valmoutiers, in a
somewhat melancholy abode (the mystery of which in the eyes of Bernard
adds to her poetic charm) with her guardian, an old, rich, freethinking
doctor, devoted to research, she comes to Valmoutiers one night in his
company on the occasion of the alarming illness of the only child.
They arrive escorted by Bernard himself.  The little Jeanne, wrapped in
her coverlet, was placed upon the table of her play-room, which was
illuminated as if for a party.  The illness, the operation (skilfully
performed by the old doctor) which restores her to life, are described
with that seemingly simple pathos in which M. Feuillet's consummate art
hides itself.  Sabine remains to watch the child's recovery, and
becomes an intimate.  In vain Bernard struggles against the first real
passion of his life;--does everything but send its object out of his
sight.  Aliette has divined their secret.  In the fatal illness which
follows soon after, Bernard watches over her with tender solicitude;
hoping against hope that the disease may take a favourable turn.

"My child," he said to her one day, taking the hand which she abandoned
to him, "I have just been scolding old Victoire. She is losing her
head.  In spite of the repeated assurances of the doctors, she is
alarmed at seeing you a little worse than usual to-day, and has had the
Curé sent for.  Do you wish to see him?"

"Pray let me see him!"

[234] She sighed heavily, and fixed upon her husband her large blue
eyes, full of anguish--an anguish so sharp and so singular that he felt
frozen to the marrow.

He could not help saying with deep emotion, "Do you love me no longer,
Aliette?"

"For ever!" murmured the poor child.

He leaned over her with a long kiss upon the forehead.  She saw tears
stealing from the eyes of her husband, and seemed as if surprised.

Soon afterwards Aliette is dead, to the profound sorrow of Bernard.
Less than two years later he has become the husband of Mademoiselle
Tallevaut.  It was about two years after his marriage with Sabine that
Bernard resumed the journal with which we began.  In the pages which he
now adds he seems at first unchanged.  How then as to that story of M.
de Rancé, the reformer of La Trappe, finding the head of his dead
mistress; an incident which the reader of La Morte will surely have
taken as a "presentiment"?  Aliette had so taken it.  "A head so
charming as yours," Bernard had assured her tenderly, "does not need to
be dead that it may work miracles!"--How, in the few pages that remain,
will M. Feuillet justify that, and certain other delicate touches of
presentiment, and at the same time justify the title of his book?

The journal is recommenced in February.  On the twentieth of April
Bernard writes, at Valmoutiers:

Under pretext of certain urgently needed repairs I am come to pass a
week at Valmoutiers, and get a little pure air.  By my orders they have
kept Aliette's room under lock and key since [235] the day when she
left it in her coffin.  To-day I re-entered it for the first time.
There was a vague odour of her favourite perfumes.  My poor Aliette!
why was I unable, as you so ardently desired, to share your gentle
creed, and associate myself to the life of your dreams, the life of
honesty and peace? Compared with that which is mine to-day, it seems to
me like paradise.  What a terrible scene it was, here in this room!
What a memory!  I can still see the last look she fixed on me, a look
almost of terror! and how quickly she died!  I have taken the room for
my own.  But I shall not remain here long.  I intend to go for a few
days to Varaville.  I want to see my little girl: her dear angel's face.

VALMOUTIERS, April 22.--What a change there has been in the world since
my childhood: since my youth even! what a surprising change in so short
a period, in the moral atmosphere we are breathing! Then we were, as it
were, impregnated with the thought of God--a just God, but benevolent
and fatherlike.  We really lived under His eyes, as under the eyes of a
parent, with respect and fear, but with confidence.  We felt sustained
by His invisible but undoubted presence.  We spoke to Him, and it
seemed that He answered.  And now we feel ourselves alone--as it were
abandoned in the immensity of the universe.  We live in a world, hard,
savage, full of hatred; whose one cruel law is the struggle for
existence, and in which we are no more than those natural elements, let
loose to war with each other in fierce selfishness, without pity, with
no appeal beyond, no hope of final justice.  And above us, in place of
the good God of our happy youth, nothing, any more! or worse than
nothing--a deity, barbarous and ironical, who cares nothing at all
about us.

The aged mother of Aliette, hitherto the guardian of his daughter, is
lately dead.  Bernard proposes to take the child away with him to
Paris.  The child's old nurse objects.  On April the twenty-seventh,
Bernard writes:

For a moment--for a few moments--in that room where I have been
shutting myself up with the shadow of my poor [236] dead one, a
horrible thought had come to me.  I had driven it away as an insane
fancy.  But now, yes! it is becoming a reality.  Shall I write this?
Yes!  I will write it.  It is my duty to do so; for from this moment
the journal, begun in so much gaiety of heart, is but my last will and
testament.  If I should disappear from the world, the secret must not
die with me.  It must be bequeathed to the natural protectors of my
child.  Her interests, if not her life, are concerned therein.

Here, then, is what passed: I had not arrived in time to render my last
duty to Madame de Courteheuse.  The family was already dispersed.  I
found here only Aliette's brother.  To him I communicated my plan
concerning the child, and he could but approve.  My intention was to
bring away with Jeanne her nurse Victoire, who had brought her up, as
she brought up her mother. But she is old, and in feeble health, and I
feared some difficulties on her part; the more as her attitude towards
myself since the death of my first wife has been marked by an ill grace
approaching to hostility.  I took her aside while Jeanne was playing in
the garden.

"My good Victoire," I said, "while Madame de Courteheuse was living, I
considered it a duty to leave her granddaughter in her keeping.
Besides, no one was better fitted to watch over her education.  At
present my duty is to watch over it myself. I propose therefore to take
Jeanne with me to Paris; and I hope that you may be willing to
accompany her, and remain in her service." When she understood my
intention, the old woman, in whose hands I had noticed a faint
trembling, became suddenly very pale.  She fixed her firm, grey eyes
upon me: "Monsieur le Comte will not do that!"

"Pardon me, my good Victoire, that I shall do.  I appreciate your good
qualities of fidelity and devotion.  I shall be very grateful if you
will continue to take care of my daughter, as you have done so
excellently.  But for the rest, I intend to be the only master in my
own house, and the only master of my child."  She laid a hand upon my
arm: "I implore you, Monsieur, don't do this!"  Her fixed look did not
leave my face, and seemed to be questioning me to the very bottom of my
soul. "I have never believed it," she murmured, "No!  I [237] never
could believe it.  But if you take the child away I shall."

"Believe what, wretched woman? believe what?"

Her voice sank lower still.  "Believe that you knew how her mother came
by her death; and that you mean the daughter to die as she did."

"Die as her mother did?"

"Yes! by the same hand!"

The sweat came on my forehead.  I felt as it were a breathing of death
upon me.  But still I thrust away from me that terrible light on things.

"Victoire!" I said, "take care!  You are no fool: you are something
worse.  Your hatred of the woman who has taken the place of my first
wife--your blind hatred--has suggested to you odious, nay! criminal
words."

"Ah!  Ah!  Monsieur", she cried with wild energy.  "After what I have
just told you, take your daughter to live with that woman if you dare."

I walked up and down the room awhile to collect my senses. Then,
returning to the old woman, "Yet how can I believe you?" I asked.  "If
you had had the shadow of a proof of what you give me to understand,
how could you have kept silence so long? How could you have allowed me
to contract that hateful marriage?"

She seemed more confident, and her voice grew gentler.  "Monsieur, it
is because Madame, before she went to God, made me take oath on the
crucifix to keep that secret for ever."

"Yet not with me, in fact,--not with me!"  And I, in turn, questioned
her; my eyes upon hers.  She  hesitated: then stammered out, "True! not
with you! because she believed, poor little soul! that..."

"What did she believe?  That I knew it?  That I was an accomplice? Tell
me!"  Her eyes fell, and she made no answer.  "Is it possible, my God,
is it possible?  But come, sit by me here, and tell me all you know,
all you saw.  At what time was it you noticed anything--the precise
moment?"  For in truth she had been suffering for a long time past.

Victoire tells the miserable story of Sabine's [238] crime--we must
pardon what we think a not quite worthy addition to the imaginary world
M. Feuillet has called up round about him, for the sake of fully
knowing Bernard and Aliette.  The old nurse had surprised her in the
very act, and did not credit her explanation.  "When I surprised her,"
she goes on:

"It may already have been too late--be sure it was not the first time
she had been guilty--my first thought was to give you information.  But
I had not the courage.  Then I told Madame. I thought I saw plainly
that I had nothing to tell she was not already aware of.  Nevertheless
she chided me almost harshly. 'You know very well,' she said, 'that my
husband is always there when Mademoiselle prepares the medicines.  So
that he too would be guilty.  Rather than believe that, I would accept
death at his hands a hundred times over!'  And I remember, Monsieur,
how at the very moment when she told me that, you came out from the
little boudoir, and brought her a glass of valerian.  She cast on me a
terrible look and drank.  A few minutes afterwards she was so ill that
she thought the end was come.  She begged me to give her her crucifix,
and made me swear never to utter a word concerning our suspicions.  It
was then I sent for the priest.  I have told you, Monsieur, what I
know; what I have seen with my own eyes.  I swear that I have said
nothing but what is absolutely true."  She paused.  I could not answer
her. I seized her old wrinkled and trembling hands and pressed them to
my forehead, and wept like a child.

May 10.--She died believing me guilty!  The thought is terrible to me.
I know not what to do.  A creature so frail, so delicate, so sweet.
"Yes!" she said to herself, "my husband is a murderer; what he is
giving me is poison, and he knows it."  She died with that thought in
her mind--her last thought. And she will never, never know that it was
not so; that I am innocent; that the thought is torment to me: that I
am the most unhappy of men.  Ah!  God, all-powerful! if you indeed
exist, you see what I suffer.  Have pity on me!

Ah! how I wish I could believe that all is not over between [239] her
and me; that she sees and hears me; that she knew the truth.  But I
find it impossible! impossible!

June.--That I was a criminal was her last thought, and she will never
be undeceived.

All seems so completely ended when one dies.  All returns to its first
elements.  How credit that miracle of a personal resurrection? and yet
in truth all is mystery,--miracle, around us, about us, within
ourselves.  The entire universe is but a continuous miracle.  Man's new
birth from the womb of death--is it a mystery less comprehensible than
his birth from the womb of his mother?

Those lines are the last written by Bernard de Vaudricourt. His health,
for some time past disturbed by grief, was powerless against the
emotions of the last terrible trial imposed on him.  A malady, the
exact nature of which was not determined, in a few days assumed a
mortal character. Perceiving that his end was come, he caused
Monseigneur de Courteheuse to be summoned--he desired to die in the
religion of Aliette.  Living, the poor child had been defeated: she
prevailed in her death.

Two distinguished souls! deux êtres d'élite--M. Feuillet thinks--whose
fine qualities properly brought them together.  When Mademoiselle de
Courteheuse said of the heroes of her favourite age, that their
passions, their errors, did but pass over a ground of what was solid
and serious, and which always discovered itself afresh, she was
unconsciously describing Bernard.  Singular young brother of Monsieur
de Camors--after all, certainly, more fortunate than he--he belongs to
the age, which, if it had great faults, had also great repentances.  In
appearance, frivolous; with all the light charm of the world, yet with
that impressibility to great things, according to the law which makes
the best of M. Feuillet's [240] characters so interesting; above all,
with that capacity for pity which almost everything around him tended
to suppress; in real life, if he exists there, and certainly in M.
Feuillet's pages, it is a refreshment to meet him.

1886.



POSTSCRIPT

ainei de palaion men oinon, anthea d' hymnon neôterôn+

[241] THE words, classical and romantic, although, like many other
critical expressions, sometimes abused by those who have understood
them too vaguely or too absolutely, yet define two real tendencies in
the history of art and literature.  Used in an exaggerated sense, to
express a greater opposition between those tendencies than really
exists, they have at times tended to divide people of taste into
opposite camps.  But in that House Beautiful, which the creative minds
of all generations--the artists and those who have treated life in the
spirit of art--are always building together, for the refreshment of the
human spirit, these oppositions cease; and the Interpreter of the House
Beautiful, the true aesthetic critic, uses these divisions, only so far
as they enable him to enter into the peculiarities of the objects with
which he has to do.  The term classical, fixed, as it is, to a
well-defined literature, and a well-defined group in art, is clear,
indeed; but then it has often been used in a hard, and merely
scholastic [242] sense, by the praisers of what is old and accustomed,
at the expense of what is new, by critics who would never have
discovered for themselves the charm of any work, whether new or old,
who value what is old, in art or literature, for its accessories, and
chiefly for the conventional authority that has gathered about
it--people who would never really have been made glad by any Venus
fresh-risen from the sea, and who praise the Venus of old Greece and
Rome, only because they fancy her grown now into something staid and
tame.

And as the term, classical, has been used in a too absolute, and
therefore in a misleading sense, so the term, romantic, has been used
much too vaguely, in various accidental senses.  The sense in which
Scott is called a romantic writer is chiefly this; that, in opposition
to the literary tradition of the last century, he loved strange
adventure, and sought it in the Middle Age.  Much later, in a Yorkshire
village, the spirit of romanticism bore a more really characteristic
fruit in the work of a young girl, Emily Brontë, the romance of
Wuthering Heights; the figures of Hareton Earnshaw, of Catherine
Linton, and of Heathcliffe--tearing open Catherine's grave, removing
one side of her coffin, that he may really lie beside her in
death--figures so passionate, yet woven on a background of delicately
beautiful, moorland scenery, being typical examples of that spirit. In
Germany, again, [243] that spirit is shown less in Tieck, its
professional representative, than in Meinhold, the author of Sidonia
the Sorceress and the Amber-Witch.  In Germany and France, within the
last hundred years, the term has been used to describe a particular
school of writers; and, consequently, when Heine criticises the
Romantic School in Germany--that movement which culminated in Goethe's
Goetz von Berlichingen; or when Théophile Gautier criticises the
romantic movement in France, where, indeed, it bore its most
characteristic fruits, and its play is hardly yet over where, by a
certain audacity, or bizarrerie of motive, united with faultless
literary execution, it still shows itself in imaginative literature,
they use the word, with an exact sense of special artistic qualities,
indeed; but use it, nevertheless, with a limited application to the
manifestation of those qualities at a particular period.  But the
romantic spirit is, in reality, an ever-present, an enduring principle,
in the artistic temperament; and the qualities of thought and style
which that, and other similar uses of the word romantic really
indicate, are indeed but symptoms of a very continuous and widely
working influence.

Though the words classical and romantic, then, have acquired an almost
technical meaning, in application to certain developments of German and
French taste, yet this is but one variation of an old opposition, which
may be traced from the [244] very beginning of the formation of
European art and literature.  From the first formation of anything like
a standard of taste in these things, the restless curiosity of their
more eager lovers necessarily made itself felt, in the craving for new
motives, new subjects of interest, new modifications of style.  Hence,
the opposition between the classicists and the romanticists--between
the adherents, in the culture of beauty, of the principles of liberty,
and authority, respectively--of strength, and order or what the Greeks
called kosmiotês.+

Sainte-Beuve, in the third volume of the Causeries du Lundi, has
discussed the question, What is meant by a classic?  It was a question
he was well fitted to answer, having himself lived through many phases
of taste, and having been in earlier life an enthusiastic member of the
romantic school: he was also a great master of that sort of "philosophy
of literature," which delights in tracing traditions in it, and the way
in which various phases of thought and sentiment maintain themselves,
through successive modifications, from epoch to epoch.  His aim, then,
is to give the word classic a wider and, as he says, a more generous
sense than it commonly bears, to make it expressly grandiose et
flottant; and, in doing this, he develops, in a masterly manner, those
qualities of measure, purity, temperance, of which it is the especial
function of classical art [245] and literature, whatever meaning,
narrower or wider, we attach to the term, to take care.

The charm, therefore, of what is classical, in art or literature, is
that of the well-known tale, to which we can, nevertheless, listen over
and over again, because it is told so well.  To the absolute beauty of
its artistic form, is added the accidental, tranquil, charm of
familiarity.  There are times, indeed, at which these charms fail to
work on our spirits at all, because they fail to excite us.
"Romanticism," says Stendhal, "is the art of presenting to people the
literary works which, in the actual state of their habits and beliefs,
are capable of giving them the greatest possible pleasure; classicism,
on the contrary, of presenting them with that which gave the greatest
possible pleasure to their grandfathers."  But then, beneath all
changes of habits and beliefs, our love of that mere abstract
proportion--of music--which what is classical in literature possesses,
still maintains itself in the best of us, and what pleased our
grandparents may at least tranquillise us.  The "classic" comes to us
out of the cool and quiet of other times; as the measure of what a long
experience has shown will at least never displease us. And in the
classical literature of Greece and Rome, as in the classics of the last
century, the essentially classical element is that quality of order in
beauty, which they possess, indeed, [246] in a pre-eminent degree, and
which impresses some minds to the exclusion of everything else in them.

It is the addition of strangeness to beauty, that constitutes the
romantic character in art; and the desire of beauty being a fixed
element in every artistic organisation, it is the addition of curiosity
to this desire of beauty, that constitutes the romantic temper.
Curiosity and the desire of beauty, have each their place in art, as in
all true criticism.  When one's curiosity is deficient, when one is not
eager enough for new impressions, and new pleasures, one is liable to
value mere academical proprieties too highly, to be satisfied with
worn-out or conventional types, with the insipid ornament of Racine, or
the prettiness of that later Greek sculpture, which passed so long for
true Hellenic work; to miss those places where the handiwork of nature,
or of the artist, has been most cunning; to find the most stimulating
products of art a mere irritation.  And when one's curiosity is in
excess, when it overbalances the desire of beauty, then one is liable
to value in works of art what is inartistic in them; to be satisfied
with what is exaggerated in art, with productions like some of those of
the romantic school in Germany; not to distinguish, jealously enough,
between what is admirably done, and what is done not quite so well, in
the writings, for instance, of Jean Paul.  And if I had to give [247]
instances of these defects, then I should say, that Pope, in common
with the age of literature to which he belonged, had too little
curiosity, so that there is always a certain insipidity in the effect
of his work, exquisite as it is; and, coming down to our own time, that
Balzac had an excess of curiosity--curiosity not duly tempered with the
desire of beauty.

But, however falsely those two tendencies may be opposed by critics, or
exaggerated by artists themselves, they are tendencies really at work
at all times in art, moulding it, with the balance sometimes a little
on one side, sometimes a little on the other, generating, respectively,
as the balance inclines on this side or that, two principles, two
traditions, in art, and in literature so far as it partakes of the
spirit of art.  If there is a great overbalance of curiosity, then, we
have the grotesque in art: if the union of strangeness and beauty,
under very difficult and complex conditions, be a successful one, if
the union be entire, then the resultant beauty is very exquisite, very
attractive.  With a passionate care for beauty, the romantic spirit
refuses to have it, unless the condition of strangeness be first
fulfilled.  Its desire is for a beauty born of unlikely elements, by a
profound alchemy, by a difficult initiation, by the charm which wrings
it even out of terrible things; and a trace of distortion, of the
grotesque, may perhaps linger, as an additional element of expression,
about its [248] ultimate grace.  Its eager, excited spirit will have
strength, the grotesque, first of all--the trees shrieking as you tear
off the leaves; for Jean Valjean, the long years of convict life; for
Redgauntlet, the quicksands of Solway Moss; then, incorporate with this
strangeness, and intensified by restraint, as much sweetness, as much
beauty, as is compatible with that.  Énergique, frais, et
dispos--these, according to Sainte-Beuve, are the characteristics of a
genuine classic--les ouvrages anciens ne sont pas classiques parce
qu'ils sont vieux, mais parce qu'ils sont énergiques, frais, et dispos.
Energy, freshness, intelligent and masterly disposition:--these are
characteristics of Victor Hugo when his alchemy is complete, in certain
figures, like Marius and Cosette, in certain scenes, like that in the
opening of Les Travailleurs de la Mer, where Déruchette writes the name
of Gilliatt in the snow, on Christmas morning; but always there is a
certain note of strangeness discernible there, as well.

The essential elements, then, of the romantic spirit are curiosity and
the love of beauty; and it is only as an illustration of these
qualities, that it seeks the Middle Age, because, in the over-charged
atmosphere of the Middle Age, there are unworked sources of romantic
effect, of a strange beauty, to be won, by strong imagination, out of
things unlikely or remote.

Few, probably, now read Madame de Staël's [249] De l'Allemagne, though
it has its interest, the interest which never quite fades out of work
really touched with the enthusiasm of the spiritual adventurer, the
pioneer in culture.  It was published in 1810, to introduce to French
readers a new school of writers--the romantic school, from beyond the
Rhine; and it was followed, twenty-three years later, by Heine's
Romantische Schule, as at once a supplement and a correction.  Both
these books, then, connect romanticism with Germany, with the names
especially of Goethe and Tieck; and, to many English readers, the idea
of romanticism is still inseparably connected with Germany--that
Germany which, in its quaint old towns, under the spire of Strasburg or
the towers of Heidelberg, was always listening in rapt inaction to the
melodious, fascinating voices of the Middle Age, and which, now that it
has got Strasburg back again, has, I suppose, almost ceased to exist.
But neither Germany, with its Goethe and Tieck, nor England, with its
Byron and Scott, is nearly so representative of the romantic temper as
France, with Murger, and Gautier, and Victor Hugo.  It is in French
literature that its most characteristic expression is to be found; and
that, as most closely derivative, historically, from such peculiar
conditions, as ever reinforce it to the utmost.

For, although temperament has much to do with the generation of the
romantic spirit, and [250] although this spirit, with its curiosity,
its thirst for a curious beauty, may be always traceable in excellent
art (traceable even in Sophocles) yet still, in a limited sense, it may
be said to be a product of special epochs.  Outbreaks of this spirit,
that is, come naturally with particular periods--times, when, in men's
approaches towards art and poetry, curiosity may be noticed to take the
lead, when men come to art and poetry, with a deep thirst for
intellectual excitement, after a long ennui, or in reaction against the
strain of outward, practical things: in the later Middle Age, for
instance; so that medieval poetry, centering in Dante, is often opposed
to Greek and Roman poetry, as romantic poetry to the classical.  What
the romanticism of Dante is, may be estimated, if we compare the lines
in which Virgil describes the hazel-wood, from whose broken twigs flows
the blood of Polydorus, not without the expression of a real shudder at
the ghastly incident, with the whole canto of the Inferno, into which
Dante has expanded them, beautifying and softening it, meanwhile, by a
sentiment of profound pity.  And it is especially in that period of
intellectual disturbance, immediately preceding Dante, amid which the
romance languages define themselves at last, that this temper is
manifested.  Here, in the literature of Provence, the very name of
romanticism is stamped with its true signification: here we have indeed
a romantic world, grotesque [251] even, in the strength of its
passions, almost insane in its curious expression of them, drawing all
things into its sphere, making the birds, nay! lifeless things, its
voices and messengers, yet so penetrated with the desire for beauty and
sweetness, that it begets a wholly new species of poetry, in which the
Renaissance may be said to begin.  The last century was pre-eminently a
classical age, an age in which, for art and literature, the element of
a comely order was in the ascendant; which, passing away, left a hard
battle to be fought between the classical and the romantic schools.
Yet, it is in the heart of this century, of Goldsmith and Stothard, of
Watteau and the Siècle de Louis XIV.--in one of its central, if not
most characteristic figures, in Rousseau--that the modern or French
romanticism really originates.  But, what in the eighteenth century is
but an exceptional phenomenon, breaking through its fair reserve and
discretion only at rare intervals, is the habitual guise of the
nineteenth, breaking through it perpetually, with a feverishness, an
incomprehensible straining and excitement, which all experience to some
degree, but yearning also, in the genuine children of the romantic
school, to be énergique, frais, et dispos--for those qualities of
energy, freshness, comely order; and often, in Murger, in Gautier, in
Victor Hugo, for instance, with singular felicity attaining them.

It is in the terrible tragedy of Rousseau, in [252] fact, that French
romanticism, with much else, begins: reading his Confessions we seem
actually to assist at the birth of this new, strong spirit in the
French mind.  The wildness which has shocked so many, and the
fascination which has influenced almost every one, in the squalid, yet
eloquent figure, we see and hear so clearly in that book, wandering
under the apple-blossoms and among the vines of Neuchâtel or Vevey
actually give it the quality of a very successful romantic invention.
His strangeness or distortion, his profound subjectivity, his
passionateness--the cor laceratum--Rousseau makes all men in love with
these.  Je ne suis fait comme aucun de ceux que j'ai sus.  Mais si je
ne vaux pas mieux, au moins je suis autre.  "I am not made like any one
else I have ever known: yet, if I am not better, at least I am
different."  These words, from the first page of the Confessions,
anticipate all the Werthers, Renés, Obermanns, of the last hundred
years.  For Rousseau did but anticipate a trouble in the spirit of the
whole world; and thirty years afterwards, what in him was a
peculiarity, became part of the general consciousness.  A storm was
coming: Rousseau, with others, felt it in the air, and they helped to
bring it down: they introduced a disturbing element into French
literature, then so trim and formal, like our own literature of the age
of Queen Anne.

In 1815 the storm had come and gone, but had left, in the spirit of
"young France," the [253] ennui of an immense disillusion.  In the last
chapter of Edgar Quinet's Revolution Française, a work itself full of
irony, of disillusion, he distinguishes two books, Senancour's Obermann
and Chateaubriand's Génie du Christianisme, as characteristic of the
first decade of the present century.  In those two books we detect
already the disease and the cure--in Obermann the irony, refined into a
plaintive philosophy of "indifference"--in Chateaubriand's Génie du
Christianisme, the refuge from a tarnished actual present, a present of
disillusion, into a world of strength and beauty in the Middle Age, as
at an earlier period--in René and Atala--into the free play of them in
savage life.  It is to minds in this spiritual situation, weary of the
present, but yearning for the spectacle of beauty and strength, that
the works of French romanticism appeal.  They set a positive value on
the intense, the exceptional; and a certain distortion is sometimes
noticeable in them, as in conceptions like Victor Hugo's Quasimodo, or
Gwynplaine, something of a terrible grotesque, of the macabre, as the
French themselves call it; though always combined with perfect literary
execution, as in Gautier's La Morte Amoureuse, or the scene of the
"maimed" burial-rites of the player, dead of the frost, in his
Capitaine Fracasse--true "flowers of the yew."  It becomes grim humour
in Victor Hugo's combat of Gilliatt with the devil-fish, or the
incident, with all its ghastly comedy drawn [254] out at length, of the
great gun detached from its fastenings on shipboard, in
Quatre-Vingt-Trieze (perhaps the most terrible of all the accidents
that can happen by sea) and in the entire episode, in that book, of the
Convention.  Not less surely does it reach a genuine pathos; for the
habit of noting and distinguishing one's own most intimate passages of
sentiment makes one sympathetic, begetting, as it must, the power of
entering, by all sorts of finer ways, into the intimate recesses of
other minds; so that pity is another quality of romanticism, both
Victor Hugo and Gautier being great lovers of animals, and charming
writers about them, and Murger being unrivalled in the pathos of his
Scènes de la Vie de Jeunesse.  Penetrating so finely into all
situations which appeal to pity, above all, into the special or
exceptional phases of such feeling, the romantic humour is not afraid
of the quaintness or singularity of its circumstances or expression,
pity, indeed, being of the essence of humour; so that Victor Hugo does
but turn his romanticism into practice, in his hunger and thirst after
practical Justice!--a justice which shall no longer wrong children, or
animals, for instance, by ignoring in a stupid, mere breadth of view,
minute facts about them.  Yet the romanticists are antinomian, too,
sometimes, because the love of energy and beauty, of distinction in
passion, tended naturally to become a little bizarre, plunging into the
[255] Middle Age, into the secrets of old Italian story.  Are we in the
Inferno?--we are tempted to ask, wondering at something malign in so
much beauty.  For over all a care for the refreshment of the human
spirit by fine art manifests itself, a predominant sense of literary
charm, so that, in their search for the secret of exquisite expression,
the romantic school went back to the forgotten world of early French
poetry, and literature itself became the most delicate of the
arts--like "goldsmith's work," says Sainte-Beuve, of Bertrand's Gaspard
de la Nuit--and that peculiarly French gift, the gift of exquisite
speech, argute loqui, attained in them a perfection which it had never
seen before.

Stendhal, a writer whom I have already quoted, and of whom English
readers might well know much more than they do, stands between the
earlier and later growths of the romantic spirit.  His novels are rich
in romantic quality; and his other writings--partly criticism, partly
personal reminiscences--are a very curious and interesting illustration
of the needs out of which romanticism arose.  In his book on Racine and
Shakespeare, Stendhal argues that all good art was romantic in its day;
and this is perhaps true in Stendhal's sense. That little treatise,
full of "dry light" and fertile ideas, was published in the year 1823,
and its object is to defend an entire independence and liberty in the
choice and treatment of subject, both in [256] art and literature,
against those who upheld the exclusive authority of precedent.  In
pleading the cause of romanticism, therefore, it is the novelty, both
of form and of motive, in writings like the Hernani of Victor Hugo
(which soon followed it, raising a storm of criticism) that he is
chiefly concerned to justify.  To be interesting and really
stimulating, to keep us from yawning even, art and literature must
follow the subtle movements of that nimbly-shifting Time-Spirit, or
Zeit-Geist, understood by French not less than by German criticism,
which is always modifying men's taste, as it modifies their manners and
their pleasures.  This, he contends, is what all great workmen had
always understood.  Dante, Shakespeare, Molière, had exercised an
absolute independence in their choice of subject and treatment.  To
turn always with that ever-changing spirit, yet to retain the flavour
of what was admirably done in past generations, in the classics, as we
say--is the problem of true romanticism.  "Dante," he observes, "was
pre-eminently the romantic poet.  He adored Virgil, yet he wrote the
Divine Comedy, with the episode of Ugolino, which is as unlike the
Aeneid as can possibly be. And those who thus obey the fundamental
principle of romanticism, one by one become classical, and are joined
to that ever-increasing common league, formed by men of all countries,
to approach nearer and nearer to perfection."

Romanticism, then, although it has its epochs, [257] is in its
essential characteristics rather a spirit which shows itself at all
times, in various degrees, in individual workmen and their work, and
the amount of which criticism has to estimate in them taken one by one,
than the peculiarity of a time or a school.  Depending on the varying
proportion of curiosity and the desire of beauty, natural tendencies of
the artistic spirit at all times, it must always be partly a matter of
individual temperament.  The eighteenth century in England has been
regarded as almost exclusively a classical period; yet William Blake, a
type of so much which breaks through what are conventionally thought
the influences of that century, is still a noticeable phenomenon in it,
and the reaction in favour of naturalism in poetry begins in that
century, early.  There are, thus, the born romanticists and the born
classicists.  There are the born classicists who start with form, to
whose minds the comeliness of the old, immemorial, well-recognised
types in art and literature, have revealed themselves impressively; who
will entertain no matter which will not go easily and flexibly into
them; whose work aspires only to be a variation upon, or study from,
the older masters.  "'Tis art's decline, my son!" they are always
saying, to the progressive element in their own generation; to those
who care for that which in fifty years' time every one will be caring
for.  On the other hand, there are the born romanticists, who start
with an original, [258] untried matter, still in fusion; who conceive
this vividly, and hold by it as the essence of their work; who, by the
very vividness and heat of their conception, purge away, sooner or
later, all that is not organically appropriate to it, till the whole
effect adjusts itself in clear, orderly, proportionate form; which
form, after a very little time, becomes classical in its turn.

The romantic or classical character of a picture, a poem, a literary
work, depends, then, on the balance of certain qualities in it; and in
this sense, a very real distinction may be drawn between good classical
and good romantic work.  But all critical terms are relative; and there
is at least a valuable suggestion in that theory of Stendhal's, that
all good art was romantic in its day.  In the beauties of Homer and
Pheidias, quiet as they now seem, there must have been, for those who
confronted them for the first time, excitement and surprise, the
sudden, unforeseen satisfaction of the desire of beauty.  Yet the
Odyssey, with its marvellous adventure, is more romantic than the
Iliad, which nevertheless contains, among many other romantic episodes,
that of the immortal horses of Achilles, who weep at the death of
Patroclus.  Aeschylus is more romantic than Sophocles, whose
Philoctetes, were it written now, might figure, for the strangeness of
its motive and the perfectness of its execution, as typically romantic;
while, of Euripides, it may be said, that his method in [259] writing
his plays is to sacrifice readily almost everything else, so that he
may attain the fulness of a single romantic effect.  These two
tendencies, indeed, might be applied as a measure or standard, all
through Greek and Roman art and poetry, with very illuminating results;
and for an analyst of the romantic principle in art, no exercise would
be more profitable, than to walk through the collection of classical
antiquities at the Louvre, or the British Museum, or to examine some
representative collection of Greek coins, and note how the element of
curiosity, of the love of strangeness, insinuates itself into classical
design, and record the effects of the romantic spirit there, the traces
of struggle, of the grotesque even, though over-balanced here by
sweetness; as in the sculpture of Chartres and Rheims, the real
sweetness of mind in the sculptor is often overbalanced by the
grotesque, by the rudeness of his strength.

Classicism, then, means for Stendhal, for that younger enthusiastic
band of French writers whose unconscious method he formulated into
principles, the reign of what is pedantic, conventional, and narrowly
academical in art; for him, all good art is romantic.  To Sainte-Beuve,
who understands the term in a more liberal sense, it is the
characteristic of certain epochs, of certain spirits in every epoch,
not given to the exercise of original imagination, but rather to the
working out of refinements of manner on some [260] authorised matter;
and who bring to their perfection, in this way, the elements of sanity,
of order and beauty in manner.  In general criticism, again, it means
the spirit of Greece and Rome, of some phases in literature and art
that may seem of equal authority with Greece and Rome, the age of Louis
the Fourteenth, the age of Johnson; though this is at best an
uncritical use of the term, because in Greek and Roman work there are
typical examples of the romantic spirit.  But explain the terms as we
may, in application to particular epochs, there are these two elements
always recognisable; united in perfect art--in Sophocles, in Dante, in
the highest work of Goethe, though not always absolutely balanced
there; and these two elements may be not inappropriately termed the
classical and romantic tendencies.

Material for the artist, motives of inspiration, are not yet exhausted:
our curious, complex, aspiring age still abounds in subjects for
aesthetic manipulation by the literary as well as by other forms of
art.  For the literary art, at all events, the problem just now is, to
induce order upon the contorted, proportionless accumulation of our
knowledge and experience, our science and history, our hopes and
disillusion, and, in effecting this, to do consciously what has been
done hitherto for the most part too unconsciously, to write our English
language as the Latins wrote theirs, as the [261] French write, as
scholars should write. Appealing, as he may, to precedent in this
matter, the scholar will still remember that if "the style is the man"
it is also the age: that the nineteenth century too will be found to
have had its style, justified by necessity--a style very different,
alike from the baldness of an impossible "Queen Anne" revival, and an
incorrect, incondite exuberance, after the mode of Elizabeth: that we
can only return to either at the price of an impoverishment of form or
matter, or both, although, an intellectually rich age such as ours
being necessarily an eclectic one, we may well cultivate some of the
excellences of literary types so different as those: that in literature
as in other matters it is well to unite as many diverse elements as may
be: that the individual writer or artist, certainly, is to be estimated
by the number of graces he combines, and his power of interpenetrating
them in a given work.  To discriminate schools, of art, of literature,
is, of course, part of the obvious business of literary criticism: but,
in the work of literary production, it is easy to be overmuch occupied
concerning them.  For, in truth, the legitimate contention is, not of
one age or school of literary art against another, but of all
successive schools alike, against the stupidity which is dead to the
substance, and the vulgarity which is dead to form.


NOTES


241. +Transliteration: ainei de palaion men oinon, anthea d' hymnon
neôterôn.  Translation: "Praise wine for its age, but the song in first
bloom.  Pindar, Odes, Book O, Poem 9, Line 47.

244. +Transliteration: kosmiotês.  Liddell and Scott definition:
"propriety, decorum, orderly behavior."





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